Photographers' Blog

Dark side of the festival

Bangkok, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

Totally unconcerned with incoming traffic, Khun Tuey powers the ambulance van through Bangkok’s narrow streets as fast as its engine can push it. Soon after the chase started, the pointer on the speedometer kisses the 120 mark and for a short moment I take my eyes off the road to look around. Next to the driver sits his beautiful, four month pregnant wife Amarin, ignoring what passes by the windshield as if she is watching a session of Bulgarian parliament on TV. To the left is Somat, a medic with 110 hours of training – the team’s expert for injuries. His eyes are closed and it looks like he is sleeping. I hope he is praying. Tonight, we all need prayers to come true.

It is the crazy wet Songkran, as the week-long Thai New Year is known. Earlier in the day, we all enjoyed the festival – I sprayed water, wore powder on my face, drank beer and played fool with friends.

But the fun part is over. Tonight is another Songkran night; one of seven dangerous ones when an already high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries surge. Experts say Thailand has the greatest number of road deaths in Southeast Asia per capita, due to a combination of lax road laws and careless driving habits.

Of those fatalities, four percent take place during Songkran, when alcohol is often added to the mix.

To get the full picture of the festival and its duality, I join the foundation patrol for couple of nights. The foundation is Ruamkatanyu, one of the two largest free rescue services for accident victims in Bangkok. They are sometimes called Bangkok’s body snatchers – the subject of a great and complicated story that seems to be mandatory for every foreign journalist to cover.

Lessons from the floods

By Damir Sagolj

In the beginning it was business as usual. Children played in the water, women moved around on makeshift rafts and people ignored the rising water from the north of Thailand. There were lots of smiling faces and very few worried ones. Looking from the outside, one could say people were having fun and soon all would be forgotten.

Then, suddenly it was not fun any more. As the murky water rose and moved towards the capital it was obvious the scale of this year’s floods would be something very few expected. The land of smiles turned into the land of worry, then anger.

Pictures of destruction and despair were on every corner, the joy and smiling faces had begun to fade-out. We witnessed catastrophe and damage on a scale that would be difficult to calculate. The floods in Thailand occur every year and they hit the same provinces at about the same time. People know what to expect, and some have even use to it. But, what happened in the past two months left everyone totally shocked.

Life inside “red” Bangkok

Anti-government "red shirt" protesters gather in front of a closed down shopping center in the main shopping district in Bangkok, April 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Vivek PrakashBangkok’s retail and commercial heart has been under occupation for 7 weeks. Anti-government “red shirt” protesters have occupied the Rajprasong intersection, which is bound by glitzy high-end shopping malls and five star hotels, many of which have been forced to close. But inside the stronghold of the red shirts, business continues in a strange but usual way.

I’ve been in Bangkok for just on 3 weeks, part of the multimedia team covering everything from anti-government and pro-government rallies to bloody clashes and grenade attacks right in the commercial district. Pictures and video show Bangkok out of control and in chaos. I want to provide an insight into ‘Red Bangkok’, a square mile self-sustained area that the “red shirts” have taken over and promise to stay in indefinitely.

Each morning at 5.30am, I walk towards the reds’ fortified zone to look for pictures in morning light. Surrounding the area is a tribal-looking fence built from tires and bamboo poles, something that belongs more in a post-apocalyptic movie than real-life Bangkok.

from Russell Boyce:

The promise of seven blood baths in Bangkok and no violence

    With the same ghoulish intrigue that children pull the wings off a fly, the legs off spiders or as motorists slow to look at a scene of a bad accident, I waited to see the pictures from last night's demonstration in Thailand. The "red shirt" wearing supporters of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra promised the world the sight of a million cubic centimetres of blood being drawn from the arms of his supporters and then thrown over Government House to demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call an immediate election.  A million is a bold figure that I tried to picture; a thousand cubic centimetres, one litre, so one thousand litre cartons of milk.  A more compact notion of the volume would be to visualise a cubic metre of blood; or in more practical terms in the UK the average bath size is 140 litres, so that is just over seven baths filled with blood.

blood syringe

A supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra donates blood during a gathering in Bangkok March 16, 2010. Anti-government protesters will collect one million cubic centimetres of blood to pour outside the Government House in Bangkok, in a symbolic move to denounce the government as part of their demonstration to call for fresh elections. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

The pictures are amazing. The frenzy of the demonstrators carrying plastic containers full of human blood. The lines of riot police (what was going through their minds?) facing the crowd. And then suddenly the emotional release as the blood is actually poured at the gates of Government House, leaving a growing crimson pool of human blood spreading towards the feet of the police and towards the buildings of government. 

Training for the unforeseen

Recently I was one of a group of journalists who attended a four-day hostile environment training course in Bangkok. I was unsure just what to expect as I’d been told all sorts of tales – mostly scary – about what sort of things would happen to us.

Vivek

The group numbered 14; all of us Reuters journalists, including text correspondents, video producers and photographers. There were five of us from Pictures - Seoul staffer Jo Yong-Hak, Chief Photographer Japan Mike Caronna, Amit Guptafrom Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pichi Chuang from Taipei and Victor Frailefrom Hong Kong. The level of experience in the group varied wildly, from highly experienced correspondents, producers and photographers, to neophytes like me. 

On the first day of the course, our instructors introduced themselves – they were both ex-Australian SAS personnel, with a wealth of experience of operating in dangerous places including East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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