Saturday, January 21, 2012

The post I didn't want to write - Bangkok, Thailand

This is a post I'd rather not write. In fact I spent hours trying to erase the memory of the following facts, but I can't. The intensity of the sensations I felt smashed me inside. I have to document everything.
It's yet another example of the blind violence that can explode all of a sudden in a country where one quickly gets used to meet affable, smiling and tolerant people, and that precisely because of this contrast when it roars in front of us with the power of a Himalayan avalanche it upsets us, scratching our soul with sharp claws.
It's late at night, I'm strolling on a busy Bangkok road, I skirt a foreigner who has just rejected the advances of a pushy ladyboy, the usual things. Then I change my mind: it's not yet time to go back to my room, I turn around and start to walk in the opposite direction. When I pass a makeshift bar on the curb I spot the same ladyboy who is discussing with the bar owner. There's a commotion, some slapping, then the ladyboy is assailed by all the members of the staff: a total of two women and a man.
They grab him by the hair and shirt and hit him repetitively with punches and kicks. I don't know what he did but I expect this is gonna be the ritual reprisal, already witnessed many times before: a minute of thrashing at the end of which the body is left motionless on the ground, then the victim comes to and retreats in a sorry state. This time, however, the beating goes on for a long, dreadfully and despicably long time. The blows are meant to inflict the worst possible damage and the great majority of them land on the head of the ladyboy, the few that hit other parts of his body (shoulders, collarbone and arms) do it just because of poor aim. They are mostly kicks. The bar owner hits rather weakly but she manages to immobilize the already passive target, keeping him from running away and making sure that he's always exposed with a favorable angle to the others' blows. The man hits with frightful power, fortunately not too often. What disturbs me most is his expression: he's obviously beating purely for fun, like a hot-headed young boy might do with a boxing bag. The second woman, on the other hand, is an unstoppable fury: blind rage is driving her. She hits hard and tirelessly for various minutes on end. In the meanwhile the ladyboy's body rolls on, bangs against and bounces off the asphalt, from one sidewalk to the other.
I'm nailed to the spot. I don't want to look. I have to look. And how about trying to stop them? You might be thinking. A noble act, apparently, but actually quite naive and masochistic. I know it, like anybody else who's been here for more than two months. Who didn't find out yet are the tourists that just landed who, thinking that things here work as they do in their countries and not minding the fact that not any Thai has yet stepped in, draw near begging or even ordering them to stop. They are chased away with insults, threats and, if needed, with a dose of violence. The tone and gestures used show that these people will deliver their goods. The message is clear: this is not your business, don't meddle with us otherwise the same thing will happen to you. The comment of a Thai guy who approaches me, probably attracted by my bewildered expression, sums it up: "We can't do anything, except staying here and looking at them..."
Everyone who tries to do something is forced to leave after few seconds, frightened and frustrated, while the merciless beating goes on. There is a middle aged western man with a white shirt and a leather bag among them: he might have just got out of an office or a school. He retreated like anyone else, but after a minute a sense of guilt, genuine as well as out of place, gets hold of him, forcing him to come back. He tries to stop the massacre by physically interposing himself between the two parties and when he's shoved away he reacts by tugging at someone's shirt and yelling: "Enough!" They take that literally and make him stop to meddle by hitting him on the head with a bottle. I'll see him later, while he's pressing a handkerchief on the wound, his beautiful white shirt stained with the bright red of his blood.
The furious woman particularly likes the idea, and in short sequence she smashes two empty bottles of beer against the ladyboy's skull. They finally abandon him on the sidewalk, unconscious. The thugs are panting, exhausted by physical activity and that senseless paroxysm of rage. They massage their sore hands and flex their wrists. You cannot spot any trace of conflicting feelings on their faces though. Only smiles and knowing glances. They are convinced of the legitimacy and timeliness of the inflicted punishment.
A customer of the bar, finally out of the state of trance and shock that was shrouding him, throws a bottle away and leaves disgusted.
After a while the ladyboy stands up. He's staggering, bleeding all over, but manages to walk away, his face, shoulders and chest soaked, dark red. He can definitely take it: the blows he received were really too many. A few meters away finally somebody helps him. 
The police didn't show up, even though the station is just around the corner. The local agents are always there when they need to confiscate a few shirts of the street vendors' - a bunch of helpless people - (articles that will be donated for charity to their family members) or to search the pockets of the tipsy foreigners - also a bunch of helpless people, though for different reasons - hoping to extort a few thousands dollars from the foolish guy who got the brilliant idea to take a bag of weed or an illegal pill with him. In cases like this, however, they prefer not to spoil the mellow atmosphere with their authoritarian and not quite tourist-like presence.
I'm leaving as well. Where am I going? What was I doing here? Why did I decide to come back? Total blank. Who cares, let's get out of here, far from those assholes' faces, the memory of which I hope will be overshadowed by a drunkard's laugh or the apparition of some of those beautiful girls that were hanging around here a while ago. 

Photo by Mr Magoo ICU (CC)

No comments: