On 22 May 2014, the military announced that it had taken control of the country in a coup implemented ostensibly to restore order and enact ‘necessary’ political reforms. Martial law continues to be imposed nationwide. Although the political arena is a complex entanglement of loyalties, royalties, and corruption, the situation can be simplified by reducing it to a civic battle between different coloured garments.
The yellow shirts wanted to suspend the constitution and depose the democratically elected government on the charge of corruption. Their desire was to appoint an interim administration to oversee political reform.
The red shirts were loyal to the ousted government.
Due to the civil unrest, most foreign governments have been advising their citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to Thailand.
I arrived on the 9th to get tattooed by Guy Le Tatooer while he’s guesting at Bangkok’s Six Fathoms Deep. Although Bangkok appeared to be business as usual, news reports of police harassment suggested otherwise.
Tourists and foreign nationals have become targets of what many claim to be systematic ‘racial profiling’. Accosted by police, people have been asked to present identification papers and visas, with some even forced to provide on the spot urine samples designed to detect hard drugs. As one report cautioned, an empty bladder is no excuse: ‘when he couldn’t produce, he says they forced him to drink four liters [sic] of water and pressed forcefully on his bladder to make him urinate and touched his penis.’
Using the threat of immediate arrest, they have been aggressively cajoling unsuspecting tourists into coughing up ad hoc ‘fines’ for failing to provide substantial documentation. Although Martial Law applies exclusively to the army and its soldiers, and Section 93 of the criminal code clearly states that searches conducted in public are prohibited without probable cause, it is believed that the police have had to improvise due to the Army obstructing their usual swindles.
Six Fathoms Deep’s Nicholas Mudskipper has experienced their intimidation first hand.
‘Yeah man, vultures on the streets shaking down people for payouts. I was headed back from a ju-jitsu session and I was told I’m a Russian selling coke around the red-light areas, [the officer] greedily stuck his hands into my gym bag to find a sweaty ju-jitsu gi! These guys’ other rackets are being squeezed by the military so they need to find other ways to buy Christmas goodies this time of year.’
‘So, are you red or yellow shirted?’ I asked in jest.
‘I make my own shirts bra! Black white and grey for days!’
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Nick came to Bangkok several years ago to set up shop with his business partner, Dillon Pienaar.
‘Bangkok is a beast that can swallow you up fast, a city full of interesting things, a sunny place for shady people!’
I asked Nick what it was like to run a tattoo studio, while under Martial law, inside the belly of that beast.
‘Bro, Six Fathoms Deep is like a bubble, once you’re inside, doesn’t feel like I’m in Bangkok anymore: no dramas, no politics, just tattooing and Masters of the Universe figures surrounding me. If all else fails I’m sure Skeletor will get my back. Our Tattoo shop is a friendly creative family for good-hearted tattooers far from home. We are all about doing good clean tattoos, good vibes, toy collecting and of course big BBQs!’
Speaking of toys, the interior of Six Fathoms Deep was peppered with an array of figurines.
‘I’m crazy about Masters of the universe and other 80s toys, Matt Adams is into Ninja turtles, Miss Ink is super into Russian and Kewpie dolls, David Chaston is into other strange stuff too, so yeah it’s just our man cave full of items that influence us and that we’re nostalgic about.’
And why Six Fathoms Deep?
‘I originally wanted to call the shop Six Feet Deep, but that was kind of taken, ha-ha. I grew up around the Atlantic Ocean and have always been curious of the mysterious depths and legends of giant creatures fathoms deep under the ocean, so I blended those together! Boom!’