Published: January 30th 2012January 24th 2012
I squat down in the afternoon heat behind a lamp post casting a great shadow across my body resolutely flowing on to the tarmac. I wipe the beads of sweat from my upper lip and remember how my boyfriend teases me over it. It’s rare but it happens and when it does I know it’s hot. I look to my right and see the next lamp post shadow is taken by an elderly man who smiles and nods his head at me. A fleeting moment of connection. I’ve been wandering around Bangkok in the mid-day sun and it is not a good idea. I watch as Thai men and woman clad in jeans and long sleeves walk briskly past me laughing animatedly seemingly oblivious to the heat.I realise this is because they are not as daft as I am; they glide in to the McDonalds entering the cool air conditioned palace immediately forgetting the sweltering atmosphere they leave behind.
I can’t sit here all day. I get up and stride back to my hostel ready to prepare for my trip to China Town; after all it is Chinese New Year today. Camera: check. Money: check. I set off in search
of the pier, my sense of direction yet again not failing me. I board the overflowing boat and head off towards China Town. The vessel is packed and I am forced to stand so I choose to position myself near the exit/entrance since I don’t like the look of the sardine like activity taking place deeper in to the confines of the boat. In a matter of minutes an angry Thai man who runs the back of the boat ushers me deeper and immediately I am thrown sideways as the boat hurries along bouncing across the surface of the water: God I hope we don’t sink. The air flows past us throwing hair flailing in the wind slowly knotting itself. I tie my hair up realising how close we are to each other and I don’t like the movement in the owner’s hair next to me; it seems to be moving without the aid of the breeze and fills me with paranoia: lice. I scuttle as far away as I can and hope no one touches me.
We arrive at the pier for China Town. The crush of people descends upon the pier, the rocky float
responds willingly succumbs to the footfall forcing it to rock to and fro. I have a fear of water, especially when I could end up in it so rush off the pier pushing past people as politely as possible. I am greeted to an eerily quiet street with only a few people milling about. No cars or eateries adorn the sides of the street where they usually do, no tuk tuks or taxis only the throng of people leaving the boat. I follow and hope they know where they are going. They don’t. So I head in the general direction of noise. I follow the crowds through narrow streets made smaller by the street sellers squeezing themselves between wall and flow of people. Eventually I find the main street and again, all is eerily quiet for a New Years celebration which is meant to last all day.
I stand by the main road, empty and cordoned off from the usual flow of heavy traffic and survey my prospects. Suddenly a crowd emerges closing in on me. Police officers start lining the street and creating order from chaos in the crowds. I wait, clearly something is happening,
and it does. Cars with blacked out windows drive past. Some say it’s the queen, others say the prime minister. I don’t care: I want dancing dragons! But I can’t find them and am forced to pace the streets taking photos and watching. But there is little going on. Even in the areas quite clearly dedicated to today’s celebrations there is no parade. I ask other foreigners “when is the parade?” and they look at me blankly. Tired of walking the miles up and down the roads which make up China Town I stop outside a Chinese Buddhist temple and ask an American if he knows what the plan of events are. As we are chatting his wife comes running over and reveals the Queen and Princess are coming to the very spot we are standing in. We wait and sure enough people surround us. Women sit behind me on the road and proceed to hit my leg telling me to sit down. I say No. I don’t want to sit down, beside I am taking photos and no one else is sitting down. They clearly wanted to see what was going on in front of them but couldn’t be
bothered to stand. God I’m stubborn. Every so often I feel the rap of a paper flag on my calf but I ignore it, as do all the other people around me, who got in front of them first. I wait and I wait. I am bored of waiting. I wanted to see dragon dancing and have not seen it. I start to think it won’t happen. Instead I pass the time waiting for the Queen and Princess watching the military, the police, the crowd control guards and notice how large they are in comparison to their counterparts. It dawns on me that I have seen a lot of ‘large’ Thai women and men in my short time here. Three years ago I was shocked at how small they all were. Either they are getting fatter or I am getting used to the size of those in Asia, maybe Thai people are bigger than their neighbours?
