Wednesday, July 30, 2014

87 Bangkok

Let me ask you this...

...if in the place where you had decided to live today, August 2014, the place you had decided that you wanted to put down roots... because you understood and liked the people you lived alongside, the place you had worked in for the last two decades and all the other stuff....  if the Army with their tanks, guns and interrogation camps decided to oust the elected civilian government, the government elected by your intelligent, educated, hard working friends; this would be the same army that four years earlier killed dead hundreds of people....

....what would you think?

- - - - - -

Thailand Protests: Crackdown As it Happened
The Guardian
20th May 2010

The worst fears about the situation in Thailand appear to be being borne out today as the Thai army move in against thousands of redshirt protesters in central Bangkok.
Using armoured vehicles they broke through make shift barricades in an operation that killed at least four people.

Two journalists were among 50 people wounded and one western journalist, identified as an Italian is believed to be dead.

Associated Press: "Surreal scenes of warfare erupted in one of the ritziest parts of the capital, as troops armed with M-16s marched through the central business district past upscale apartment buildings to retake the area around manicured Lumpini Park, which has been under the control of protesters camped there for weeks.

Bangkok has descended into chaos, writes Ben Doherty. "Troops are moving into the redshirts central city protest camp firing indiscriminately, as they seek to take back control of the capital's streets... ...I saw a Thai man shot as he crouched behind an ambulance which came to rescue him. After coming under fire the ambulance retreated leaving the man stranded in the street.
Soldiers also moved through the adjacent Lumpini Park, the biggest park in central Bangkok, backed by personnel carriers.

Moving up Ratchadamri Road, troops fired indiscriminately. Journalists, ambulances and paramedics all attracted fire.

Ratchadamri Road is behind the four soldiers I photographed above.

Witnesses say at least six more bodies from the Bangkok unrest are lying in a Buddhist temple in the protest zone, according to Associated Press. If true the deaths would bring today's toll to at least 12. Associated Press: "They say the temple, Wat Pathum Vanaram, was supposed to be a sanctuary for protesters from the street violence but troops have yet to secure the surrounding area. Hundreds of people fled there after the army launched a crackdown to end a two-month standoff in the Thai capital.

"Medical volunteer Anan Thongniem said the dead included two protesters, one protest 'guard' and two medics."


Monday, July 28, 2014

86 Bangkok

England are playing test match cricket on the playing fields of Southampton today.

The first Test Match I saw was England versus Australia at Lords with my school mate John. The next was at the end of the series, at The Oval. Tickets were cheap back then. A couple of years later it was England versus New Zealand at Trent Bridge, the day before we trained to jump over Langar airfield.

I've watched a fair few evening football matches at Villa Park. One is particularly memorable. The night Operation Desert Shield turned into Operation Desert Storm we drove back home to Oxford down the newly opened M40 extension, in a company Ford Sierra. That was with a good mate, Tashman. We'd pigged out on a balti before making that trip home.

MCMXIV, by Philip Larkin

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

On the north of Bangkok's Royal Field, opposite the National Theatre there is a small, quiet, shaded garden surrounding a white four-sided memorial topped with a chedi like adornment. This is the Monument to the Thai Expeditionary Force sent to Europe, the Western Front, to fight in the 1914 - 1918 war.


The names of the dead are inscribed on the sides. Nine names face west. Ten names face east.


85 Bangkok

Buddha Days yesterday and over the weekend...


Some interesting temple wats that are normally kept locked were open. Above is the Ordination Hall at Wat Suthat, the royal temple holding the ashes of King Rama VIII. The main hall where Rama VIIIs ashes are kept under the main Buddha image is always open to tour parties if they cough up the entry fee. But here, round the back, on the axis from the north gate of the Grand Palace, here is where the murals go orbital.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

84 Bangkok

On Buddha Days in Bangkok they sometimes open up the wats that are normally kept locked.

I went to the wonderful Wat Ratchaprahdit, where the ashes of King Rama IV are kept under the main Buddha image.

On the temple's walls are murals showing the royal ceremonies throughout the year, and on the entry wall to the right of the door in is King Rama IV observing the solar eclipse and changing Siam's world view...



83 Pyongyang

It was the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that got my holiday spending money in February 2010 and again in September 2011. What a laugh those trips were.


Monday, July 21, 2014

82 Bangkok

July 19 2014
"DEMOCRACY’S VITAL signs are fading fast in Thailand, three months after its 12th coup d’etat.
"Hundreds of academics, politicians and pro-democracy activists have been arrested and temporarily detained since May, as the junta attempts to silence all opposition. State officials have been purged from office. Protests, including readings of George Orwell’s “1984” and outdoor picnics in solidarity with prisoners, have been banned. Media are tightly restricted, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic, has had his passport revoked for writing an op-ed in The Post last month. The junta plans to introduce a state-owned Internet gateway that will be easy to monitor and censor.
"Fear, unlike anything seen in the past few decades, has descended on what was once Southeast Asia’s model democracy.

