Fai Mai In Nana
While Thais superstition runs to ghosts, Western concern has always been about what the gods might visit upon us when displeased with our lives or feeling just plain mischievous. Despite the spirit house on the ground floor in Nana, despite the smoking incense and the garlands of jasmine and the quick wais of the girls as they rush to their bars, Nana is ruled by foreign gods, ancient ones, too, not the modern God that draws the preachers to its entrance from time to time.
After a quick happy hour beer in Pretty Lady, I drew up the order of battle for the night, planning out the sequence of bars and beers in order to arrive in the right place at the right time with just the right amount of sobriety. You can leave little to chance in Nana because it is not a forgiving place for men. I was reminded that Mercury Bar was opening that night, not in its former place, now turned into a dismal pool hall by its new owner, but in a squeezed space between Mandarin Bar’s table dancing joint and the long shuttered Big Mango. As I arrived at the newly re-constructed escalator expecting to glide easily up to the front door of the bar I found it lifeless and on this of all nights. You could almost hear the sniggering, stifled laughs of the gods if you know what to listen for – I’ve heard them many times, always meant for me, withering my hopes for the evening before I even got started. This wasn't a good start.
I trudged up the escalator as others trudged down and found myself in the hands of Big Tik, formerly of too-many-bars-to-mention. She urged me into Mercury just as bikini girls poured down the staircase and out of Mandarin with customers hot on their heels. Thai guys rushed in and rushed out and a couple of dancers I know said fai mai, fire! I stood and looked at the activity but when the last few guys came out with a very worried look on their faces I knew it was time to split. Soon, the smoke was coming down the staircase from Mandarin. And when the accountant rushed out with a mass of paper clutched to her bosom I headed downstairs.
On the ground floor I bumped into Dave the Rave who said there was a fire in Mandarin, another bit of trouble for a bar already troubled by its mamasan. I started a complaint about the stupidity of bar owners but then excused myself to get a better view of the fire and walked up to the third level opposite. Soon I was joined by many friends from Erotica and was even invited to have a beer at regular prices in their dark, empty bar-happy hour was over I was reminded. I declined.
Smoke, white smoke, belched from the upper level but no flames were visible. Soon there were people on the roof above Carousel with flashlights (torches if you’re British). A bucket brigade of sorts was formed and occasionally, not with any rapidity or regularity, a cleaner’s bucket of water was thrown against the wall of Mandarin. The flashlight shone through the smoke to inspect the success. Sometimes the bucket brigade disappeared in the smoke. Where the hell were the fire trucks? The clock ticked on, more water licked the hot wall, the smoke got thicker, abated, got thicker again, abated, got bigger, turned to black. Every perch on every balcony, every step on the staircase, every spot on the ground floor was taken. Cell phones and digital cameras popped away.
Finally, a red truck appeared, larger than a pickup, with high sides, axes on the outside, ladders, a large corrugated hose and, incongruously, two rather nice looking girls sitting on top. The men were not dressed to fight fire – one was wearing a Ronaldinho shirt. Confusion reigned as there was much looking, wondering, dressing into fire garb, a kind of useless activity one might engage in while hoping the real guys would get there soon. Luckily, they did. The big boys of the fire brigade arrived momentarily, their massive truck filling the entire entrance to the plaza, with a crew fully dressed to do battle with the blaze. Thank god the whole issue of motorcycles in the entrance had been resolved some time ago. As they organized themselves the crew on the roof continued to hold the line.
Orders were shouted and porters with the big hoses ran off to find a connection to the mains and their business ends were dragged up the lifeless escalator. Just when it looked like everything might get sorted, all the power in Nana Plaza cut off. A great swell of a shriek went up from the dispossessed servers and dancers. The curling irons and the dryers, half way through their beauty miracles in the salons went dead in mid operation. The usual panic of settling of accounts for patrons who might escape in the darkness seemed to be contained.
The fire pros had it together soon. A great shot of water blasted up between Carnival and the Mandarin’s third floor, like the jet d’eau at Lake Geneva; it wavered, took a nasty turn, and blasted into the faces off the bucket brigade and the newly arrived firemen. There was a struggle for the stream as it wandered again soaking the men on the roof, but eventually it was focused and order began to come to the chaos the gods had visited upon the Grand Opening of Mercury Bar. Well, what could be expected when you name your bar after a god, diminish it by changing it into a pool hall, and then move its temple into a small teacup of a place?
I walked out to Soi Four, my home for many years now, and found a street packed with vehicles flashing red, completely at a standstill, crowds of people filled Nana Hotel’s Golden Bar and the parking lot, faces upturned in awe at the stately pleasure dome, perhaps wondering in the darkness, if the world as I and they know it, might come to an end. But soon men clambered down ladders, the smoky mist of the last sprays from the fire hoses drifted down upon us, and, like holy water, it had its spiritual healing power. Shouts went up to move the troops out signaling the battle had been won. It wasn’t long before a burst of electricity jump started the corpse of the Plaza, its neon veins glowed again, and with every rhythmic bump and thump of its music driven dancers, the pulse got stronger, and soon Nana was fully alive again.
The gods are like that. They like to take hope, and plans, and comfort away and then restore them just to remind us who is running things. Yet without us and our failings, what would they have to amuse themselves?
This is an eyewitness account of the fire in Nana Plaza that broke out on Monday night, a very timely and nicely put together piece.