Monday, November 30, 2015

Sunset, Saphan Khwai

Get off the metro at Saphan Khwai at sunset. Walk southwards, towards Pradiphat Road. Lunch shops are selling off the remainder of their curries for the day, signs for windowless “cinemas” down side alleys. New condos loom over the rows of empty shophouses quietly crumble in the humidity, down sois that until recently, terminated at the dilapidated remains of the once glorious New York Theater, a block of high modernism reduced to one of the neighborhood porn theaters before its eventual demolition. And off to the left, the ever-glowing pink neon sleaze of the Sutthisan Road go-go bars.

I'd walked this route countless times to visit my friends who live in this area. But it was only recently that I began to pay notice to the grim, lumbering building on the Northwest corner of the Saphan Khwai intersection.

From ground level, it mostly seems to be a row of shops like any other-- food places, wholesalers of cloth, jewelers, all of the normal elements of most Bangkok neighborhoods-- but look a bit closer.

Up above, there are a few more floors than one would expect, and doors to nowhere jut out from masonry walls. A security guard waves cars in and out of an underground parking garage. Looking through to the back of the shops, a large, empty space can be seen, the walls painted institutional green, with a large empty tile floor in the middle. And above a food center, one sees the railings of overhanging floors, the interior space hidden behind hung white sheets.

A little research, and I finally found a photo of this, the Sisupharat Arcade Building, as it was under construction in 1979, right at the start of the Thai economic miracle.

And as it stands today, after its last iteration as the Saphan Khwai Branch of the Merry Kings Department Store, another victim of the 1997 Financial Crisis.

The hivemind of the Internet has become immensely fond of dead malls, those malls that either are abandoned, or, more likely, seriously under-occupied, remnants of a consumer base that has since moved on. It's as if, in the continuing wake of the big collapse in 2007, there's something cathartic about seeing a material manifestation of the total obviation of the suburban, American dream.

Bangkok has contributed to it in the form of the New World Mall, the structure near Khaosan Road that became famous for having partially filled with water, and becoming home to schools of carp.

Thailand's 1997, America's 2007. At the bottom of the business cycle, inefficiencies will inevitably pool. Destruction, sans renewal, emerges as an inevitable characteristic of capitalism. And this is why there is something so compelling about those sites that remind us of this sobering fact. We live among constant billboard, fantasy consumer products projected at us from every angle. Which is why, on warm nights in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, it might not be a bad idea to look at the broken concrete that lurks behind.