• Christopher G. Moore

Sea of Red on Sukhumvit Road

From 10.50 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. I took photographs of the large crowd of red shirted demonstrators in Bangkok. I walked from the Asoke and Sukhumvit Road intersection toward Soi 31. The police had closed off traffic to Sukhumvit Road. They had no choice it was jammed with demonstrators in pickups, large trucks, motorcycles and tuk tuks with thousands on foot. It was an orderly march. But the sheer number of people restricted movement. People exercised a great deal of patience. They had no choice. The cloudy skies meant the crowd was spared the usual searing temperatures at noon. It was a mixed blessing. Instead of a blistering sun, they were rained on.

I talked with a number of the demonstrators along the way to Soi 31. They were eager to tell their story and have their photographs taken. Modern demonstrations seem to have become storytelling events played out for the media. Though I saw very few signs in English. There were lots of banner written in Thai in the sea of red and Thai flags. I saw very few photos of Thaksin.

It was impossible to move on Sukhumvit Road after 11.10 a.m. Sukhumvit Road was as the eye could see was a moving sea of red.

Around 11. 08 a.m. it started to rain. Few of the demonstrators had umbrellas. About 11.11 a.m. two large trucks full of red shirted demonstrators led the way down Soi 31 toward the prime minister’s family compound. By now the rain was quite heavy.

I know this soi well as it was the short cut I used to drive to my house on Soi 27. For twenty years I had traveled up and down this section of Soi 31 and had never seen such a mass of people before. Soi 31 is mostly lined with luxury condos, restaurants, a well known book publisher and small businesses and a few remaining houses.

The police weren’t all that visible on soi 31. Understandably they wanted to avoid confrontation. I did find a couple of police standing near a gate. One of the police officers wearing sunglasses and holding a shield smiled, holding a red rose.

People in the surrounding buildings were out on their terraces or the street snapping photographs of the crowds. Those who stood on the street waved encouraged. And a number of the locals displayed makeshift red stripes of cloth which they waved at the crowd.

Several men emerged from the Sukhumvit Road end of Soi 31 carrying large plastic jugs of blood. The crowd cheered as the men displayed the blood for the many photojournalists who were photographing the demonstration. They blood was then carried out of sight toward the prime minister’s residence. By now the rain was coming down quite hard. Most of the demonstrators were soaked, the rain running down their faces.

Music blared from loudspeakers on the trucks. When the music stopped one of the leaders made one of those inspirational speeches. The rain drenched crowd cheered. It was a kind of street carnival. I witnessed a great deal of laughter, singing, dancing and beating of drums and blowing of horns. The mood of the crowd might be described as a war party disguised as folk music festival using voodoo rituals as the weapon of choice.

Apologies for the uneven quality of the photographs but anyone can tell you that shooting photos using a cell phone in the rain while trying not to get run over in a massive sea of people isn’t as easy as it sounds. Hopefully the photos will give you some idea of how one person witnessed the demonstrations on Sukhumvit Road this 17th March 2010.

The smile still worked in the crowd. It wasn’t a threatening feeling caught in the midst of these thousands of people. There were lots of women as well as men, the young and the old; students, teachers, farmers, labourers, and some office workers. Those who lived and worked on Soi 31 took time out to wave at the crowd and they waved back.

By 12.30 p.m. the demonstrators turned and began to exit Soi 31 for Sukhumvit Road. I was told they were headed next to the American Embassy.

By 1.30 p.m. the traffic was starting to slowly move again on Sukhuvmit road.

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