These days it’s difficult to imagine a world without masks.
There are masks walking along the pavement, masks in the supermarket, masks on the bus, and masks twitching behind smartphones on the BTS. The adorably flirtatious cashier in seven eleven wears a cute Hello Kitty mask, the valet driver at Embassy Shopping Mall wears an industrial–breathing-apparatus-mask-type-thingy. Teenagers wear masks lowered slightly beneath the nose with a nod towards uniformed rebellion.
But not everyone wears mask. Hell – not all superheroes wear masks. And here’s a thought. If a man wears a mask and zips around town with his underpants worn outside his spandex neon tights he’s a superhero, or at worst a member of Fathers 4 Justice. But if a woman launches up cat-like to the oily skies with a charcoal Gucci shawl wrapped around her shoulders and a scented broom gripped between her thighs folklore and societal norms tell us she’s a cackling unrepentant hag.
But it isn’t all comic books and fairytales in Maskville. Several hundred anti-maskers gathered in London’s Hyde Park and protested, last year, riled up by the submissive nature of mask wearing legislation. Certain pick-up drivers stateside claim masks are an infringement on our social liberty. No such uprising here in Thailand. Oh no, not here in the Land of Masked Smiles. The streets of Bangkok are strangely liberated by our mask-wearing citizens. Try walking down the street and locking eyes with a mask wearer representing your given sexual orientation. Those foxy brown eyes (male, female, or transgender) are locking into direct contact with your own virus-fearing gaze. Why is this? Do we lose inhibition with two thirds of our faces covered? Are other mask wearers safer, more attractive? Does the closure of bars, nightclubs, entertainment areas, and after hour squeak-easy joints require us to take our pick-up game to the street? Or are those hilarious claims from local social media sources about the vaccine causing increased libido and decadent thought patterns to be believed?
These curiosities didn’t always bounce around my Strange mind. Twenty years ago when I first kissed terra firma in Bangkok, snatched my 25-liter Eurohike from baggage reclaim, and stepped out into the furnace-blast heat of Bangkok the city was a different place. Twenty-four years old with all the social composure of a coiled spring the only virus to be feared back then began with an H and ended, if you were unlucky, in AIDS. There were no masks back then. No masks and no smartphones. Imagine a Thailand without smartphones? A heaving mass of alert and friendly bodies rubbing up against one another with no fear of the virus. Of course HIV was still a political hot potato – and with a body-count of 30 million or so since debuting grandly in the early eighties, co-vid-19, current rising at 3 million has a lot of ground to make up before standing shoulder to shoulder with the other great epidemics of our times including HIV. But it is closing ground fast and to ignore the danger is to flirt with all the romance of being hooked up to ICU in an overcrowded hospital, if you can afford the fees.
The infection rate now in Thailand is rising like a Roi Et skyrocket. Friends and colleagues are becoming infected. Maids in condo buildings, taxi drivers, market vendors. Everybody knows somebody who has been infected. With over 12,000 inmates infected the prisons are so rife with the virus that the government are considering the release of 50,000 high risk prisoners. A month ago 60,000 cases were recorded in Thailand. This has more than doubled to date. The numbers are expected to rise and closures expected to remain in force following the next government announcement.
Now that the bars and the nightclubs have shut seemingly for the foreseeable future there’s little to do other than sit and ponder the strangeness of it all. Bargirls chat online to distant clients using their mobile telephones. Online live bar streams have sprung up, some of these successfully. How long until virtual reality technology becomes the strange new medium for demimonde relationships? Lonesome customers buy drinks for untouchable women in skimpy outfits in empty bars. Bar managers and entertainment staff hope desperately for a way out of the abyss. Perhaps sites such as Onlyfans.com offer an olive branch. These sites have taken the Kingdom by storm, with ex-sex workers launching new online careers as erotic content providers in cyber rooms. It will take more than technology to save the city – the country needs to be vaccinated – and this needs to be implemented with speed.
While not being noted for her risk management Thailand has always adapted well to disasters using innate creativity and natural pliability. It will be interesting to see where the nightlife industry turns to next as the pandemic continues to grip the nation by the throat day by day.
Strange is a writer and film-maker who has called Bangkok home for many years. He writes books, blogs, and makes films. You can find out more about J.D at www.jdstrange.com.