Saturday, September 30, 2006

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE

It is the day before yesterday. I am rudeley awakened by an earth-shattering explosion. I spring bolt upright in bed (it's about 4 in the afternoon) and look around wildly. A Japanese dude is casually pulling on a tshirt at one end of the backpackers' dorm. Bomb? i ask. He finds this incredibly funny. Bomb, he repeats, laughing. Bang! he says, throwing his hands apart. Hahaha! Bang! Ha ha. Bomb! I look out the window at the black thunderclouds and realise my mistake. It begins to pour with rain. In southern Thailand, where Muslim insurgents are operating, a bomb is a definite possibility. But not in Bangkok. For the next couple of days, every time i see this Japanese joker, it's Bang! Hands spread. Hahaha! He finds this inexhaustibly amusing. Yes, i nod, it's very funny. Very very fucking funny indeed.

Thankfully today he has moved on. Hopefully to Southern Thailand.

So i take a hair-raising scooter ride across town, instead of the hair-raising taxi boat. On the way up the expressway on-ramp, i'm thinking perhaps i might have followed the scooter driver's lead, and worn that helmet i now spy languishing in the front basket. Next time, perhaps. He drops me at the temple.

According to my map, Government House is across the road from this Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple). Which it kind of is, although the map is misleading and i have trouble getting my bearings in Bangkok because i so rarely see the sun. And not only because of the nightlife. Daytime is just an all-over haze, with light coming from no particular direction. And tall buildings are no good as landmarks, because there are billions of them.

Eventually i find my way to the seat of political power in Thailand. That'll be it, where all those tanks are parked. Where those roadblocks are guarded by armed soldiers. I wander over. The military coup has become a sideshow. Traffic stops on the side of the road by one of the roadblocks, and locals jump out to take pictures. The tanks are adorned with yellow flowers and red roses. Local Thai people are having their photographs taken, standing with the soldiers, and in front of the tanks. The soldiers oblige with stoic, poker-faced expressions.

I photograph a two-year-old boy in Thai Army camouflage gear, holding a plastic machine gun, sitting on a tank. An old grey-haired lady clutching a white poodle, standing in front of another tank. A school group passing through, young girls in school uniform coming to see Thai democracy in action. A Thai Special Forces soldier inside the Government House perimeter. It's all quite surreal. A vendor rolls up pushing a handcart of iced drinks. Mmm, cold mandarin juice. 20 baht.


That evening, Jules, Ned and Carlo (pictured here in his undercover guise as a tourist) drag me around the bars of Bangkok. These three get me substantially plastered, completely against my will. Four in the morning finds me coerced into buying cartons of fruit juice at a supermarket for local ladyboys who describe to me, in great detail, their various medical procedures. Nose jobs, teeth whitening, breast implants, and the kind of extreme nip-n-tuck that makes your eyes water. When they find that i am a photographer, they offer to take me to an hotel and perform 'lesbian sex' for the camera. 300 baht, hotel room included, they say, proudly showing me their boob jobs. Yes, yes, very nice work, i nod. My compliments to the surgeon. No thank you.

The earlier part of the evening was no less bizarre. Somehow, thanks to my alleged friends, i found myself on stage in the night's endless succession of go-go bars holding a yellow balloon, which is burst by a woman firing projectiles from a blowgun. She elected to do this lying on her back wearing only a pair of thigh-high black boots. The darts were fired by a rather unusual method. As was the way Ned had his cigarettes lit. More balloon bursting followed, including one placed between my legs. My 'friends' found this uproariously funny. Perhaps they should also be packed off to southern Thailand.

It goes without saying i am nursing quite a headache this morning.

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