Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suffused Panic: curfew in Bangkok - Thailand

Looking at the city center from the top of a skybridge the sky appears divided by a clear-cut line: blue above it and dark gray below. It's the smoke that rises from the burning sites: shopping malls, banks, the Stock Exchange building, tires at the junctions, subway stations. The hard-line of the protest will not bend and surrender, or maybe it was all already planned in advance. Small groups of diehards move around quickly, damaging things and throwing gasoline bombs. Due to the impediments that piled up in two months the firefighter trucks cannot reach the fires. Flames flare up eating chunks of the city: key-spots, landmarks, shops, public service. The government was hard-pressed and imposed a curfew: from 8pm to 6am everybody must stay at home.
At about 5pm, three hours before it starts, I get out of my place and take a walk in the neighborhood. Usually Pahonyothin Rd is as full as a salami skin but today it's as trafficked as a highway in the desert. The supermarkets and the shopping malls are already closing. A convenience store by the filling station is under assault. On the meat-shelf there are two sausages and a few chicken legs: they look like pink rowboats afloat a pale ocean. The queue at the cashier reaches the entrance: I just take two pictures and leave a bit confused. When I reach a 7eleven I take a look and get in. The customers walk with haste down the aisles, when they find an item that they were looking for they often put into their basket the whole stock on display. If I hadn't listened to the news in English the fantasy in my head could be a legitimate doubt: it's a ten-day-curfew, not a ten-hour-one! 
When I'm on my way back the sensation persists. People don't walk, don't search, don't buy: they are insects that swarm, tear apart and drag. It's a collective neurosis, a suffused sort of panic.

Photo: meat-shelf at Tesco Lotus Express, Ratchayothin-Bangkok, by Fabio.
Other pictures taken before the curfew by Fabio here.
Photo of Central World ablaze here. And a video of the fire here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Too simple to be true - Bangkok, Thailand

Ding daeng now on TwitpicFor days the red shirts have been saying: "Withdraw the troops!"
And the government replies: "You disperse first!"
But the unrest continues, new barricades are set up, more tires burn at key battle spots, unaccounted-for snipers shoot from skyscrapers windows, the military is using live ammunitions, the protesters throw stones, Molotov bombs, homemade rockets, if not something worse. As a consequence the number of the victims keeps increasing, the city-center is blocked, the transport service has been stopped, the school term start postponed, the number of tourists sinks by the day and the national economy as well.
The foreign governments and the non governmental organizations and institutions issue their typical futile and non-committal statements.
The international media provide a confused, incomplete and often apocalyptic picture of the situation, and they're almost always late. On top of that many newspapers tend to take sides. Based on what kind of deep knowledge of the situation? Their comments don't make it clear.
After five days of clashes though, someone finally comes up with some sensible proposals. Some leaders of the minor parties that belong to the government coalition have proposed a set of steps that would guide the country towards a feasible solution to the crisis: the red shirts should stop the demonstrations, then the government will have to withdraw the troops and they will eventually abandon the coalition. Which would lead to new political elections
In the meanwhile the senate speaker has let everyone know that the assembly is available for mediation talks.
It appears obvious that somehow the rally has to disperse, the troops must withdraw and new elections will have to be held. The parties backing the red shirts will then be able to play their card in a political way, and not with the use of force and blackmail. On the other hand the government will have a chance to submit their emergency management methods and policies to the judgment of the electorate. 
The government, though, seems to have a lot to lose in this story. As well as some of the protest leaders, secretly financed by the ex premier in exile.
Will reason prevail over the intransigence that got hold of the conscience of such a big share of the population?
It seems just too simple to be true.

Photo taken at Din Daeng-Bangkok, by agnesdherbeys, from twitpic

Other great photos of the unrest here

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A success story - Vientiane, Laos

At a bar in Vientiane, on the Mekong riverfront, a South-Korean tourist is telling me a story. "Have you ever seen some Kolao motorbikes or trucks?" The name rings a bell but it's a little blurred in a cloud of Chinese sub-brands and fakes. "About ten years ago a Korean man came here, he racked his brain and sensed an opportunity: he started to import bikes and vehicles from his country. The idea happened to work, he built up some capital, then changed his strategy and opened his own factory." Nowadays Kolao is a small Laotian Honda. That businessman was nobody when he embarked on that trip, now in Korea he is a success story. This sounds like a tale from a different era, of pioneers, gold races or post-war time. And actually that's what Laos was some years ago: out of endless conflicts...a land of conquest.

Photo of a motorbike at the Buddha Park - Vientiane, by Fabio

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The cocoa plug - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The river of people flowing in KLCC used to squeeze between a pretzel and dessert stall. Since the enlightened managers drove a chocolate shop into it the old busy bottleneck is no longer there: its place has been taken by a cocoa plug...

Photo of KLCC complex (detail), by Fabio