Tucked on the edge of Chinatown and just a stones throw from the Chao Praya River, Hua Lampong Station – Bangkok’s Central State Railway stop – is a heady mix of contradictions. Outside the din of tuk-tuks. taxis. bikes and cars all vying for an inch of road space is deafening, while inside, underneath the ornate glass domed ceilings, the feeling is no less chaotic. Across 12 platforms, trains lurch in and out, passengers rush to and fro as announcements blare incessantly from overhead loud speakers. Yet amongst this, if you stop for a moment to look, there are scenes of almost poetic tranquility. Dishevelled young lovers, slumped across luggage, taking a nap, a young mother, seated on a sheet of plastic, breastfeeding her baby, an elderly man, his shoes tied together with string, quietly smoking. Everywhere, an infinite number of stories.

I meet Nui, 54, at the far end of the station, at Platform No.12. A hairdresser by trade and an established hairdressing teacher, she is here every Thursday and Friday with her students from a local training college offering free haircuts to travellers, locals and railway workers.

“The best part of working down here is the diversity of people you meet. Nui tells me. “Every day is different. You rarely see the same person twice. It’s so much more interesting than just working in a salon”.

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I’m due to first meet Jack at a cafe in Dusit – an area of Bangkok I’ve never been before and one I’m not familiar with. I’ve come prepared, with the address printed, some instructions and google maps in hand (albeit in Thai), but as the taxi sails past gated army headquarters and austere government buildings, I’m not confident – and it seems the driver isn’t either. So, with no common language between us, I phone Jack’s friend, Lek, to translate and give directions.

From talking to the driver, Lek knows exactly where we are and clarifies  – turn left ahead, then a right, then straight on. “It’s no problem”, she tells me confidently. As I check the street signs and map again, it’s not my lame sense of direction that has me bemused and embarrassed, it’s the fact that Jack and Lek are both blind and can navigate this taxi better than I can.

When I reach Jack and Lek they greet me with warm smiles. Jack has the look of a classic rock and roll dude – dressed in double denim and replica Dior sunglasses. With his sleek dark hair, he’s a little bit Roy Orbison, a little bit Nick Cave, yet his voice is soft, his manner shy, and his laughter frequent and gentle.

On the short walk to the cafe we link arms – with me guiding them past the hot woks and steaming trolleys of street vendors and over broken bits of pavement. I’m tentative and cautious, but for Jack and Lek this is nothing special – just part of life as a blind person in a big, heaving city like Bangkok.

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“Tendue (tahn-dew) 5th to the plie (plee-ay)- to the plie,to the plie. Tendue 5th to the plie, slide 1st, front passé, back passé, fast 5th, in-out-1st-out. And if you want to use an arm, feel free.”

It’s Monday morning in mid-Sukhumvit and some of Thailand’s best contemporary dancers are being put through their paces by Stephen Beagley, a Brit, and current Artistic Director of the Bangkok City Ballet (BCB).

 “Don’t go through the motions, give it a little push!”

Across the room, lithe athletic bodies bend and kick, hands gripping the barre, their highly honed muscles bristling under various shades and shapes of lycra.

“Keep lifting. We’ve got a long way to go!” Stephen jibes as he moves around the room – correcting an arm here and stretching out a leg there. The dancers giggle as he passes. 

“Don’t go through the motions, give it a little push!”

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The Asylum Seekers

Say the words ‘Asylum Seeker’, and you’re likely to get a reaction. Whether it’s provocative disdain, alarmist fear, sympathetic sadness, or perhaps, worst of all, a kind of blank numbness … the label is one that conjures up many things to many people. But the problem, the ‘group’ is so big, the situation so complex, spanning multiple countries, cultures, religions, ages and races, that it’s almost impossible to get your head around what it actually must be like to have that label hanging over you; what it must be like when it’s your story. Today, I’m grateful to say, I had that opportunity. 

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The Good Shepherd

“Now then, lets get down to brass tacks”.

I’ve arrived at the Good Shepherd Sisters Centre in Din Daeng to meet with Sister Louise, who has kindly squeezed me into her busy schedule. At 80 years of age, Sister Louise is a veritable powerhouse – though you certainly wouldn’t pick it given her gentle handshake and soft Irish lilt.

For almost 50 years, Sister Louise has helped run the Good Shepherd Sisters in Thailand, a charitable christian foundation which primarily assists young women and children in crisis. In Bangkok, all of the four major programs are run on site: A Mother and Baby Home for pregnant girls and new mothers, A Residential Care Program for rural teenagers, a Handicraft Centre employing local women from the area and a Child Care Centre. Recently added to the list is an educational program for some 200 Refugee children. 

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