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coughs, corpses and coupling...

1. Coughs

I feel ill... I don't know why but I always end up feeling ill whenever I have a day off work. I needed to rest so, I made sure that I had a nice lazy day today. I spent the morning coughing my guts up, spluttering and trying to send e-mails to friends back home. Around 2pm, feeling a bit guilty about doing nothing, I sorted through a bit more of my stuff. Then feeling even more guilty about 'wasting' my day off, I decided to have a wander around my neighbourhood and find something for lunch and something to do.

2. Corpses

I went to Siriraj forensic museum. It's not that far away from where I live, a 20 to 30 minute walk at the most but, somehow, I've never managed to find the time or energy to go there. Everyone I know who's been there already has raved about it, and said that it's an excellent, if slightly eerie experience.

The museum itself is located in the middle of Siriraj hospital. I go past the hospital a lot, but have not been in there in over 2 years. I haven't wanted to. My last visit was to take my friend there. 1/2 an hour after we arrived she was pronounced dead.

For over a year afterwards, I had flashbacks about sitting on the blue plastic chairs, fiddling with the chewing gum underneath the seats and waiting and wanting to hear that she was OK. I can still picture her ex, Barry shouting at the doctors, banging his fist on the wall and yelling at me - that he wanted to go home (but didn't have enough money for a cab) - when her death was announced.

I still have occasional nightmares about it. That she could have been lying on the floor for hours, that I didn't reach her quick enough, that I didn't help as much as I could, that I couldn't speak Thai well enough to get my friend to call the ambulance, or come over to our apartment and help me carry her to the lift, that I couldn't force her to breathe just by wanting her to... Siriraj hospital isn't a place of happy memories.

I went the wrong way, and got lost in the maze of buildings. I can read Thai a little bit, but there's no sign that says 'forensic musuem - this way.' The only things on the signs are the names of the buildings themselves, usually (because Thai names tend to be quite long) very, very long words, that aren't easy to read.

I was totally lost. I needed to go back to the main entrance, go inside, find the hospital information desk and ask for directions. I really didn't want to. My legs were shaking as I entered the building. The grubby waiting area looked exactly the same as it did 2 years ago. Harsh flourescent lighting. Broken blue plastic chairs in rows of 4 and 5. Old men sprawled across rows of them trying to sleep. Nervous looking people waiting. Thankfully the information counter wasn't too far away. The woman manning the desk spoke excellent english, and gave me directions and a leaflet.

The musuem is on the 2nd floor of the forensic building, a 5 minute walk away. C, one of the exchange students where I live mentioned that when her friends visited, one of them went the wrong way and accidently walked into the morgue. I did the same thing. 'Turn Right. Go up the stairs. 2nd Floor' I was told. I turned right, as I was told to, but there were no stairs. Just a row of metal cabinets, a table, and an odd smell. I was surprised that there was no security, no locks on the doors, no people around to tell you not to enter. The place was deserted. I didn't stick around.

The 'turn right' should have been 'walk through the building. Turn right. Go into the main entrance, and then up to the second floor.' I walked out of one door, turned right and into another. I found the stairs There were small groups of students hanging around the stairwell. Most were in their school or university uniforms. Groups of girls giggling and talking on their mobile phones. Boys laughing at the thought of going inside.

Sombre faced farangs and Thais were walking downstairs. Some of the foreigners looked really shocked. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew it wasn't going to be nice, but I didn't expect to be as freaked out as they looked. I guess my notions of death have changed a lot since I've been here.

Death's everywhere in Thailand. The front pages of Thai newspapers have no shame in showing the bloodied corpses of accident or assasination victims. TV is the same. The morning news is always a gore fest, and as well as pictures there's usually video footage of bloodied victims being rushed to hospital too. The TV crews are as near to the injured as the medics treating them. Last week's plane crash in Phuket was a good example. Monday morning's news was full of footage of corpses being taken out of the smouldering plane. The thai cameramen covering the story went for the close ups.

Death wouldn't be seen in the same way at home. Showing corpses on TV would be seen as distateful and revolting. The corpse is a private thing, for family and friends to see and grieve over, not something to be sensationalised or shown to the world. There are as many stories about death in English newspapers but, where there are photos they tend to be of the victim before they died, or of the location of the death. The dead victim is hardly ever shown.

But its not just TV news and newspapers that like to show (other people's) blood and guts. Thai soaps are full of death too. Most are suposed to be love stories but they are more like revenge tradgedies. People are always being murdered by each other, or fake their own deaths, before killing others.

Thai's like their ghost stories too. Traditionally those who die in childbirth or have an unfortunate death become ghosts. Ghost movies are extremely popular, and Thai ghost movies are amongst the grizzliest and scariest in the world.

So after being here a while you become used to death, almost immune to it. A corpse is a corpse. Sure, it doesn't stop you from feeling sorry for the family of the person that died, or the person themselves but after seeing so many, in the Thai language newspapers or on TV everyday, it's hard to see one and feel really really shocked.

