The monk surveyed the tall buildings, focusing his binoculars on every little movement. Who was doing the shooting? Where would the bullets come from next?
I photographed him nervously, certain that any sniper seeing a Westerner would immediately pick me as a target.
Tourist Resort Turned Combat Zone
Unbelievably, this was Bangkok, Thailand — a tourist resort, not the center of Baghdad or Kabul. It had become a dangerous place indeed, including for photographers, at least two of whom were killed here in street clashes in April and May.
I moved away from the barricade surrounding the tents that were used as temporary homes by the protesters. I arrived at another barricade and looked around for the colleague I was supposed to be meeting.
Suddenly, a hail of gunfire came from across the barrier toward me.
I stepped out into the open, looking for something I could photograph to illustrate what was happening.
Bang! Everybody froze; a sniper from the nearby building was doing his job.
I telephoned my colleague.
“Where are you?” he screamed over the noise of the gunshots.
“Standing next to the barricade in front of the soldiers,” I replied.
I heard him gasp.
“You’re on the wrong side! Get out of there! The soldiers are starting to move in.”
Eye of the Tiger
I looked around and saw a man with a motorbike. “Can you please take me to the barricade exit?” I asked.
As we weaved among the demonstrators, the driver asked me if I was scared. I didn’t have to think too hard about my reply.
“Yes, yes — I am scared!”
I didn’t have a helmet or a flak jacket. And I knew that waving my camera at the shooting soldiers wouldn’t act as a talisman or give me any protection.
At the barricade exit there was a sign that caught my eye.
“Bangkok City of Life,” it read.
Nearby, there was a collection of gaily painted tiger heads celebrating the Year of the Tiger.
The Tiger of the Chinese zodiac can be warm-hearted, hard-working and independent — but also rash, hotheaded and reckless.
I photographed the Tiger. It summed up Bangkok for me at that moment.
Photos © Michael Coyne.