Every time I’m writing a book I am reaching out as if in the thin air of imagination. Readers are reaching out, too. Where we meet is inside a story. This blog is about the making of a story in Bangkok on a wet Wednesday morning as I walked up Sukhumvit Road from the Asoke intersection. The street was choked with demonstrators. Thousands of them dressed in red shirts, hats, beating their hand clappers. Traffic had virtually stopped. The stated goal of the red shirts was to march to the prime minister’s family compound on Sukhumvit Road, Soi 31 with the announced intention to spill blood.
It’s not what, on the face of it, what you think. This is a story with a twist.
Blood had been collected by the red-shirted demonstrators and kept in large plastic jugs. The idea was to pour the human blood on the front gate of the prime minister’s compound. Liters of blood had earlier been collected with much fanfare from demonstrators. Nurses and doctors apparently assisted. The organizers had hit upon an attention getting device. Rather than shedding blood in a clash with authorities, someone had the idea it was better if protestors donated blood and allowed their leaders to use that blood in a ritual. Some called it a cursing ritual. Others called it symbolic of sacrifice. As with most such things in life, people can pretty much read all kinds of meaning into the gathering and dispensing of demonstrators’ blood.
I photographed and wrote a blog on my personal website about the hours between 11.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday 17th March. I’ve posted my photos of that morning. They aren’t very good photographs.
One photograph from Wednesday, I’ve back for my Friday blog. I took the shot standing at the top of Soi 31, Sukhumvit Road. The exterior of this building doesn’t have windows visible from the street; it looks like a hive, a kind of prison. If you look close enough you see something sticking out of round holes in the building. Those are arms up to the elbow. I wasn’t the only person who noticed the hands. It was a strange feeling as hundreds of people looked skyward at the side of the building, watching the movement of the hands.
As you can see from the photo, there are no faces; just disconnected arms and hands waving at the crowd, one of them clutched a piece of red ribbon. From the street, it was impossible to tell if the arms belonged to a man or woman. Old or young. Employee or boss. A fat person or a thin person. Someone tall, or someone short.
The arms could have belonged to anyone.
What I witnessed seemed like a perfect metaphor for the alienation of large urban centers, for political frustration. The people inside were isolated and anonymous. One might say that about people in the middle of a vast crowd, too. A modern building in Bangkok had found a way to separate people from the world beyond their office. It made them headless to the exterior world. Those workers were sheltered from the outside. But they couldn’t resist communicating with their hands.
The separation and isolation of people may be part of the modern political problem. There is always a price to pay. Separate or not to separate, a decision that depends on education, attitudes, culture, history and money.
The design of a modern building might dehumanize its occupants. One way is to make people faceless, and mute. There will always be those who nevertheless find a way to reach out and seek connection. Everywhere, a few people can be counted on to overcome their prison. Perhaps these are the people who should be running governments and companies. The people who will do whatever they can to overcome obstacles to communicate with others. It is what I try to do as a writer: punching the sky with my hand, and you see that I’m waving at you.
In the midst of a major demonstration, what surprised me was how a small number of hands stopped demonstrators by the hundreds as the people registered the hands in the sky. The demonstrators had returned from a blood ritual. I watched the faces of crowd looking to the hands above. A connection was made between the sky and street. A few office workers found a way to show that they cared about those below.