The Camera Effect

A Norwegian TV journalist contacted me not long after the bomb went off at Erawan Shrine, Bangkok, which killed twenty people and injured a hundred and twenty-six. It was the worst callous act that happened to the city in decades. He was looking for a news fixer to help his colleague developing the news about the bomb, which I quickly turned down the job. First, because I was afraid to walk outside (as the job required) and second, I thought there wouldn’t be anything more to develop. But in the day that followed, the second bomb went off.
The bomb exploded under the water. Although there were no casualties, it terrified me. But at the same time, it giving me the feeling that there must be something more to do with the story. So I accepted the job and found myself walking through the security check point at InterContinental hotel near the shrine to meet up with Anders.
He and his cameraman was in his forties and we were going to work together in the next couple of days or so. When I expressed my fear about being blow up by another bomb hidden somewhere in Bangkok while we’re reporting the story Anders said, ‘We’re team, we work together and we go back together.’
‘Or none of us go back.’ I said, jokingly.
‘That’s right,’ he told me, which is kind of reassuring.
Two days after the bomb, the shrine reopened to public but life can’t quickly resume to normal. There were much less number of people hanging out, the people expressed their genuine concerns when I talked to them as a regular person. ‘Yes, I am afraid it might be another bomb but what more I can do. It’s my job to come out here and sell [insert your product here].’ But when you reveal your identity and put the camera and a microphone with the label of the news station in front of them, you’ll be surprised by how quickly their attitude have changed once they realized they were being filmed.
The garland woman is one of our interview subject since their stalls are closer to the bomb site than any other businesses. A middle-age woman who was our first choice pointing to a younger seller citing, ‘Talk to her. She’s more camera-ready.’
‘How many garland did you sell today comparing to the others?’
‘Normally I made 3,000-4,000 baht (80-100USD), but today I only made 1,000 baht (30USD).’
I did the calculation in my head. That’s almost what I earn from risking my life developing the news about the bomb. Make no mistake about the income, it is much more than an embarrassingly amount of the salary I earned when I worked for an English magazine, even in her rough day.
‘Are you afraid about coming back to work?’ I asked, shaking the jealously and the temporary dream about opening a garland stall myself if I can make it alive after this reporting operation.
‘No, I’m not afraid.’ She told me. It’s the same answer I get from lots of people I came across. A 50 percent trip cancellation became 20 percent when we asked a tour operator with the microphone.
I think the Thai junta has done a lousy job trying to catch the bomber. But when a national TV mistaken me as a visitor and put a microphone in front of me, asking for my opinion, I said the opposite.
‘What do you think about Thailand?’ the garland seller, who we interviewed, asked Anders. Without a camera or a microphone. This is the kind of question you—as a visitor—are obliged to answer positively.
‘I love Thailand, it’s a little hot but I like it.’ And ‘I will come back.’ I can’t seem to think of any other answer either. It was as if the local eyes were cameras with flesh and bones.
On the third day we heard about a suspicious object found under the sky train station in Nana and we rushed to the place only to find that it wasn’t a bomb. I had a mix feelings about this whole thing. The next day our feature story focusing on tourism and safety concerns after the bomb. I and the camera man traveled to several areas across Bangkok, mostly in the tourist areas where the police issued warning that it could potentially become the terrorist’s next target.
The reporting journey took me and the cameraman to several part of Bangkok. We interviewed from a street fruit seller in Khoa San Road and merchants in Soi Arab to the well-known journalist from The Nation. People who I normally wouldn’t talk to or have a chance to talk to. Then we found our subject who aren’t afraid of the camera. Pa-Kak is a female tour guide in her mid-fifties we met at the Grand Palace while she was taking her group of German tourists on a day trip around Bangkok. She shooed us away at first, citing she was working, but when she saw the logo of our TV channel on the microphone she then realized that we’re from Oslo and changed her mind and allowed us to follow her for a day.
We crammed—with our camera and filming equipment—into her minivan where she told me about the guy from Oslo who had a crush on her thirty year ago—the one that got away. ‘I wish I had said yes.’
I looked into her dark, weary eyes and understood why she allowed us to document her.
People speak to the camera for a different reason. To have a short moment of fame, to express their opinions to the public, or the reporters forced them into it. For her, it maybe because she hopes that the man in Oslo would see her on TV and recognize her.
I have to translate the interview from Thai to English for Anders. There was one question I asked everybody—with or without the camera—that I got the same answer.
‘What are you worried about after the bomb?’
The answer is, ‘Tourist will not come to Thailand anymore.’
On the global scale this attack is nothing more serious than the refugee crisis in Europe or the Syrian wars. A tourist from Israel told me that here [in Bangkok] she feels safe everywhere. So far the beaches, Pad Thai and sunshine are still the image in the mind of the visitors, not the tragic incident caused by a mysterious foreign looking man in yellow shirt which was uncalled for.

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