Sunday, December 15, 2019

Anime, Michelin Man and Transformers: truck art thrives in Thailand

Mar 22. 2018
This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows a driver standing in front of his truck, decorated with mirrors and loudspeakers, at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO
This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows a driver standing in front of his truck, decorated with mirrors and loudspeakers, at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO
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By Agence France-Presse
Bangkok

7,554 Viewed

Music pounds from the speakers and LED lights ripple across the customised cabs at a "truck party" hosted by proud Thai drivers showing off their lorries with swag.

They own 20-wheeler behemoths that turn heads on the roads with lurid graphics and paint-jobs of everything from unicorns to "Transformers" and Disney characters on their cabs and containers -- while large Michelin Man dolls often add to the visual assault.

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows rows of custom-decorated trucks parked in a field at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO

    Thailand is a major logistics hub and long-haul truck routes connect goods from Myanmar and Laos to the North, Cambodia to the east to Bangkok and Malaysia in the south.

    Like their South Asian peers, Thai truck owners are enthralled by decorous vehicles -- with new designs spinning out across social media and the best artists charging up to $1,600 for their work.

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows men putting a fancy sticker on the window of their truck at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO

    "These trucks are used in real life," said Teerasak Inklom, while controlling the state-of-the-art sound system on his heavily decorated 10-wheeler at the party in a disused field in Rayong, on Thailand's eastern seaboard.

This photograph taken on January 12, 2018 shows a painter cutting away at masking tape for a stencil design on a truck panel at Soonchai Industry, a truck assembly factory in the central Thai province of Nakhon Pathom. // AFP PHOTO

    "The relationships it creates can also be useful when you have accidents or technical issues on the roads," he added, of a job that is often lonely and also prone to be targeted by criminals in remote areas.

    "These friends can help."

    

    - Michelin mania -

    At a vast warehouse near Bangkok, dozens of workers cut stickers and spray on designs ranging from traditional flower patterns to Japanese robot anime craze Gundam.

This photograph taken on January 12, 2018 shows a Transformer-inspired detail on a painted truck at Soonchai Industry, a truck assembly factory in the central Thai province of Nakhon Pathom. // AFP PHOTO

    It belongs to Sirintra Phichitphajongkit, managing director of Soonchai Industry, one of Thailand's largest truck assemblers that has recently devoted one section to painting the trucks. 

    "I think it's about psychology" Sirintra told AFP.

    When the trucks are "nicely decorated, drivers are motivated to be extra careful and not to leave any scratches on them."

    Thailand's lavish vehicle decoration originated with bus paintings -- and the Michelin Man.

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows men hanging out next to their truck decorated with Michelin Man dolls and loudspeakers a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. Music pounds from the speakers and LED lights ripple across the customised cabs at a "truck party" hosted by proud Thai drivers showing off their lorries with swag. They own 20-wheeler behemoths that turn heads on the roads with lurid graphics and paint-jobs of everything from unicorns to "Transformers" and Disney characters on their cabs and containers -- while large Michelin Man dolls often add to the visual assault. // AFP PHOTO 

    The tubby white mascot known as "Bonhomme Michelin" in French are given by the Lyon-based tyre company to customers who buy a certain number of tyres.

    Many drivers say they then use the figurines for decoration as a way to show off their wealth.

    But truckers today are adding wackier local designs to the mix and installing accessories like loudspeakers and extra wing mirrors.

    Though decorating vehicles is prohibited by Thai law over safety concerns, drivers mostly get away with small fines and sympathy from admiring police officers.

    

    - Saddam and Che -

    That wasn't always the case.

    The community was long perceived as led by shadowy, drug-ridden machos who idolise "bad boy" icons from Che Guevara to Saddam Hussein with stickers on the sides of trucks. 

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows drivers having a discussion in between rows of custom-decorated trucks at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong.  // AFP PHOTO

    "That reflected the tough guy lifestyle of people who endure long drives on the roads," said Suphot Saengow, leader of The Artistic Mind Truckers Club of Thailand. 

    "I think now we look more polished and friendly."

    That is certainly the case for Wichukorn Wongdara as he drives a bright green truck carrying rocks from an out-of-town quarry destined for a Bangkok construction site. 

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows models standing in front of custom-painted trucks a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO

    The unicorn on his truck -- designed by his daughter -- aims to attract admiring eyes and deter thieves, who sometimes siphon off fuel from parked trucks.

    "It's been a dream to create my own fancy truck," Wichukorn told AFP.

This photograph taken on December 23, 2017 shows families gathered in front of rows of custom-painted trucks at a fancy truck party in the Thai coastal province of Rayong. // AFP PHOTO

    "What do I get out of it? I get the feeling of pride when people come to look at my trucks and praise how beautiful they are."

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