On this sultry Sunday evening, we wander the jam-packed streets near the Shangri La Hotel. Most of the storefronts here — dependent on tourist trade — are shuttered for the night, but the local night market — and by local, I mean *very* local, and fine-tuned strictly to local tastes — is in high gear.
Here, a man in a bright orange safety vest sells Chinese dwarf rabbits as pets. There, a solemn woman reads Tarot, dealing from a dog-eared knock-off of the Waite-Smith deck. In front of the KFC, a woman stir-fries savory dumplings in a hubcap filled with coconut oil. Around the corner, a vendor hawks cigarette lighters, sunglasses, and motor cycle parts. In the alley, a scrawny man beckons, murmuring in a soft voice: “Tuk tuk riiiiide? Massaaaaaage from pretty girrrrrl? Ping pong shooooow?”
What stops me in my tracks, though, is the very busy stall sandwiched between a makeshift cosmetics counter and a rack of fake Geoffrey Beene button downs. Squeezed into a 15×15 foot space are perhaps a half-dozen women reclined on lawn chairs. Each has her eyes closed, as though meditating. Each holds a cheap plastic box fan, directing its stiff, moist breeze directly into her face.
Buzzing around them: four or five young women in surgical masks. When a customer is seated, they dart forward and, with short, sharp flicks of their wrists, plunge syringes into their clients’ faces.
At each injection site, red welts form rapidly, swelling like hornet stings. The women in the chairs all have lumps on their foreheads; a few have lips that have been plumped to the bursting point. The ad hoc cosmetologists smooth the worst of the distortions away with quick swipes of their fingers, then press their subjects back into the lawn chairs, caution them not to change their expressions, and hand them a box fan.
Cosmetic surgery, performed for pocket change by masked teenagers in tropical heat on the side of the road.
I love Bangkok.