"I wish I were an orange shirt"

AAJA-Asia member Candy Chan, who covered the protests in Bangkok in May, shares her impressions and photos:

This is my first trip to Thailand – no green curry but grenades, no shopping but shooting.

The moment I was on board my flight to Bangkok, with the flak jacket and helmet in the carry-on bag, I told myself I have to be an “orange shirt” who would be able to see both perspectives.

On 18 May 2010, I went on a motorbike ride to the intersection of Rama III and Rama IV roads, only a few hundred meters from the “war zone.” Witnessing tens of unarmed red shirts running up to the snipers’ area, I was speechless. It was surreal.

“I go to the zone everyday after work even though my wife told me not to do so,” a cab driver told me on the way to the protest area. “I have a two-year-old kid, but I am ready to die for democracy.” And he is just one among many.

For three weeks tracking the protest from afar, I had felt ambivalent about the Thai political violence. The red shirts are depicted by some media as puppets of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It is said that the yellow shirts, largely the urban elites, would like to take the right to vote away from their enemies, because they believe the red shirts do not have the sophistication to understand politics.

But it is more than this simplistic opposition of the reds and the yellows, after all. I stood under the bridge where I was told an 18-year-old girl was shot dead the day before. I watched the red shirts, who cast aside their self-interest for their own beliefs, stroll around the zone without fear. I admit I was moved.

In Thailand, I ultimately realized, it is hard not to take a side. Gazing out of the window where a plume of smoke billowed from the zone, 10 miles away from my hotel, my adrenaline flows. “An armored car is now marching into the encampment dispersing thousands of protesters,” the news reported. It reminds me of June 1989 in Beijing. After all, history repeats itself. Democracy pays a price.