Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Day: March 1, 2014

Bangkok Under Protest

I was tired after arriving in Bangkok, so I stayed near the Silom City Hotel and ate at the small food street nearby, Silom Soi 20. There are several items I need to buy in Bangkok, items I didn’t feel like hauling with me, like some new running shoes, new shirts and t-shirts and other odds and ends. I’ll be here until March 3rd, so I started my shopping errands yesterday, Friday the 28th.

But first, my biggest goal was to find some of the protest sites where the anti-government opposition was holding court, threatening to shut down Bangkok. I don’t think they ever really shut it down, but several of the busiest avenues in Bangkok were turned into walking streets, closed to the usual heavy traffic of cars, buses, tuk-tuks and motorbikes.

I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I’d read about the tragic deaths that had recently occurred, but I’d also read that the demonstrations were mainly peaceful. I had to go to Hualamphong train station to buy a ticket to Nongkhai, where I’ll be heading on March 3rd on the overnight sleeper. So, I decided to walk the few kilometers to the subway near Lumphini Park, one of the biggest protest areas, and take the short ride to Hualamphong in air-conditioned comfort.

I had no idea how big the protest area would be, so I walked along expecting the sidewalks to be jammed with people and the road to be impassable with a permanent traffic jam. In actuality, you don’t really notice the protest site until you get close to Lumphini Park, near the subway station. Silom Road is closed to traffic for about half a kilometer before the park, so it’s easy to avoid the normally crowded sidewalks, jammed with vendors, by walking down the middle of Silom, an unusual experience on this heavily traveled road. You can also walk above the crowd on the overhead walkway, which is what I first did. Here are a few photos from the walkway.

No traffic on Silom Road

An unusual sight–no traffic on Silom Road, blocked by protesters.

A quiet Silom Road

This is a view down the other direction of Silom. The tire barricade and the black netting mark the entrance to the protest site.

Food vendors on Silom Road

Food vendors are set up all along the road, taking advantage of the large crowds.

Silom Road vendors

More vendors along closed-to-traffic Silom Road.

The atmosphere of the protest was more that of a street fair than a demonstration against the current government. In addition to the usual assortment of vendors on the sidewalks, lining Silom on both sides were food stalls and vendors selling everything imaginable, from belts and baubles and beads to t-shirts proclaiming the protest. Huge speakers were piping in the music and speeches from the main stage near Lumphini and the protesters, tired, but undaunted, seemed to be enjoying themselves, as were the gawking tourists, including me.

“Would I be allowed to take photos?” I wondered. Yeah, it was OK. So, I walked into the area and into Lumpini and took these photos. I always asked first before taking a shot, and everyone was quite agreeable and friendly about it, and I always followed up with a thank you. I was turned down only once.

I really liked the spirit of the people; their friendliness was apparent in their smiles and their determination apparent in their staying power of doing this for weeks on end. Whether their political aims are correct or not is for history and the Thai people to decide. No matter, I enjoyed being among them.

This is the first photo I took on entering the area. The middle guy was agreeable, so I took the shot. No problems, so I became more confident about being among the people. I wonder if the protest banner makers could use a native English-speaking proofreader.

Protests near Lumphini Park

Three protesters with dog. I asked the guy in the middle if it was OK to take a photo and he smilingly agreed. The other two seemed not to notice.

I saw this fellow from far off waving his flag, and I knew immediately that I had to catch him in his moment of pride. This is along one of the side streets leading to the main stage area.

Thailand flag waver.

Flag waver along a street leading into the main stage area.

Lots of vendors here. I should buy a protest shirt. Maybe I’ll go back and get one later.

T-shirt vendor.

T-shirt vendor along a side street. Lots of colorful protest shirts are for sale.

Near the flag waver I saw this older gentleman, with his cool toothless smile. I think he asked me to take his photo before I could ask for his permission to do so.

Toothless man smiling.

An enthusiast near where I saw the flag waver. This guy is really into it, with his toothless, but infectious, grin.

Here are a few of the hundreds of tents where the protesters are living. This is near the entrance to Lumphini Park, which is jammed with tents, shower stalls and cooking areas. I took a few more photos earlier today, which I’ll try to get processed and posted by tomorrow.

Tent city near Lumphini Park

Tent city near Lumphini Park. The park itself is crammed with hundreds of tents.

There are tents set up inside larger tents. Here some folks are enjoying a gab session, staying out of the afternoon heat. I asked the guy on the left about taking a photo and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, but he immediately went into “serious” mode when I took the shot. After I finished, he smiled again.

People talking

Enjoying a gab session away from the heat of the early afternoon.

I walked around the park a bit more and decided it was time to get out of the heat and go to the subway station. But, I saw this older lady sitting under an awning. I don’t know if she was just resting there or whether she was selling the “V for Vendetta” masks. I liked her smile.

V for Vendetta mask

“V for Vendetta” character mask. I think this lady was selling them.

Just one more shot before the subway entrance. I caught these two guys near an “I (heart) Thailand” sign near the main stage.

Two men resting

A couple of guys taking a break at one of the “I (heart) Thailand” signs near the main stage.

It was time to get out of the heat. It’s been around 95 degrees fahrenheit (35 C) in Bangkok the last few days and I was sweating. I went to the entrance to the subway station and took the escalator down. Wow! There was a sweet, cool breeze coming up from the underground area. Was it ever a sensuous feeling! I thought that maybe I should go up and down the escalators several times to repeat the cooling breeze, but there’s a security checkpoint at the bottom. I figured that sooner or later the cop on duty would get wise to me.

I got my ticket at Hualamphong and then took the wonderfully air-conditioned subway to the protest site near the National Stadium. I took a few more photos there, but I’ll save them for my next post.

