- Posted January 9, 2014 by
THAILAND: ESTIMATING THE WHISTLER CROWD
I have been away from home for more than two months, and have only two more days to prepare to get back to Bangkok for the big events next week. Please forgive any errors as I publish this stream without an editing:
The recent enormous protests in Bangkok were underestimated by the government and international press.
Vague figures like "tens of thousands" often were cited. Or in one case, there was a figure of something like 78,520. I do not recall the exact figure, but do recall the ridiculous level of accuracy reported.
The reality is that nobody knows how many came, and to pretend to be able to round the number to the nearest 100,000 reveals naiveté at best. For those who published the figure at 150,000, I will start my minimum guess for the 22 December protest at 555,555.
Before discussing the 22 December crowd, we should consider the peaceful 13km march that took place in Bangkok two days earlier. Only people who were physically present for large parts of that march could have seen what really happened. The core group of many thousands began at Democracy Monument, and so by air someone might photograph the crowd and venture a guess, or use technology to make a guess of that snapshot moment, but those figures would be vast underestimates.
Why? This is why you had to be physically present, and following the march, as I did, to see what unfolded. For 13km, people poured out of offices, restaurants and homes, and joined the protest in the way people watch parades. They were not just watching the parade, they were taking part, but only in their neighborhood.
As the procession moved on, many thousands who came out stayed in their neighborhoods, only to constantly be replaced with a new crowd. As it moved, the main procession picked up more followers, but most people stayed in their neighborhoods, and so any snapshot from above could not capture that the crowd was "breathing."
The real number of participants was far larger than the many thousands who formed the marching core. It is possible that this march drew hundreds of thousands, but any snapshot likely would show no more than 10,000 (?) or so at any one time time. So don't let any picture fool you...it was not the whole picture.
Two days later was the massive main protest on 22 December. That was easily the largest crowd I ever saw anywhere in the world, and it was impossible to accurately estimate.
As mentioned, my lowest guess was 555,555, but that is a Thai joke. My true lowest guess is that it was easily over a million, and possibly a couple million or even more. Estimates that put it at "tens of thousands" or 150,000 are nonsense.
I spent 10 hours touring the protests areas, andwill explain why any estimate of less than half a million is silly, and in reality I think less than a million borders on silly.
1) There were five huge venues and ten small venues. Total fifteen. I visited all five main venues, some of them several times, and I visited most of the smaller venues but spent less time at the smaller venues.
What I witnessed at the large venues:
All five were impossible to capture in a single Panorama or even a 360 image, even if you were in a helicopter. The geometry of all five main venues was always left significant dead spaces, crowded with huge numbers of people who would be missed by any single panorama.
Let's talk about Siam Square as an example: I could not find any single location to get even half the crowd with one panorama. This was typical of all five venues. This was also true from the air: thousands of people were undercover of the walkways, the Skytrain, or inside the enormous multi-floor shopping malls such as MBK. Thousands were inside MBK and other malls. Protestors were easily identifiable because they wore the whistles, hats and other items that made them unmistakable. These thousands could not be counted even by helicopter.
Now spread this dynamic to fifteen venues such as Central World and Lumpini Park. I went to the top of the Dusit Thani hotel next to Lumpini and still could not get most of the Lumpini crowd in any series of photos. The geometry was wrong no matter where I went.
2) As with the 13km protest two days earlier, the 22 December crowd was breathing. Even if a scientist hired 50 photographers to stake out all 15 venues, to snap a series photos simultaneously -- say 5pm -- so that she could get some kind of instantaneous estimate, that would still be far off. She might approximate the instantaneous truth, but the protest lasted more than 10 hours and was "breathing" madly.
My guess is that there were three or even four nearly completely separate crowds at all 15 venues. In other words, my guess is that there actually were about 45 to 60 separate crowds at the 22 December protest (not including other Thai cities).
Let us consider Siam Square. Early during the protests, countless thousands were there in that frustrating geometry that I could not capture. I then went to Lumpini Park and was again facing bad geometry, and to other venues -- all same -- and later came back to Siam Square.
On my return to Siam Square, there was a sea of pink shirts that was not there earlier. This was a new crowd. So I kept touring venues and came back later to Siam Square and the pink shirts were mostly gone, to be replaced by yet another crowd. And when I would ask people, "How long will you stay," most seemed to come only for 2-3 hours. Momma bear was not going to keep baby bear at the protest for 10 hours. Families came and went, as did people of all ages, and of course senior citizen protestors likely were not going to stay out there for 10 hours.
People who started at 1pm seemed mostly gone by 4pm, yet as afternoon turned to evening, the crowd continued to swell at all venues that I visited. Any policeman or journalist who thinks he can accurately measure that crowd is dilussional. It was at all times gigantic, but as mentioned, my guess is that what we really saw was 45-60 different crowds, with only a minority staying 5-10 hours.
NASA scientists couldn't accurately estimate the 22 Crowd. Maybe phone companies could take a guess, but then some people carry three phones and some people carry none. Maybe Rainman could do it, but I am not Rainman. In any case, it was huge.
We likely will see this same sort of estimations starting at the massive multi-venue protests scheduled to begin on 13 January. I will go to all the venues, and do my best to make an estimate, but we already know that I am not Rainman.
Be safe out there. I will be there, so if you see me, please grab my arm and tell me your thoughts. I need to know so that I can pass it along.