Saturday, April 10, 2010

Only In Thailand: Female Cops Drive Red Shirt Monks Back

...the situation at [Bangkok's] Rajprasong intersection [,the heart of the city's major shopping area,] became tense when the protesters blocked anti-riot police, who were preparing to move out from the Royal Thai Police headquarters to the protesting stage. A confrontation took place for five minutes.

The protesters brought Buddhist monks to the front, to counter which the police regrouped by bringing female riot police to the front of their lines. The protesters retreated as Buddhist monks in the Theravada sect cannot have physical contact with females.

--from The Nation

Breaking News: Re yesterday's piece (see below), according to reports the government has taken back the red shirts' TV station, and red shirts in Khon Kaen, close to where I'm headed, are gathering to take over its City Hall.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Coming Tour Of Asian Protest Sites

The local American embassy here in Nepal sent me an e-mail newsletter today, informing me that the Maoists will be holding a nationwide protest on Monday, and their plan is to block all major roads. I'm scheduled to leave Nepal for Bangkok from the airport in Kathmandu on Monday, and I live in Pharping, 45 minutes away up in the mountains. The locals suggest that if I leave Pharping early in the morning, I'll probably be able to get through before the burning tires and men with clubs are set up. Everything starts late in Nepal.

If I get to Bankok on Monday, the news is that thousands and thousands of angry red shirts, many of which being farmers and others from northeastern Thailand (Issan) who feel under represented by the yellow shirts, the wealthy, educated elite who they say presently run the country from their powerful political positions in Bangkok. At present the red shirts are blockading a number of the major intersections in Bankok, having just regained control of the local TV station that is a major communication source for the protesters.

Last year I was one of the first to leave Bangkok for Kathmandu after a yellow shirt blockade of the airport. This year both the Maoists in Nepal and the red shirts in Thailand are protesting at the same time, making my present activities exciting, but unpredictable. Since I plan to be elsewhere in Thailand until I go to Bangkok on the 27th for my annual checkup at Bumrungrad Hospital, I hope that things have been cooled down by then. After all, it's going to be Songkran in Thailand for the next two weeks, and maybe the buckets of water that are normally poured on one and all will do the trick!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

February In Kathmandu

The two big grocery stores in Kathmandu both have separated liguor departments with all manner of offerings from around the world. Both Bhatbhateni and Bluebird markets have various brands of Pastis from Marcelles, all in big bottles with similar label designs. I bought Fanny brand, the least expensive, 90 proof, for 1195 Nepal rupees, $9.60. The licorice tasting liquid pours a golden green into the glass, but add an ice cube and water, and it turns murky white, like the Kathmandu morning fog.

Some say the Kathkmandu Valley has six seasons. Here, it's late February, and Winter has passed into pre-Spring. As the drought continues, the sun burns off the early morning mist, and by noon you're comfortable in a short sleeved t-shirt if you're out in the sun. The late afternoon winds cool things down and a long-sleeved shirt is often needed. Not long ago, it would be dark by 6pm; now it's light until nearly 7.

Yesterday we attended an elaborate ceremony by Buddhist monks at Ka Nying monastery in Boudha, a suburb of Kathmanda, celebrating the casting out of evil as the Tibetan New Year nears. The 40 minute drive out of the mountains into Kathmandu was not without incident, since it was a holiday in honor of Shiva, and all of the school children were given the day off. While they didn't dress up, an Americanized trick or treat was done in reverse: the treaters came to the tricksters. During the 20 mile journey, we were stopped by children with rope roadblocks on the narrow country roads at least 20 times and asked to pay a toll in order to continue. Most drivers did so with good humor, even paying some tolls to groups of young men who appeared to be very late graduates.

The Buddhist ceremony was not without incident, either. Near its end the seated lead monk in black brocade robes with a large hat decorated in skulls frowned at a triangular haystack 30 feet in front of him, rose up and, like a baseball pitcher with his right foot pointed at the sky, hurled a large dart into the haystack. The fun began in ernest when an assistant monk brought him a lethal looking bow and a quiver of pointed arrows. I was in the crowd directly behind the haystack, and a rather large monk kept pushing us to the side as the black monk became more animated and mock-angry at the haystack. The previous arrow zipped through the haystack and halfway through a sheet of corrugated roofing behind it. Packed tightly in a bunch with nowhere to go, we became concerned for our safety as the frowning, black robed monk aimed his arrow, jerking around in a spastic ritual as he began his final attack on the haystack. Pictures at 10.

By then, Christine, who was in another part of the crowd, was getting nervous, since the sun was about to go down and we had to navigate narrow mountainous roads in the dark, with the threat of a roadblock by real bandits a remote, but real, possibility. Our driver wasted no time on the return trip, swerving around precipitous mountain curves while answering cellphone calls from folks concerned about our whereabouts. Exhausted, we immediately went to bed when we arrived back in Pharping, but couldn't sleep for hours due to a group of youthful, enthusiastic Shiva celebrants singing songs in front of the Hindu shrine below our window. But that's another story.