Bangkok Khao San Atkins Chairs
Khao San road in Bangkok, Thailand is probably the nexus of hip world traveller backpacker culture. It is a little world of cafes, bars, tshirt shops, travel agencies and internet cafes that is in constant motion. By day the street is open to traffic and the sidewalks are packed with vendors selling pirated discs, pirated tshirts, and all sorts of fun junk. By the time the evening comes around the street fills up with even more vendors, super cheap food stands, and bar carts. Thai people hang out with travellers from around the world to soak in the circus atmosphere. Check out www.khaosanroad.com for the lowdown.
Khao San Road:
Pad Thai noodles flow freely from the food carts for about 40 US cents per serving, fresh fruit for about 25 cents a serving, and you can get chocolate banana pancakes for about 50 cents. This is a great place to eat cheap yummy food. The one thing always at a premium is seating. Sure if you go to one of the many sidewalk cafes you can get a seat but you'll end up spending at least several bucks. If you just want to get a bite from the food carts, you end up eating standing up. No fun.
This is a place that clearly needs more seating, and I was inspired to do something about it. www.cockeyed.com is a humor site that has been chronicling the rise of chairs spontaneously appearing in public places. First the author Rob Cockerham put up some chairs in California to aid folks who just want to have a rest. See the story at: www.cockeyed.com/pranks/chairs/starbucks_chairs.html . Soon others began doing the same, and it is now my turn.
Rob has a theory that the chairs need to look official in order to not get messed with, so his chairs were adorned with the insidiously pervasive logo of the Starbucks company. For some reason the Starbucks logo seems to be a license to do evil without losing respect.
Out here in Thailand, the most pervasive logo by far is 7-eleven. I was considering making a 7-eleven label for the chairs with a slogan like "Sit and Slurp". But somehow that just didn't seem right for the Asian market where they sell coca cola in little teensy bottles.
I decided to take a slightly different tact. It seems to me that the Atkins logo is a pure license to do evil without being disrespected. The beef industry in the USA has been able to use the Atkins diet as a way to stuff more cholesterol into our arteries while giving us the feeling that it's the healthy thing to do. Over here in Asia the Atkins diet is nowhere to be found. People eat rice or noodles with every meal and remain at a much more healthy weight than Americans. So I figured adding the Atkins logo to my chairs would give that "sponsored by a foreign entity with so much money you don't want to mess with it" cachet.
I came up with the following label for the chairs:
I got it printed up onto 4x6 prints at a one hour digital lab on Khao San Road. Assembling all the materials for this project was an adventure in itself. I bought the locks and chains to hold the chairs in place while I was visiting Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) and could get them cheaply in the hardware district. I paid about $1.50 per lock and a buck for the chain. The chairs themselves were purchased for about $1.25 each by taking a water taxi to Bangkok's Chinatown area. Strangely the hardest part was finding the clear plastic tape to strap the labels onto the chairs, but I located that on Khao San Road in a little store that sold mostly souvenior trinkets but also some mailing supplies for $.75.
Bangkok's Chinatown, where I purchased the chairs:
In scouting a location for the chairs, I quickly realized that Khao San road itself is just not ready for public chairs. Every last inch of sidewalk real estate gets used up by the street vendors, and I didn't want to encroach on anyone's livelihood. I had to find a space that was worthy of spending some time sitting down, but not in anyone's way. I decided to place the chairs in two locations nearby to Khao San Road but not on the road itself. The first location is across from the 7-eleven store in the Rambutri Village building. There is an area where motorcycles park and where hawkers gather to try and sell people on taxi rides or tailored suits. The second location, right around the corner, was near a bank of phone booths against the wall of the Wat Chana Songkhram. That location also happens to be across the street from the district police station.
Bangkok police will use any excuse they can find to earn some extra money by levying "fines". I have seen police taking money from the street vendors (all of whom are technically illegal) and apparently it's just considered a cost of doing business. It is illegal to litter, and many a tourist has had to pay a $20 fine for tossing away rubbish or even a cigarette butt on Khao San Road. There are no public garbage cans anywhere in the area, except for directly in front of the police station (so they can say "See just use the public trashcans").
Since I'm a visitor to Thailand from the USA, I wanted to be discreet about setting up the public chairs. After preparing the chairs with labels in my hotel room, I set out for the first location, across from the Rambuttri Village 7-eleven. As I approached the area chairs in hand at 8pm on a Thursday night, I was heartened that one of the hawkers called out to me "hey let me sit in those chairs". While securing the chairs I got a salespitch for a nice new suit, and an offer to store the chairs in the tailoring store if I would like. Didn't want to linger so I quickly headed back to the hotel room for the second mission. The chairs were already getting some use as I walked away.
As I was approaching the second location by the telephone booths at the end of Khao San Road, I noticed a policeman standing outside the station across the street. I decided to keep walking, and when I came back he was gone. I was stymied by a stuck lock for a minute or so, but finally got them locked up. Ah the thrill of victory. It's great knowing that the streets will be that much safer for sitting around on your bum (bun).
I didn't want to revisit the scene of the well, service, until later. At about 4:30AM before going to catch my morning flight to Cambodia, I went out with camera in hand to document the newly planted chairs. It was about as dead as I have ever seen that area.
These are the chairs located near the phone booths across from the end of Khao San Road, by Wat Chana Songkhram.
You can just barely make out a policeman in the background who was staring at me while I was taking these pictures. Luckily I avoided getting fined for night flash photography (no that's not really illegal... I don't think...)
And just around the corner these are the chairs located across from the 7-eleven in the Rambuttri Village.
Is that cat coming over to have a seat? Or just to go through the garbage bag? I think I know.
If anyone enjoys these chairs (well okay stools) or can provide reports on their condition, please mail me: tmorrow_us at yahoo.com. It should be pretty easy to find them using the information I gave above about their locations. I will post any news I get to this site!
Update on 1/22/05 from a Thai resident:
I found your chairs by the temple.They still be the same place nobody steals coz you have the key.
A sad update on 2/10/05 from Uwe, a German visitor:
hi from bkk. not much left. just one damaged chair didint find the other 2 off 7/11.
Here are the pictures taken by Uwe:
Update on 2/12/05 from a Thai resident:
It's cracked but just a little...and someone put one onto the other one so 2 become 1.
Update on 2/25/05 from Simon, a Baltimore visitor:
Yes, the chairs are still there as of the evening of Februry 25.
Here's Simon's picture of his travelling companion spreading global peace:
Update on 3/18/05 from Silas, a Californian visitor http://www.seenewland.com/:
I am finally updating you on the critical issue of the "Atkins -Sit your buns down" chair/stools. It was a trek to be remembered as I beat back the tuk-tuk driver with hundreds of baht & first set bun upon your well placed stool –stools actually as they'd been stacked. And it was a good thing that they were stacked due to some rather severe looking cracks running in a radial fashion from their centers. Perhaps someone of significant girth –obviously of tourist ilk, had spent too long astride them. The security seemed adequate, as they were still there. I must admit that after my eighteen hour journey to Khao San, I was in no shape to make it to the second set. Alas, their fate is a mystery.
Update on 3/25/05 from Uwe, a German visitor:
After 6 weeks on the beaches i was able to check out your chairs on my way home to Germany 2 days ago. Your chair in front of the wat is still mostly ok and being used. your chairs near the 7/11 are only rubbish. They were destroyed 6 weeks ago.
Uwe's of the destroyed chairs by the 7-11 in the middle of February:
Update on 3/4/06 from Uwe :
Only the chain and lock in front of the wat are still left.