Spiderman in Bangkok
The Window Cleaners of Thailand’s Skyscrapers
Text and photography by Eric Pasquier
In the category of extreme professions – Hollywood stuntman, crocodile wrestler, a postman in Kabul – this one is literally up there: cleaning the windows of Bangkok’s skyscrapers, your life hanging by a thread.
The window washers of the Thai capital perform death-defying antics 100 storeys above the pell-mell of traffic, suspended from the end of a rope and earning only a few Baht for their trouble.
ERIC PASQUIER took in the views, stunts and soapsuds.
Bangkok, a modern and polluted city, features numerous glass skyscrapers that form the set of a strange daily ritual.
Early in the morning, to take advantage of the relative coolness, the city’s spider men invade Bangkok’s facades in droves.
With their buckets, soap and sponges, they clean the grime from the buildings, knowing that tomorrow, their hard work will have been for nothing due to the pollution inherent in this big city. For just a few Baht, these arachnid-like daredevils, most of them very young, do some amazing aerial acrobatics, paying no attention to the swarms of cars and motorbikes in the streets below. With eyes only for the smooth surfaces of glass, oblivious to the tiresome noise of the honking cars, they spend hours hanging from a thread in the sweltering heat.
Although dangerous and badly paid, this job is actually rather in demand. In Bangkok, this profession requires no specific qualifications, only a great aptitude for concentration and lots of elbow grease. The men must learn how to focus very quickly and the first rule is to overcome any agoraphobia. Even the smallest residual fear can lead to a dangerous giddy rush. There is also a certain amount of know-how that goes with the job - working at many meters above the ground, dangling from the end of a rope requires some pretty precise techniques.
The rope is, in fact, a window cleaner’s most important tool and is literally his lifeline. Apart from providing the window cleaner with security, the ropes also allow the communication between different workers occupied with the same effort and enable the supply of tools from the top to the bottom of the building, while also ensuring that tools cannot fall down, should they inadvertently slip out of someone’s hand. Complicated logistics are involved. The men need to learn how to examine the ropes and see which rope goes where. With all of their material, these men, suspended in the cavities between the giant buildings look like Hollywood stuntmen.
Every day this anonymous army of young men places its trust upon a simple rope. The men wear a helmet as a token form of protection. Yet they are not frightened by the gaping void beneath them, for they flirt with danger on a daily basis with the threat of a deadly fall constantly on the horizon. At the end of the day, the window washers of Bangkok have the rare privilege of enjoying the incredible view of the Thai capital in all of its sparkling glory, causing all sense of danger to fade into the background.
Copyright© Eric Pasquier
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