August 24-31, 2006
Every Thursday at 10:45 AM our natural gas generator starts up for 20 minutes. This, of course, is just for exercise. Now, THOCBDC is proud to offer two movies of this moving event. Not only is the generator seen and heard [700k .avi]; the gas meter [600k .avi] is also shown. Note the spinning "2 cubic feet" of gas dial.
Last night we again ate at Coco: a new Asian restaurant that specializes in Thai and Japanese fare.
Hurricane Katrina passed through South Florida a year ago today on its way to New Orleans. This is how it looked then and how it looks exactly 365 days later.
Por Tek Tung - The Body Snatchers
Fighting for a Gory Prize - A Race to the Death in Thailand
Play video clip (Courtesy: Channel 4, UK)
(Windows Media Player)
They are not rewarded with money, but Karma - as many volunteers believe the work is good for their soul
BANGKOK: -- Sidestepping stains of blood and car fluid on the road, Niroot Sampi crunched across broken windshield glass to survey the crumpled and steaming wrecks of two cars.
"It's not really that bad," Mr. Niroot said. "Nobody died."
That's how it goes in the world of Por Tek Tung, Thailand's premier group of professional body snatchers.
Careering around Bangkok in battered pickup trucks, the organization's minimally trained members serve as doctor and hearse for accident victims in a city that has almost no emergency services.
These are no dreamy-eyed do-gooders: Fistfights occasionally erupt when rival organizations try to tug bodies from the same road accident.
"You can't just have people die and be left on the streets," Mr. Niroot said. "People must retrieve bodies and treat them with due respect."
Financed by donations, Mr. Niroot's group and a dozen other teams take to the streets at dusk each evening to circle their designated section of the city. A great deal of time is also spent sitting at gas stations waiting for news of wrecks.
"Friday nights near the end of the month are busiest," Mr. Niroot said above the crackle of the car radio. "People get paid their salary and then drink and drive fast."
Mr. Niroot, who has donned the organization's distinctive jumpsuit uniform for four years, finds great satisfaction in a grim job that earns him 6,000 baht a month, about $135.
Founded early in the last century by Chinese immigrants, Por Tek Tung began by providing free funeral services to the destitute. As Thailand developed and industrialized, however, the group's efforts turned to collecting the dead from car wrecks, airplane crashes, floods, suicides and murder scenes.
A gory gallery of death outside the organization's headquarters features photographs of mutilated, burned and dismembered bodies recovered and delivered to hospital morgues. The intention of the display, officials said, is to attract donations by showing the group's good works.
Many members of the organization are volunteers who believe the work can help them accumulate karma for physical protection in this life and improve their next incarnation.
Competition over bodies has occasionally proved intense enough for rival groups to resort to violence. The police once fired warning shots to stop 40 Por Tek Tung collectors armed with wooden clubs and hammers from fighting six collectors from a rival group.
Mr. Niroot took part in one of the most famous confrontations, in which half a dozen body snatchers were hospitalized after fighting over a motorcyclist's body.
"It is very ugly fighting over a body, but I would do it again," Mr. Niroot said, describing how he split open a rival's head with a piece of wood after knives and a gun had been drawn. "These other groups just take bodies to the morgue in order for fame; they do not have enough money or desire to register the body properly."
While many in Thailand suggest more worldly motivations for the fights over bodies, Por Tek Tung employees react with indignation at any suggestion of pillage. Thais often conserve a considerable portion of their wealth in thick gold necklaces, but few bodies arrive at morgues with jewelry of any kind.
"Things go missing by the time a body gets to the morgue, but this has nothing to do with Por Tek Tung employees," said Kurom Buaphoom, who has worked for five years at the organization. "We cannot always control the volunteers. I am sorry we get accused of this."
All employees are required to have a clean police record, but many find the toughest part of the job is overcoming a deep-rooted fear of ghosts.
"Most Thai people fear touching bodies because of ghosts," Mr. Niroot said. "I protect myself with my beliefs and a pendant."
To pass the time while waiting for an accident, Mr. Niroot recounts the bloodiest accidents of his career in horrific and unprintable detail. Death by motorcycle features prominently, as does the suicide of young people involving methamphetamines, an illegal drug Thais commonly called yaa baa, or crazy drug.
"I think I was saddest after one accident where four people were killed," Mr. Niroot said. "Two people died instantly and two others while we tried to pull them out of the car."
For all his enthusiasm about helping injured people, Mr. Niroot has the emergency medical training typical of Por Tek Tung employees: almost none. But even without medical equipment or training, doctors welcome the group in a city critically short of emergency vehicles and trained technicians.
"The body snatchers often have no medical knowledge," said Dr. Somchai Kanchanasut, director of the Rajavithi Hospital's emergency medical services center. "But they always arrive first in Bangkok, and we are trying to teach them how to transport people better."
