Hardened old scribes share hot night in Bangkok

As evening falls in Bangkok the nightwalkers of Nana - the city's sex district - take to the streets, and happy mongrel dogs splash through the deep puddles formed by the afternoon monsoon rains.

Hopeful transvestites pucker their fuschia mouths at a grimy mirror, and the South East Asian anthem, Hotel California, begins to play.

Dan - a Guardian photographer - throws back another beer, and toasts the Thai-Cambodia border dispute.

"Perhaps it will blow up and there will be work and good pictures," he says dryly.

Tom, an Associated Press journalist, laughs his rumbling roar, swilling his whisky and coke he slaps his thighs with vigour - ready to move on, ready for more people and more drink - ready for a night out in Bangkok.

The two awkwardly navigate their way on to the Skytrain, distinct from the hordes of tourists in their total disregard for "doing it right".

"The best ham steaks in Asia!" says Tom, gesturing excitedly at a forgettable-looking place on a dusty side street.

He is to mention those ham steaks three times tonight.

The two talk shop non-stop, being of the old and hardened variety, they are critical of almost everyone in the business.

They met in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and Tom is heading back to cover the election.

He says it will be quiet, and really just an excuse for the old "Cambo" hands to get together, drink, and reminisce about the good times of journalism past (loosely - The Vietnam War).

The FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) is in the centre of town, on the top floor of a dated skyscraper.

It shares the space with the BBC, Asia Works, ITV and the ABC.

It is an old-fashioned and unstylish bar - a bit of an embarrassment in the business - but comfortable and familiar for this old crew.

We are half an hour late meeting the Voice of America Bangkok bureau chief but she and her husband are unfazed, and drinks are bought for all.

A conversation begins about who got into Myanmar/Burma for Cyclone Nargis, who tried, and who was too scared.

Of course the best in the business had no option - they were blacklisted long ago.

For the Asia correspondents, the country has become a good test; get in, stay in, and you're sure of a story.

The tight restrictions placed on foreign journalists (most enter illegally on tourist visas and work undercover) add spice to the assignment.

During the September monks' uprising last year, dubbed "The Saffron Revolution", The New York Times writer won the Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches, and a Japanese photo-journalist was killed.

The fast approaching Beijing Olympics begin on August 8, the same date as the 20th anniversary of the 1988 uprising in Burma, in which 3000 people were killed.

With 20,000 journalists accredited for the Olympics (and scores more not accredited) all eyes will be on China, an opportunity the Burmese Resistance are keen to exploit.

It is a loud party, everyone talking at once, and not at all politely.

The Voice of America chief complains about Bangkok's First-World prices for Third-World facilities.

Dan, the Guardian photographer, shows his friend some photographs taken of him and his Thai girlfriend visiting her family in the North recently.

Tom drinks, and talks, and eats, and complains - where to next? He asks.

A taxi is hailed and Dan splutters our destination in bad Thai: Gullivers.

The monstrous building is white and glaring on the narrow Nana street, a three storied sparkling faux-Grecian construction with potted palm trees, western prices and a tame elephant out the front on a leash.

Dan and Tom begin to talk of a colleague, a conservative fellow who has been with the same woman for 30 years (and doesn't cheat), and is a bad journalist - lazy. But don't get me wrong, they both add convincingly, I like the guy.

It's hot - 28 degrees and not cooling.

More drinks are ordered, thin Thai prostitutes saunter past, and old times are rehashed once more.

 - Eleanor Ainge Roy is a journalist and a University of Otago politics and history student. She is en route to Beijing for the Olympic Games before taking up an internship with Reuters news agency in Bangkok.


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