Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Hemingway was right:


first draft

Quote from recent exhibition at the BACC Bangkok

A first draft is always shit.

Particularly when writing about something that's shaken you up.

First drafts aren't fit for public consumption. There is no perspective, no shaping of thoughts and experiences into what we call analysis. But in ephemeral, 'real-time' communication like IM and Twitter, there is often little time between events and their dissemination.

This can have profound consequences, particularly when the topic is inflammatory, in a country where one doesn't belong (and when one has just been reminded one doesn't belong there).

After our recent incident in Bangkok, we returned home from the emergency room and the police station, and I wrote about it on Twitter:

incident tweet 1

I wrote what I knew. It was after midnight. My skin burned and my mind was weighted with fatigue, sitting next to a partner whose eyes were swollen shut and damaged, who could no longer tolerate the light from my computer in a dark room. I didn't know what we would be told tomorrow by an opthamologist. I knew only what we already knew before the emergency room doctor told us that something vile had been sprayed at me and into the eyes of the man I love.

And I knew what I had seen.

The lighted steps where it happened wouldn't leave my mind, nor would the sensations of liquid falling on my head, then the burning that came after.

And most of all, the fear of someone standing above me.

I couldn't imagine walking underneath Bangkok's Skytrain ever again.

(but of course I have since)

where it happened

Where it happened. Photo taken several days later

I did not censor my words. Had I written a second draft later on, I would have moderated them. I might have written "claimed" instead of "says". Or specified "ER doctor" instead of "Bumrungrad", which insinuated that an official hospital spokesperson had told us this was the 3rd they'd seen lately. 

But I was shaken and in pain and I did not try to sound like a journalist (which I am not).

I sounded like what I was – someone thrown off-balance by the unexpected.

Acquaintances in Asia were still awake, and word spread fast.

Incident tweet 2

But we had to be up in 4 hours – and had no idea of what we would find out tomorrow – so I had no time to try to fit the experience into 140 characters or less.

Incident tweet 3

The next morning, the opthamologist was thorough. He prescribed a batch of medications and we were to come back every day until further notice. 

When we returned to our low-rise neighborhood, I wrote my account of what happened. I wrote with everything still fresh in my mind, as my husband lay in bed upstairs all day, barely able to open his eyes. We knew by then he still had all his vision – the main concern was to ensure there was no infection, which could lead to vision problems later on. 

My entry was raw. I wrote it as a way to process the unfathomable.

A journalist wrote to me on Twitter, asking for an interview. I gave them my phone number and email, saying I was still shaken up and had my birthday to 'celebrate', and could they call tomorrow instead. The journalist said that was fine.

But no one called. 

The following morning, I woke to find the Bangkok Post had written an article about our incident. As no one has interviewed either of us, this article was based only on the tweets above, and my account here on my blog. 

The article was subsequently posted on an English-language website about Thailand. It quickly garnered dozens of comments – I am not sure how many, as I have never read them. I am told many were unflattering, which is not uncommon in a place where a fair number of bitter 'expats' have free time on their hands, and few prospects back home. 

As a creative, I practice self-censorship: the only people whose criticism I pay attention to are those who have earned it.

The strangers who slammed my integrity and called for photos of my husband's injuries to be posted on the internet, have not earned it. Those who wrote me insulting emails via my webpage are not worthy of my consideration. I once met their like in bars all over Southeast Asia, before I learned to ignore them entirely. 

But I believe there is a place for self-censorship. Below is one of the few times I've practiced it, a message I posted several days afterwards:

incident update screenshot

I have been requested not to discuss details while the investigation is going on. I have not been given updates of its progress, but will check in before I leave for an upcoming residency. 

However, I do not condone censorship of others. Ever.

That website was asked – not by me – to close the thread where our incident was being discussed. "They're saying terrible things about you," I was told by someone involved in it. "It's gone to over seven pages." 

I don't care that people were saying horrible things about me. That's their prerogative, not mine. I know I have nothing to gain from talking about this. One doesn't sell books or artwork by being a victim — at least I don't– (I'm no Tracey Emin). I wanted to share what happened, after we were told this was not an isolated incident. 

But this is not my country, things work differently here, and I am only a guest in Thailand. A temporary one. 

But not for much longer.

Here's a hint at where I'll be going next, starting in a week — a project that's been in the works for over a year:

Painting by Aimrom Yunu

Painting by Aimrom Yunu, at the BACC

Times like these, you want to remember what brought you to a place, and what's kept you there awhile.

So after everything had settled down a week later, I spent a day in my favorite escape from Bangkok, Sri Racha

For the first time, I took the train there.

train to sri racha

A third-class commuter train, the fixtures are vintage, and the traveling vendors have delicious sausages on a stick, fried fish, and Thai desserts.

heart chair, sriracha

Chair at a Sri Rachan noodle shop

on thai train

Fellow traveler on the ride back

Once I got back to town, it was time to lead another Art Stalkers, this one in conjunction with Lub D Hostel, an innovative place for travelers to stay. Their locations are modern and fun, yet they organize events to remain in touch with Thai culture.

Bangkok is a creative city, its designs rank top in the region for innovation and appeal. 

You never know what you'll run into around the corner:

interactive trash bin, Bangkok

Like this interactive trash bin at BACC's IceDea Cafe. When you throw away your rubbish, the little guy down below catches it – or it bounces off his head

Inhaler by pan pan

Thai inhalers by Pan Pan

Aroon and Tattoo Photos

Some excellent creatives have made Bangkok their home base, like Tom Vater and his wife Aroon. Some time in the coming months I'll post a video of them talking about their new book, Sacred Skin: Thailand's Spirit Tattoos. – once I've learned how to edit video! In the meantime, pick up a copy of the book here

Meat Rosettes, Bangkok

Unexpected creativity at the grocery store: meat rosettes at Siam Paragon

Since the incident, I have been asked: "Do you think of Thailand any differently now?" No, of course not. Every country has its dark aspects. 

Thailand's are just hidden under more gilt than most.

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