Suvarnabhumi a photographer's delight? I shutter to think
The recent news that our national airport is the most photographed place in the world does not mean tourists are enchanted with its beauty, but rather that locals are eager to snap photos of absolutely anything
We in the media world like to "beat up" stories or, as they say much better in Thai, "add an egg".
Classic case: Back in the 1980s when I was a cub reporter in Brisbane, whenever a murder was committed there were the usual three-day page-one reports about the police investigation and leads.
I remember one in particular; a bachelor pensioner (or is he a pensioner bachelor? I've been away from English-speaking countries for too long) who was bludgeoned to death in his small inner-city bedsit.
Back then we humans had an attention span of three days _ thanks to MTV and Twitter, it has been now whittled down to three seconds. Interest would wane after three days but we journos needed to keep that story alive, so what did we do?
This is what we did.
We went back into the files to find the most recent bizarre murder. We would then go to the police and say: "Hey, remember two months back when that woman on the Gold Coast was strangled with her own sunfrock? D'ya think this latest murder could have been done by the same bloke who bludgeoned the pensioner?"
(Men were invariably the murderers in Queensland; the only atrocities committed by Queensland women were in the fashions and hairstyles of the day.)
Well the cop in question would take off his cap, scratch his head and say something like: "Didn't think o' that, but yeah, maybe we might look into it." Bingo!
The next day, splattered across page one with my byline: POSSIBLE LINK BETWEEN BLUDGEONED PENSIONER AND GOLD COAST SUNFROCK STRANGULATION HORROR.
By late afternoon, bleached-blonde TV news anchors were aghast with the question: "Could this be the work of the same killer?" in the exact tone they would ask: "Do youse wanna go to bed with me?"
The next day the state would be in a panic over the serial killer we had dubbed THE BRISBANE BLUDGEONER which nicely compacted down to BB in headlines. Soon any old dead body that turned up _ a vagrant in Toowoomba, for example _ was the heinous work of the Brisbane Bludgeoner. And all because I made that one casual phone call.
Don't be disgusted, dear reader. I'm sure you've done the same thing in your line of work; we all have to make a living.
I am telling you all this because this sordid past completely slipped my mind over the New Year break as I glanced down at an online news headline: SUVARNABHUMI BEATS DISNEYLAND AS WORLD'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED PLACE!
I nearly choked on my bloody Mary.
Like the tenuous link between the bludgeoned pensioner and that poor woman whose mortal coil was shaken off by a sunfrock, I was immediately sucked in. Had we humans collectively lost our minds?
How could it be that the entire human race had chosen Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport as the most interesting place to photograph, when it is as dull as it is unpronounceable?
Certainly the queues at Suvarnabhumi are longer than the ones for Pirates of the Caribbean or It's a Small World. Perhaps that is worthy of a snap.
What about the overpriced goods at the duty free? I have, on occasion wanted to reach for my camera upon seeing the mark-up on a pair of Jabra earphones in the departure hall. Or the 120 baht I must pay for a black coffee, no sugar, in the recently renovated food court. Never has hot water cost so much!
Come to think of it, there are many different corners and aspects that are extremely unique.
The bathroom fixtures, when one can actually locate a bathroom, are so shoddy they are worthy of a picture for posterity. So too is the ugly dusty part outside that is reserved for the most popular of services, the public taxi rank. If only we could photograph the cabbie as, once he has pulled out of Suvarnabhumi, he turns around and demands a flat fee of 700 baht as opposed to the meter.
Where in Disneyland would you find that happening?!
One could snap the hilarious bumpy ride from Suvarnabhumi over to Don Meuang after the friendly tourist official tells you the latter is the domestic terminal _ only to find your domestic flight is a Thai Airways one, and that leaves from Suvarnabhumi! A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Say Pepsi!
As a former journalist I should have immediately cast my suspicious eye over the headline, but being the New Year period there were other things taking up space in my head (ie, a hangover).
Of course Suvarnabhumi is not a place the world goes to in order to snap holiday shots more than Disneyland. This is not a story about cameras.
It's Instagram, the photographic equivalent of Twitter that has swept the world.
It turns out that this app, which allows you to add all sorts of filters to your pics then send them out to all your family and friends and hangers-on, enjoys huge popularity in Thailand.
There are some 500,000 Instagram users in Thailand from a worldwide user population of 100 million. Half of 1% may not be that much. But it's the volume of photographs that is staggering.
Take a random look at what Thais upload. Honestly, in the not too distant future we will have no need for memory synapses. We are constantly photographing anything and everything we do.
For Thais, it is almost always food.
"Lunch!" I saw on Instagram this week. That was the caption for a picture of pad thai. And not even a good one either. Snapped on the side of the road, it was pad thai on an old pink plastic plate on a rusty table with toilet paper spooled to the right for a napkin. The pad thai itself didn't look too delectable; the shrimps were sad and sparse.
Why is this being photographed and uploaded? For the photographer's children and grandchildren to enjoy sometime mid-century? If that is the mindset then bring on compulsory sterilisation, that's all I can say.
And while I understand this country has the most exciting cuisine in the world, what of those troubled Instagram souls who feel compelled to take photographs of their empty plates!
I witnessed this myself on Facebook which led to an immediate unfriending. The caption was "So happy coz so full already!" and it was a plate with the remains of fried chicken and basil leaves over rice. I could even see some small chicken bones on the side of the plate, no doubt spat out by the user mid-lunch.
A photograph of an empty plate? I dare not consider what this user snaps when he or she visits the bathroom.
Instagram claims five billion pictures were uploaded in 2012. And Suvarnabhumi is not just a blip. It appears Siam Paragon comes in at No2 as the most photographed place, followed then by real tourist attractions such as Disneyland and Times Square in New York.
That in itself is testament to the trigger-happy Thais and their smartphones. In sheer terms of volume, nobody snaps more than the Thais. Nobody else thinks to snap their food both before and after at the same rate as the Thais.
This column is a reminder to you and to myself not to believe everything you read in the newspapers.
Our nightmarish international airport is not the most popular place in the world.
Rather, it's a combination of two things; bored reporters adding an egg, and fervent Thais saying cheese. Photographing it, too.
About the author
- Writer: Andrew Biggs