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19 May 2010

Notes from Bangkok

Fridae contributor and Bangkok resident Douglas Sanders sends an update about Bangkok's gay areas as a curfew across Bangkok on Wednesday night has been announced after Thai security forces today stormed the main camp occupied by anti-government protesters in the city's commercial district - triggering rioting and violence across the capital.

BBC: Protesters set fire to areas outside shopping malls in
central Bangkok as they left

Bangkok, May 19, 2010. Early afternoon.

As many know, there are two areas of gay bars in the main shopping and host-bar area of Bangkok, involving parts of Silom and Suriwong Roads, and the famous Soi Patpong. The fighting between the government forces and the Red Shirts is intense at the moment in Bangkok. It has not resulted in any violence in the gay bar areas.

On Thursday, May 13, around 8 pm, a grenade was launched that hit the Saladang Skytrain station on Silom road. Apparently it came from behind the Red Shirts Barricade that blocked the road leading north from the Rama IV / Silom intersection (where the well known Dusit Thank Hotel is located, as well as the main entrance to Lumpini Park).

Nearby is Silom Soi 4, the small side street that has some of the best known gay bars and restaurants –  Telephone, Balcony, Sphinx. The gay venues were told by the military to close after the grenade attack on Saladang station and Silom Road was blocked off to prevent Red Shirts moving south into the Silom business area. The night markets on Silom Road and Patpoing Soi were deserted.

After Soi 4 was closed, I walked over to Suriwong Road, which runs parallel to Silom. The main gay bar area there is on a small soi (side street) often called Soi Twilight (though the pioneer Twilight bar is long gone). The bars and restaurants were functioning, though the numbers of tourists, both Asians and non-Asians were pretty limited.

The manager in Dick's Cafe was watching television coverage of events on his laptop. Yes, he knew that Silom Soi 4 was now closed. But this was Suriwong! It was only a 10 minute talk to the Red Shirt / Army standoff at Rama IV and Silom, but there were no soldiers on Soi Twilight.

Friday and Saturday night the larger gay host bars on Soi Twilight were closed. The owner of Dream Boys said it was too expensive to run the air conditioning when there were almost no customers. Police or military had not told the bars to close, and two or three were operating, though desperately short of clients. 

The government gave the Red Shirts a deadline to leave the protest sites by Monday afternoon, May 17. Monday and Tuesday were declared holidays, with government offices and schools closed. Now Wednesday and Thursday are also holidays. Television today has shown army tanks (armoured personnel carriers with machine guns mounted on top) dismantling Red Shirt barricades. Black smoke from burning tires spirals up from four or give locations, as Red Shirts try to protect their remaining areas. 

The Skytrain and the Subway have been closed for at least five days now. The army have sealed off a large area around the Red shirts encampment, and are blocking any supplies coming in. Red shirts can leave the area, but not re-enter. Ten days ago I had wandered through the Red controlled areas with no problems, from police, army or Red Shirts. The Red Shirts had been able to move in large generators, so they would have power even if electricity was cut off in the area. Now the area is sealed off. 

The government is providing transportation for Red Shirts to return to their home areas, and many individuals have left the protest sites. The government is also providing transportation for non-Thais who may still be in the area, with announcements in English on television today by a lead government spokesperson. Embassies are asking their nationals to take no risks. Stay home they say. 

Breaking news says that hundreds of armed police are forming lines on Sukhumvit road, which leads into the main protest site, backed up by some 20 police vans. 

Maybe this will be over in a couple of days. But we have been expecting an end to the confrontation for many weeks now.

Douglas Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at sanders_gwb @ yahoo.ca. 

