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Post 310: Through the Barricades ...

I’d walked a full circle of the Red Shirt encampment and outside of their small geographical stronghold, it seemed like business as usual. Bangkok still buzzed with it’s usual vigour, just as if nothing at all unusual was happening. It seemed that after six weeks of living with this Red inconvenience, the people had grown bored with it and just wanted to get on with their lives and businesses. Anywhere else in the world and I’d stay very much on the outside of that perimeter, but this is Thailand and Thailand is different. It was time to venture inside the Red enclave.

Visit any attraction in Thailand and as a Farang, you’ll be charged an entry price while access for Thai’s will be free. Passing through the checkpoint into the encampment was refreshingly different. I simply walked through unmolested while every Thai was stopped and searched for weapons.

Through the barricade, the road has been turned into a market on one side and an open-air hotel on the other. Everything that you could possibly need for six weeks of street-camping is available. They’ve created a micro-city with it’s own micro-economy and the place is positively buzzing with life and energy.

Providing that they have business in the area, goods vehicles and taxi-bikes are allowed through the barricades. It must seem like a pain in the arse having to stop and search all of these vehicles, but the people organising this camp are no fools. If they want the protestors to stick with the programme, then they have to make life as comfortable as possible for them. Every ATM is topped up with money, every open store is full of produce and every day, the shit is taken away. Hell, they’ve even built their own recycling centre for plastics, paper and glass. In six short weeks, they’ve built a City within a City. Screw giving major reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan to Western firms, just send in the Thai’s. It’ll cost next to nothing, everything will get built on time and more importantly, it’ll probably all work just fine …. mai pen rai

The sound of Bangkok’s 24-hour traffic has been replaced by party political broadcasts played through walls of loud speakers and everybody listens. Well, they don’t really have much choice. Bugger me they like their shit loud here.

On the open area between the Zen and Siam Paragon shopping complexes, the main rally is in full swing. The people sit on mats cleverly constructed from discarded water bottles and they cheer in unison. Everybody except for me has a red and white stick with two hands or two feet on the end of it. As they cheer at the speaker, they shake their sticks and it sounds like a thousand sets of comedy false-teeth simultaneously chattering. It really is a weird and haunting sound. Speaker follows enthusiastic speaker and for all of the day and most of the night, they whip the crowd into a frenzy. I haven’t got a clue what the speakers are saying so I just smile and nod … smile and nod .... mai pen rai

Away from the central rally point, Bangkok’s newest open-air hotel caters for it’s thousands of non-paying guests. Families have made their homes here and it seems to be divided geographically with unofficial camps for people from Surin, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani etc. Each area has it’s own shops, soup kitchens and basic bathroom facilities. It feels like whole villages have been uprooted and moved south to Bangkok, and perhaps they have. The people are friendly, they smile and chat openly with me. They’re happy that an outsider is taking an interest in their cause. I smile and nod. Hell, I don’t particularly agree with their cause, but I’m hardly likely to disagree when I’m inside their camp. I might be a fool at times, but I’m certainly not a suicidal one … mai pen rai

One thing that you can certainly say about Thai’s is that they are very resourceful people. Here, they seem to have tapped into all of the resources of Bangkok on a no-cost basis. Power is taken from the electronic street furniture and water tapped directly from hydrants. Whole plumbing systems have been installed and everything possible has been done to make street life in Bangkok as comfortable as possible. From East to West and North to South, the whole encampment is covered in what must be the worlds largest tarpaulin. I’ve no idea where all of the material was taken from, but erecting it must have been an engineering miracle, it’s absolutely bloody massive. But it works. It lets in the light but keeps out the worst of the suns heat. It’s actually quite cool beneath it but obviously as the only Farang here, I’m the one that’s sweating buckets while everybody else looks as fresh as a bloody daisy. Maybe I’m just nervous? Smile and nod ….. mai pen rai

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