Square One

Bangkok is a city of cycles, where any deteriorated landscape can be strategically resurrected. Marshall Berman’s All That’s Solid Melts Into Air easily springs to mind. Describing the underdevelopment and subsequent modernization of the Bronx in the late 1970s, Berman described his old neighborhood as unrecognizeable from the place where he came of age. The arson and underdevelopment that left the city in ruins also paved the way for demolition and new infrastructure projects. Architect Robert Moses’s massive decision to carve through the city with the Cross Bronx Expressway thus “lacked human sensitivity” as he drilled through the immigrant communities of New York City. A related critical sentiment provokes my writing about Bangkok in the summer of 2013. While Bangkok is not the place where I came of age—unless that means becoming ‘migrant’ in the age of globalization, to experience whole parts of the city missing from their original locations leads me to re-think phrases like “the city in pieces” (Victor Burgin 1995, via Walter Benjamin) or Tom Conley’s article, “The City Vanishes” (Resina and Ingenschay 2003). To imagine the rhythms of the city in Henri’s Lefevbre’s method of rhythmanalysis (Writings On Cities 1996) not as a precise measurement of bodies that pass through the city, but in the ways urban subjects recalibrate their bodies in transitional space.

Each trip here begins with a desire to leave behind the familiar spaces of Bangkok to write about the fringes. But most urban dwellers are propelled toward the retail & symbolic nuclei stabilized by the common routes of the Skytrain or the MRT subway. Even where these mass transit elements do not go, such as the northeaster suburban fringe of Ramintra Road, neighborhood residents speculate about a future MRT or Skytrain stop. Picking up where I left off in 2010, my first thoughts flow toward Siam Square. In the central hub of the Skytrain, the newest shopping mall development is called Square One. It fills an empty space where one used to find Siam Theatre (est. 1966), from which the area of “Siam” its rumored to take its name. The theatre and its surrounding complex was torched during the May 19th 2010 military crackdown on the “red shirt” protestors of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. Now, back to Square One, developers—the alleged arsons behind the perfect alibi of unruly protestors—have nearly completed their conquest of the area as a market space. For many Thai and migrant cinefiles in Bangkok, Siam Theatre holds the intimate memory of the rare foreign art film or the presentation of the first Thai film to win an award at Cannes (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady in the summer of 2004). While it still carries the mood of a film district, with older theaters like Lido (est. 1968), Scala (est. 1969), and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center where the month long “marathon” of the Thai Short Film Festival is currently underway, Square One will unfortunately become the central monument for fleeting memories of violence in the persistent struggle for democratic urban space.

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