Monday, December 10, 2012

Reds on the Move

Red Shirt protestors ride their motorcycles down Petchaburi Rd in Bangkok during a motorcade calling for constitutional reform in Thailand

There was another Red Shirt protest in Bangkok Monday. It was the latest in a series of protests calling for constitutional reform in the Kingdom, it started at the Royal Plaza (near Government House) and wound its way through the city, bringing traffic to a standstill, stopping at Parliament, the offices of the ruling Pheu Thai party, Government House and other public buildings before ending up at Democracy Monument. 

By Thai standards it was a pretty small protest, probably only 2,000 or 3,000 people. But 2,000 to 3,000 people on motorcycles and in tuk-tuks are still an impressive sight and can bring Bangkok's always congested traffic to a complete halt.

Covering these moving rallies presents a challenge. You can't do it on foot because they cover too much ground and move too quickly. Renting a car is out of the question because there's no parking along the route. Even in a taxi, which would be really expensive, keeping up with the rally, jumping out at stops and then finding your cab when the motorcade moves again is very problematic. 

The easiest way to cover it is to hire a motorcycle taxi for the day. But I have a serious aversion to moto taxis. They're fast and nimble but they're also very dangerous.

So, like Blanche Dubois, I rely on the kindness of strangers. I took a taxi down to the Royal Plaza for the start of the motorcade, walked along for the first couple of blocks photographing people and then, when it really got rolling, ran up to the truck and asked for a ride. 

People reached out and pulled me into the bed of the pickup and we were off. When the motorcade stopped at a government office so protestors could deliver petitions I jumped out and made pictures. When the motorcade resumed, I asked a tuk-tuk full of protestors for a ride and they made room for me in their midst. 

We stopped at the Thai parliament building and I jumped out, made some more photos and then hopped on the back of a protestor's motorcycle to go to the next stop. After that I (quite coincidently) got back into the same tuk-tuk that had stopped for me earlier. This time I sat over the battery in the front next to the driver. 

Me. Riding over the battery in a tuk-tuk during the Red Shirt motorcade

And so it went as we wound through Bangkok. After the motorcade stopped at Government House (the Prime Minister's office complex) to deliver another series of petitions, I ended up in another pickup truck for the last couple of kilometers down to Democracy Monument. 

I have to admit that of all of the modes of transport, the pickup truck is/was my favorite. They are the most stable and the easiest to photograph out of. If you're lucky, you may be riding with some very photogenic characters. Motorcycles are the fastest and most nimble but least safe. Tuk-tuks are a compromise. More maneuverable than pickups but not as nimble as motorcycles. They're not that comfortable either.

There are more photos of the Red Shirt motorcade in my archive and available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.