“You look left and I’ll look right. Best if we grab a moped each.” came the urging of Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist as we both peered along Thanon Yen Akat. Traffic looked heavy so a taxi was out of the question.
We had just spent ten minutes at the Nisa Thai school where I was looking up costs for “at-home” tutorials in learning the Thai language. Armed with all the necessary costs to make a fiscal decision I’d ventured a trip to the Thai Museum of Labour as a one-hour filler before my guide went off to a golf lesson at an indoor golf centre – the kind where you hit a ball at a screen and an instructor analyzes your stroke, gives feedback and sends you away with a golfing “happy ending”.
“Here’s one….oh and another. You take the first, I’ll take the second. Aim for the MRT at Sala Daeng.” It was a dusty cry from the Jazz Vocalist whose delicate cords must have been protesting at the choking thanon atmospheric abuse.
I hopped on board the back of my moped. Now…taking a taxi moped is a risky business in Bangkok. If you plan on doing it, probably best to restrict yourself to soi travel. I.e. stay off main thanon like Ramas, Sukhumvit, Petchaburi, Toll roads, Expressways etc.. The reason is that you don’t have a helmet and an accident will result in serious injury or worse. Another piece of good advice – look out for a plump driver. I suspect its a fact of life that all Thais have excellent core muscles with their ability to stay on the back of these things pretty much from birth as they’re driven through the traffic with some verve. For those Westerners who spend pointless $$$ on various gym fallacies that promise miraculous results (like a washing board flat stomach) for zero effort that somehow are never quite true, you’d best do as I did. I found myself able to clench my thighs tightly around his, flip-flopped my feet to a pair of foot bars protruding from his rear axle, and happily located a pair of love handles under his pink taxi coat to hang onto. And hang on I did, for grim death, as we banked left and right round various road obstacles. I thought I heard a protesting squawk from inside his helmet as we shot round an overloaded coach with a minor slide of the rear tyre and I had to halt my own slide off his pillion with a firmer grab of his fleshy protrusion.
Five minutes later we squealed to a halt outside the MRT, paid 40Baht, and lunged for the coolness of the entrance-way. A metal detector resulted in Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist producing his best irons to the surprise of the guard, and then we were away, loping like easy elk down the staircase, through the turnstiles (my taxi moped man was definitely a sideways turnstile person), and performing a gentle hop, skip, and lazy jump into the train carriage.
Silence. Air conditioned, blissful silence. Save the on-board TVs wailing gentle easy Thai listening into the carriage with various advertisements playing across the screens. Four stops to Petachburi.
We emerged, blinking, into the sunshine and took a pink taxi this time down Petchaburi and onto Thanon Nikhom Makkasan pulling up outside the Museum. We were the first arrivals and they were still opening up (even though it was a good 15mins past official opening time). The Museum was opened in 1993 and is nothing like the modern heritage constructs I’ve seen elsewhere. It was a ramshackle collection of rooms that hadn’t seen an update since 1993, a point driven home by the small TV screens playing pre-digital information movies. This picture gives the right note.
It was a “traditional” museum, one where every corner, every nook and cranny is stuffed with something relevant to the topic; rather than clean white lines, crisply sanitized information panels, artfully placed back lights, security cameras, wide aisles (forget a wheelchair in here)….here you get dusty corners, yellow lights, exhibits you had to step over to move on. At one point we traversed a kitchen corridor. It was all kind of fun really. So…the Museum exhibits….comprise…what…? five, or was it six rooms? I forget. The rooms narrate the development of Thai society and its workers. There is a detailed history of labour and society from the Sukhothai period up to the present (with the Kader Tragedy on May 10 1993 – a huge industrial disaster with at least 189 workers killed and over 500 injured. Kader Industrial Thailand Co. Ltd., was a toy factory located about 25 km from Bangkok which experienced a massive fire and led to many changes in industrial safety practices). Inside we found rooms telling the story of the corvee and slave labour in old societies; details on the changing labour conditions pre- and post-governmental change in 1932; constitutional medals awarded to workers helping defeat the 1933 Bowaradet Rebellion.There were some odd curiosities, small niches on music, a model of the making of the Bridge on the River Kwai, half an aeroplane and bus, a section on Chinese coolies with a rickshaw etc.. A lot of the plaques were in Thai, about 1/4 of them in English. All in all it was about 45mins for a glimpse and Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist suggested we head towards a cafe named 24owls that is owned by a friend of his.
The decor inside the cafe was patchwork, both eclectic and a fascinating mix of western influences from its London red telephone box outside to its motorbike inside. Check out the website for a better view – http://www.24owls.com/ . They were good enough to make me an a la carte toasted tuna sandwich whilst Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist dined on a sumptuous raspberry cheesecake. Plus the habitual lattes, of course. I highly recommend the place to anyone strolling through the area.
Anyway, as Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and I fight over the last morsel of raspberry cheesecake before he gets to head for his golf lesson and I go find a new pair of love handles to cling onto, I’ll leave you with a montage from the Thai Labour Museum….
Is this what diplomacy is all about?
travels with a diplomat