Imagine Peace

4 Jul

zip up shirt crafted from Thai flag, artwork on display at Bangkok centre for Art & Culture

Zip-up shirt crafted from Thai flag, Imagine Peace exhibition, Bangkok centre for Art & Culture.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Junior remarked the other day, “I do hope the shirt war doesn’t start again while we’re in Bangkok.”

And my mother asked me over the phone, “How is Bangkok right now?”

A reasonable enough question. Last time we were here, the red shirts were still in residence but the protests had yet to turn bloody.

One day a chunk of the city centre was shut down for marches, with shiny new black pick-ups heading into the financial district across traffic, their red-shirted occupants waving amiably, scarlet banners and bandanas waving in the breeze.

A few weeks later, and only a month or so ago, great chunks of the city were in flames. Not long ago a remarkably well-timed bomb was discovered inside a cart of pineapples outside the offices of the ruling coalition.

This time?

The majority of the red-shirts, paid campaigners for Thaksin Shinawatra’s right to power, their 500-baht a day wage funded from the fifty or so missing billion the current government is pursuing, have returned to the countryside whence they came.

A reconciliation committee is working to track down those missing. There are elections coming up. And a hope that the state of emergency will be lifted and the media can report.

But in the city? Life seems normal enough.

Wall of pick and mix candy at MBK shopping mall, Bangkok.

Bangkok: a pick and mix of shopping and snacking.

The NY-style cupcake stall at Siam Skytrain station is doing a roaring trade; vendors of T-shirts and jewellery clog the walkways; folk flood the low-priced food court at MBK.

There are 90% off signs in the windows of Siam Paragon, the luxury mall, with D&G, Marc Jacobs et al, but only a solitary bag-check on the door.

The raised expressways that run out even past the grand canal and the airport are choked with traffic. Call centre girls in white shirts and tight black skirts wait patiently for buses. Hawkers and taxis surge around Victory Monument.

I guess the tourist villages of Khao San (for backpackers: comedy T-shirts, snake whisky, club fliers and hippie trews) and Patpong (for sex tourists: pingpong shows, bargirls, ladyboys and over-priced drinks) are a little quieter, these days.

The heaviest security we’ve seen? Ironically enough, at the Imagine Peace exhibition, in the stunning Bangkok Centre for Art & Culture, a minimalist white spiral shell whose interior more than lives up to the skyscrapers.

curving spiral walkway inside bangkok centre for art & culture

Inside the Bangkok Centre for Art & Culture.

Not on the lower floors. There the city’s architects of the future are displaying, and sometimes selling, more or less valid conceptual art pieces ahead of graduation.

Pink furry skull moneyboxes, a la Damien Hirst, for sale at Bangkok Centre of Art & Culture

Eat your heart out Damien Hirst.

But on the ninth floor, four storeys above the rails where brightly coloured Skytrains arc across the sky, and a colourful dove announces the theme, Imagine Peace.

There are armed, uniformed security guards in every room, at every entrance. Besides the golden clasped hands which Louise Bourgeois created for the Krabi memorial. Standing guard over doves and Buddhas, red and yellow Buddhas transformational demons, the merging red and yellow orchids, the Benettonesque chicks in red and yellow T-shirts, the artworks crafted from children’s toys…

painted red and yellow orchids at the Imagine Peace exhibition, Bangkok centre for Art & Culture

Intertwining red and yellow peace flowers from the Imagine Peace exhibition.

Almost as oddly as the elderly monk we saw in Pantip Plaza, the buzzing, scuzzy, electronics mall, ploughing his way through six heaving floors of discount electronica in search of a place to repair his vintage mobile phone.

Still, outside, the city is calm.

Not as sedate as where we’ve come from in the north. There streets, offices and bus stations stop and stand still, twice a day, at 8am and 6pm for the national anthem and the king.

The national anthem blares out twice a day from speakers, even here, but with money to be made there’s less attention paid.

The calm doesn’t, to be honest, come as a great surprise. I was at school in London during the IRA’s mainland campaigns. The bomb threats which routinely closed the trains and tubes were a routine annoyance.

The announcement would come out, over the tannoy. Folk would sigh, audibly. Pick up their things. Exit the station with a resigned expression and make their way to the bus to continue one’s daily business above ground.

Around 7/7, when a number 30 bus and its top-deck passengers (inter alia) was wiped out by a chap who got on just a few stops short of where we caught that bus to the cinema and West End, you felt the shock for a day or so. But the city carried on.

Cities, it has to be said, particularly tiger cities like Bangkok, do tend to.

Although… As I replied to the nine-year-old, “It should be fine. Until the king dies…”

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2 Responses to “Imagine Peace”

  1. Snap July 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    Bangkok is a must experience and let’s hope it stays calm, no matter what coloured shirt you are wearing. I will admit I couldn’t wait to get out of it, the first time I visited…but that was also the first time I’d been out Oz. I can handle the sensory overload quite well now and even look forward to it.

    I won’t ask you where you are headed next, but did you do the meditation class in Chiang Mai?

    • MummyT July 6, 2010 at 10:29 am #

      No!!! It was cancelled. I was gutted. Z, it is fair to say, wasn’t. It was the 5am start he wasn’t looking forward to…

      I’m hoping to find one before we leave Bangkok… Realising, to my shock, that we will soon be out of Buddhist territory.

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