Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes Part 51
Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes 51
Flip Flops and Flak Jackets (What We Want to Never Happen)
11:00 pm–The pickup truck was new and cream white and the tarp in the back was new and cream white and the guy walking in front of the truck with the whistle and the smile was wearing cream white coveralls. It all looked so official. The driver's side door looked as if it had some kind of insignia on it. The whistle blowers cream colored coveralls looked like they had some kind of badge on them. It all looked so official. It all looked so normal, so expected, so pre-approved, so coordinated. The truck was going very, very slowly; walking speed–down Walking Street in South Pattaya. Walking Street at night in South Pattaya is not supposed to have vehicular traffic–that is why it is called Walking Street. Vendor deliveries and contractors and construction crews are supposed to do their business in the hot, still, quiet mornings and early afternoons while the tourists are still in bed or at the beach. But this was different. Nobody was really being bothered. The fellow in front of the slow moving truck in the cream colored coveralls was smiling and friendly and using his hands and his body language and his whistle to clear the way for the truck. He looked educated. Respectful. Unhurried. Civilized. No one bothered to ask questions. The truck had no license plates. The gentlemen had no ID. Who noticed? Who cared? Walking Street in South Pattaya, Thailand at night is all about not judging others–being easy going–going with the flow! The bill for happy times and friendly relations was about to come due. The big huge thing in the back of the truck covered by the tarp looked like it might have been a septic tank, or a roof top air conditioning unit, or a giant propane bottle, or a refrigeration unit, or some kind of industrial generator. Who knew? Who cared? It all looked so official. The tarp was tied down with bungee cord shock loaded ropes and special hooks. The tarp looked custom made. It looked like people knew what they were doing. If you had told someone that the personnel and the truck and the load in the truck was associated with the military, or the government, or the United Nations, or some charitable organization, or some big legitimate corporation they'd have probably believed you. It all looked so official. The truck moved noiselessly and slowly into Soi Diamond and stopped. The whistle guy and the driver disappeared.
11:30 pm–Wan and I are sitting in a bar on Soi Diamond. The explosion hits the cinder block wall that we are leaning up against with the speed of a 38 caliber bullet. There is a blinding flash and searing heat and express train wind. It's a nanosecond of time filled with heat and light and wind and noise and explosive force. The cinder blocks and concrete and steel rebar and patrons and glass and furniture and plumbing are thrown across the bar into the opposite concrete wall like cannon shells. The lights go out and the walls cave in and the roof falls down. Everyone is buried, either dead or alive. The pitch black room is filled with the screams and the sounds of people fighting for life and the screams and the sounds of people losing the fight for life! You can taste the confusion and the fear and the dying in your mouth like metal. The building is on fire. Buildings and businesses are turned to shards of glass and splinters of wood and concrete dust and humans crying. The blast was so huge that seismic and political vibrations were felt in capitals all over the world. No one took responsibility. No one needed to. Madness doesn't need a face. I am buried under the debris with Wan in my arms. My legs are pinned. Wan's heart is pumping blood out the back of her head.
Farangs pour out of the Pattaya nightlife scene and organize themselves. Walking Street is turned into a triage center and hospital holding center and operating room. Vacationing nurses and doctors and medical students and emergency medical technicians and ambulance personnel from twenty countries organize themselves. Non-medical personnel start going into the burning buildings looking for bodies. The living are pulled out first. Pharmacy doors are pushed in and medical supplies are stripped. Hotels donate sheets and pillows and mattresses and food and water. Deck chairs and chez lounges are pulled up from the beaches to be used for beds. Construction companies set up pumps and hoses and an attempt is made to put out fires by using the ocean as a reservoir. Swenson's Ice Cream shop was turned into a communications and coordination office. A Chinese tour bus was commandeered for a blood donation center. The Chinese tourists camped on the beach. Confused and unhelpful. No one asked them for help and they never offered to help. Medical personnel and volunteers and tourists and firefighters all mix on Walking Street. It is a mess. Then the flames jump across the street. A wind comes up. The bodies lying in the street are now between two walls of flame.
