Saturday, April 19, 2008

Live blogging the Olympic torch relay in Bangkok, Thailand

On Saturday I attempted to document the torch relay in Bangkok, covering most of the 10 km route on foot. I got pushed around a lot. It was hot day, and taking good pictures often required sprinting ahead of the relay.

In the first photo, the torch passes Bangkok's Grand Palace. I was told that many of the runners were CEOs of various Thai companies. Some of these guys were not the fastest runners -- and that was OK with me!

The next photo -- on the left --depicts two Chinese men holding a sign that reads "One World One Dream." They were part of a group of about 100 Chinese marching in support of the relay.

The marchers chanted "Welcome to Beijing! Welcome to China!" But when one man shouted these lines into a megaphone it came across not as an invitation, but a command. Here is a video I shot of the Chinese march:

I could not help but feel a bit sad watching this patriotic march -- sad for these enthusiastic people. It is such a shame that China's government has so mishandled the situation in Tibet that their long-awaited Olympics is now so tainted that even shouts of "welcome" sound awkward to the ears. Of course, this is probably not how the Chinese people in the march see things.

However, inspecting this band of Chinese patriots reminded me of an article by Hong Kong scholar Willy Lam.* Lam recently wrote that China's top leadership may eventually have to pay for their mismanagement of the Tibet situation and the unrest. The Chinese want to welcome the world to their games. They are proud of their country. But their leaders have managed to offend the sensibilities of the world. When I think about it this way, it seems to me as if the leadership of China has lost face. The Chinese may not be shouting this out loud today -- or even thinking this way yet, but I suspect the leadership will not escape culpability forever.

Security issues

The next two photos at right show security for the torch relay.

Above one of the royal arches flies the helicopter which followed the torch. It flew quite low for the first two kilometers.

The next photo shows the men in blue who run with the torch. In attempt to take the photos you are now looking at, I got pushed away about a dozen times.

The experience of taking photos at times felt like being in a football game (not the US kind) where your opponents nudge you. At other times, getting a good shot of the relay risked a rugby check.

Actually, the Chinese torch runners push me rather politely. More the gentlemen in Thailand, their new game was football.

By contrast, it was one or two Thai policeman who really were much too aggressive. They pushed me as if the relay was a game of American football or a rugby match. (I'm wondering if there isn't a skill to pushing people around nicely. Following incidents reported in London and Paris, the Chinese torch guards may well be getting more skillful at their game. In fact, I would argue that countries holding future relays should not be too quick to insist on using their own inexperienced torch guards in place of the Chinese guards. Australia, for example, plans to use only its own police to guard the torch -- that might not be such a good idea.) At the end of the relay I shook hands with some torch guards. After all, it's what one does at the end of a football match!

This video shows what running along with the torch feels like. It begins with a few scenes taken at the start of the relay -- some Chinese kids sing their national anthem for two seconds. Clips of a couple torch runners follow. The video is a bit shaky, but I think it conveys the pace, the intensity, of the relay. Things moved fast:

Almost worse than getting pushed by the rugby playing Thai cops were police motorcycle escorts. There were too many and mainly presented a hazard, and helped make the air unclean for all the runners.

I don't think police motorcycles should be part of a torch relay. In my opinion, they are not necessary for security but present a hazard.

Left side photo shows the "official" press cameramen who got carried in a truck positioned directly in front of the runner. The organizers chose an old dirty exhaust emitting vehicle for this purpose (to give the torch runner a taste of what the air will be like in Beijing?)

A photo on the right shows the torch runner passing Democracy Monument (he is the man in white). Speaking of democracy, Thailand did not feel like such a free country this week. The government issued draconian warnings that probably dissuaded many people -- both Thais and foreigners -- from exercising their right to protest.

The next photo (left) shows a passing- of-the-flame.

The second on the left shows a group of Chinese Olympics supporters. This group of supporters faces Democracy Monument across the street. I spoke to a couple who said they worked for a Chinese company in Bangkok. Most everywhere I looked you saw Chinese flags. A few Thai flags, but not as many as one might expect. I took about 400 photos as I traversed most of the 10 kilometer relay course -- and I saw a lot of red flags. A Thai friend who inspected my new photo collection advised:
Best you choose some photos to post that prove the relay took place in Thailand (not somewhere in China).
Demonstrators shown in the photos at right were the only group of protesters I encountered along the route.

At this point in the relay, I had just stepped off the street, where I had been photographing the procession.

It was extremely hot. The shade of the trees cooled me down, but in having escaped the sun, I found myself trapped behind a wall of people facing the fence. And the group lining the road here included many of the relay protesters. I watched them wave their signs and shout as the torch passed before them.

According to later newspaper reports, over at the UN Building just up the road, police kept the relay protesters away from a group of relay supporters.

For the duration of the relay, I would not see another protester.


The photo on the left shows HRH Princess Siridhorn. She watched the torch relay from the grounds of the Chitralada Palace.

Another photo at left shows a large crowd. Within the crowd stands a Thai elephant ridden by a child. To the upper left of the photo the runner carries the torch. The torch approaches the final few legs of the relay.

Torch run hits a snag

The series of three photos on the right side of the page tell the story of what happened when they couldn't relight the Olympic torch.

First, three Chinese torch guards in blue struggle to light the torch, but to no avail.

Second, the torch runner stands hapless, his flame unlit.

Third, the torch runner decides to make the most of the situation, allowing girls to have their photo taken with him.

The final stretch

The final photo shows one of the last relay runners. The building in the background is the Throne Hall.

* Willy Lam, "Hope for a better Tibet policy" Far East Economic Review, April 2008


  1. Good report, Jot. Nice one.




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