January 26, 2004 Bangkok (Krunthep), Thailand

Lunar New Year Experience in Bangkok


The lunar new year celebaration in the Big Mango was way too big to work well.

On Thursday night (January 22), I  went with some friends to Bangkok's Chinatown to see the start of the formal lunar new year celebration and have a nice dinner at my favorite restaurant in that part of the city.

We took a taxi from my apartment in the Southern-most tip of Bangkok to its Chinatown, near the center. I was amazed at how light the early evening traffic was. In places where cars inched along or waited 5 to 15 minutes for a traffic light, traffic flew along. The picture started to change as we approached Chinatown, as taxis, busses, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, and private cars slowly mingled and then crawled the last few kilometers. When it became clear that the remaining few blocks might literally take an hour, we abandoned out taxi in favor of our feet, and speedily made our way toward Chinatown's main street.

When we got to Yarawat street, the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder and barely moving in short shuffling steps. We started working our way toward my favorite restaurant only about two blocks from where we entered the street, but the crowd was dense and the going was painfully slow.

About halfway to the restaurant, the police pushed everybody back to form a corridor down the street, lined with tightly packed people, and wide enough for a car to pass through. Her Majesty the Queen was due to pass through.

The police said that no pictures were to be taken, so I switched off the flash on my camera, making the few pictures I snapped fuzzy (See the attached picture of the crowd.) The police also told everyone in the front to sit down (out of respect for Her Majesty? For Security?).The people in the crowd shouted back "Mai Dai Lao" ("Not can already") at each request. We were so tightly packed nobody could sit or squat down - it seemed that the heaving of the crowd from those at the back pressing for a better look would cause many to topple at any moment.

We stood packed and sweating for a long time. it was a cool night for Bangkok, but if one fills a street with 10,00 people and it will be warm. Images of Cecil B. De Mille productions, with their casts of thousands of peasants bowing down as a royal procession passed, came to mind, as we all stood, crammed against each other, trying hard to not be fall over, thereby starting a domino-like event.

A red police pickup truck came down the corridor and stopped. A couple of policemen walked an obviously inebriated young man in handcuffs to the truck and unceremoniously lifted him into the back and laid him down. A moment later, the man was on his feet, trying to kick and swing at the police. Two of the cops jumped in the back to the truck and wrestled him to the floor while the crowd cried out for the police to beat him more as the truck drove carefully through the people-lined corridor (How rude of this guy to get drunk when the Queen was expected on this very street! I would not call this an enlightened attitude about alcohol abuse.)

Again the police told people to back up and sit down. "Mai Dai Lao" responded the crowd, and we swayed a little bit as some people in the front tried in vain to comply. We stood for a long, long time, watching for anything interesting to happen. A police car followed by a white limousine pulled up in front of me. There were only three to four people in front of me at that time but I could only make out the cars and tell that some person or persons had gotten out and walked by. I was told later that one of the people to walk by was one of the Royal Princesses, but I never saw her.

The police let the crowd close up and corridor disappeared among the swarm. A ring of police kept the crowd from getting within a meter of the limousine and we again shuffled along toward the restaurant. I snapped the attached picture of the roasted pig at one of the food booths on the street. I had plenty of time to take the picture as it took nearly a minute to move past it.

Eventually, I got to the point that I had to reverse direction and backtrack, going with the crowd as a toasted crumb would ride a river of molasses down a stack of waffles, (sorry about the analogy, but that's pretty much what it felt like) and at that point, realized that it was just not worth the effort of fighting the crowd. We worked our way to a side street through the gradually thinning crowd, and caught a tuk-tuk to another part of town for dinner.

I didn't see the artistic performances, the fireworks, and didn't have time to stop at any of the street  vendors' stalls, but it was a lunar new year adventure all the same. I think I'll it out next year in front of the television. Besides, with the discovery of Chicken SARS here in Thailand, its probably better to avoid crowds for now. There is nothing like being there, and once was enough to hold me a while.

Take care



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