Thai protest sites and colors: If you’re a foreigner in Thailand and venture into a protest site for the first time after hearing about it repeatedly on the news, you may be surprised at how different it is from what you expected.
If you thought you’d see something akin to the news images of angry Middle Eastern Muslims shouting slogans and pumping fists into the air, or any such thing, you’re in for a shock.
Thai protests are incredibly laid-back, more like an outdoor market or a carnival. Vendors have set up booths and are selling everything imaginable – T-shirts, protest paraphernalia, ice coffee, etc. Food and water is often being given away free. Singers are providing entertainment on the stage.
Looking around, you see no sense of anger (unless it’s Jatuporn delivering fire and brimstone from the red-shirt stage). But even then, he seems to be the only angry person in the crowd.
There also seems to be absolutely no sense of urgency or danger at all. It all just seems perfectly normal and ordinary.
It all seems so harmless, at least on the surface. But it can abruptly change in an instant with no warning at all.
Back in 2010 during the red-shirt protests I ventured down to Ratchaprasong out of curiosity. Things were as I have described above.
And then suddenly a visitor appeared followed by a few media cameras. The well-mannered, laid-back, and friendly crowd turned in an instant.
Much like a crowd in a sports stadium gets loud when something exciting happens, this crowd grew loud in a second or two – and it was an angry loud.
People started throwing things at this visitor, and a few men took off after him, chasing him down the street as the poor fellow fled – possibly for his life. They chased him until they all disappeared out of sight.
I turned and asked someone who this visitor was. The reply I got was “Other side”.
It was evidently a yellow-shirt leader, who foolishly thought he’d pay a friendly visit to the “other side”.
Much like sports fans, it’s an “us versus them” mentality. Just the fact that you’re dressed in the wrong uniform is enough – you’re the enemy.
A friend of mine worked in a coffee shop at the Bangkok airport in 2008 when the yellow-shirts occupied it. Because this particular coffee shop staff happened to wear red uniforms they could not leave. It was too dangerous. They were forced to stay all night, until finally some of the yellow-shirt leaders came and escorted them out.
So it’s no joke when embassies in Bangkok advise their nationals to avoid wearing colors associated with either side in the ongoing political conflict. Amazingly enough, this now includes the red, white and blue of the Thai flag because it’s such an integral part of the current anti-government protest movement.
Walking around with a Thai flag or a whistle could be dangerous indeed, if you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.