The “Home” page is my daily blog. The remaining tabs contain previously blogged, episodic ‘stories’, which are now re-published in chronological order.
I spent yesterday morning and afternoon in my condo, mainly working on my computer and in the evening I decided to go out for a meal and do a bit of ‘bar-hopping’.
The evening started well and I have quite an enjoyable time, bantering with the girls in different establishments in exchange for a few drinks. In particular,ening to it and even joining in now and then.
The DJ was a very long haired Thai from Isaan, but for some reason he really has a strange eclectic taste in popular music. He seems to love Bob Marley and is always playing Marley’s classic tracks, and then he puts on, believe it or not, Dean Martin singing ‘Memories are made of this’ and even more bizarre – does anyone remember an instrumental pop called ‘Tequila’? Tequila is the only word in the tune and amazingly, all the girls in the bar know exactly when it is coming and shout it out with glee.
(They were no doubt hoping that some lucky punter would buy them a shot of the fiery liquor.)
After this things started to go downhill, and inevitably I ended up0 in Walking Street in the small hours. It was pissing with rain and I had left all my brollies at home, but as ever there was an enterprising Thai on hand to sell me a very flimsy, gaudy looking affair for 100 Baht. Not bad really, considering the time and place.
I bar hopped a few go-go bars, met all manner of scantily clad ladies who all knew my name but who I had no recollection of ever meeting before.
At around 3 a.m., I asked myself what F..ck I was doing there?
I retrieved my ever trusty but extremely frail brolly from the pimp outside the door and slowly made my way back to Jomtien in the pouring rain.
I didn’t surface until after noon today and I have to confess that I am findng it difficult to keep my drinking under control. I just never seem to know when to stop.
I know – its a broken record, but maybe I have to take this more seriously as I have been letting it drift as of late.
But now , at 2 p.m. I feel fine so relatively little collateral damage was incurred from a fairly tame night on the tiles.
I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that today I will be re-publishing a short story that I wrote some ten years ago and was originally published in a volume of short stories entitled “Tales From Thailand” that I was lucky enough to have published at that time.
The publisher was a very small, ‘internet’ publisher and the books could only be ordered on line, phone or by mail, when they would be ‘printed on demand’.
Unfortunately, my volume enjoyed very meagre sales and has long since disappeared without trace.
AS the title suggests, the stories were all based, or partly based in Thailand, and generally spanned the period that I spent in Thailand from the early seventies to the early eighties.
Although largely works of fiction, I did draw on my experiences, characters I had known and places I had been to, as inspiration for my writings, which of course is what all authors of fiction do.
Nevertheless the stories did contain a certain amount of autobiographical material, and two in particular, contained a great deal.
In all the stories I appear, using a pseudonym, as the ‘narrator’ ,(a westerner), who meets/works/lives with these fictional characters, both foreigners and Thais and he relates various events that happened to them in their daily lives.
In one story, (which I may re-publish later), I related the story of a another farang who had all kinds of adventures in Thailand, particularly with women, and I kept touch with him through the years as his life took an ever downward spiral.
In reality, this story is partly about me, partly about a close friend of mine whose life took a similar turn to my own – only much worse, (if that is possible) and partly a work of fiction.
But the story that I will now publish in my blog in three parts on successive days (it is over 17,000words) is probably about 95% autobiographical.
(When you have read it, I think you may well be able to discern the 5% of the story that constitutes the ‘fiction element’.)
It is the only one of my short stories where I, as the narrator, am the central character rather than just an interested observer.
It is also my favourite story from the collection that I wrote during that period, and even after all this time, I find it a very emotional experience to read it.
It is certainly a heart- wrenching, poignant story and I like to think it contains a little ‘food for thought’ in a world that is becoming ever more materialistic.
It also will take some of us old timers back to a people and a time in Thailand which I fear is rapidly disappearing.
I hope you enjoy my humble offering.
Metta…n. First of the four ‘Sublime States’- loving kindness, good-will, friendship, unconditional love for all human beings. Metta is the feeling of warm-hearted concern for the well being of other people, whoever they may be, and regardless of any ‘reason’ or any profit that might result. Metta is a spontaneous expression of a wish to do what one can to help.
One indisputable feature of life in Thailand is that it is very rare, and indeed very difficult for anyone to be truly alone. In fact, it is not unheard of for Thais to take the extreme measure of leaving the embraces of their own country as the only way to find the solitude and privacy that they crave.
I should add that this is an extremely rare phenomenon, as a vast majority of Thais are extremely content in their own, unique environment. Indeed, there is no doubt that most Thais derive considerable comfort by immersing themselves in the gregarious and, some may say, intrusive nature of their own, distinctive culture.
