The Masked Men of Siam

IMG_0081You’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 mIMG_0161uch 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 IMG_0091paper-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 nearIMG_0104ly 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 lunIMG_0073g-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.IMG_0113

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 repeIMG_0119atedly soaks, wrings out and places on his scalding, balding head.

Once in awhile, during my many walks in the city, I’d stumble across a brave soul, defiantly bucking the trend. His vest says it all.IMG_0125

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 nIMG_0128earby.

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.

Buddhas covered up too...
Buddhas covered up too…


  1. WOW and once again amazing photographs. Trying to imagine how hot that gets and what it means to live with such pollution, not to mention political discomfort.

    1. Read my next posting, because I saw it first hand.. I wish I spoke some Thai, because I could have learned much more from the many people who lingered around while I walked through the park…

  2. It is a very sad truth that we live in the midst of such toxins and, for lack of a better word, filth. Its probably a smart thing to be doing. Soon we will all need personal respirators.
    Great post and photos 🙂

    1. Sadly, your prophecying is already becoming a reality in this part of the world. My mask is my version of American Express.. I never leave home without it. Thnx for the comments!

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