Thursday, February 01, 2007

Making an exhibition of myself

They started setting up last night, when Prapak turned up and explained to me about the photography contest. He's one of my best students, he speaks English very well (I can have an actual conversation with him - shock!)... But I never realised before that he's actually outrageously camp. Seeing him mincing along in his army uniform I don't know how I ever missed it, but there you go. Then I find out his nickname's Pretty. He tells me about his club, which doesn't seem to have a specific function – it could be the drama society, since its members were heavily involved in the school play, but its contribution to the academic exhibition is a photography contest... there again it could just as easily be the gay society, since nearly all of my most camp boy students (including one who wears lipstick and mascara to school) seem to be in it.

Anyway, Pretty showed me the pictures of the teachers in either Thai costume or fifties dress, and I mentioned that I would love to get my photo taken in Thai traditional costume – so he said he'd arrange it! He introduced me to his brother (might not be his actual brother – they use the term to include cousins and close friends), who is a make-up artist (and dancer, choreographer and singer... he's not actually a student, but he's in said club too).

Please note this whole scene is entirely temporary – from the brick path to the pond to the white temple cut out of polystyrene with a stanley knife.

I'm given an appointment for “sixteen o'clock”. It turns out I have the entire afternoon free since the M6s, having returned from army training, are now off at university open days, so I end up hanging out at the photo contest most of the afternoon. And at four pm we start with the make-up. This is Thailand of course, so it takes place outside on a picnic bench and I become quite the tourist attraction as I'm sponged with layers of foundation and blusher, dusted with powder and brushed with eye-shadow. This guy (and I use the term loosely) clearly takes make-up very seriously, because we're there for well over half an hour before he even begins on the hair.

They tell me they're going to put me in Thai costume of Ayutthaya period, so my hair will be done up to match.

Now, in Thai culture, just as the feet are considered dirty, the head is sacred, so touching someone's head is a taboo – not a serious one (if the cheerful abandon with which the kids whack each other about the head is anything to go by), but enough that it's generally polite to excuse oneself before touching or reaching over someone's head. I knew about this, but all the same it was quite amusing to have a hairdresser offer apologies and a wai every time before touching my hair!

Finally with hair and make-up done it's time to get into costume. The courtyard is hardly the place for a teacher to get changed, so I'm led into a back room where Prapak and his brother puzzle over how to get me out of my dress and into the skirt (which consists of about three metres of woven Thai silk). Eventually they call one of the girls through to help me and hasten out of the room. She pins me into the silk, which Prapak's brother (wish I could remember his name) concertinas at the front in the traditional fashion. Then the top half. Suffice to say I'm not quite built like your average Thai girl, so it took a couple of tries – not to mention a packet of safety pins – to get the material to sit right. Then I'm swathed with another length of cloth over one shoulder (my bra and vest straps on the other shoulder had to be tucked into the top – the girl did this after another helpless look from the make-up guy).

And then it was back outside, feeling extremely self-conscious surrounded by my grinning students, and into the temporary outdoor studio set up beside the exhibition.

(there was a different backdrop for my photos)

Still feeling self-conscious (with students queuing up to take photos on their mobile phones, or even simply to spectate), I'm directed into a series of poses ranging from awkward to overbalancing and instructed to smile “a litten bit” (in Thai, an L at the end of a word becomes an N, so they often transfer that into English). And we're done! It's taken two hours in total for the make-up, hair, costume and photos! Pretty says I can look at the pictures tomorrow (which in Thai time means next week). I get out of costume and back into my dress, and take myself off to meet Kia and Catz so they can laugh at the comedy hair (it was backcombed so thoroughly that I couldn't have taken it out if I'd wanted to!).

Photos to follow as soon as I get them – silly me didn't think to get someone to take pictures with my camera!


At 4:32 pm, Blogger Mother said...

Oh my gosh! I looked at Catz's blog and saw your picture - look like painted Doll.


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