1:00 am–I lay in a pool of shattered glass and blood with Wan's deflated leaden body in my arms. Melted roofing tar fell like black napalm rain. Incandescent ash fell and stuck to the tar. If I had had something to confess, I'd have confessed
completely. I lost every shred of human dignity. I regressed to my bones and my DNA. I stopped praying to live. I stopped praying to die. My heart kept beating but I was beyond prayer! Listening in the dark to shouts and moans. The crying had
stopped. I am calm. I am going to die. I want to go where Wan has already gone. Then they find me. I am jerked out on to Walking Street and lined up with the others. I didn't protest leaving Wan behind. I just wanted to live. Soi Diamond
had become an inferno and fire was starting to march up and down Walking Street. When they dragged me out I was covered in ash and starting to blister. Three hundred seventy eight dead and five hundred fourteen wounded in the road lined up like
sardines. Wan is left behind in the burning building. The dead and wounded numbers will be different at first light. The situation for the wounded and the volunteers is now untenable. Both sides of the street are on fire. Patients are loaded onto
bed sheets and trotted up to Beach Road. My hotel sheet stretcher bearers were four fat balding German farang, one sweaty mamasan, and a monk holding up my intravenous bottle. The Germans seemed to be in charge. I decide I love German tourists.
I end up in front of the Royal Garden Plaza mall. I can hear the ocean behind my head and I can see the stars overhead. Something feels like running water inside my stomach. I will require multiple surgeries. I am not glad to be alive. That will
come later. Shock blocks.
Bargirls stream out of the bars, kick off their go-go boots and Frankenstein shoes, wrap hotel sheets around themselves to ward off the chill, and administer to the wounded and the dying. Black haired nurses of mercy and care wrapped in white. Gone the fake sex and the desperate smiles. Now maternal and serious and useful when needed. Daughters of Thailand. My hair and neck and ears and face and arms and legs are burned. I am shaking from chill. Spasmodically quaking and losing my mental stability. Shock is wearing off to be replaced with fear and self pity and pain. I can smell my own flesh. Flaring gas lines, exploding propane bottles, palm trees torching at the top, shouts and screams, sirens, the babble of many languages, the whump-whump-whump of chopper blades–the minutia of chaos is starting to irritate me. A daughter of Thailand is wrapping me in blankets. When she leans forward her hair brushes my face. I open my eyes. She smiles at me. I decide to live. Wan will have to wait.
Monks arrived and volunteered and were used for many things. But the most dramatic job was serving as human intravenous bottle stands. Distributed amongst the wounded they stood ramrod straight like orange robed sentinels of hope and held up intravenous bottles for hours, sometimes ‘till first light. In the blast I had been burned. My forelock and my eyelashes were gone and my eyeball lubricating fluid seemed to go missing. My eyelids felt like paper and my eyeballs felt as if they were covered with sand. It hurt to keep my eyes open. Before closing my eyes I looked up and saw my assigned monk holding my intravenous bottle. Elderly, strong, peaceful, and reliable. I knew I didn't have to pray to my god that he not drop the bottle. At first light I was awakened. I was being transferred to a stretcher. I was being flown out. My monk was still standing there holding my intravenous bottle with the morning sun on his face. I will never criticize Buddhism again as long as I live.
1:30 am–Two hours after the blast Thai guys in flip flops and flak jackets wearing chromed Glocks and folding-stock short burst weapons appeared in front of Big Mike's Shopping Center and the Royal Garden Plaza Mall to prevent looting. Nobody said anything. Other shop owners were not so lucky. There was a parade of motorbikes going down 2nd road with television sets strapped to the back.
3:15 am–A wild eyed, dark skinned, swarthy man in a turban in front of a tailor shop is yelling and gesturing. He could be a terrorist. A shot rings out. He falls like a tree and bounces when he hits. He might have been a terrorist. But he was probably just an excited Indian tailor. Sad.
Trannies from the Alcazar Cabaret and Tiffany's Cabaret congregate at the North Road and Beach Road intersection where the military and private helicopters are landing. They spend twelve hours directing landings, loading stretchers, setting up barricades, coordinating incoming supplies and making appeals on television for Type O blood, citizenry calm, and surgical burns specialists. They earn the respect of the nation.
6:00 am–After spending all night laying in the road I was taken up to Bumrungrad hospital in BKK in a military transport helicopter. Surgery was immediate. The level of medical care was excellent. The Thai government paid for everything including post surgical services and clinics and therapy and pharmaceuticals and hotels and business class tickets home. The government really stepped up and showed a lot of class. I will never complain about Thailand again as long as I live.
I had known Wan for years. But I didn't know her well enough to even know where her parents lived. I never saw her body again and I couldn't share my grief with anyone.
This could happen anytime. One terrorist–one pickup truck. I guess from now on we should report all pickup trucks with something in the back. No, wait a minute–that won't work!
More good reading from Bookazine, ooops, I mean Dana.