Tomas’ Black May Story

Tomas' Black May story - February 4, 2006

Tomas From writes: In 1992, I had spent some weeks in northern Thailand with Chiang Mai as my base. I had read some about the demonstrations around the Democracy Monument in the Bangkok Post, but I was a little bit unsure what it was all about. I had been out for about 5-6 months (this was my second trip to Asia) and it was getting time to return home. Having some stuff left in Melaca, Malaysia (bag of clothes and a CD-stereo I bought in Singapore), I went south. I managed to lose my VISA card the last day in Chiang Mai.

I arrived Bangkok 17th of May and managed to get a room at a guesthouse at Samsen north of Khao San Road where I had stayed before. Running low on cash and with no VISA card, I struck a deal with the lady that managed the guesthouse that I could pay for the room and the food when I checked out. I took the Chao Phraya express boat down to the GPO to make a collect call to the VISA center in London to cancel my stolen VISA card and try to get a new card.

(Photo: Tomas From)

(Photo: Tomas From)

VISA could not really tell me how I could get a new card. After a brief discussion we agreed that I should phone back the day after and they would find out how to help me by then. The day after, the 18th of May, there were alot of discussions at the guesthouse on what was really happening in Bangkok. I went down to the area around Royal Hotel/Sanam Luang/Democracy Monument to find out for myself. After hanging around for a while and taking some pictures I felt that I had seen enough.

(Photo: Tomas From)

I spent my last baht on the Chaopraya Express down to the GPO and phoned the VISA center again. They urged me to go to Kuala Lumpur where they could issue a new VISA card. The problem was whether or not there was a curfew in Bangkok because they were not allowed to issue VISA cards in countries with a curfews. I explained that I didn't even have money enough to take the Chaopraya express home so Kuala Lumpur was out of the question. We agreed that they would phone me the day after at my guesthouse after finding out whether there was a curfew or not. With absolutely no cash I started the long walk home. It was getting dark.

(Photo: Tomas From)

At one place I walked passed two burnt-out police cars on a deserted street and it was now pitch-black. I took a picture of them (above). Just after I took the picture there was a volley of 4-5 tracers fired from a distance of maybe 100 meters coming in really close.

(Photo: Tomas From)

(Photo: Tomas From)

I could hear the bullets whizzing around me. This was the first time I realized that they were actually shooting at people. I thought maybe they misinterpreted the camera flash for a weapon firing and then shot back. I think this was the last picture I took. I did not dare using my flash after that. Feeling uneasy I decided to go home. I managed to get to Khao San Road where at the top of Khao San Road by the police station I started to talk with a German guy (or maybe he was Swiss or Austrian, I think he spoke English with a German accent anyway). I told him about the incident at the car wreck and as we spoke some Thai guys torched a civilian car just where we stood. It was so unreal, we just stood there and looked. The Thais got agitated, shouting in Thai pointing their fingers at the police station. I turned and looked and I could see rifle barrels sticking out the windows on the top floor of the police station.

(Photo: Tomas From)

All of us started running down the street towards Royal Hotel/Sanam Luang at the same time. When I and the German guy came down there we saw that the barbed wire blocking Ratchadamnoen Avenue between Royal Hotel and Democracy Monument earlier that day was gone now. There was sporadic gunfire from Phan Fa Bridge and what I guess was from somewhere in Sanam Luang. You could see tracers now and they were flying quite high so I assumed they were firing in the air trying to disperse people. I wanted to go home, but I did not dare return to the police station at Khao San Road. Ratchadamnoen Avenue, which looked quite deserted now seemed like a bright idea. We walked towards the Democracy Monument and came about halfway when they started shooting up Ratchadamnoen Avenue from Democracy Monument. You could tell by the angle of the tracers that they were not firing in the air now. We took cover behind one of the flowerbeds.

We lay there for maybe 15 minutes and we saw some people being carried past us towards the Royal Hotel. Then a tankcar full of petrol or oil was driven up on the opposite side and torched. The heat became intense. We agreed that this was not the best place to be in so we rose up and tried to make it back towards the Royal Hotel. I guess I only came 10 meters before I was hit in the back, flew five meters and landed on my hands. I turned around just in time to see the German guy fall in a way it looked like he took a bullet in his hip or thigh (I've never seen him since).A few seconds later there were Thais everywhere picking us up and running towards the Royal Hotel where there were a lot of ambulances parked outside. It took maybe 10-15 minutes to Ramathibodi Hospital. There was no traffic in Bangkok that night which seems kind of unreal when you walk in Bangkok nowadays. After 10-15 minutes in the emergency ward, I was rushed to surgery.

(Photo: Unknown)

I got a picture of some of the nurses, one of them had just graduated before I was admitted (above). I remember her name was Jintana. They took really good care of me for three weeks. I do not remember what ward it was, but I think it was on the fifth floor. Like everybody who had to stay more than two days in the hospital, I got compensation from the Thai government. I think it was 32,000 baht which was just enough for a plane ticket home and return three months later. One funny detail is after three weeks in hospital I overstayed my visa by five days and had to pay a fine before I could board the plane to leave Thailand.

Having to move back to my mothers house at age 23 and not be able to work (I was not in really good shape). I managed to get a scholarship and I returned to Chiang Mai and studied Thai for six months before I returned to Sweden to continue with my life.

Another Black May 1992 story

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