You might wonder why people fall in love with a particular city. Is it the restaurants and the food, the music venues, the sightseeing opportunities or the overall culture? I really love Bangkok and I have for years. It’s my favorite city of the ones I’ve visited. Yesterday, though, I think I discovered why I love it so much. Sure, it has great food, beautiful Buddhist temples and tons of culture. Yestereday, for me, it was the people. Good luck to all of them, on both sides of the political divide. I hope they get this settled peacefully and soon. Please, no more violence, no more deaths.

Leaving, Arriving

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s also quite a hassle. Packing for a three-week vacation is troublesome. Should I bring my swimming pants that are three sizes too small? How about my sunglasses? I’ve never worn them before, but maybe it’ll be really, really bright this time and my retinas might get burned out. There’s this outside chance that I might get asked to do a bit of juggling, so I’d better bring those yellow tennis balls that I “found” at the court. Right? So many non life-threatening decisions to make.

Moving permanently is a different beast altogether. In a way, it’s easier. After you’ve packed everything, you just look around your abysmally small apartment to see if anything you’ve accumulated over the past five years, including dust, food droppings, sticky notes with meaningless phone numbers written on them and your passport are still lying in hidden corners of your room. If they are, pick them up and either toss them in the garbage or keep them. There should be nothing remaining. Everything important should be in your 1995 vintage Kelty backpack or your hand-me-down suitcase, given to you by Rob, a Scottish colleague who returned home six months ago.

But, before packing, I have to decide “Do I keep it or haul it out to the trash bin?” That old, moldy coffee maker has to go of course, as do all the condiments in the ‘fridge, including the five year old jar of what used to be pickles. Incense? Gone. All that old scratch paper? Gone. Garish polyester shirts that I bought in the Dominican Republic? Hmmm, they sure pack nice (wrinkle-free) and they kind of make a statement and I sure like the day-glo colors. Keep ’em.

It was problematic, but I finally packed everything that I thought I needed to have for a permanent change of location and life. I finished all the obligations to the university, like paying my final utility bill and cleaning my apartment, and I left. For good. Never to return to South Korea, I waved it a more or less fond farewell. I hopped on the overnight bus from Yeosu to Incheon Airport with no regrets, no tears of farewell and no looking back.

The bus departs Yeosu at 11:10 pm and arrives at the airport at 4 am. Usually, I can intermittently doze off, but I never arrive at Incheon refreshed. As a matter of fact, I always need a transfusion of caffeine. You really have to experience the vast emptiness of Incheon Airport at 4 in the morning. It’s like the Sahara of Korea. Dry. Unoccupied. Trackless. Except for KFC and McDonalds restaurants. They’re open at that ungodly hour. I don’t care for fried chicken for breakfast, so I always order a McDonalds Big Breakfast. I hate McDonalds. Really, I can’t stand it. I live for Burger King, but the BK at Incheon doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. So, the Mac breakfast has to tide me over. Especially the Huge Cup of coffee. I embrace it.

So it was, then, that I checked in at China Eastern Airline, and left Korea for Bangkok, with a brief stop at Shanghai. Four thirty in the morning is dark, of course, but the sun eventually rose on a smoggy, hazy, foggy, misty morning. What was it? Smog, haze, fog, mist. Seoul, and nearby Incheon, had been experiencing a lot of smog and dust blown over, I suspect, from China. The morning was not illuminating. Here’s a shot of the airport.

Incheon Airport smog

It’s a hazy, misty, smoggy morning at Incheon International Airport.

The plane ride to Shanghai, the only stop, was uneventful, but the view from Pudong airport wasn’t any different from Incheon. Indeed, smog seems to be taking over all of east Asia. The atmosphere seemed to be a mix of fog, mist and smog, but the rising Sun couldn’t dissipate the smog.

Smoggy Pudong Airport in Shanghai

It’s quite smoggy at Pudong Airport in Shanghai around 10 a.m. local time.

I had about a two hour layover at Pudong Airport, so, as I always do in an airport that I’ve never been to before, I walked around the concourse. It’s a stunning-looking area, but the main concourse goes on forever. I would guess the straight-line walk from end to end is at least a kilometer long and maybe closer to two. Lining almost the entire length are duty free shops, where you can buy Chinese-themed items. Stuffed panda bears? Check. Chinese tassels? Check. Chinese tea? Check. Restaurants? Not many. I didn’t go into any of the restaurants or coffee shops, mainly because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have any Chinese yuan on me. The businesses will exchange dollars, but the exchange rate is cruel.

Pudong Airport Concourse

The main, very long concourse at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Walking up and down this duty-free lined passage will give you plenty of exercise.

Stuffed panda bears

Cute cuddly pandas on sale in the Panda Store at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.

Stuffed panda bears

More pandas at the panda “hangout” in Pudong Airport, Shanghai.

Chinese tassels

Chinese tassels, thousands of them, can be found at the duty free shops at Pudong.

Chinese tea

Chinese tea for sale at the duty free shops. All kinds, all tastes.

From Shanghai, it was a four-and-a-half hour flight to Bangkok. China Eastern definitely isn’t the greatest airline in the world. No in-flight movie that I could hear or understand even if I could hear it, and no great food, but the service wasn’t bad, and I had a window seat, which I always enjoy in the daytime. And the flight was on time–extra points for that.

When I stepped out of the climate-controlled, stale, dry air of the plane cabin, I knew that I was in Bangkok when the heat and humidity enclosed me in a suffocating cocoon, but I loved it after the winter temperatures of South Korea. Welcome to Thailand! More on Bangkok later.

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