2014 Compared With 2010
My coverage of the protests focuses on what I see with my own eyes. There is no re-reporting of what others see or what the mainstream media reports. There's also little analysis and very little speculation. It's what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears.
I can't be everywhere at once and no doubt plenty happens that I don't see. Today I didn't say anything remarkable, or at least anything sufficiently different to what I have seen already. So rather than report on what happened out on the streets today – it was much the same as yesterday and will probably be much the same as tomorrow – I thought it might be interesting to take a look at history and compare the current protests in Bangkok with the period of the red shirt occupation f downtown Bangkok in 2010.
All of the photos below were taken in April and May of 2010. Some have already been published on this site, but most have never been posted online before. Time hasn't been kind to my memory so the comments are somewhat brief.
My first sighting of the red shirts was long before they took over the Rajaprasong intersection. One Saturday I came out of Panthip Plaza to a procession of vehicles filled with red shirts driving by. They were making their way through parts of Bangkok with vehicles several kilometres or more of vehicles full of red shirts choking the city's traffic up. It was like a long snake, slowly slithering its way through the city.
The iconic stage at Rachaprasong. Some of the leaders' more famous speeches can be found on YouTube with subtitles in English. Some comments proved to be prophetic with threats to torch the city if things didn't go their way – which is exactly what happened to a number of buildings on that final, fateful day, May 19, 2010.
I've gone through all the photos I took during that period and while the area was controlled by the reds, there weren't that many people. Compared with today where there are a number of protest sites, in terms of protester numbers, today's protests are bigger. That said, this is hardly unexpected when the red shirts largely comprised people from the north and northeast and the current protesters are Bangkokians, as well as people from the south. And let's not forget that the red shirts occupied the Rachaprasong intersection in April and May, the two hottest months of the year. Who would want to sit in the sun all day long at the peak of the Thai summer?
It was the hot season and while many of the protesters were rural folk and no doubt many farmers made up their number, the unabating heat of Bangkok in the hot season saw many wiling away the days in the shade.
That is not a mask you'd want to be seen wearing at that location at this point in time!
The slogan at the main stage changed from time to time and was conspicuous as it was in English – as if the protesters wanted the world to know what was going on and what was being said.
Outside Zen Department Store at Central World.
Shortly before the protesters were driven out of the area by the army, the red shirt protesters occupied the area from MBK to Central Chidlom and from the Saen Saeb Canal all the way down to the Rama 4 and Silom Road intersection.
Where the current protesters have small individual tents that fit one or at most two people, in 2010 with the Reds everything seemed to be communal.
Just as with the current protesters, there number comprised many older folk.
At the corner of Rajadamri Road and Sarasin, songtaews from Chiang Mai province are parked up. All around the encampment signs were displayed showing the province and occasionally the district from where the protesters hailed.
The red shirts would build a fortress, fortifying their encampment with barricades made of sticks, tyres and razor wire.
The fortress in the early days.
At the corner of Rajadamri and Rama 4 roads, protesters look across towards Silom where police were lined up in riot gear.
From within the fortress music blared late in to the night and singing could be heard. Some protesters manning the walls hurled abuse across the road at the security forces who some loved to goad.
The fortress walls were impressive to the eye, everything made and assembled on site.
Some stood within the confines of the fortress, some outside its walls.
When a pal and I entered the fortress and wandered around it has to be said that we were very well-received by the protesters. We were encouraged to wander freely, to ask questions and taking photos was never a problem. Even those who were sharpening bamboo to make what appeared to be weapons were very open about what they were doing.
I termed the reds' encampment Fortress Daeng, "The Red Fortress".
Some of the red shirt guards looked mean but approach them and they would have a ready smile. The red shirt guards impressed me with their congeniality in a way some of the current protest guards have not. With that said, the current protesters have had to deal with grenade attacks and what not and one can reasonably understand why they may be less friendly now.
As I say, the reds were welcoming, friendly and would often initiate conversation. In that respect the reds were easier to mingle amongst. I got the feeling that they genuinely welcomed foreigners visiting their protest site. While some looked rough, I never really felt like I was in any danger. Concerned at times, yes – but that was largely because this was all new territory – I'd never seen anything like this before. In 2014 it almost feels like déjà vu and rightly or wrongly I don't feel the same concerns I had back then.
This is the barricade erected to prevent the authorities from entering at what was at that point the eastern end of the encampment. The photo was taken from the walkway leading from the skytrain in to Central Chidlom. Soi Langsuan is off to the left.
Fortress Daeng would expand further. This photo was taken at the intersection of Ploenchit and Wittayu roads. 500 metres behind me is the American Embassy and right behind the advertising billboard at the top of the photo is the British Embassy. This was as far as the encampment made it to the east.
Another view of the same spot, showing razor wire which was a feature of many of the barriers.
This is the barrier at the western end of the protest site, taken from the walkway at the Patumwan (MBK) intersection.
This is the same spot by day with Siam Discovery Centre in the background.
At their peak the fortified barricades were large and the average man would find them too difficult to pass.
Within the compound it was relaxed. Most folks were from Isaan, and as such they were jovial and friendly.
This fellow looks like a southerner…but his t-shirt indicates he comes from the Isaan province of Chaiyaphum.
The willingness of the red shirts to be photographed far exceeded that of the protesters in 2013 / 14.
Many of the current protest site guards cover their faces with dark glasses and a bandana.
I remember this fellow seeing me walk through the compound in the area near the Police General Hospital one morning. He called me over and insisted that I share his food. He'd only just woken up but he was absolutely insistent that I sit down with him.
The red shirt guards were generally laid-back and friendly.
Where Thaksin Shinawatra is seen as the evil villain by the protesters today, back then it was the Prime Minister of the day, Apisit, who the protesters loathed.
Even soi dogs carried the message!
The army was eventually called in. They patrolled Silom Road and other parts of the city. For those posted on Silom Road, their mission was to prevent the red shirt fortress from crossing Silom Road and taking hold in the commercial district.
Thai soldiers have always struck me as professional. Not threatening or menacing as Western soldiers can be, but professional. Whenever I see soldiers or on the few occasions I have had reason to converse with them I have always felt they conducted themselves professionally and with dignity.
Sitting outside the classic Patpong bar Madrid, this guy looked like he was born to be in the military.
Historical places and national treasures downtown were protected.
The majority of the protesters may have been peace-loving but things were anything but peaceful at the end.
Siam Theatre no longer exists. It was burnt to the ground on the morning of May 19, 2010. A number of other buildings around downtown Bangkok were also set alight.
On Rajadamri Road a fire was started below the skytrain which scorched the tracks in what would have been a massive blow to the city's infrastructure had it been seriously damaged and the skytrain put out of commission for a period.
Central World following the fire that destroyed one wing, opened up for all to see like a woman having a pap smear in public.
90 odd people were killed in a dark period in Thailand's recent history.
Thai politics went through a period of stability after the current government was voted in to power in a landslide victory in 2011. Things were stable up until