Body-snatching trio roam Bangkok's streets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 12:00am

Sirens are wailing. Street sounds are zinging past. A busy Friday night is kicking into action in one of Asia's booming capitals - Bangkok. There, anything can happen. However, what teenager Kaewjai, karaoke manager Supaporn, 32, and grocer Somchai, 43, do is just beyond anybody's imagination.

On alternate days of the week, they set out in their pickup trucks after regular work or school to become the 'body snatchers of Bangkok'.

As volunteers for charities, they collect injured victims and corpses around the city, where roughly two million car accidents are recorded each year but only 10 advanced life-support ambulances are available every day.

'I feel pity for [the victims]. Why must they face this situation?' asked Kaewjai.

Maybe Kaewjai is brave. Maybe she is too young to be scared. But Somchai is afraid because he understands the unpredictability of life.

'Those who are not afraid may be afraid if they see the real death situations some day,' he said.

In fact, his partner Supaporn is also terrified of ghosts. She has learned to stay sane, with laughter being her best medicine.

'[My husband] said that I would be helping society. [It's] better than doing other things that are less fulfilling,' Supaporn explained.

The emergency medical system is full of holes, but their overpowering desire has helped the body snatchers pull through some of the most demanding tasks. Having received little more than basic first-aid training or none at all, the trio sometimes work as paramedics, too. At other times, they have to help people come to terms with the death of their relatives.

'I'm a simple person. I'm just happy that I can help those who need it,' said Somchai.

Supaporn added: 'We just have to do good deeds and help others. That's how we go to Heaven.'

Body Snatchers of Bangkok is part of the Show Real Asia series, which aims to nurture documentary filmmakers in the region. It is scheduled to be screened at 9.30pm this Saturday on the National Geographic channel.

The documentary, written, directed and produced by Singaporean Michele Guai, was one of 10 films selected from a total of 550 entries.

Just a few minutes into the documentary, you will not doubt the judgment of the selection committee. Guai's choice of scenes and sound place you exactly in the centre of the fast and furious life of Bangkok. As the camera switches between the city and the body snatchers, you feel the pace and begin to understand that death is never far away.

Listen carefully. The story is actually told by an imaginary accident victim. The atmosphere blends perfectly with the weird nature of the body snatchers' job, and the strange world that creates a demand for them.