Thailand Day 20: Bangkok Dangerous… and no Batteries!

Back in Bangkok and an early start making my way from Mo Chit to the airport to drop off my bags whilst I spend the last day running the rule over the red shirts. The day I arrived some 6 weeks ago was the first day of their demonstrations against the Thai Government and now as I am about to leave it seems we are merely moments away from civil war. Make no mistake when it comes (and it will come) it will be bloodier than what we have seen already. The red shirt encampment is now more tense than before – not surprising seeing people have died on both sides – but the walls of tyres and bamboo spears prove a menacing sight especially in this area more famous for farangs, fake DVDs and sex shows. There is a heavy military and police presence and there is a very different atmosphere now – eery and often tense at times.

Click HERE to view more photos from the red shirt demonstrations

All of the shopping centres are closed… still… it’s been over a month now and they must have lost millions. No last minute presents for everyone back home then! But there’s only so many times you can wander around MBK (which is the only place open) – I don’t think even a nuclear bomb would close it down. It epitomises the commercial side to Thailand. I head over to Ari to Wawee coffee where I know I can get internet access, good coffee and a break from the rain showers before meeting up with Thar Nyunt Oo – my final portrait to take before heading to the UK for a few months. Killing time once again, the only other thing I have to do today is an interview with Amnesty International UK for their magazine. They want to put U Win Tin on the cover and do a feature article about when I met him as a lead in to launching their involvement with me and political prisoner issues. Another front cover and now I feel the hard work is paying off for us all – this is a big one on Amnesty’s magazine as almost half a million people will see this magazine.

I meet up with Thar Nyunt Oo slightly later than planned, but not surprising considering the current situation here. He works for Voice of America (VOA) Burmese section and actually lives in Washington DC but is here in Bangkok for 3 months so its a lucky meeting for me. The light is fading fast and my time is also running short as unfortunately I have a plane to catch this evening so we head to the nearest place to sit down and have a chat before taking a portrait. He has just been informed by his office that its too dangerous to work anymore as the situation is so volatile – days after handing out helmets and bulletproof vests to everyone. He was arrested in 1990 as a leader of the ABFSU and was sentenced to 5 years in prison – spending it in Insein, Pyay, Thayet and Monywa before being released in 1995. In Thayet prison he shared a cell with Tate Naing (Secretary of the AAPP). Upon his release he resumed his political activities but was forced to flee in December 1996 when the authorities tried to arrest him for his involvement in the student demonstrations. We headed back out on to the overhead walkway that runs over sections of Sukhumvit and prepared for the portrait… soldiers in the background this was looking good… until I pressed the shutter and nothing happened. Battery dead and the spare one too – both totally drained due to the heat and a forgetful memory as I had been shooting all day yesterday too back in Mae Sot. There was nothing else to do but go for a beer and charge a battery enough to get the shot. Luckily I not only had my charger but also we found a Japanese restaurant right next to us that had a socket under our table… it was as though it was a sign that it was meant to happen! We carried on chatting over a few beers and it was great to hear more about his experiences but with the clock ticking away and the light almost gone we had to take the shot  and I had to catch that plane! Luckily we just about managed and I jumped on the Skytrain to ‘On Nut’ before catching a taxi the final tense miles to the airport and just made it in time before the desk closed. What is it with just making connections in time? It’s happening everywhere we go and can only be a sign that we are meant to keep moving forward on this incredible journey. And that’s exactly what we will do… after a few months rest mixed with lots of editing both photographs and video before planning the next stages. Where next? who knows… but for now it’s thank you Thailand. You have delivered.

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Thailand Day 19: Generation Wave “Never Give Up”

It’s May and the wet season is starting to close in with the first of the sporadic showers that break this oppressive heat of the last few weeks. I’m still here… no complaints at all as I could stay forever and never finish the work that  needs to be done, but today is the last day before heading back to Bangkok and the mayhem that awaits with the red shirt demonstrations. It’s getting tense in Bangkok now and it seems it’s only a matter of time before it erupts once and for all. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with Thar Nyunt Oo from VOA but before then we have a music video to shoot for Generation Wave for their latest single “Never Give Up”. It’s being directed by brilliant documentary film maker Mike Garrod who is over here working on a feature length documentary called “Beyond Section 10” about the lives of the soldiers in the KNLA and it’s excellent – you can see a clip here.

Click HERE to view all the images from the video.

Last night Mike shot the night scene in a quiet part of the backstreets of Mae Sot and with the many helping hands of fellow GW members holding smoke machines, revving bikes and shining spotlights, lead rappers 9KT and MK got the video got off to a great start. Today however was a different matter as trying to shoot in broad daylight without drawing too much attention to themselves would prove challenging – naturally they have to keep their identities hidden and wearing masks and covering up was tricky in the searing heat. We moved form the market and side streets to a set up at the AAPP office where they were filmed as political prisoners in the AAPP museum’s replica prison cell (there are 21 members of GW in prison at the moment). The final scenes were shot late into the night back at the safe house and the video was wrapped, full of political messages against the regime and reinforcing Generations Wave’s message to “Never Give Up”.

In between scenes I had to dash around not only saying my final goodbyes and making final plans but also managed one last portrait for the campaign – a brave man indeed and that’s all I can say about him. It’s hard to believe that six weeks or so have finally come to an end already but it’s been so successful and things are very nicely set up to make a big impact with Amnesty International back in the UK who are getting right behind this campaign in a big way. A final beer at Aiya with friends before leaving on the night bus to Bangkok and a chance meeting with Wai Moe who is in town – great to see him and to catch up. I feel sad to be leaving now but it’s a perfect sign to depart with because that’s exactly what this work is all about. Even though I’m leaving, in spirit I am not, for no matter where we are in the world “Though imprisoned they are everywhere with us”.

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