Hugh Paxton’s Blog had a dismal Saturday. Dismal. I woke with the feeling that waking was a terrible mistake and it was. My daughter studies maths and Japanese at an outfit called Kumon. It’s very popular. There are Kumons all over Bangkok.
Their corporate image is a bored potato – could be a bored kid, but it looks more like a dormant spud. I hate going to Kumon, not as much as my daughter hates going to Kumon, but we are almost neck and neck in the loathing stakes.
She doesn’t like doing it. I can’t stand waiting for her to finish doing it. I get to sit on a chair designed for one of Snow White’s smaller buddies surrounded by harassed looking Japanese women with flabby legs and painted toenails and Japanese men slooped and snoring resembling the destitutes at Shinjuku station. The lighting is designed to remind you of terrible times in terrible places. Think nasty, really nasty, police station or urban jungle public toilet at 3 AM. The Kumon waiting area, its grisly occupants and it’s schizophrenic lighting are enough to give you tooth ache.
While my teeth were aching and I was watching the Japanese Daddys drooling or looking vacant, or in a few cases dutiful but incredibly bored and uncomfortable, I wondered what was happening elsewhere in Bangkok. The Pitak Siam rally. Was there going to be a coup? A violent collision of people determined to maintain or destroy the Status Quo?
11.55 am Pitak Siam leader Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit orders rally to continue. 20,000 police try to stop him.
Kumon lasted for several centuries and when it was over Annabel and I emerged to see a world with movement, life, people frying squid, selling mangos – we were back in Bangkok! Without hesitation I grabbed my daughter and took her down to London.
The Londoner’s a great place and brews its own beer. The stench was unbearable. Yeast, hops, f***k knows what, clogged the air. Their rather witchy brewing tanks were gusting smoke. Anybody in their right mind would have left at once, but we were too bloody polite. I ordered a pint and it tasted just like the pub smelled. Annabel’s Sprite was similarly contaminated. I still smell of the place and it’s Sunday morning.
We stayed in the Londoner for ten minutes then went outside. There’s a smoking area with stools and tables and a curry counter bar shop that never has any customers and usually doesn’t have any staff. The lights are always on, the coffee machine functions, and there’s a smell of curry, but overall it’s a total ghost. A mystery really. A restaurant with nobody in attendance in the commercial heart of Bangkok. Sitting opposite a pub that looked lovely but stank on a rancid scale of 10 out of 10.
Near the Royal Plaza protesters were worming their way into coils of barbed wire erected to stop protesters protesting.
A fat Japanese guy came trudging down the stairs – I knew from his beaten defeated demeanor that he had just come down from Kumon (ten floors above The Londoner).
Annabel: “What do you think he’s going to do?”
At about the same time police were readying more tear gas canisters the Japanese guy burst out through the Londoner’s doors and ran up the stairs, taking them two, three! at a time. I’ve never seen such a transformation. He was only in the pub for a minute. It had brought him back from the dead.
We had to go back into the Londoner to pay the bill and we argued about who should do it. I felt that Annabel, being younger than me, should stop her bleating and do the decent thing. She’s a stubborn little blighter and I never win.
“Let’s get the f***k out of here!” she said.
“Don’t say that, Annabel!”
“You just said it, Daddy!”
“Yes, well I might have done but I shouldn’t have.”
We reached the top of the stairs and Annabel said something unprecedented in Bangkok’s history.
“Ah fresh air at last!”
Nobody has ever said that on Sukhumvit road. Nobody. Ever.
We got the f***k out of there at about the same time police unleashed more tear gas and the anti-government rally began to crumble. The turn out wasn’t a million people as organisers had predicted. It wasn’t close to that. And one key obstacle was that there wasn’t room to have a rally. There were 20,000 police taking up the space. They weren’t on street corners. They were packed in a ranked mass, making any attempt to actually access the demo site physically impossible. It was a stubborn wall of muscle. 20,000! Check the Bangkok Post website for photos. You will find them daunting. One might even say an unprecedented deployment of police.
When the Red shirts were burning central Bangkok there wasn’t a cop in sight! The army had to restore order.
Annabel and I got home at about the time the protest leader called the whole thing off to stop people being killed.
Nobody died (apart from two cops who had the misfortune to be in a van that went head to head with another vehicle) and most people who were arrested have been released. The protester who drove a six wheel lorry through a police barricade is still helping police with their enquiries.
Was there a coup yesterday? No.
The demo was dumb. But it was crushed unfairly. And crushed hard.
My daughter and I just had a normal sort of day. Fun, silly, infuriating, farcical but we both came home intact. I think democracy has not managed quite the same thing here after Saturday.
Check the Bangkok Post website. Look at the cops.