Foreigners, or farangs, who live in Thailand, are not immune to this phenomenon, and they often find themselves uncomfortably exposed to the instinctive curiosity of the Thais amongst whom they live.
With their infectious good humour and sheer zest for life, Thais will always want to know everything about people who come within their daily circle – be they friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, or merely those poor innocents who they have just encountered in a shop, office, restaurant or some other public place.
Even when walking innocently along the street, one is liable to be accosted with such enquiries as; ‘Where are you going? ‘Where have you been’? ‘What have you been doing?’ Are you alone? Do you have a partner?’ and so on. These intrusions are all part of life’s daily fare.
Thus, unsuspecting farangs are frequently subjected to the same endless stream of questions from any inquisitive Thai they may happen to come across, often from people that they hardly know. ‘Where you come from?’ ‘How long you live in Thailand?’ ‘Where you work?’ ‘How old are you? All these and more can become an irritation, if not handled with a smile and a liberal smattering of Thai.
But the wary farang had better ensure this smattering of spoken Thai is not only sufficient to understand and deal with those initial enquiries, but also the inevitable follow ups; because, such inquisitors will not quit until they know the victim’s life history. Such are some of the joys for farangs who choose to take up residence in ‘The Land of Smiles’.
But there are compensations; for a lonely person will never be lonely for long and anyone in need of advice, emotional or spiritual support will rarely have to look far to find a friendly face.
The year was nineteen seventy-four and I felt that it was one of the worst periods of my life. I had broken up with my Thai wife in traumatic circumstances, and I had lost my well-paid, expatriate job.
My savings were gone and I was barely able to make ends meet, eking out a living working for a very miserly Thai businessman. I was emaciated, extremely depressed and when meagre funds permitted, was verging on the alcoholic. I took pills to sleep, and more pills to get me up and going in the morning.
I had found employment as a ‘farang’ manager for peculiarly charismatic gentleman by the name of Ittiput, who ran a radio station. Ittiput happened to be crazy about western music and had a driving ambition to promote rock concerts in Thailand.
We had met through a mutual friend, and although Ittiput was indeed a charismatic personality, he was also extraordinarily miserly, and took advantage of my desperate and impecunious situation to employ me at a wage that most self-respecting Thai managers would have rejected out of hand. I was the western ‘face’ with which Ittiput would attempt to lure western rock bands to come and play in Thailand, and he got me at a bargain rate.
It was at Ittiput’s radio studio that I met Som, a very thin and badly scarred young man who worked as Ittiput’s radio engineer. If I was badly paid, it paled into insignificance when compared to the pittance that Som received at the end of each month’s hard graft.
I learnt that Som had three young daughters and a wife to support on his meagre earnings, but in spite of this, his good humour, fortitude and genuine desire to help his work colleagues amazed me.
With the notable exception of Som, Ittiput attracted staff with similar character traits as himself, and he had assembled a group of Thai radio disc jockeys and marketing executives who seemed to be determined to make Som’s life as miserable as possible. The group came from wealthy upper class families, and although their salaries weren’t exactly spectacular, they certainly earned more than I did, and in any event, they were mainly there to bask in the prestige of having a ‘show business’ career. Salary for them was a secondary consideration. It was just pocket money, as their parents picked up all the major bills in their rarefied, high society lives.
Som was from the other end of the social spectrum, and he was effectively treated as the office servant. He was at the beck and call of Ittiput and the rich Thai group from early morning to late evening. Not only did he have to record their radio programmes, (and put up with their childish tantrums), but he also had to go out to buy them food and drink, run their myriad errands, answer their phone calls, and goodness knows what else. – All in the course of each long day’s work at Ittiput’s radio studios.
As I started to get the rock concert business on the road, Ittiput wasn’t content with Som just working his long daily schedule in the studio, and he started to co-opt the poor guy to help out at the concert venues. He would often work all night, putting up sound systems, sorting out seating, acting as a roadie for the artists, and even deputising as door security when the occasion demanded.
He did actually receive some extra payments for this work, but as I was to find out later, I think he would have preferred to spend a little more time with his family rather than exhaust himself earning the miserly handouts given to him by the mean spirited Ittiput.
Notwithstanding Som’s daily struggle to satisfy the ever-increasing demands at work, and to take care of his young family, he went out of his way to make friends with me, and he was always most solicitous of my welfare.
It was obvious to Som that I was one very unhappy, miserable farang, and he somehow found the time to cheer me up and convince me that the end of the world wasn’t just round the corner. ‘Mr. Mobi,’ he would say in his stammering and hesitant voice, ‘I know you have broken heart, but there are plenty of beautiful girls in Thailand. That girl who hurt you – Nid – she no good. Next time you find a good girl – not same Nid – she no good,’ he would repeat for good measure – as if I didn’t already know.’
