I’m back now from the Inheriting the City Urban Studies Conference held at Taipei, April 2016 at the impressive Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Centre, as shown above. The conference was on the third floor below the main memorial floor.
The conference was successfully held and there were more than one hundred participants, who gave papers amidst the paintings and calligraphy on the various exhibition walls.
My own paper was entitled “The Struggle for Control of Bangkok’s Streets since the Coup of 2014:”
The military coup in Thailand in 2014 brought to power a regime that put into practice a series of policies which had never before been officially promoted but which had been suspected for some years. After moves against migrant workers which saw a quarter of a million Cambodian workers fleeing across the border, the junta launched crackdowns on street vendors, taxi drivers and providers of services at several seaside tourist destinations, many of whom were criminalized in political discourse with the collaboration of much of the mass media. Subsequently, a number of popular markets have been closed in Bangkok and restrictions imposed, even though it is apparent that people express demand for the goods and services provided on the street in a city in which upscale retail centres and malls, as well as condominium projects, continue to be announced and opened on a regular basis. Using the weapons of the weak, street vendors and other operators disappear when required and then seek to reappear, perhaps in a different guise, when conditions improve. The still unannounced policies of the junta seem to wish to create not a disneyfied but still working version of street hawking as in Singapore or the limited street theatre of Penang but an urban environment in which no trace of the poor or working classes may be seen. The political discourse of the junta harkens back to a non-existent past in which all Thai people behaved decorously, in unity and obedience to authority. This paper investigates changes in urban environments that have taken place since the coup, focusing on Bangkok, and interrogates the extent to which it is possible to enforce an imaginary urban environment in a market economy and with the opposition of most of the people.
Keywords: Bangkok, conflict, street vending, urban environment, weapons of the weak
A couple of dozen protestors were calling for an independent Taiwan (ROC), free from Chinese domination (it took me too long to get my camera out of my pocket to get a better shot and I was taking my luggage to the station).
The Changing of the Guard in Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Centre (on the hour, every hour) is an extraordinary sight. The guards themselves stand stock still for one hour in between times.