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Monday, 24 May 2010

(What's the story) mourning or glory?

The apocalyptic counterstrike and mayhem of the consequent meltdown of wednesday the 19th may have carved a large chunk out of both the Bangkok cityscape and the collective middle to upper-class psyche, leaving a still-weeping, iconic wound that will fester for years to come, but the real loss – which has largely been ignored, and which will never truly be known in full is of those (on both sides) killed fighting in the street battles leading up to and in the final flourishes of the crackdown.

At the loss of city infrastructure many are sad and quite rightly so. At the loss of businesses many are angry and quite understandably so. Of the loss of duped pawns in an old money versus new money political game, no one really knows.

Witnessing the debris first-hand in the hours after the fall and subsequent sacking of Ratchaprasong, smoking malls, burnt-out stores, vandalized banks and charred ATMs, melted phone booths, smashed glass, broken paving stones and bullet holes were visible at every turn, as well as the remnants of looting littered in shop fronts all around – stripped mannequins, coat hangers, security tags, big-brand boxes and bags and even the odd piece of merchandise. But in the embers of what was Bangkok's elite playground, too, lay thousands upon thousands of simple items of lost property: ordinary shoes, clothes and bedding, cooking equipment and food itself – the possessions of a large number of protestors, possessions that seemed discarded before a mass, hurried, unplanned exit. Or worse still. We will never know.

Even factoring in the relocation of several thousand people to Wat Pathumwanaram pre-crackdown, the half-cooked noodles, unpacked clothes, broken, orphaned shoes, unfinished soup, cheap, multi-coloured space blankets and square traditional Thai pillows, suggest an interruption of truly unknown proportions – but now the loss of a sandal or two is being seen as nowhere nearly as grave as the loss of a knock-down party frock. The unpurchased party dress is being deemed of greater importance than the only pair of shoes you own.

And that's understandable – when the state are also claiming the high moral ground, mourning over the tragic material loss of city infrastructure, as well as reveling in a glorious victory over terrorism. But as microblogger Ethan Schmohawke quickly pointed out: "...the Thai regime should realize that you can either crush an opponent or paint yourself as the victim, but you can't really so both..." – not least for the fact that when you do both, when both views are mutually held, an increasingly feverish, polarized stance is further galvanized, a stance that does not allow for any other side to this story.

(Frame grabs, from my upcoming documentary, shot at Siam Square and Ratchaprasong on the 20th of May, 2010.)


gnarlykitty said...

Great photos. Sad story.

Rupert James said...

Thanks, Kitty.

Charles Frith said...

Brilliant writing. Smart. Clever.

Rupert James said...

Thanks, Charles.

MrMozambique said...

I also visited ground zero in the early hours of last Thursday. I was crushed to see everyone's belongings still laying on the ground. Hairbrushes, food, shoes and even a motorbike. I watched as the APCs made their way up Ratchadamri, sometimes under the tents, smashing the mattresses and personal belongings of the Red Shirts. Who can blame them for not wanting to inadvertently discover an IED or booby trap? The whole situation is sad. I have some video of the APCs on YT if anyone's interested.

Rupert James said...

Thanks for your comment, Mr Mozambique.

It wasn't just the sheer volume of personal belongings that struck me, but how hundreds and hundreds of people all seemed to be interrupted at exactly the same moment.

Charles Frith said...

I saw your Yellow installation at WTF and if you wish I can post it over at mine. You can have a non embed version if you're worried about creative ownership.

Also I had lunch with last week with an old Thai friend and I hear that high society comment is poisonous.

It occurs to me that it may make compelling audio visual content. Bigotry looks good on the screen a la Theroux etc.

Rupert James said...

Thanks for the suggestions and the support, Charles. Really much appreciated.

I flipped from (finally cutting) Yellow to (shooting) Red so quickly I didn't even have the chance to put Duty online, though I will certainly take you up on your offer as I believe the subject really deserves full exposure.

Very insightful observation concerning bigotry, too, if I may say so. Hate is often the next best thing to all-out violence and massacre, though sometimes perhaps more potent/tense still as the potential for violence leaves an imagined horror scarred on the mind, no?

Anonymous said...

Hello Rupert,
Could this video documentary be used in a thai MV created to promote thai reconciliation?
Would it be possible to have your contact address so we can explain to you the project more in details?
Best regards,