"The coup’s main purpose was to eradicate from Thailand the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, a popular but allegedly corrupt prime minister whom the military deposed in a 2006 coup. With strong support from the rural poor, his party won elections after his ouster, and his sister became prime minister in 2011. The monarchy, army and urban business elite felt threatened by Mr. Thaksin’s popular movement and backed an overthrow in May. Except for a courageous student group, few protesters dare hit the streets today. The only formidable anti-coup organization remains outside the country.
"With dissent criminalized, political debate has been dominated by reactionary members of the urban elite who reject democracy. Their suggestions for the new constitution, which the army intends to draft before holding elections, include increasing the power of a biased Electoral Commission and reserving a portion of the legislature for the military.
"Despite the army’s desperate attempt to win over the public — through a “happiness” campaign of free haircuts, concerts and World Cup telecasts — these autocratic reforms will be rejected by a majority of the country. The rural poor, having lived through two coups and two major protest crackdowns, value political rights more than freebies from the military. Ongoing human rights abuses further alienate them. These violations have alienated pro-democracy supporters who previously had no sympathy for Mr. Thaksin.



"The junta can continue down its repressive path, which will likely lead to unrest. Or, mindful of public opinion, it can restore civil liberties and return the country to democratic rule before fall 2015, as promised. This latter option must come with a constitution approved by referendum, with an elected legislature and mechanisms to ensure neutrality in the judiciary.
"The Obama administration has rightly condemned the coup as having “no justification,” suspended half of Thailand’s aid and canceled some joint military exercises. But it’s also signaled a willingness to dial back some of the pressure by deciding not to move the regional Cobra Gold military exercises out of Thailand. The big test is whether it will play along if the junta imposes a phony democracy.
"Thailand’s political ground is shifting. With the country’s king apparently in frail health, the administration should understand that the smartest bet is not with the traditional elite but with a democracy that respects both the vocal minority and silent majority."

And now...Bob.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

81 Bangkok & Moon

Forty Five years ago they put a man on the moon.

I watched the take off on a black and white telly in my front room. I was five. Me in Kenton on school holiday, them in America, on their way to space and the Moon.

The telly had wooden screw legs. Three channels. We had a sideboard with Dennis Wheatley books in it. A gas bar fire. And a picture that was rather weirdly painted over the fireplace thing.

I sat in my dad's chair and watched the take off. But I wasn't got out of bed to watch the first steps on the moon, like some people say today that they were.

I got a special plate as a memento. It was bigger than normal plates, with a picture of the landing and the names of the astronauts and everything. A raised edge and a blue border. I ate my breakfast toast off it for years. If we had boiled eggs I'd have my egg cup on sitting on the plate with the soldiers on there too. Sometimes I would eat sandwiches at lunchtime off it. Or even ginger biscuits from Sainsbury. I think we broke the plate in half. Dad Araldited it back together.

It's on my list to do before I die... see a live rocket launch that's got astronauts strapped inside. I'd like to hear the roar and the rumble, return to the motel and then read about Andy Kaufman after we've chatted about the experience. Fun in the madhouse. "Here's a truck stop instead of Saint Peter's."

When I went to Washington DC I popped into the Smithsonian and I wet myself at the aeronauticals display hall. I'd seen a space capsule in London's Science Museum already, so I wasn't freaked out as much by the ancient 1960s toggle switches and deck chair material they used for the seats. What did do my head in was the other space stuff the Americans had they we didn't. Most importantly, there was Glamorous Glennis suspended from the rafters. Glorious Glennis obviuously being a better scrawl for a plane than Glennis Dickhouse. Glennis was flown by her husband, Chuck Yeager. First man to go supersonic. I've watched it on "The Right Stuff."

I don't have a black and white telly in my living room now. But I do have a orange painted signed model of Glennis. It sits on my desk while the certificate of authenticity is safe in my sideboard drawer. My copy of The Right Stuff sits on my book shelf.

I saw Glennis and the space hall the day they put Saddam Hussein to death.


80 Burma

Still in 2014. Now it is July. I got sick of being in rainy season Bangkok, with the coup and the increasingly depressing military junta's rules, bullshit and decrees. I knew I needed to go when I was getting ratty, out loud, at the internet and at the pick up trucks selling fruit off the back with their loudspeakers blaring.

I went to Burma. To relive what it was like being British. A century out of date British, dinosaur British. A Kipling British, an Orwell British.

In Rangoon I walked the colonial buildings and watched what the new regime had done to the city. In the rain.

I visited pagodas all over the country. White ones, stone ones, brick ones and golden ones. Sometimes in the rain.

I tried not to take the gushy tourist photos of cutesie monks and lovely women smiling subserviently, with their gappy betel stained teeth, and tree paste circles on their cheeks, marvelously "captured" in the evening sunlight. Sod that. Do them as they come. A bonkers monk, a worn out worker.

I got cynical about the modern day plebs buggering up the visuals when they get hold of "religion" and cheap art supplies.

I read a few novels and revisited my pal George Orwell, writing notes in the book margins. I sought out where he was trained, when he was still Eric, to be a policeman in the Empire. I ran my hand along his bannister rail.

I gave my podcasts a good lashing, downloading appropriately associated tunes; Mission of Burma (naturally) "Revolver" and

Moby, with his remix.

Siouxsie... "Passenger"... riding along in the train, as you do.

A Passage to Indian Burma. I lapped it up and plan to be back in a drier November, right up north to Katha where the rains and trains won't get in my way.

...I feel that today, I'm more in the mood for adding to this temporal spatial thing. It's been a long time missing. I must get back to writing East Africa, twenty odd years ago. I should buckle down, focus and put this into order that makes sense. And get the home build back on the tracks.