In many cities, hanging around under flyovers or train tracks after dark with expensive camera gear would be inadvisable at best. In Bangkok, it’s where a lot of the magic happens, as during the rainy season in particular such places are a popular hangout for food stalls, hawkers, chess players, drinking parties, and various other al fresco activities, all of which make for great night shooting.
Last week I found myself in the Bangkok district of Bangrak for a bit of night photography, and some Chinese food. The name Bangrak means ‘Village of Love’ and it has therefore become a popular place to get married, as it is home to one of the city’s biggest registry offices (I got married here myself), but it’s just as famous for food as it is for romance.
I wandered under the BTS line and was just lining up a shot of some interesting shadows when I spotted a man sitting at a small table to my right, with a sign on it reading ‘HOROSCOPE – 100BHT’. The man was doing a live tarot reading over his mobile phone, which made for an interesting scene, so in time-honoured fashion I pointed at my camera to indicate that I wanted to photograph him, and he smiled and nodded, so I began shooting.
When he’d finished his call he asked me, in decent English, the usual questions – where I was from, what I did for a living etc. So I sat down and we had a chat. Mr Bird told he’d been working in the office of a British company, but thanks to COVID-19, the office had closed down and he’d lost his job, so he’d turned to telling fortunes for a living – mostly online, but a few nights of the week on the street for passing customers. Having taken up a fair bit of his time already I decided to cross his palm with baht and get my own fortune told, so he shuffled the tarot cards and asked me to pick seven at random.
After putting my cards into an H formation and then turning them over and studying them, he made a few observations. There is a strong woman beside me who is no1 in the family (true!), I’ve been working hard all year but have made little to no money (VERY true), and, please let this be true, I’ll be making a shitload of money (my words, not his) within the next 3-12 months. He also advised me to make merit by giving money to the homeless or helping abandoned dogs, and was delighted when I told him I have two rescue dogs at home. The only downer was that I pulled the infamous Tower card, the ultimate tarot harbinger of death & destruction, but as it featured in my ‘present’ rather than ‘future’, it probably referred to me, like Mr Bird himself, losing my job a few months back due to COVID. But he advised me walk more slowly just in case.
I was apparently only his second ever ‘farang’ customer, following some Americans the previous day who’d upset him by not knowing what making merit was and, when being informed, telling him they didn’t give money to beggars. Trump voters no doubt.