Thailand » Bangkok

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-05-19 20:14  
Nicholas Snow here, also in Bangkok. Evacuated from Sathorn Soi 1 yesterday. That neighborhood had been taken over by Red-Shirts and "men in black" who put in barricades around dusk on Sunday, one right by the opening of what is known as "Soi Babylon." You can see my six-part real-time VIDEO TOUR of the occupied area filmed on May 1st, at http://www.NotesFromThailand.com (NotesFromThailand.com). I am now in Phuket and no longer on the scene.
2. 2010-05-20 00:14  
very sad, land of smiles now land of blood
Comment #3 was deleted by its author on 2010-05-20 00:16
4. 2010-05-20 00:20  
also unrest and violence reported in 3 north and north eastern cities. Chock dee krub my Thai friends :((((
5. 2010-05-20 04:47  
I just arrived safely in my home in Munich, Germany this evening after a 16-day stay in BKK. I considered the city as my "Paradise" and hopefully my future "home". But now, my heart is burning in sorrow and my eyes shedding tears of sadness. I will never forget the precious and happy moments with all my Thai friends. I will cherish the Love all of you have given me in the past years. From you I have learned to smile, be polite and enjoy this one and only Life given to us in this world. Thank You :-)
"When will I see you again........???"
6. 2010-05-20 05:11  
I know that the bar owners and staff etc need customers to keep going and make a living, but, Jesus, I wouldn't go out in Bangkok right now. It'd feel Wrong - to me, I'd feel like it was saying: "Oh, yeah, I know dozens of people have been killed... but I want a drink and to have fun!" Just... disrespectful to the Thai people, you know? Well, that's just me... it's an awful situation to see going on there, for everyone caught up in it and the many, many Thais around the rest of the world, but what can you do except wait to see how it all continues...
7. 2010-05-20 06:07  
I regret that Thailand has to suffer from much violence. But I see closure of these disgusting boy bars where poor guys are exploited by sleazy sex tourists from all around the World as a good sign.

Thailand is a beautiful country with beautiful people and deserved better. I hope this sick sex trade will be put out of existence by the current events once and for all, but of course it has to be done in a lawful and civilized way.

If you can enjoy seeing poor boys made "available" at boy bars to every dirty John, Ian and Harry then you are irreversibly SICK.

My deep and sincere condolences to all Thai people who lost their loved ones. I hope peace will come to Thailand soon.

Comment edited on 2010-05-20 06:13:31
8. 2010-05-20 06:22  
my prayers to the land of smiles...
may this be the necessary circumstances for a better, glorious future, rather than the herald of impending disaster :(
9. 2010-05-20 17:32  
Oh my. Gettin pretty bad as the days goes by. p/s: nic snow, wish ya safe there!
10. 2010-05-20 19:39  
As a former Bangkok resident, it's sickening to see blood on the streets of the city I love.

RIP Khun Kitcharoen. I miss you every day x
11. 2010-05-20 23:28  
Buddha bless Thailand!
You have given the world so much joy and love.
Let there be no bloodshed any more.
I will pray for you until peace comes back again.
12. 2010-05-20 23:35  
Friends of Thailand,
Please call or write or pray for your Thai friends and the Land of Smiles more.
13. 2010-05-21 00:28  
I am so deeply sorry for the terrible destructive pain
your country and people are going through now....

All of us in the world who love Thailand and Thai people
feel very very sad!

May Buddha, God, and the King
help you through this dark time.
14. 2010-05-21 00:30  
I am so deeply sorry for the terrible destructive pain
your country and people are going through now....

All of us in the world who love Thailand and Thai people
feel very very sad!

May Buddha, God, and the King
help you through this dark time.
15. 2010-05-21 03:58  
There's always one, isn't there - who babbles platitudes about the so called sex trade in Thailand without having a clue what he's talking about.

Exploited by sleazy sex tourists from all around the world, the kentang claims. What? Millions of horny Thai men in the country and not one EVER uses them and pays for Thai boys? Not one? Remarkable. Unbelievable. Such self control. In most Asian cities my friend, you'll find bars that cater exclusively for local clients, where foreigners are discouraged or not permitted to enter.

And of course he clings to the fantasy that these boys are exploited. As if they didnt choose to be there. No one holds a gun to their heads and drags them to a bar and forces them to have sex with farang. Imagine if you come from a poor family with many kids, you have little education and lack the skills to get a well paid job. But have a well muscled body from working on the farm. Or a slender body with a pretty face - the look or the type men want.

So they come to the big city and get into the sex trade to make money to send home - they support their families, they support themselves and probably can afford to buy things they wouldnt be able to afford otherwise. Its not an ideal life but better than they did have. And better than starving.

Now you want to bars closed. So what do the boys do to earn a living? Sell themselves on the street? Or do you imagine they will all go back home and plant the rice paddy or work in a factory, happy in the knowledge they are earning far less than they would selling themselves. Some of course, are students trying to get an education or make ends meet.