‘I know Som, I know. But how can I find a girl if I barely earn enough money to keep body and soul together? Who’s going to look at me – a poor farang?
One particular day when the conversation had taken its now familiar course, Som made the fairly obvious observation that if I were to move into more modest accommodation, then I would have more disposable income to spend on the pleasures of life. It was a valid point. Even though I had lost my well paid job, I was still clinging to a very nice western style apartment that I could ill afford.
‘But where will I go Som? I don’t know any cheaper places, and I don’t think I could survive in a Thai style room. It would be too hot.’
‘Mr Mobi, you have to move. That place cost too much. I show you rooms – very cheap. They Ok – not too bad. You open windows – turn on fan – room very cool. I promise you. Why don’t you come and see?’
‘Come and see where Som?’
‘Near my home, in Bangbor. We take bus from office – about twenty minutes. Why don’t you and me go? – after work next Saturday – and I show you?’
I didn’t have much to lose, and in my forlorn predicament I certainly had no prior engagements, so I agreed that we should go and do a bit of room hunting the following Saturday.
* * *
I should have added “work permitting”, as it was past four o’ clock when we finally left the office, due to our dearly beloved Ittiput demanding more than his usual ‘pound of flesh’ before letting us go for a much shortened weekend break.
‘It’s so late Mr Mobi; we better go my place first and have some food, and then we can go and look some rooms,’ Som told me as we walked to the bus stop.
‘Whatever is convenient Som – I’m in your hands. But I can’t impose on your hospitality for a meal. It’s not fair on you, I’m sure your family aren’t expecting me,’ I protested.
I didn’t wish to embarrass him by adding that I also doubted he could afford to cater for a strange farang, in addition to his own hungry brood.
‘You not worry,’ he assured me. ‘You know Thai style – everyone welcome to come and eat.’
‘I know Som – but even so – you’ve got enough problems, without having to feed me.’
‘Mr Mobi – you don’t understand – just wait and see,’ he assured me.
The bus dropped us a few kilometres from the office, and we walked into a narrow, local Soi.
‘This is Bangbor, and we must walk about ten minutes.’ Som assured me, as we weaved our way through a maze of back streets that bristled with the hustle and bustle of suburban Bangkok.
We took so many turnings, which were supposedly short cuts that within minutes I hadn’t a clue where I was. It seemed nearer to twenty than the promised ten minutes when we eventually entered a very narrow, muddy footpath that snaked over a foul smelling canal and finally led us to a cluster of suburban dwellings: some of wooden structure, and others, terraced concrete ‘shop-houses’.
You couldn’t quite describe it as a slum, but it was obviously a residential area for the poor and working class.
We eventually came to a small compound, which was bordered by houses of all shapes and sizes, and in varying stages of disrepair. The area was a hive of activity, and in one corner there were cooking pots steaming on charcoal fires, with a somewhat rotund woman stir-frying vegetables in a large smoking wok that exuded the pungent aroma of garlic and chillies.
Most of the area was taken up by a long wooden dining table, together with a collection of ramshackle chairs and stools of mixed origins and materials. About half of the seats were occupied by a motley collection of people, and as we entered the clearing, there were some joyful shouts of welcome to Som, who was obviously a popular member of what I took to be the local community.
Naturally, there was much fluster and merriment following the arrival of a farang in the midst of all this activity, and there ensued much wai-ing and introductions, during the course of which, I discovered that I wasn’t exactly an unknown person.
‘Mr Mobi,’ said one tall very thin man called Nop, who spoke a little English, ‘Som tell me you have broken heart’.
This was very embarrassing. ‘Well, … not really… what exactly did Som say to you?’
‘He say your girl do very bad – sleep around – and we have to find you a new one.’
This was getting worse. ‘What else did he say?’
‘He say your salary much more than Som’s, but you waste too much money on your apartment. And we have to find you cheap room,’ he finished with a flourish.
My God, my life was an open book with these people!
‘Som! Som!’ I shouted, as he seemed to have discretely disappeared inside one of the wooden houses, which I assumed was where he lived.
Som reappeared in a pakomar, a Thai-style loincloth, and asked me:
“What was the matter?”, as he was going to have a quick shower before dinner.
‘Som, have you told everyone about my personal life?’
‘Calm down, calm down Mr Mobi. You know Thailand – everyone knows everyone’s business. When all my friends found out I worked with a farang, they wanted to know all about you.’
‘Well I wish you had kept it to yourself – it’s so embarrassing Som!’
‘Don’t worry Mobi. Everyone just wants to help you – they don’t mind what you’ve been up to.’
‘But I do!’ I protested, to no avail.
Som went back in the house for his shower, and I became resigned to making my life an open book amongst these apparently friendly strangers.
