But, behind the semblance of normalcy lurked a deep pit in my stomach. First, there was the dark feeling created by living with my mobile phone glued to the palm of my hand in anticipation of a call that came occasionally to pick my daughter up early from school. Protest gatherings and marches were regularly planned for Bangkok's city streets, causing schools to release students early in hopes that they wouldn't get caught in the inevitable traffic jams. Second, there was the gut instinct that the regular security checks on main streets, involving mirrors placed under our car, were a sign of things to come. And, finally, there was the sadness that settled into a lump in my throat when my three year old ducked deep into his car seat as we passed groups of soldiers regularly assembled in public places. I asked him what in particular bothered him and he responded, "I don't want their big guns to hurt us."
As the world now knows, the protests ended with stories of violence told about the 'final fight' of May 19 and pictures published accompanying headlines screaming out 'Bangkok Burning.'***
My heart sank at the first sign of smoke viewed from our home's balcony windows. The air was thick with the smell of tires burning and plumes of black smoke continued through the nights, alerting us each day that dawn did not 'bring a new day' after all. In the early morning prior to the 'final fight', we were eventually relocated by my husband's employer to a different area of the city. Our immediate neighborhood wasn't in danger, but my husband was returning from an out of the country business trip and fears that he wouldn't be able to reach us should we become trapped with a perimeter of conflict around us started to seem like a possibility. From our new 'home', we witnessed the city's destruction-- billows of smoke, excessive out of control fires, crowds running away in fear.
I, like many of Bangkok's residents, have lived with mixed emotions these last few weeks. Over recent discussions with friends, we all acknowledge that the unrest isn't gone, just merely on hold. We're all trying to enjoy the calmness that seems to have returned to the city... for now. We all have expressed deep sadness for the loss of favorite places burned in the turmoil. And, we've all expressed disbelief as to how this could have happened to a city we've grown to love.
This weekend, we stepped out into the heart of the city, for the first time as a family since the protests began on March 14. Hoards of shoppers had returned to the city center as well, ushering back in the opening of favorite shops, restaurants, entertainment and public gathering places. My kids were overjoyed to embrace a favorite toy store, a favorite indoor play area and a favorite restaurant--- all of which had been closed since late March.
"I'm happy Siam is back. I missed it," my three year old said at the end of our family outing, just moments before collapsing into a happy deep sleep in our candy-colored taxi.
*** An excellent recap of the March-May 2010 protests, including a timeline, can be found here.