Tourists “Just Wanna Go Home”

Late Wednesday night, one of Asia’s busiest airports remained under siege, sealed off by several thousand anti-government protesters. The protesters, clad in yellow – the color of the king – sat on mats and cardboard, in the road outside the main terminal building, where cars and buses usually drop off passengers.
    They were listening to fiery anti-government speeches, interspersed with Thai folk songs blasting from the top of a truck, also draped in yellow. At one point, a protest leader, speaking in perfect English, apologized for any inconvenience to the thousands of stranded passengers.
    “Please understand that our purpose is to stop this corrupt government,” he said. The crowd of protesters shook their plastic “clappers” in approval.
    The pleas didn’t garner much sympathy with the bewildered passengers inside the terminal.
    “I just wanna go home. I like Thailand, but I don’t like this,” said one man, as he lay on the floor, waiting for news of his delayed flight to Sweden. Nearby a young couple nursed two sick infants.
    Most of the check-in staff had fled from the terminal, though one representative of a western airline handed out vouchers for a Bangkok hotel. The catch was that the stranded passengers would need to find a taxi. He could give little other comfort.
    “I have no idea what is happening outside this airport,” he said.
    Many of the holidaymakers I spoke to were aware of the political crisis gripping Thailand, but had not expected it to come to them. The alarm felt by passengers when the protesters pushed past security guards and police into the terminal soon gave way to resignation.
    Many of the protesters handed out snacks and water, and some tried to engage the tourists in conversation, to explain why they’d sealed the airport. They appeared to find a ready audience in two young German men, but thought better of stopping at the couple with the sick children, walking awkwardly past.
    Other protesters looked a good deal less friendly, roaming near the terminal building in crash helmets, bandanas and dark glasses, and carrying iron bars. They’d put razor wire across access roads, and the whole event was being filmed by their own television station.
    By the early hours of Wednesday morning (Thai time is Eastern Standard Time + 12) there were no police to be seen. They have largely allowed the protesters to have their way to avoid confrontation. The protesters’ own security detail was unpacking boxes of water, while yellow-clad protesters wandered around the terminal building, stopping to look with some satisfaction at the electronic board listing delayed arrivals. They showed no sign of leaving.
    “They say to phone again at five o’clock,” said one traveler, coming off his cell phone, while another group made themselves comfortable on the conveyor belt behind the check-in desk, which seemed far more comfortable than the floor for the long hours ahead. Though few expected much sleep as the speeches reverberated through speakers in the terminal building’s concourse.

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