By Geertrui Tavernier
Event: Anti-government protest
Venue: Ratchadamnoen Road, Bangkok
Date: 24th November ‘13
I’ve travelled in quite a few countries before, 40 to be exact. But I have never set foot on Asian soil. Until now.
My expectations of Bangkok have been exceedingly met. The damp heat and never-ending jumble of both intriguing and unpleasant noises, smells and crowdedness are quickly forgotten once you hear these sweet and melodious words:
“Hellooooooooo, massaaaaaaaaaage?” Yes, please!
Thais eagerly respond to whatever tourist question with the phrase “same same but different”. This couldn’t be more true. Just like most people on this planet, the majority have built routines in their lives, their work, to provide for themselves and their families. The rest of the time, and money, is spent having fun.
The Thais will never deny themselves good and decent food. The extremely affordable street food stalls serve heavenly tasting local cuisine (I’ve fallen in love with pad thai with chicken, and it’s become my daily staple), very often much more mouth-watering than posh, pricey restaurants.
Just like all people, the Thais strive for happiness, personally, for family and friends but also for their nation. As such, I’ve had the privilege to witness their love and devotion for their country and its royal family.
Demonstrations and protests directed against the corrupt regime had been going on for several weeks now. And I stepped right into its climax.
Tens of thousands of enthusiastic and frustrated-by-their-government Thais, donned with traditional garments, accessories and flags in their national colours (red-white-blue) and ‘Long live the king’ banners gathered in and around Ratchadamnoen Road, right next to the backpacking district.
They spoke up, for the future of their country, loudly. Oh boy, was it loud, day and night. Enormous speakers were set to a deafening volume, preventing everyone (including me) in a 5 km radius from sleeping, days in a row. Not to mention the traffic chaos it created, which is already pretty hardcore in Bangkok. Most roads to the area were blocked off by police barricades. Taxis and tuk-tuks asked for double or triple prices, justified by the detours and extra traffic jams they had to overcome.
Let me set one thing straight though. As opposed to what you would read or hear from the media, it was a very peaceful and harmless protest.
That accounted for some rather interesting sights and experiences. “People make festival,” a taxi driver enlightened me.
Indeed. Makeshift food stalls popped up everywhere, manned by swift-handed women, cooking around the clock. Street vendors strolled the protest grounds with flag-colored merchandise, fruits, drinks, sweat towels… Live music was played in between the fierce speeches. The people had made flyers ridiculing their current government.
It was a 60,000-strong party. And it was all smiles.
What will be grafted in my memory most, however, is my life-threatening and nerve-wrecking motorbike-taxi ride. Frustrated, yet amused by the many roadblocks, my driver was not planning be subdued by the countless traffic jams. He was gonna get me to Soi Rambuttri. And he was gonna get me there fast!
He handed me his own helmet to calm my nerves. Then he began weaving in between cars, tuk-tuks, buses, and even police cars, while whizzing at a breakneck speed. Ghost driving, honking, beating red lights, breaking all traffic rules. He overtook all other motorcyclists with stuntman-level cuts. God, he even stopped a speeding bus by roaring in front and stretching out his almighty stop hand, superman style.
My eyes rolled, I felt faint as I held on tight to whatever parts of the bike I could get my hands on. My desperate plea of “No, no, no, no, no!” got dismissed by an non-assuring and continuous “No, no, no, no, no? Hahahahaha! No, no, no, no, no? Hahahahaha!”.
If I was gonna die, it had to be that day, slamming into the hot tarmac, with my face smeared in leftover paad thai, reduced to a limp pile of collateral damage from the protest chaos.
But no, I survived to tell the tale. Without a scratch.
Welcome to Bangkok I guess?