Dr. Somchai's center is one of only two medical emergency transport centers in Bangkok. With just 35 advanced life support system ambulances serving Bangkok's 5.8 million people, there is only one ambulance for every 165,000 people. This compares with a level of one advanced life support vehicle for every 10,000 people in most developed countries.
A further hindrance to emergency vehicles, Bangkok's traffic gridlock, prompted the creation of an elite corps of motorcycle police trained to deliver babies in taxis.
"An ambulance sent out for someone with chest pains will arrive half an hour after they died of a heart attack," Dr. Somchai said. "Most life-threatening cases arrive at the hospital by taxi."
Reaching speeds of up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) an hour while weaving down crowded city streets and arriving first on the scene appear to be the highest priorities of Por Tek Tung. Responding to news of a drunken fight in a temple, several of the organization's souped-up white pickup trucks converge at high speed on Wat Uphai Ratnamrong.
While sirens blare, passengers in the back of the truck hold on as the vehicle swerves across intersections and up back alleys. Mr. Niroot loves the race and cannot recall any fatal accidents en route to an incident.
Despite the fast driving, the fight is over and blood is smeared across the temple's white marble floor. A body, stabbed 20 times in the chest, lies on the floor. As the dead man's adversary is taken into police custody, Por Tek Tung gets down to work.
The crowd is moved back, but newspaper photographers are allowed to record the crime scene even before police begin measuring, marking the floor and taking notes. With all details of the murder scene recorded, Por Tek Tung employees carefully wrap the body in a white cloth and place it in the back of a pickup truck for delivery to the police morgue.
"I feel pity from the suffering I see each day," Mr. Niroot said. "But I am proud of my job and like the work because I know it is good for society." Sidestepping stains of blood and car fluid on the road, Niroot Sampi crunched across broken windshield glass to survey the crumpled and steaming wrecks of two cars.
Play video clip (Courtesy: Channel 4, UK)
(Windows Media Player)
After a shopping trip to The Galleria Mall to buy a new pillow Watcharee and I had dinner at Season's 52. The drive home took us past Susan's hurricane (*) damaged condominium. From there we followed Sunrise Boulevard to the beach; then down A1A to Las Olas where we saw a blue SLK waiting for the light to change; after a brief wait for the draw bridge to go down we drove to our house.
Later Watcharee tested her new pillow.
Now, isn't this one of the most pointless blog entries that you have ever read?
(*) Wilma, not Katrnia.
PS: Watcharee is less likely than I to hurl "damns" at the TV screen. So it was with ease that she again visited Kaw at her home in Pompano Beach. This time it was for a barbecued chicken lunch. [By the way, Kaw used to be a back-up singer for a Thai superstar in Bangkok about ten years ago. Now she limits her singing to karaoke (as you witnessed last week when she and Watcharee took to the microphone)]. Anyway, during today's visit Kaw's twin sister, Dang, was also at the table. As was Dang's husband, Mike, who afterwards busied himself with downloading some Thai television programs from the Internet. And Tarzan, the dog, looking well fed seemed content with his day. I think I was the only one who was worried about the "BREAKING NEWS".
He's (*) coming!
PS: Here is an August 25th photo of the Athenee Residence as seen from Rama VI's statue at the southwest corner of Lumpini Park. It is barely visible just to the left of Rama VI's shoulder ... the building is cloaked in green construction wrap.
PPS: Our friends Jon and Ta are visiting Ta's family in Thailand. While they were in Bangkok they stayed at The Conrad Hotel on Ruam Rudi: the same soi on which The Athenee Residence abuts. Jon e-mailed these photographs along with a brief description:
This is Jon in Bangkok with a beautiful view from my hotel room of the Plaza Athenee Residences. I have a great view and it certainly a unique view as no one has sent you these angles. I hope that the taller of the 2 buildings is your building because that is the one I can see directly from my room. I was also able to get a shot from the tennis courts of the Conrad which shows both buildings in progress. This shot can't show from top to bottom but I got a pretty close up view of both buildings together.
PPPS: Hiding from Ernesto.
All afternoon yesterday CNN and the Weather Channel hyped Ernesto to the point where I wondered if even my concrete block garage would be enough to protect our car. And, would Valium and vodka get us through the night?
PS: We were lucky. Ernesto veered a bit to the west of us. But, even then the maximum sustained winds near its eye did not exceed 45 mph. In the end it was just another blustery day in Fort Lauderdale. I am counting the days until we fly back to Bangkok.
Fair weather brought things back to normal. A local "Wings & Things" restaurant hosted a car show of sorts in its parking lot. Obviously this is sort of a guy thing.
PS: Meanwhile the girls went hunting.