Editorial: June 2016

Fifteen love for activists. Recently the vendors have come out to plead with authorities to allow them to return, claiming that one thousand families

By | Wed 1 Jun 2016

Tha Pae Gate is a public area used for many events and occasions; political rallies (when we were allowed to have them), cultural shows, public gatherings and of course the ubiquitous markets. It is also the unwitting stage of a deep divide which reflects many other issues we as a city are facing today.

You see, for the past ten years vendors have set up Sunday markets at the square, but in November last year, led by the Raks Mae Ping online activism group, netizen pressure forced the mayor to announce that the area was a public space no longer to be used for commercial gain. Fifteen love for activists.

Recently the vendors have come out to plead with authorities to allow them to return, claiming that one thousand families’ livelihoods depend on this weekly market. The (local) internet exploded, with many maintaining that the area belongs to us all and that one group (with insinuations of corruption and municipality beneficiaries) should not be allowed to profit from it, while others have rushed in support of the vendors, saying that the local market adds colour to the city and that we should have compassion for the vendors. Some question why vendors don’t simply join the Sunday Walking Street stalls on Ratchadamnoen, Road others worry about clutter and garbage, a few are concerned that if this area is cleared, then does that mean the end of all our illegal street-side food stalls, and a handful wish Tha Pae Gate to be used only for religious and cultural events.

In May, the mayor relented and is allowing 264 vendors to return. Within a day of the announcement, the ‘No sales in this area’ sign was replaced by ‘Chiang Mai brothers and sisters, let’s use this public area to its best value,’ going on to announce that a retro market will be open each Sunday. There is now a petition online, with 99% of over 500 voters demanding the mayor flip back his flop. Fifteen all.

While the Tha Pae Gate battle continues to rattle and clash its virtual sabres, the Nimmanhaemin experiment appears to be over; the carcasses of One Way road signs being carted off in the night. The attempt to corral some order in this busy hub of soilets, has failed. With lack of enforcement, no one was paying any attention to traffic signs anyway. Cars squeezing down two-way soi will just have to figure out for themselves who has the right of way, signalling a win for the sabai sabainess that was Chiang Mai past. Fifteen thirty. So while Nimman is now a free-for-all, we lazy motorists having won the day against law and order, during the worst heat tsunami in memory, popular public waterways in Hang Dong-Samoeng were cleared of all impinging bars and restaurants, causing cooling patrons to wail in heated outrage. Thirty all. Then there are Doi Suthep’s nettlesome vendors who were swept away from the temple’s hallowed steps late last year, making way for an unimpeded path towards the sacred temple. Forty thirty. And in the same week that Tha Pae’s vendors rejoiced, the popular and charming Weekend Antiques Market near Price Royal College was shut down permanently as the municipality deemed it a traffic nuisance. Game?

At the end of the day, these are just small — if vocal — issues and the truth is the match is far from over. It is like we are coming to a deuced crossroad and can’t quite decide which way to turn; there are advantages to be had for both arguments, but no consistency in our vision. Are we, as a city, going to start enforcing and following law and order? (Even the little itsy ones?) Making sure that the public good supersedes the needs of the minority, and that law overrides convenience? Or are we going to lose our chilled laissez-faire charm, our markets, our street hawkers, our easy access, and our slight, but oh so many, infringements of the law, potentially changing the fabric of our society? It is a tough one, and frankly I don’t know where I stand.

But as we move forward as a society we need to figure this out. We have a lot to think upon and talk about. Your serve!

Citylife next month:

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See you for 301!