May 17, 2014 00:00 By Tan Hui Yee The Straits Times
Bangkok moves according to its own idiosyncratic rhythm. Hawker-crammed sidewalks drive pedestrians onto elevated walkways.
Small bricks are helpfully placed next to high kerbs to allow motorcyclists to zoom on footpaths. And accident-prone corners are turned into shrines filled with racks of clothes to appease the spirits who are deemed to reside there.
The latest talk of the town, however, are the ubiquitous traffic cones scattered all over the constantly clogged capital.
The gruay, as they are called in Thai, are “immovable”, “holy” and ignored at your peril, quip social media users.
One photo being widely circulated is a hand-written sign hung on traffic cone declaring “Do not move the holy gruay”. Another shows five men huddled around a cone, hands clasped in mock prayer.
There’s a darker edge to the humour, and it’s all got to do with the violence witnessed in the Kingdom’s six-month-long political crisis, triggered by – depending on which side you are on – a group of citizens trying to overthrow a corrupt and inept government, or the elite trying to impose its will on the electorate.
The “holy cones” in this case belong to the anti-government protesters who have been roving around the capital for the past few months, laying siege to Government House and other state buildings.
Each time they move to a new location, they plant the orange cones to divert or even block traffic altogether.
Motorists in the city already have to deal with mind-numbingly low speeds at rush hour and so a few have inevitably tried to move the cones. On several occasions, the security guards at protest sites have responded with shocking violence.
Last month, army colonel Witthawat Wattanakul was shot and roughed up, a wooden stick swung at his head, according to his mother Bang-onrat Wattanakul. Protesters called it a “misunderstanding”, claiming that the colonel was drunk, something that she denied. In an angry press conference early this month, she rejected their Bt50,000 compensation offer and demanded justice, sardonically “thanking” the protesters for “merely beating up my son instead of murdering him and dumping his body in the river”.
Last Friday night, as driving rain hit Bangkok, Thanakrit Pinwiset, an ice deliveryman, accidentally knocked over a cone along Phaholyothin Road, where protesters were encamped to pressure Channel 5 TV station.
He was beaten up and stabbed in the chest. His pregnant wife, who was in the passenger seat, fled for her life.
In their defence, protesters say people attempting to remove the cones get mistaken for ill-intentioned individuals who have in the past lobbed grenades at protest sites.Their advice: Don’t move the cones. The savage attacks, however, are a grim reminder of the hazards involved when navigating this city in the middle of a long and bitter conflict.