So, I went into the musuem not really knowing what to expect or how I would feel. I'd already been given the gorey details. You can see cracked skulls, and try and guess how their former owner died. Gunshot wound ? bludgeoned with a hammer ? or cracked in a traffic accident ? There are also diseased lung and livers, aborted foetuses, dead babies and 4 mummified corpses.

The musuem itself is a bit grubby. Some exhibits look as if they've been there for years, their wooden and glass cases in need of a good clean. If they've been organised, it would be hard to work out how. Most have decriptions in Thai. Few have both Thai and English explanations.

Sure, the mummified corpses are there, just as Lonely Planet, and the other guidebooks that recommend the place mention. There's a few of them, 2 of rapists and one of a cannibal. One surprising thing is that they're black, and covered with a slimey yellow substance that looks a bit like lard. They weren't what I was expecting at all. I'd seen a mummified monk one time, on Ko Samui. His face and arms were pale white, like someone who'd been outside in the cold a bit too long. He didn't look dead. These guy's faces, and the rest of their bodies were jet black. They seemed unreal. They looked like they'd never been alive.

The other exhibits are a macabre collection of medical relics. Swollen livers, a grizly reminder of what happens to people who drink too much, a crushed foot, the result of an accident at work, and diseased brains and lungs.

Perhaps the most shocking for me personally were 2 aborted feotuses. 1 was 'normal,' and the embriotic sac that it lives in had been sliced in half. It was a bit like Damien Hirst's famous cow, except this was a real human foetus. Even though the baby was still pretty young you could make out arms, and legs and tiny fingers and toes. Next to that was the result of an 'illegal' abortion. The sac where the child develops had been punctured to the point where it was almost destroyed. It was as if someone had repeatedly stabbed it with a knife, or something sharp. Remenants of baby were splattered around it. I was horrified but, at the same time, couldn't help but stare at it.

There are 3 other sections in the museum. One shows traditonal Thai medicines. There are old fashioned weighing scales, replicas of herbal remedies and common drugs, pictures showing yoga positions and dummies demonstarting traditional ways of childbirth (It looks very painful - sit up, hold a rope, push and scream) and Thai massage. It could be a really interesting display, but unfortunately there's no English translations for any of the exhibits.

The next area is dedicated to tropical diseases. The posters and plastic models that explain how worms and the parasites that live in freshwater lakes and fish can end up in your belly, are enough to put you off swimming in Issan lakes or eating catfish for a while.

The final, and probably the newest section is about the recent Tsunami. It explains what happened and details how the victims were eventually identified.

It took me around an hour and a half to look around. I didn't look at, and read everything. It's hard to spend so long looking at, or reading about human remains. It's fascinating but a bit grim and depressing too.

If anyone reading this is in Pinklao, has a spare hour or two and isn't squirmish, it's definitely worth a visit. I enjoyed it. Well I'm not sure that 'enjoy', is the right word to use but it was definitely an interesting experience.

3. Coupling

I came back home and had nothing much to do, so decided to go to the cinema. One of the most talked about Thai movies at the moment is called 'Bangkok Love Story.' It's Thai title is 'peuan' (friend) but few people say that. Most people know it as 'the gay movie.'

It's not a great film. Like most Thai movies the characters have no emotional depth to them. There's nothing in the story that make you empathise with any of them. They're either over the top, too macho, too sweet, too naive, or too dumb to care about.

The story is simple enough. Cloud, a hitman, whose family is slowly dying from AIDS, is asked to bring his next victim Stone, in alive. He duly kidnaps him and takes him to the mafia boss's house, only to refuse to shoot him. The pair escape, but Cloud's wounded. Holed up in a rooftop shed, with little to do except wander round in his underpants and care for Cloud, Stone slowly falls in love.

The start is promising enough. The first 20 minutes are excellently shot, and show a side of Bangkok that has rarely been caught on screen. It's probably one of the few Thai movies I've seen, (the only other 2 being Citizen Dog and Chern) that makes Bangkok seem like the city that I love. Vibrant, ecclectic, alive.

However, the film goes downhill from here. Once Cloud and Stone do their thing, there's nowhere else for the story to go. Cloud is ashamed, Stone besotted. Besotted to the point where he will do anything for cloud.

I'm not going to say any more, as I don't want to give the story away but the plot degenerates so much that it borders on farce. There's tradegy after tradegy after tradgedy. Then, just as you hope for a happy ending, yet another tradegy.

The sad thing is, like so many other Thai films I've seen, it could have been a great movie. But, the filmakers went for sensationalism (the great, much talked about gay sex scene that's, lets face it, not that great) over substance. In places the cinematography's excellent. But, other than that there's nothing about the story, or the characters that would make me want to recommend it.


Create Date : 20 กันยายน 2550
Last Update : 23 กันยายน 2550 16:57:03 น. 0 comments
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