Dec 072008
Authors: Phil Elder

I’ve always wanted to be a part of a coup.

Thus, as I eagerly awaited my transportation from what I perceived to be a dull, quiet college town to the sleepless city of Bangkok to begin my three-month internship, I was beside myself with excitement to hear that the country had delved into revolution.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy, initiator of the coup, demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai, who they believed to have won his election through corruption and the purchase of votes from rural constituents. In their frustration, the yellow-clad coup artists overran, secured and garrisoned Government House, the location of the executive branch of the Kingdom of Thailand.

However, several weeks had passed since that particular incident, and Bangkok remained quiet. A few protestors here, a tear gas attack there, even a few casualties in October, but nothing noteworthy and certainly not enough to change daily life in the city. I began to grow antsy, like a na’ve replacement soldier begging to see action on the front.

Finally, my luck changed.

On Nov. 20, at around 3 a.m., a grenade was launched into the Government House, claiming one life, causing several injuries and finally sparking the proverbial powder keg that had been perpetually filling for the better part of two months. The protestors were to mobilize against Parliament that weekend.

I had to see the camp. After years of dreaming about witnessing a revolution, I couldn’t cower in fear of one actually surfacing. So I walked the lonely mile and a half from the Skytrain to the Government House the day of the scheduled march, watching riot police and the National Guard rush past and local residents and recently informed tourists rush away.

The barriers into the camp, forming about a 50-yard gap from the Government House on all sides, were nothing less than terrifying. Fields of razor wire, backed by piles of tires, backed by stacks of sandbags, backed by carcasses of buses, all covered with anti-projectile netting and an armed guard in camouflage and aviators at every entrance.

Luckily, as a falaeng, or foreigner, my skin color served as a VIP pass into the camp, as I was abundantly clearly not a member of the Thai military, so after a quick bag check and a few incomprehensible orders or warnings or inquiries as to where I bought my adorable shoes, I was let in.

I was not prepared for what I was to see in the camp.

If I hadn’t recently wet myself at the sight of the entrance gates I would have sworn that I was at an outdoor convention, or a Save the Whales rally, or even a music festival.

Free food, souvenir shops, a stage with a very animated PAD rhetor and a literal sea of entirely yellow-clad people of all age groups engulfed me. And not a single face without a beaming grin in sight.

This was no revolution; this was a campaign victory speech.

The National Guard wasn’t so optimistic.

I left the Government House with a 20-something PAD member who reluctantly agreed to show me the location of the governmental forces.

We approached a barrier of red water tanks, behind which we found platoons of riot police in various stages of self-equipment: some securing helmets, some pulling up shin or arm guards, some pulling tear gas canisters out of a bin, some with their shields and batons already in hand. Nothing out of the ordinary.

However, we pressed on.

Slowly water tanks became armored personnel carriers. SWAT vans became infantry transports. Black uniforms became camouflaged uniforms. And shields and batons became M-16s and Steyrs.

It was at this transitional point that my yellow-clad guide was ambushed, tackled and zip-tied and that I was politely asked to leave. The Glorious Revolution was beginning to sound less and less romantic.

I watched, with no lack of anticipation, the overtaking of Parliament the next morning.

Not a shot was fired. As the protestors became increasingly forceful, the police retreated, some even hopping the fence into the next-door Bangkok Zoo.

The PAD became confident in their victory, and grew more aggressive. They moved their forces to Don Mueang International Airport, the smaller of Bangkok’s two airports and the interim location of the legislative branch.

Emboldened once again by the ease of victory, they turned their sights on the last remaining tie between the capital and the outside world: Suvarnabhumi Airport.

In one fell swoop, thousands of yellow-shirted PAD members commandeered the largest and busiest airport in Southeast Asia, completely halting all movement not only of tourists and expatriates, but of mail and all other cargo as well.

Once it had become impossible for any falaeng to exit the city, the violence began.

The political organization rivaling the PAD, the UDD, started inciting aggression from PAD members — first with verbal confrontation, then with simple objects and finally with explosives. Through the weeklong standoff between yellows and reds, several hundred people, including many tourists stranded at the airports, had been killed or injured by grenades and small arms fire.

Meanwhile, the embattled Prime Minister Somchai began surrounding Suvarnabhumi, the larger airport, with armed police, and issued an ultimatum to the protestors involved in the takeover. One way or another, the coup was about to end.

The next afternoon the Thai Supreme Court met for an emergency session regarding the legality of Somchai’s tenure in office.

After an unnaturally short hour and a half of deliberation, they ordered the resignation of Somchai under charges of corruption, ending the sit-in and removing the police from their duties to the Prime Minister, and to the possible kill order that was about to be given.

I, along with most Thai citizens, breathed a welcomed sigh of relief.

So now I sit in quiet, subdued paranoia and wait for the airport to reopen completely, so that I may finally return to the dull, quiet college town I had been so eager to abandon and enjoy a nice 2 Below and a little peace.

Coups are overrated.

Phil Elder is an alumnus of CSU interning in Thailand. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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