If you've ever been to Bangkok, chances are you've been on the Asoke sky train platform. The streets below it are always crowded, but usually not like this:
"On the long street shot, the prostitute-Disneyland street—'Soi Cowboy'—is just behind the five blue medical tents on the right," writes Our Man in Thailand. "I imagine business is down."
OMIT took these photos the night after one prominent leader of the "Red Shirts" (pro-government and ostensibly pro-Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra) was wounded in a drive-by shooting at his home in Bangkok. The shooting happened shortly after Prime Minister Yingluck declared a state of emergency, further curbing Thailand's already limited civil liberties.
Most of the casualties so far have been on the Yellow Shirt side (more urban, anti-Thaksin/Yingluck) rather than the Red Shirt side (more rural, pro-Thaksin/Yingluck) and all kinds of rumors and conspiracy theories have been swirling about the drive-by. (That's one casualty of not having a robust and independent press—the newspapers are closely tied to government and business interests, which leaves unreliable street wisdom and bloggers to tell the "truth," which means it's tough to parse what's actually happening.)
"A friend who is married to a Red family told me that an in-law was emailed a Red party memo asking him to be a front-line leader," OMIT writes. "It stipulated that if he is wounded in clashes with whistle-blowers [the Yellow/Occupy Bangkok protesters], he will receive 40,000 baht. If killed, a million baht. This is a fuck-ton of money for the poor northerners."
I told him there's serious confusion in the US and Europe about what's going on—"Occupy Bangkok" is accused of co-opting the lefty symbolism of Occupy to represent a moneyed urban elite, but they're protesting the continued influence of plutocrats such as Thaksin, who in turn supposedly have populist support among the "Red" rural poor.
Even the renowned and typically indisputable wisdom of Slog comments threads can't decide whether the Occupy Bangkok people are more like the Tea Party or more like Bolsheviks.
"It's weird that people equate the protesters with the tea party," OMIT writes. "So wrong." Instead, he suggests, we should think of the protests as "plutocrats vs. oligarchs," with the plutocrats on the Thaksin/Yingluck/current government side and the old-time oligarchs protesting their more dramatic (and allegedly extralegal) power and money grabs.
So where do the rural Reds, the pro-Thaksin farmers come in? Are they just dupes for the Thaksin-style plutocrats?
"They feel grateful to Taksin for real reasons," he writes. "The Thai word for 'populism' was invented for the man. He protects his base, too. The floods were diverted away from red-rice growing strongholds, for example, into the manufacturing area of Ayutaya."
What will happen? Nobody knows, OMIT says, and definitely not the US and European pundits.
For now, it's unseasonably cold. "This is calming the situation," he says. "Also, rice is still being planted. Once the [rural] Red planters are done with that, they might come down in droves... the Yellow guards were in force last night, big time."