Agam's Gecko
Saturday, April 19, 2008

angkok made me proud today. A very passionate crowd of Tibetans and their Thai and non-Thai supporters gathered in front of the United Nations building, to demand that this Beijing torch should not be paraded through Tibet the way it was paraded through the streets of this city today. There were no disruptions to the program, and the final ceremony passed off without any interuption (I watched it on tv after returning home).

A journalist told me there had been some problems at Democracy Monument, but I didn't get any details (he asked me to do an interview, so he got to ask the questions). He did attribute the problems he saw to poor organisation, and from what I saw farther along the route at the UN building, I can only imagine what might have happened. There were plenty of police everywhere, but security measures seemed decidedly one-sided.

Steel barricades had been lined up along the boulevards on both sides of the broad Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, outside of which are two more parallel lanes. The pro-Tibet group stayed where they were told, outside the barricades.

Right off the bat comes a small contingent of China supporters, marching up the narrow side-road and right into them. I feared for a physical confrontation, but the Tibet supporters stayed back and out of their way.

It was clearly an attempt to get something started, but the peaceful protesters were not biting.

The Chinese group parked themselves as close as possible while staying on the opposite side of the lane (not very far), shouting "Liars! Liars!" and singing patriotic songs (I suppose). Very provocative, but no clashes.

Police eventually shooed them further along the lane and put up a barricade between the two groups.

I overheard a Thai man telling another that it was interesting the Chinese group had a few small Thai flags. I'd just assumed they were mostly Thai-Chinese, and told him of the Post story yesterday which noted a complete lack of Thai flags when a small group welcomed the torch at 2:30 am that morning. The man himself was a local journalist (not with the Post), and he felt that that was probably the reason for the few Thai flags among PRC supporters today.

"None of those people are Thais," he said. "All are foreign Chinese students studying here, though some have probably learned a bit of Thai language."

I later noticed that they did speak to each other in Chinese, not Thai. The local journalist also found it interesting that many of those protesting the human rights abuses of China actually were Thai-Chinese.

Chinese descended folks have lived here for hundreds of years. The people waving those red flags are not them.

About 10 minutes later, along comes another contingent of PRC supporters, right up the lane and in the faces of the pro-Tibet (and pro-Burmese democracy, Save Darfur, etc.) group. There was no control of these people at all, and they were definitely determined to try to get something going.

However, the people they were yelling at remained calm and were not provoked. Soon after the barricade went up, the Chinese students crowded right up to it on their side, while on the other side people stayed well back. One young fellow was practically out of his mind with rage, as he led his crowd in vigorous slogan chanting (the only English I got was "Liar! Liar!" I guess it's all they could think of). I tried for a good picture of Mr. Hyper but he moved around too fast.

The pro-Tibet demonstrators were mainly local people, with some foreigners as well. This girl is carrying a photo of one of the visiting monastic students who were studying at Sera Monastery last month, just outside Lhasa.

A large number of these student monks were arrested on the Barkhor on March 10. Many people came prepared with photos of political prisoners, and most were wearing the names of people who were victims of the mass crackdown in Tibet.

I found Khechok's name on the sidewalk, and carried him the rest of the day. He is a monk, age 23, from A-Khor Monastery, Chone County, Kanlho "TAP" (Ch: Gansu province). He was arrested on March 23, 2008.

The photo she holds is of Lodoe, age 30, who is from Oenpo (dbun po) Monastery and he was studying at Sera. You can see part of her name tag for a different detainee. This was the only photo for which I asked permission, and she kindly agreed.

All this takes place in front of the United Nations headquarters for South East Asia. Many of the chants were directed at "UNO" and some of the banners as well.

A number of Tibetans were present, and they led some chanting in Tibetan language also. Most call-and-response chants were equally divided between Thai and English.

Unfortunately the only photo I took which gives any idea of the size of the crowd, is the very top one. And it shows perhaps a third of the people who were there to support human rights.

Here, one of the Tibetan protesters (baseball cap) helps to hold up an appeal to the United Nations.

This is the ultra-hyper guy; the picture really doesn't do him justice. He was amazing. When they were really getting into it, I stood across the barrier for a few minutes, silently watching their patriotic singing and flag waving.

I was wearing an old pin I've had for many years, just a photo of His Holiness. I hadn't taken out my little Tibetan flag yet, and I just stood alone and watched them (everyone else was staying well back from them).

One of the girls noticed my pin, and whispered to her friend. The friend passed it on. I watched their pumped-up excitement, and looked into each of their eyes from about 2 metres away. I wanted to show them kindness with my own attitude, not any anger or disdain. I felt detached from the politics of it, and just looked into each face as they focused on me and shouted ever louder.

I think I detected signs of recognition in a few of the girls. They're supposed to hate him, and here he was pinned to my shirt as I stood before them, absolutely non-threatening and without a word, with my best kindly look in my own eyes.

I don't know if it did anything, but it felt like the right thing to do. I walked away feeling much better.

The press wanted some photos in front of the UN building after the torch went by (I didn't even see the darn thing). Everyone was pretty exhausted after the convoy passed by, busloads of what looked like the smurfy blue People's Liberation Army Sacred Flame Protection Units, and some buses with dignitaries for the wrap-up show on stage at King Rama V (on horseback) statue in the Royal Plaza. There was also a Samsung cheerleaders' float.

I've never seen such passionate protesting in my life, as when these vehicles passed by. Many throats will be hoarse tonight, including this one. I've no idea where the sacred little flame was.

The Tibetans and a few others gathered for the press photos under the words "United Nations," but most everyone else couldn't be bothered. Many seemed wary of some straggling groups of marchers who followed the convoy, waving big PRC flags.

Somebody from that side tried to jump the barricade to get at the protesters, but it was quickly diffused. That's what I mean about security being pretty one-sided. The protesters behaved very well, but some of the PRC supporters did not. The protesters were told by police where to stand, where not to go, and they did. There seemed to be no restrictions on the anti-protesters, who were frequently provocative. I'm thankful nothing ugly happened, but it was close from where I stood.

This is only a report from one small section of the 10+ kilometre route. Now to go home and check BBC / CNN to see what went on elsewhere. The loose affiliation of local groups known as Free Tibet Network has put up a lot more photos on their blog.

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