Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

The subject of this book, the Thai monarchy, has been considered a matter of national security by Thai authorities. Discussing the royal institution in terms other than reverential is seen as a threat to the survival of Thailand as we know it, and those who engage in such debates face harsh punishments if they reside in the country or travel there. This fear of words and thoughts is understandable because critical analyses of the monarchy do indeed reveal the profane aspects of kingship, and after all...

Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

Note on Language and Translations

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pp. xvii-xviii

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Prologue

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pp. 1-10

On the morning of 20 May 2010, Bangkok’s residents woke up to much uncertainty. Looking out the window from one of the capital’s many residential towers, one could catch sight of smoke rising from several places in the city into the yellow morning sky. The night before had been marked by eerie silence in the streets due to a curfew the authorities had imposed on the Thai capital; the curfew had ended at 6 a.m., however, and a few people...

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Introduction

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pp. 11-26

People seem fascinated by metropolises devoid of humans. Why else would empty cities have featured so prominently in the history of film-making? Postapocalyptic movies like The Last Man on Earth (1964), later adaptations such as Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007), and popular television series like The Walking Dead (2010 to present) capitalize on the eeriness of abandoned cities. A scene from the movie Vanilla Sky (2001), where a lost character portrayed...

Part I. King Bhumibol, Charisma, and Its Challengers

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1. That Certain Something: Charismatic Authority in Thailand

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pp. 29-52

In a quest for charisma, one might usefully start in the afternoon of 12 September 2007, when the colors red and yellow dominated Bangkok’s old city. For once, these had nothing to do with Thailand’s political divide. Instead, on that sunny day, a piece of religious architecture caught people’s attention in the historic district of Phra Nakhon next to the Wat Suthat temple. Two strong pillars recently carved from golden teak and painted red were rising there about fifteen meters into the sky. At the top...

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2. A Tale of Two Gods: Rama IX and Thaksin as Charismatic Leaders

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pp. 53-85

Thursday, 19 May 2011 was as sweltering hot as days in Bangkok can be. It was a day best spent in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls in the heart of the city, not outside where the baking streets turned the occasional raindrop instantly into humidity that felt sticky on one’s skin. Nevertheless, huge crowds of red-shirted demonstrators, naturally indifferent to the tropical climate, gathered once more in the shadow of Bangkok’s luxurious pastime venues. Exactly one...

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3. Transformation of Thai Authority and Its Social Foundations

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pp. 86-108

Kai thot FCK—Fried Chicken FCK. Written on a piece of cardboard with a blue sharpie, an improvised advertisement was aimed at hungry Red Shirt demonstrators during their commemorative gathering on 19 May 2011 near Ratchaprasong intersection. It had been placed behind cooking grids on top of which dozens of deep-fried pieces of poultry were waiting to be sold by one of Thailand’s resourceful streetside hawkers. He had artistically...

Part II. The Politics of P(a)lace: Society and Architecture in Downtown Bangkok

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4. Siam-Ratchaprasong and the Study of Thai Urban Space

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pp. 111-143

It is noontime. Polished black shoes and elegant high heels in front of the entrance to the chapel of Pathumwanaram Temple indicate as much. During their lunch breaks, workers from the surrounding offices and shopping malls come here to pray at the ubosot in the heart of Siam-Ratchaprasong. The chapel is small and narrow, but not dark. The richly decorated window shutters are open and sunlight enters the room while visitors, sitting on the deep red...

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5. The Politics of Space I: Siam-Ratchaprasong from Above

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pp. 144-190

Lounge music is playing while pearls of condensed water are slowly running down chilled cocktail glasses. Foreigners and a few well-dressed Thai couples are sitting in cozy arm chairs or lying on beds under the open sky. In the evening hours, the rooftop bar of the Centara Grand Hotel provides a stylish escape from the hustle and bustle of Siam-Ratchaprasong below. On the fifty-sixth floor, about 180 meters above ground, downtown Bangkok is...

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6. The Politics of Space II: Siam-Ratchaprasong from Below

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pp. 191-219

The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre opened its doors in July 2008. The inaugural exhibition, a collection of photos taken by Princess Sirindhorn on her visits to various countries, was labeled “Always Roaming with a Hungry Heart.” Being the “hungry” princess she was, Sirindhorn did not miss the opportunity to preside over the opening of the exhibition herself. Her presence, however, put the organizers in a difficult position because the BACC had been designed...

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Conclusion

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pp. 220-226

In early November 2013, the Thai media disseminated a brief official report on the health conditions of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. The king, it said, could now navigate his wheelchair on his own and feed the fish in a nearby pavilion every night. Then eighty-five years old, the monarch often smiled and laughed. The queen, four years younger than her husband, was able to walk short distances and her overall strength was deemed “satisfactory.” These signs were reported...

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Epilogue

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pp. 227-230

Sukhumbhand Paribatra pressed a white handkerchief to his face to soak up the sweat that was dripping down his forehead. On the morning of Sunday, 23 May 2010, the sky over Bangkok was blue and the governor was not the only one sweltering under the heat of the sun. Thousands had followed his call to gather at the King Rama VI Monument at Lumphini Park and descend on the Siam-Ratchaprasong area to clean up the former Red Shirt encampment....

Notes

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pp. 231-244

References

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pp. 245-258

Index

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pp. 259-270

About the Author

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pp. 267-270