‘CIA’ vendors first on scene to feed protesters


Fruitful: A man buying preserved fruit from a street food vendor during a rally in Bangkok. — AFP

WITH an intelligence network so good they have been compared to the CIA, Thai street vendors are often first on the scene at protests in Bangkok, where they hawk sour pork and fishballs to a democracy-hungry crowd.

After a government crackdown last week, protest groups have begun keeping the venues for their demonstrations demanding the resignation of Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha secret until the last minute, in a bid to outsmart authorities.

But protesters have quickly noticed they are often second on the scene, behind food vendors setting up their carts and readying themselves for a busy night of brisk sales.

Meatball seller Rattapol Sukpa says he stays ahead of the curve by monitoring Facebook for hints of the latest locations, and is in constant contact with other vendors who tip each other off.

“My earnings were good before, but I sell out faster than usual at the protest sites,” the 19-year-old said.

Business has been booming since the protest movement kicked off in July, with the vendors now a regular feature on the sidelines.

A post calling on people to rally at a new venue on Tuesday carried a picture of a food cart with the caption “Let’s send the CIA there first”.

The bonanza has also given Rattapol a better work-life balance, he said, enabling him to sell out his entire cart by 8pm instead of the usual midnight closing time.

Protesters are calling for serious changes to Thailand’s status quo, but their gatherings also bring a food festival vibe.

Sour pork and rice sausage balls, a northeast delicacy, hang like beaded necklaces from a street vendor’s push cart, ready to be fried and served with cabbage in plastic bags.

Some vendors have their cooking stations attached to their motorbikes, making it easier to high-tail it to rally zones.

Selling food to crowds often numbering in the tens of thousands is increasingly lucrative, said Anucha Noipan, a fried chicken vendor who used to make US$97 (RM400) a day.

“But since I’ve started selling at the protest sites, I have doubled my income to about 6,000 baht (RM800) a day,” the 21-year-old said.

As his chicken thighs sizzle in a frying pan, Nattapol Sai-ngarm said he is conscious of the risks of doing business in such a dicey environment.

But the economy’s freefall in the face of a coronavirus pandemic has left him without a choice.

“I used to be scared of a police crackdown,” he said. “But I’ve been coming every day so I’ve gotten used to it.” — AFP

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