Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bangkok Marriot

Despite the automatically reclining seats and the pampering I still feel like I've been through the wringer as I gaze out of the window of business class on Thai Airways. and catch my first glimpse of Bangkok. Dawn is just breaking, but for now it's still dark and peppered with streetlamps and the lights of the early risers. In the middle of town something is burning, belching vast stacks of black flame into the air. I can see no flashing lights on the ground around it. From up here, the view is clear and the sky is cloudless. As we make our final approach, and dip in over a packed road towards the runway we pass through an unmistakable wall of sweat. This fug is clinging to the ground citywide, and I imagine it will be my constant companion. Along with the noise.

Everything talks. And if it doesn't talk it clangs, whistles, boils, squeals, farts or plays soothing music to you. Once I locate my escort, I am taken out to wait for the car. We are on an upper level, but below I can hear someone desperately - frantically - blowing a whistle. Again and again, as if a party of ten year olds had never seen whistles before. My escort doesn't bat an eyelid. She is called Ratt, and seems delightful. But we don't have a language in common, and I have no whistle. A man drives slowly past in a small red tow truck. He has a megaphone, and speaks into it constantly in a monotone. He is not repeating himself. I think he might be telling us what he can see. Very loudly. But he has to compete with the whistling and the farting horns of the cars as they pick up and drop off and pick up and drop off. And my car arrives. The whole side of it opens up revealing reclining sofas. I bundle my bags in and we are off. Bullet straight and bullet fast through toll roads, always the fastest thing on the road irrespective of corners and lane selections. I catch a glimpse of storks at the roadside. Are these the carrion birds over here?

Billboards are mostly without images, and in Thai. I see that Tesco has already arrived here in force, as some of the biggest are for their stores or their credit cards. One billboard has english text - a picture of a glass building and the words "Sense of London Condo". 'Who the hell would want that?' I laugh to myself as we shoot past it and squeal into a toll point. And from there into the Marriot Executive Apartments, where I am staying. Pretty damn nice too. Ratt gives me a welcome pack and I dare to think that finally I am going to find out what I am supposed to be doing in this movie.

Up in my room I dump my stuff on the armchair by the washing machine, and gleefully throw my clothes off and jump in the vast, tiled walk-in shower. Having washed away the plane I dive into my welcome pack. Nothing. No shooting schedule. No script. No idea of when I might be needed. No wardrobe fitting. I want to talk to someone about whether or not to lose the beard. If it's no use to them I am getting mightily fed up of it. But nope. Still no clues beyond a character name as to why these people have flown me halfway around the world. Still, ours not to reason why. I call the production assistant, hesitantly make inquiries - "Is there a script? Am I needed?" "I don't know." "Ok - well I am going to go for a walk then." "Good."

And then the alienation hits home. In South America, a lifelong nodding acquaintance with Spanish gets me by. Europe is always manageable. But this is totally alien. The language works differently. I cannot even begin to decipher the labels on things, I don't know how to say please or thank you or water or hello. Thankfully everybody is always smiling. Smile and bow seems to work as a starting tactic. And speak very very quietly in English while smiling, bowing and using sign language. Before long I take refuge in a mall. Downstairs, insane birds howl from wicker cages in perfect discord to the piped sounds of frogs and crickets. The shop staff all have madness in their eyes behind the smiles. I find an internet cafe and write all this down so I can process the total weirdness of this place, combined with the frustration of NOT KNOWING WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING OR WHEN I AM DOING IT.

And now I can get a cup of coffee and go back out into the midday sun with the mad dogs.

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