The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Sticky Bangkok

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I am writing from the Atlanta Hotel, where there are more rules (about scallywags and catamites) than there are rooms.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration because it’s a fairly big hotel, but there are a lot of rules posted on many walls.  It’s possible the owners are German.

The flight from Hong Kong was short and comfortable.  I was somewhat surprised to be riding in a 747.  The taxi ride into town involved hurtling down freeways, then Bangkok city traffic slowed us like a mouse stepping into a glue trap.  The roads were totally bottled up, as usual, and the last few hundred meters took about half the overall travel time.  By the end we were driving through hotel parking lots (with the attendants as will accomplices, it seems), and we magically popped out on Sukhumvit Soi 2, not far from the hotel.

I’ve come to Bangkok to document Population Services International (PSI’s) injection drug user (IDU) outreach program.  This has been moderately successful although I’ve been a bit less successful than I expected.  This is partly because of language issues, important people being out of town, and those who are here being caught up in meetings.  Nonetheless, I have managed to spend some time at the O-zone drop-in centre and on the streets with outreach workers, and I’ve had remote help from Alex Duke in the PSI office.  I met up with him here last year when he and his girlfriend took me out on the river for the Loy Krathong festival, and we’ll have dinner together tonight.

The outreach work has been interesting.  I’ve been out with a number of peer workers who scooter from place to place where they know they can expect to meet IDUs.  When they do, they chat with them, go over educational materials, and hand out clean needle kits and condoms.  It has taken me into parts of Bangkok that I would never have seen, and the scooter rides have been hair-raising to put it mildly.  I often have to tuck my knees in tightly as we squish between moving cars, and the oncoming lane is quite often used for passing if no (or few) cars are coming the other way.  (Mom, you didn’t read this part, but you will be happy to know that I was wearing a helmet).

My angle is to humanize the peer outreach workers, to show that they have lives just like the rest of us.  My hope it to focus on one particular man, Piboy, who is 53 and has been a user for 30 years.  He uses rarely now, but still relies on daily methadone.  You’d never know, however.  He’s going to get married on the 31st, and I’ve already been invited to the wedding.  His wife-to-be isn’t a user herself but is aware of his addiction issues.  I hope to really focus on his daily life tomorrow – not just the outreach work, but also his home life.  With luck I’ll have a translator along and a bit more coordination from the office.

Aside from they photography, I’ve been putzing around Bangkok.  I’ve had some tasty food including a great lunch at the life-changing food court in the MBK mall: green curry with eggplants, green papaya salad, glutinous rice with black beans and coconut milk, and iced coffee.  I’ve also managed to get a thai massage (at the same place in the Muslim quarter that I visited last year).  There were some points in the massage (hamstrings) where I would have freely admitted any state secrets had I known any.  Nonetheless, the kneading seemed largely therapeutic and relaxing.

The weather has been something to be reckoned with, and even the locals seem to be complaining.  It has been very wet, with multiple daily thunderstorms.  It’s about 30+ degrees out, so it’s a might-bit sticky.  Air con can be appreciated at times like this.

I do enjoy Bangkok, but I’m looking forward to moving on to India.  There is a mystery as to what I’ll do when I return here on the 27th.  I was supposed to travel into southern Laos to work on PSI’s malaria programs, but recent storms have made that area quite inaccessible.  I’m waiting to hear from PSI Laos about whether or not they’ll go ahead.  I have the offer of doing more projects here in Thailand – in Chiang Rai and/or in Pattaya – but I’m keen to get out of Thailand, possibly to Cambodia or Vietnam if things don’t work on in Laos.  We shall see.


Written by sockeyed

October 14, 2009 at 03:27

Posted in Photography, Travel

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. If I introduced you to the MBK food court, and it changed your life, am I a lifer-changer?! So jealous of your eating experiences…


    October 15, 2009 at 21:20

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