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June 15, 2015

The Ghost Tower

Riding on Bangkok’s elevated trains, coursing above the chaotic streets like roller coasters around the tops of buildings, one can’t help but notice that Bangkok is a city of endless concrete towers. It is no surprise that naturally amidst the explosion of architecture across the city, some projects were doomed. Their construction stalled out, some near completion, they sit upon Bangkok’s skyline, monuments of failure, odes to human imperfection and the brutality of impossibility. Thai people refer to the most infamous of these concrete shells, The Sathorn Unique, as the Ghost Tower.

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You do not bribe security guards to enter, you merely pay admission at the desk. There are drinks there for sale. You can use the restroom. They will lock the door behind you when you go up, and you must call out to them when you are down. If it’s too late, you must call the cell number graffitied on the wall. In short, it’s a tourist attraction; and a place where a man hung himself; and a controversial long shadow cast over a Buddhist temple; it’s a place that forces its climber to contemplate the decay of modern infrastructure, of society; and it’s an idea that was never completed, as it’s owner apparently became embroiled in legal proceedings related to a murder for hire plot of Thailand’s Chief Judge, or maybe it was just the economy that failed the tower; but most of all, it is a place to watch your step.

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Ghost-Tower-3From the higher floors you can look down into it at what looks like an Escher drawing of echoing mirrors of emptiness and beams, or you can look across to the completed building next door, its opulent pools suspended dozens of stories over the people of Bangkok, as if an oasis floating in the sky. And yet among the graffiti, garbage, dust, and decay of the once Sathorn Unique, you can’t help but wonder what could have been, looking down from the open balconies upon the river, the boats, the long bridge, the immaculate view. And you can’t help but wonder if it will be torn down someday, why it hasn’t already been, or whether it will just continue to stand, a fantastic and surreal symbol, a postmodernist deconstruction of modern society, and a colossal deathtrap. In the Bangkok Ghost Tower, if only for a few hours, you can sit at a bathtub on the edge of the sky, or contemplate the quintessence of dust.

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