Voices from the street: Erawan Shrine’s spirit is unbowed

A cloud of smoke from joss sticks floated around the sculpture of Hindu God Phra Phrom as people prayed on their knees. Flowers and love notes were placed outside the shrine as a symbol of grief and respect. Erawan Shrine is usually a place that welcomes those who want to escape and seek comfort, but yesterday it was a reminder of tragedy.

The shrine gave off a new and uncomfortable feeling when clogged with police and journalists. It was reopened for the first time yesterday after a bomb killed 21 and injured a hundred Monday night. Worshippers turned from their praying and talked to each other perhaps more often than usual, while curious onlookers on the skywalk gathered and pointed at a corner inside the fence of Erawan Shrine that was sealed off with barriers. That’s where the bomb was placed.

Michel Belet from Switzerland was sitting on a bench inside the Erawan Shrine when the bomb went off. Despite being less than ten meters away from the spot, he wasn’t hit by any debris and walked off with a tiny scratch on his right leg. Speaking in French and English, he tried to recount the night at Erawan when he saw people get killed. Belet came back to sit on the same bench and to speak with a few French-speaking visitors yesterday. When asked if he was scared to come back to the shrine, he shook his head.

The crowd that gathered yesterday was half-and-half mix of Thais and foreigners. The situation was a little uneasy following another bombing at Saphan Taksin but overwhelmingly people said that they were not afraid. Those were the sentiments echoed by Shi Hong Feng, a police officer from China who came to visit the attraction even though the blast killed two and injured at least 28 of his countrymen.

“I wish we could all get together and fight the terrorists. I’m a policeman in China. You know the first time I saw this, I think we shouldn’t be scared. We should face it, solve it and discuss it. We shouldn’t fear because they want us to fear! They bomb every day. Tuesday, too. They may think ‘people will be scared one day more and one day more.’ ” — Shi Hong Feng

Tah, a Thai shopkeeper, brought four family members including her two-year-old niece as soon as she found out the shrine opened. She expressed condolences for those killed and injured and said she believes there is little we can do to avoid fate, so she felt comfortable bringing her family to pray.

Two-year-old “Piano” does her signature pose for us to photograph

Grace Bui, a travel blogger from Washington State said that the shrine reopened so quickly sent a message that humanity would not be cowed by terrorism.

“When you open up the shrine, it says ‘no fear!’” — Grace Bui


Back to Work

“‘Bro, the bomb killed people’ Aanon told me.”

Senior Erawan Shrine keeper Boonchan Sangkhla was saddened when he heard about the explosion after receiving a phone call from Aanon, a young coworker who respects him like a brother. Boonchan has worked at the Erawan Shrine for decades but was off from work Monday when the explosion took place.

One keeper died at the hospital, another was seriously injured.

“Prasert had been with me for decades,” Boonchan said of the deceased. “ We shrine keepers love each other like a family. I’m not scared, though. I’m old, and I’m over it. But these things should not happen to young people, especially at this place.”

Meanwhile, Aek, a flower seller inside the shrine said all five of them ducked behind the booth when the bang went off. Just like the Swiss man, they were not injured and were able to help rescue volunteers transport the injured to the hospital.

“I feel quite calm coming back to work. I just feel sorry to those who came to pray that day,” Aek said.



Security tightened

At least five police officers have been guarding the Erawan Shrine 24 hours a day since the act of terror.

Tourist attractions such as Chinatown and temples across the city are also under close watch by authorities including embassies and train systems, according to Pol. Lt. Attaphol Sirilattiyakorn.

“There has been an increase of patrol and plainclothes police across the city,” he said. “The attractions may be clogged with police. This might inconvenience tourists, but I want them to understand it is for safety.”

Meanwhile, Tourism of Thailand Deputy Director Sugree Sithivanich visited the shrine briefly to observe the scene and prayed. He said it is too early to tell how much the blast will impact tourism, but he believes that tourist confidence is already coming back.

“We have tightened security measures. Tourist police are working 24 hours,” Sugree told Coconuts Bangkok. “The news has shocked people both in Thailand and other countries. People may have a second thought whether they should proceed their travel, but I believe the tourist confidence is coming back as long as the situation remains normal.”

The shrine reopening yesterday was also joined by former Thai Rak Thai party member Sudarat Keyuraphan, who said she will co-organize a Buddhist ceremony to mourn and bless the deceased and injured at the shrine next Monday evening.



Heroes are all around 

Anyawut Po-ampai, rescue volunteer from Ruamkatanyu Foundation, was one of the first to arrive at Ratchaprasong Junction after the bomb went off. After witnessing the tragedy first-hand, he remains traumatized and heartbroken for the those who lost their loved ones.

“My team reached the scene within 10 minutes. It was shocking to us volunteers. There were so many dead and injured. The explosion hurt innocent people who were praying on their knees.”

Anyawut expressed gratitude to the Thai spirit he saw in action as everyone fearlessly tried to help out each other.

“I thank Thai generosity, the good citizens and people. No one was scared that day and helped each other out. It was Ruamkatanyu’s shift, but volunteers from other stations all came. There were almost 200 of us that day.”

Photos: Prae Sakaowan and Supinya Nakmongkol

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