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Bangkok Burning

from the photographer of MUIC website

When my mother was my age, a nursing student in Bangkok, Thailand, the place to go after class was Siam Square, a shopping center popular with teens and young adults. Although she didn’t have much spending cash, she and her girlfriends used to browse through the aisles of trinkets and accessories that filled the complex, paying special attention to anything with Hello Kitty¬© on it.

Some things never change. Even now, my mom is still obsessed with Hello Kitty, from her towels to her phone cover. But today, Siam Square is one of at least twenty-seven public and government buildings set ablaze by Red Shirt demonstrators, now turned rioters, throughout the city.

In response to the government’s crackdown of their demonstrations, which have held central Bangkok hostage for the past month and a half, and the surrender of many of their leaders yesterday, a number of protesters have taken to violence – this, despite months of claiming nonviolent methods as the benchmark of their movement.

From their homes in and around Bangkok, my friends and loved ones tell me they see smoke billowing from the city streets as buildings burn and crumble.

Why was this necessary? In the aftermath of all this, when the smokes clears and the last building smolders to the ground, will the perpetrators of these acts not look upon the wreckage and realize it was their own country they destroyed?

In 1767, after a 15-month siege, the Thai capital of Ayutthaya fell to invading Burmese armies. In an age before human rights, the soldiers sacked the city, looting it, and set fire to its buildings. On their elephant squadrons they overtook the city’s defenses and brought the golden metropolis to its knees.

But that day was not as sad as this one. For today, the hands behind these acts of wanton destruction are Thai.

In our language, Bangkok is called “Krung Thep,” the city of angels. Today, those angels’ wings are stained black with hatred. In the wake of this chaos, I hope the Thai people¬† will realize anger and violence are not the real solution to the country’s ills. I hope that all factions will renew negotiations in the spirit of compromise. In the meantime, this needless frenzy must come to an end.

***

For reference, this was Central World shopping center, adjacent to Siam Square, when I was there in October 2008:

This is Central World now:

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