Exploited? Undoubtedly by the bar owners. And cheap tourists who wont give them a decent tip and make life a little easier for them. As for me, whenever I pay for a boy, I am generous, kind and treat him not as a client but someone who deserves respect. Both parties happy.
16. 2010-05-21 07:36  
#15- Fully agree and thanks for the honesty. :)

Politically in the long term, don't believe these protests will ever subside as long as the voting majority don't get some form of democracy from a new election. Truly unfortunate for a magical country like Thailand. Wish them well.
17. 2010-05-21 08:01  
A corrupt ex PM, a faction that supports him, a current PM installed by a corrupt military, a king- the wealthiest monarch in the world presiding all the while much of the country strives to make a meager living. There is no winning side that I can see, and all the while I thought this was a harmonious land of smiles, it was really just a marketing tagline to cover the apparent deep seated distrusts between those who seek some power and those who refuse to relinquish it. Just like everywhere else.
I love Thailand. I hope there comes forgiveness on each side. United it will stand again...divided it will fall.
Blessings to all.
18. 2010-05-21 19:48  
echoes of the Tianneman square massacre...my goddess people are massacred by the military on the demands of a corrupt unelected government doing the dirty work of some in a feudal aristocracy and their hangers on and all your concerned with is gay bars closing, Thailand is the newest bloodied repressive dictatorship, it's time to dump all monarchies and end institutionalised privilage world wide... in the words sung by the late great song writer musician and poet John Lennon " Power to the people..RIGHT ON" so will U be ignoring the plight of the rural poor and politically disadvantaged to holiday in Thailand or Burma or China or Vietnam etc. and put money into the hands of these corrupt undemocratic regimes?
19. 2010-05-21 19:56  
ps I actually agree with thekentang18... it's time Asia on a whole closed the doors to the sexual explotation of Asian youth and throw all these shady sex tourists & dubious foriegn residents out
Comment #20 was deleted by its author on 2010-05-26 06:06
21. 2010-05-22 23:25  
The situation will be better soon...i hope...

Wish Bad people who made the bad things will gone from my beautiful country as soon as possible!!!

I miss Central World, Siam Paragon, Gaysorn Plaza, Siam square and i also miss DJ Station Silom Soi 2!!!

22. 2010-05-23 02:42  
Dear Kentang,

Blah, blah, blah, blah. As I said the first time around, you do not have a clue what you are talking about.

So I'm not even going to bother answering you. Even your slanderous assertion I chase teenage boys, which fridae should have been more careful in allowing. Actually, I prefer guys 35 and up because they have a modicum of intelligence.
23. 2010-05-23 06:21  
PS Kentang.

boyzone comes from a group of pop singers which I happen to like. If you had twice as many brains, you still wouldn't be a halfwit.
24. 2010-05-23 18:01  
Two issues spring to mind from all the above comments - firstly, the simplistic view put forward by the BBC and CNN that the recent conflict was a 'Fight for Democracy' - the 'haves' against the 'have-nots' - TV journalists need to 'dumb down' complex issues so all can understand them before they reach for the remote control. The 'haves' wanted to prevent a puppet regime running Thailand, with an exiled and convicted ex-PM pulling the strings from Dubai. His puppet PM's, Samak and Somchai, bought victory in the last election, in defiance of the electoral laws, and they were brought down by the Yellow Shirts (admittedly by illegally closing the airport, inter alia). Thaksin is a master of mass media, and has portrayed himself in the West, and to 'his' Redshirts, as a Champion of the Downtrodden Masses - but he is nothing of the sort.

The second issue is that one needs a university degree in Thailand for all but the most menial jobs. Boys from the country come to Bkk to support their families, but find many doors closed to them with their minimal education, and so end up on Soi Twilight (80% of them, by the way, are straight, or 'top', as they put it). They tell their families they are "working in bars", and no further questions are asked. (Thaksin is of course the ultimate example of a man who will do anything, absolutely anything, to make money!) Some of them are indeed students, and can change to better work in due course - but many of them feel that the system offers them no choices, further education is expensive. (SWING, in Silom, offers free English classes to these lads, but I don't know of any other organisations offering them a way out.) But for every boy who finds a 'Sugar Daddy', gets an education and a future, 10 more will hear of it and move into Bkk, and until the underlying injustices are confronted, so it continues.
Comment edited on 2010-05-24 12:58:54
25. 2010-05-24 05:11  
I'm so sorry for all that is currently happening to all my Thai friends. I hold the Thai people and nation in high esteem, and I hope all this suffering an killings will end soon.

But, I'm not sure this story that has created so strong factions among the population will end soon. People who have taken sides so definitely will not easily get back to a normal life and find harmony with their neighbors.

Finally about the sex trade, many of these guys come from the Deep SOuth or the North East, have little education, and have only a future in rice farming, a very tough job, that yields very little money. OF course, it is clearly understandable, some of them prefer an easier life, where they are admired by many, and make a lot more money, to sustain themselves, and are able to send money home to their family and get their esteem.


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