In the early morning of the first day of Songkran, Din Daeng flat residents woke up to fear, with two liquefied-petroleum-gas trucks parked closed to their homes.
For fear of an explosion, they were told to get out, but they decided to stay and tried desperately negotiating with the red shirts.
They failed, so they sent a group of men with sticks to chase the red shirts away, and the clashes ended up with the protesters outnumbered by residents and soldiers, who fired live ammunition in the air and charged them with shields and batons.
In the evening of the same day, Nang Lerng residents faced a similar fate. The red shirts parked two buses near Nang Lerng market. For fear that the buses would be set on fire and their houses burnt, about a hundred Nang Lerng residents went into the street and pushed the buses away.
Later that day, two Nang Lerng residents were shot dead, and about 50 people were injured.
FEAR CREATES RAPPORT
“How could we go anywhere? We’ve no other homes and no cars. And what about the old folk that can’t even walk?” said Kaesorn Panharn, a Din Daeng resident.
Deciding not to leave, they got together and tried to think of a plan to save their homes.
“There hadn’t been that much agreement for years,” said another resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
Din Daeng residents have been wrangling over how to improve the flats since 2000 and were split into four interest groups. Fright brought them together again. At Nang Lerng they weren’t prepared to see their homes destroyed either.
“We were born here and live here, and we’ll die here. We certainly weren’t going to let our homes be burnt down,” said 60-year-old Veerasak Wongwanit.
“Everyone was afraid of a blaze, so no one hesitated to give a hand pushing the buses away, even the elderly,” said sexagenarian Ladda Phonsiri.
She told Pom Phonpuapan, 53, not to worry about his own safety and to look for children who were outside and tell them to get indoors. He was shot dead.
Although two weeks have passed, the emergency decree has been lifted, and things seem back to normal, with most Bangkokians going about their everyday business, Nang Lerng and Din Dang nurse their fear.
Ten of the injured are still in hospital. The incident has become the stuff of legend, and Nang Lerng in the evening is quieter than usual.
In Din Daeng, the sound of a big vehicle passing the flats gets people as if by accident out of the room to see if there is a gas truck parked in front.
“We still panic for no reason. We don’t know what we’re afraid of, but we know we could have been homeless that day,” said Ladda.
Nang Lerng residents have set up a group of volunteers to provide security at night along with the military police who patrol the area. Parents, unreasonably, demand their children get back home early, Ladda said.
Veerasak, who was in the student demonstration on October 16, 1973, said: “Nang Lerng is historic. It’s like a 60-year-old man that has witnessed coups and upheavals.”
Nang Lerng is adjacent to Ratchadamnoen Avenue and close to many important state offices, including Government House.
In contrast with the unity of Nang Lerng residents, the rapport at Din Daeng has proved transitory. The deep divisions among the residents continue.
“Instinct tells us we should organise things together, but as the crisis dies down, back come the rifts,” one resident said.
By Thaweeporn Kummetha,
The Nation on Sunday
Published on May 3, 2009