About a year ago, there were a series of demonstrations by a political group that created a major disruption to business in portions of Bangkok. On April 10th, those demonstrations turned violent when the Thai military tried to intervene and 24 people died. The video segments and reports that made the news in the United States made it seem as if the entire city was in flames and held hostage by renegade terrorists.
At that time, I made some telephone calls and exchanged emails with some of the mission co-workers here and learned that the story was not as it was portrayed on the major networks in the United States. They said that the demonstrations and the violence were limited to portions of the city and that, for most of the nation, life went on as usual. Once the violence ended in Bangkok, the story disappeared from network news in the United States, so, beyond prayers for a resolution that would restore peace to the political process in Thailand, I put the whole thing out of my mind. Until this week…
I had forgotten that the most violent day of the demonstrations last year was right before Songkran – the festival that I have blogged about twice in the past week. In the lull before the holiday, many who would normally have been at work chose to participate in the demonstrations, swelling the number of people in the streets. That fact also created the disruption of an important holiday… and an important tourist event. At that time, I did not know that the center of the Songkran festivities – and thus, the target of the demonstration on those days – was Silom Road, only one block from the Bangkok Christian Guest House.
On April 10th of this year, the anniversary of that demonstration and the worst of the violence last year, there was a rally of those who wanted to remember those who were hurt or died in the protests the previous year. Nothing was said on that day in the Guest House, but several days later, during this year’s Songkran festival, it came up in a conversation with the staff at the Guest House. It turns out that the Guest House was very close to the demonstrations and the violence last year. Thai army troops patrolled the street right in front of the Guest House, as it was one of the perimeter streets for the demonstration. Each night, gunfire could be heard nearby. Members of the staff were afraid to come to work or return home because of the proximity of the demonstration and the violence. In an effort to control the demonstrators, the Thai government cut off electricity and water to this part of the city. The Guest House itself was closed for one week and those who remained in the compound were afraid for their own safety.
Thus, while the entire affair was not as violent as it was portrayed on US news broadcasts, it was also more violent than I realized at the time. Now, as I watch the news in this country (CNN Asia or similar news from Germany or Singapore – where the USA is barely mentioned), I wonder how much of the truth I am seeing or hearing in these news broadcasts. Yet I know that the truth, as this blog illustrates, totally depends upon one’s perspective and one’s own worldview.
There is more to the story of the demonstrations last year: Despite warnings of the danger given by the staff of the Guest House, one Italian man who was working with a local NGO decided that he wanted to photograph the demonstration. He insisted that he would be safe, for anyone could see that he was not Thai. He did not return to the Guest House that night and, when the staff here finally heard from him, they learned that he was in a local hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound. The manager of the Guest House visited him in the hospital and, from what I understand, never once said, “I told you so.” But then, he is a good Christian and I would expect no less.