You’d never believe that this bustling nation is under siege – by what looks like a roving gang of bandits in Bangkok. Sure there are women among them, but the hidden faces of the men (though certainly there are lady-boys among them) have been that much more… visible.
They are a growing breed, these shrouded types: Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, bus drivers, policemen, traffic cops, newspaper deliverymen, pizza deliverymen, hawkers, laborers, even the corporate white-shirts (complete with shoulder bag and dangling name tag) are everywhere sporting face masks.
Flimsy things, made of paper-thin cotton, purchased for pennies at the market, endowing the wearer with mistaken belief that they are safe from harm. Other cover-ups, thick layers of rubberized neoprene or full-face balaklavas made of synthetic materials, stick to nearly molten skin, causing uber-perspiration (let alone creeping suffocation) in temperatures soaring towards 100°.
False illusions spread like wildfire in the oppressive, smog-filled heat.
How ironic, that this covering up of faces, is steadily growing in what once was known as the Land of Smiles – a result not only of the mind-numbing and lung-squeezing increase in pollution (although, undoubtedly and in part, attributed to this grim reality); but seemingly also as a response to, or identification with, the opposing factions in the ongoing red-shirt/yellow-shirt game of thrones.
On Bus #2 (the only line I am familiar with in this city), I see the same white-shirted fare collector one day after the other. He plays the weatherman too, adjusting his accoutrements according to the expected temperatures. On the first day, he wears one of those flimsy things; but on the second (in response, I imagine to the elevated humidity) he’s brought out the saving-grace goods: a dampened face towel that he repeatedly soaks, wrings out and places on his scalding, balding head.
Other times, I’d spot a man or woman who’s managed to hide themselves away, even temporarily, in an effort to cool down from the stifling heat, take a break from the crowds, the noise, the burning haze. But nobody did it better than this little girl, concealed under a table with her MIT-designed green laptop, at a busy intersection, her mother nearby.
Despite all the hustle and bustle going on around her, and amidst the noxious fumes, the tricks and the trades, the steaming sidewalks, itinerants, crying babies, the vendors and hordes of tourists and pimps, she still managed to find her secret garden. Amen to the resilience and imagination of little kids.
As for myself, I fit right in. My trusted little mask, the one I bought in Singapore, (for use in Bali) passes the Bangkok-test: in a land where so many faces are now covered in masks, I barely attract any attention. It seems that my ‘alien’ look blends in quite well amidst the local bandits after all.