Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, isn’t always an easy place for the working press. The latest to depart the Land of Smiles is noted documentary still photographer Nick Nostitz, who was recently roughed up by thugs associated with the PDRC (People’s Democratic Reform Committee). He was rescued from that fracas by Thai police, but has now chosen to pack up and leave.
Nikolaus Freiherr von Nostitz arrived in Thailand in 1993 and is perhaps best known for his photo documentary book Patpong – Bangkok’s Twilight Zone: A Photographic Diary (2000). He is being given a public goodbye at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Friday, July 9, 2015, at 7pm, with a farewell retrospective of his work. As soon as legal complications are addressed, he will be leaving to relocate to Germany.
As Nostitz noted in his blog on December 19, 2014, “After the assault against me by the PDRC on November 25, 2013, a broad hate campaign was launched against me, and which led to a fortunately failed abduction attempt on May 7, 2014. I am still receiving threats, and the group responsible for this has so far refused any communication or attempt to clear the situation. This has compounded my financial problems, and is severely affecting my ability to work. I have not been able to work at all during the 7 months of PDRC protests, and even now I cannot, for example, go anywhere in southern Thailand, as this is the main support base for the PDRC.”
The cover of ‘Patpong-Bangkok’s Twilight Zone’
His story sent us, here at WoWasis, back to looking at Nostitz’s book. It’s a chilling but very real document of the nightlife scene in Bangkok at it was from 1993 to 2000, focusing primarily on street people, sex workers, customers, and expats. The photos are mostly black and white, and gritty. The text, typed, handwritten, and taped to the page, is right out of William Burroughs. There are entire chapters dedicated to clubs such as the Thermae and the equally legendary hardcore ladyboy bar Casanova, which still exists in Nana Plaza.The book is a valuable and still important time capsule of a world gone by, while remaining an endlessly recurring story.
The ongoing tale of expats in Thailand has many flavors, and Nostitz was never afraid of mixing it up. Finally, he got caught in the cement mixer. It’s sobering to review his personal essay in the book, written in 2000, and reflect on where he is, philosophically, today:
Life was always too narrow for me in Germany. Since I can remember I wanted to be somebody else, live somewhere else. I got kicked out of schools, threw stones in demonstrations, did drugs. Nothing made me happy. Always searching for something.
I thought I found the answer when I went to India for the first time. It opened a new world for me, full of questions. A freedom I had always been looking for, no rules or regulations but my own, no expectations, just to be.
In Germany I knew my future would have been university, job, family. Suicide.
So I barely finished school, worked nightshifts for two months, then left. With a few intervals I travelled for the next five years. Walking Hindu pilgrimages in the Himalayas, surfing in Indonesia’s islands, getting lost on India’s plains, sipping tea in China’s mountains, chewing kat in Djibouti’s slums, attending timeless ceremonies in Tibet. What a life, just caring for the present moment.
But I became restless and lonely. Until I found Bangkok. All my friends carried some sort of load on their backs. In Bangkok there was no need to hide it, it was accepted, even expected. We fucked up, life fucked us, so we fucked life, and had loads of fun with it.
Because bad things had happened to us we thought we could behave the way we did. But bad things happen to everyone, so that was no reason. In truth it was just coincidence: right time, right place, right state of mind.
We were so naive, and had no idea that serious things were waiting to happen. We came from all backgrounds, some of us had no education, most had left careers behind. We went out together, shared women. And Bangkok’s night became our prison. We were addicted to the lifestyle, slaves to it; intoxicated by a moral set-up incomprehensible and alien to anyone outside the scene. And in turn we couldn’t understand other people anymore, their bigotry, their double standards, trapped as we were in our bubble of illusions.
Many of us have left, some have been or still are in jail, a consequence of the life we chose. Most of us have created some sort of life for ourselves here in Thailand.
Bangkok has changed our lives so profoundly it will never leave us. Whatever we do, our experience of Bangkok will remain. We just have to come to terms with it. Somehow.
Those who will be in Bangkok on January 9 should plan to be at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, close to the BTS Chit Lom station, at 7pm. Nick Nostitz’s exhibited photos will be compelling. We suspect he’ll be there in person. Whether or not you can make it, we recommend his book. It’s an important document. And whatever his future holds, he shouldn’t be forgotten. And won’t.