Chaos and crisis are the two words most frequently used to describe the anarchy that has besieged the capital. Another word, uttered more quietly and with reserve, is revolution.
Monday in Bangkok saw early morning clashes that have continued into the afternoon between protesters and the army in several main intersections of downtown. Soldiers have opened fire on the crowds of demonstrators, who have responded by throwing gasoline bombs (Molotov cocktails) and setting at least one city bus on fire and sending it toward a line of troops. There have been no reports of casualties thus far, though at least 74 people have been injured, mostly because of tear gas fired by the troops.
A midday speech by the prime minister promised that the airports, train stations and major ports would be secured. But faith in his leadership is waning quickly as security forces struggle to contain the raging mob.
Another concurrent event that could also be called chaotic? Songkran _ the Thai water festival that ushers in the Buddhist New Year during the hottest month of the year.
On some Bangkok streets, you would never know there is political upheaval of this magnitude. Everywhere Thais are jubilantly dousing each other with hoses, buckets and squirt guns filled with water, and covering their bodies with white powder. Oh and dousing the foreigners despite my pleas to spare me (I got a big bucket of cold water down the back just 15 minutes ago).
It also might be helping to mitigate more severe disruptions, as many Thais use the extended holiday to see their families in provinces around the country, creating the emptiness we might experience in the States on Labor Day. Lines of cars aren’t parked on the side of the street and traffic jams have been minimal (which is a huge feat for this city). The lack of people in the city until Wednesday means that the intersections blocked by commandeered public buses and lines of troops to stem the tide of demonstrators won’t create disruptions of the magnitude it might on a regular weekday.
In a country so plagued by instability it is refreshing to see Thais still take the time to enjoy this revered national holiday. Now if only the protesters would join in, maybe some of the fires and anger could be doused.
Music by Andre Rieu & The Johann Strauss Orchestra and Byron Stingily.