Friday, 18 September 2009

A night to remember

September 2006, Bangkok.

The air was thick like a winter duvet, full of leaded bus fumes. Mushroom clouds of black smoke bellowed from speeding Tuk-Tuks, dancing manically between the lanes. There was a conspicuous lack of people on the ground and I began to sense that something was not quite right. Ghost like figures floated past me with an urgency in their stride and a seriousness etched on their facial expressions.

Political riots are common in this city, so concerned; I stopped a commuter to find out the story.

"Is everything OK in the city tonight?” I asked her directly.

"Go back to wherever you are staying, this is not a good night to be walking on the streets” she said with a forceful air.

The ladies tone and lack of explanation left me in a mentally strange place; confusion and perplexity made my mind fizz with thoughts and images of homicidal craziness. I had to make a decision. This was not something that I felt could be made out on the street. The atmosphere was feeling sourer by the minute, like an acidic wind was howling down the intersection.

I needed a drink, so bounced into an adjacent gay bar for deliberation.

The bar was a standard Thai gay bar. Tables of all ages, struggling to connect thought the repetitious din of 4/4 dance music, with a few pouting lady boys roaming the room, making eyes with men in suits. It was a sleazy and dirty sight to behold, but this was no time for moral judgments.

I knocked back a beer and decided to have a large whiskey before I went back to my hotel. As I starred around the bar, men with dresses and eye shadow, chattered incessantly.

I stopped a waiter and spoke in Thai.

"Could you tell me what is going on outside?”

"Bad men fight – you go.” He replied with a cheeky grin; his sparkling eye lashes flashing under the roaming strobe.

I don’t know whether it was the waiter’s nonchalance, or a sudden burst of paranoia, but I knew I had to get out of there quick. A sea of mist descended on my thought process, making coherent evaluation impossible: it was time to go.

Gathering up my belongings I paid and made my way to the exit, passing strange gender benders; some groping at me on my way past. This was not a good place to be, like some weird acid flashback. I had my eyes g-clamped on the finishing line, my vision was blurred and my head spinning with dark thoughts.

Suddenly, the doors of the bar flung open and in marched men in uniforms. The rigid expressions on their faces told me immediately that this was no ‘men in uniform’ night; these monkey men meant business.

As the thoughts of a washroom window escape flashed through my mind, I was startled out of my trance by a megaphone.

"Martial law is in effect. You have thirty minutes to get home. Anyone seen on the streets after this will be shot."

This guy was not playing games, he was serious. My insides felt like a worn out mangle and my head as if a tumor was threatening to hemorrhage.

As the imperious messages were repeated from the megaphone, I composed myself and made my way out onto the street. Scores of anxious people tried to work out how they would make it home before the military asserted themselves.

In front of me the huge highway opened out. To the right were armored tanks with manned turrets and machine guns pointing in my direction. Swarms of military, heavily armed, were marching towards me - impenetrable lines of khaki.

I remember having what felt like a meltdown. Thoughts of capture, torture, hostage videos, and the Bangkok Hilton. (Notorious Thai jail) were flooding my consciousness.
There was only one option available: run very quickly in the opposite direction and hitch a ride on a Tuk-Tuk before martial law took affect.

I ran and didn’t stop for what felt like an hour. My lungs were burning and my eyes stung in the polluted chaos. Luckily, a multi-coloured Tuk-Tuk pulled up, the driver stuck his head out and said, “Where you go?”

I returned to my hotel disheveled and badly shook up. Luckily, the convenience shop was open downstairs and I bought a bottle of gin to unwind in the room.

After pouring a pint of Gin and tonic I laid down on the bed and switched on the television.

All the channels showed the same looped military video.

I had been caught in the middle of a revolution and had narrowly made it out alive.

People were being butchered on the streets as I lay and drank super human strength cocktails.

Gill Scott Heron came to my melting mind.

'The revolution will not be televised.'

And here I was in Bangkok, watching it unfold on the box.


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