Leaving George Town with the heaviest of hearts, I recalled a previous occasion — now two years distant — on which I had departed Laos with a similar reluctance. That time, Bangkok (being Bangkok) had lofted me on its angel wings, pointed me toward the heavens, and blasted those mean old doldrums clean away.
I had hopes that the Land Of Smiles could work its magic on me once again; but, me and Thailand, we’s off to a rocky start this time ’round the sun. The new re-entry rules having now officially been put into effect, it was a real touch-and-go situation down there at Passport Control. Looked for a good litle while as though they weren’t even going to let my dimpled ass in.
The entry clerk gave my passport a very thorough going-over, pelted me with a barrage of questions, then despatched me to the Office, whereon the very same passport was given the very same very thorough going-over by not one but two uniformed personnel. Yet another barrage of questions was duly pelted: Where would I be staying? For how long in each location? Had I been working in Malaysia? Why had I not gotten a visa?
And I was all like, Man, I just want a fuckin’ thirty-day visa-free, like always. Which, at last, I was granted — along with a very stern warning that the next time I queued up flashing my baby-blues at the Thai Frontier, I’d better be doing so with Tourist Visa in hand.
Jeezus, out of the country for two-and-a-half months, and my return is considered a border run? Welcome to the new Thai normal, I guess. And so much for the expats’ forums’ members’ learned surmisings that the updated regs would be selectively enforced against Russian and Vietnamese passport-holders only (these having demonstrated the most propensity to be working for cash-money while in Thailand visa-free-tourist).
Anyhow, Hat Yai seems like an okay kind of a place. The town is as obsessed with the colour pink as Chanthaburi is with the animal bunny-rabbit. Had been here a few times before, but only a couple hours each time, transferring from train to minivan and vicey versey. The third-largest Reclining Buddha in all of the live-long World is here, so we’ll have to give that a look.
Heh heh, when I checked in, the owner of my hostel (though Thai, also name of “Ed”) was sporting a t-shirt bearing the likeness of one Mr. James Marshall Hendrix, and had an amp and turntable plopped down right the middle of the registration desk. Says he’s only just begun learning to the ropes, and so he hain’t yet showed me any down-home, scratch-‘n’-sniff, DJ-type moves…
On to to-day’s topic. I said before that the Ismail Hashim exhibition, Unpack Repack, had changed my life. That’s true not only for the enormity of his talent and the powerful weight of his images — which I can’t now imagine living without — but also for the Typology workshop held in the exhibit’s conjunction, and the monthlong helmet project which the former hast spawned.
I couldn’t stop taking pictures of helmets at workshop’s end because I couldn’t stop delighting in the magical, wonderful, always-surprising qualities of their owners’ faces — not to mention the utterly shocking diversity of the headgear itself. Shot after shot, day after day, it just never got old, never seemed rote, never failed to thrill and amaze — right up to the very final, glorious and amazing “session”, last night in Little India during magic hour.
The project played as important a role in the fantastic month that was as did the George Town Festival, the Hungry Ghost Festival, and the Durianic shenanigans. Here are a few of my faves — if this seems like a lot, believe me when I tell you there are many, many more every bit as enjoyable as these. Find ’em at the Flickr page, in both the cropped and uncropped varieties. (If you’re seeing this note, it means I’ve not yet finished uploading them all.) May all great credit accrue to the one only only, the isle of god damn Penang!
The crazy thing about the mise-en-scene in these shots is that I never even pay attention to anything other than making sure I get the helmet(s) in frame and in focus — not always the easiest of tasks, you can imagine, when they’re hurtling down the causeway at thirty-five per. So when one peruses the photos, and so often notices so much badass and beautiful live-life going down in their backgrounds, it’s always quite a revelation. Maybe a cool next project would be to walk around blindfold taking pictures, and see what turns up. (Surely many a someone has tried this before now…)
By the way, I had intended to make the project my little compact with Penang and Penang only. But arriving to Hat Yai, and having a look around, I kept threatening, “I’m about ten seconds away from busting out my camera, here…” And at last, I could stand it no more, and an initial rush of Hat Yai helmet photos have now been seconded to the old one/zero pantry. We’ll see, though — entertaining as they are, it’s kind of a lot of work getting all those pics wrangled. May still well end up cutting the cord.