The personnel who strut their thing in front of the crowd are clearly in awe of their place as they sling their compact cameras out and proceed to take photos of the crowd, of themselves in front of the crowd
and of their colleagues. The public are cordoned off with flimsy sellotape and a few escape the masses and cross the road. Dumb struck – The Queen is coming!!! This is the most relaxed affair I have ever seen. The guards lapel reads “crowd control” but I’m not sure they are doing their job properly. I’m not kidding when I say this but the military where letting people cross the place they were meant to cordon off for the Queen seconds before she arrived. If this was England I am pretty sure a sniper spying from the roof tops in London would have finished them off. Still, this is NOT England and the same rules do not apply.
Eventually a huge screen flashed up in front of us; the Queen was revealed with the Princess sitting in two huge thrones. After a dull award ceremony and two interesting performances, one of which the Queen obviously did not like as she sat playing with her phone. I am also pretty sure she fell asleep during the award ceremony. I don’t blame her though. After the performances the Queen and Princess rolled in on a tram like vehicle on
wheels waving cheerily at the crowd. As soon as the crowd sighted them a horrific moan chorused through them and surrounded me. Terrified I glanced about me as I felt the pressure of the people converge. In an instant I realised the tormented sound emanating from their lips was a call for the Queen and the impending crush a result of their desperation to be near her.
I had to get out of there. My legs hurt from standing. I should have sat but couldn’t as I chose instead to cut my nose off to spite my face; I hobbled to the pavement which had cleared when the Queen entered the Chinese temple and walked the distance back towards the pier. The streets still packed with those waiting in hope to catch a glimpse of their Queen. I knew the Queen was close then the chilling murmur hummed through the crowds increasing loudly as she passed. Seconds after the car whizzed past the swarm spilled in to the roads and immediately stall owners set up their make-shift shops filled with pointless items like flashing shirts, toothbrushes with angry birds on them and dolls. The restaurants took advantage
of the space and filled it with tables and chairs which were soon filled with the hungry.
So many people surrounded me. I felt absolutely crushed by the enormous number and just knew I had to get out. I followed the side streets in the hope the adjacent road would be less busy. It was not. Turns out the direction I took could not have been worse; the Queen had made a pit-stop at another temple and the pavements were yet again jammed. This is the scary part of the evening and it upset me. I remember being in Cambodia when the water festival was being planned but there was a lot in the media because the year previous resulted in many unnecessary deaths due to poor planning and panic. Hundreds were crushed to death on a bridge due to blind panic. People started to jump in the water but they could not swim, others were crushed to death by the sheer force of human matter. As soon as the Queen past I felt something i assume must be similar. It was as if everyone was heading in the same direction at the same time and those
of us in the centre were being crushed. Horrified I tried to push back and shout and pass on the message that people were over heated and were starting to force their way through causing more harm. This did no good. I could feel every item in my bag as it was pressed tightly in to my stomach and which each centre metre further in, felt it harder to breathe. The group was moving but only slightly and a small but steady flow started to force its way through a gap between railings. Now they put railings out
! As I neared I realised we were a bottleneck and I just had to let myself go with the flow. One by one we emptied on to the road through the gap, our bodies not moving but almost held and swayed by the force of the crowd converging on to the same point. A flash of memory from my Biology class came to mind; our teacher gratingly made us write the meaning of osmosis (the movement of particles through a semi-permeable membrane) on every page of our books. It worked, I remember it. If what we wrote had to be shown
physically this was it.
The escape felt incredible. I almost ran to the nearest road I could find where traffic flowed freely. I clambered onboard my first tuk-tuk since being here in Bangkok and cherished the freedom the breeze brought to me. I inhaled generously without a seconds thought filling my lungs with the good old fumes of Bangkok. I realised I had begun to panic in the crush, with good reason I might add. I have heard of people being crushed to death by human stampede but never experienced how dreadful it actually is to be compressed and squeezed so tight. I was frightened, so were others near me.
I haven’t heard of any deaths in China Town today, but then this is the first day in six months that I have not spoken to anyone except people working in a bank as I desperately sought out American dollars for Myanmar. Which is ruddy hard by the way – tip: if you are planning on going to Myanmar bring the dollars with you. What a Palaver. I spent the morning all nice and relaxed eating delicious falafel at the Green House Inn,
writing and editing photos but then found the afternoon spent in a web of anxiety and stress in search for dollars. The only one that had them, and had them new was K bank near Khoa San road. For a while really thought I would be forgoing my flight and sticking around in Thailand for a bit longer.
So with the events of last night compiled with the stress of today, tonight’s a peaceful one. Tomorrow I head to Myanmar for twenty-six days. Until those Burmese tales, so long.....
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