I walked back to the table, and was offered a seat at its centre. Someone put some Thai snacks in front of me, and a tall, very dark man, also in a Pakomar, approached me and introduced himself in Thai as ‘Yow’ – which means very long– ‘most appropriate,’ I was thinking.
‘Mister – you give me fifty Baht,’ he said very abruptly, in badly broken English and in what appeared to me to be a slightly menacing manner.
He was asking for the equivalent of about one pound, so I decided it would be prudent to comply with this request and was in the process of taking the money from my wallet when Som reappeared.
‘Yow, what are you up to?’
‘We need to buy a bottle of whisky, and I’m sure this farang won’t miss fifty baht,’ he replied to Som, not realising that I actually understood quite a lot of Thai, after living in the country for over two years
‘Mr Mobi, please excuse Yow – he is very rude. No education, you know. Please put your money away – you are my guest.’
Som then proceeded to berate Yow for his behaviour, although I comprehended only about half of what was said. Yow didn’t seem to appreciate being chastised by someone less than half his size and a heated argument commenced, which before long spread to the entire occupants of the compound.
I was beginning to wonder what on earth I had walked in to, when a well dressed man, who looked to be in his early forties, appeared at the table. Almost immediately peace descended.
‘What’s going on Som?’ he asked in a soft, controlled voice.
Som and Yow related to the new-comer the cause of the argument and I was impressed with the authority and calm with which he listened to both sides of the story, before telling the two of them to apologise and for everyone to sit down and have something to eat.
In a final act of conciliation, the man then produced some money from his own wallet and told one of the younger boys to run and get some whisky before :‘We all die of thirst!’
The smiles reappeared as Som belatedly introduced me:
‘Mr Mobi, this is Pee Prasert. He is my – he is everyone’s very good friend.’
‘I am pleased to meet you Mobi,’ Pee Prasert said to me in Thai, ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’
‘Pee’ in Thai means older brother, and is commonly used to denote an older and usually wiser man, in the broader sense of brother, rather than as a reference to a blood relation.
‘I am pleased to meet you Prasert, and thank you for resolving the argument. I was becoming quite concerned.’
‘Oh that was nothing. They fight like that all the time, they are just silly children.’
‘Pee, I think we are all your children,’ Som added.
‘Yes Som, you are all my children – delinquents everyone,’ he joked. ‘Now Mobi, please have some food with us. The whisky is on its way, and I am sorry that Yow had such bad manners in asking you to pay.’
‘It’s Ok Prasert, I don’t mind buying a bottle – it’s the least I can do.’
‘Don’t worry Mobi, I am sure you will have plenty of opportunities later’.
The Thai whisky arrived, the cooking continued and the late afternoon stretched into evening. At some point in the evening I did buy a fresh bottle, and as the evening wore on, others at the table procured additional bottles. The eating and drinking went on into the small hours.
I learnt that night the Thai version of our ancient English proverb; ‘Waste not, want not’.
At one point, all that remained on the table was half a bucket of ice, but we couldn’t possibly waste it, so some more whisky and soda had to be bought to use up the ice. Similarly, sometime later, only a bottle of soda water remained, but it would be a terrible thing to waste all that soda, so ice and whisky had to be bought to use up the soda.
I don’t need to relate what happened when, during one very brief moment, we only had about half a bottle of whisky left. It all led to a very long evening, and we certainly didn’t waste, nor did we want!
I also learnt a lot about another side of Thai life that I had never seen before, sheltered as I had been in my luxurious western-type existence and living and working in the more affluent areas of central Bangkok.
This was a poor community, and it was certainly a fascinating and diverse group who came and went on that first evening that I spent with Som and his friends.
Some of those present were undoubtedly alcoholics, or very close to it. In particular there was one thin, very dirty, middle aged man, who, unusually for a Thai, had a long white unkempt beard. His threadbare clothes were full of holes and he came barefoot to the table with a perpetual manic-type smile on his face.
He held a small brown bottle from which he sipped every few seconds. A few of those present tried to send him on his way, but Prasert would have none of it. He bid the unfortunate sole most welcome, and insisted on introducing him to me, his ‘guest of honour’.
His name was Job, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it all when he put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a manic grin, mumbling away in an indecipherable dialect.
Prasert assured me that he was harmless, and handed him a glass of whisky, which he downed in one gulp, and a plate of rice with meat, which he seemed to have quite a problem in digesting finally giving up after a couple of small mouthfuls.
He was finally persuaded to move on by the gentle Prasert, who filled his pockets with some food – dried beef I think – and squeezed a couple of banknotes into his hand.
Then there was Yow, the very large fierce looking man, who had demanded money from me when I first arrived and who nearly came to blows with poor Som.
It would seem that it was part of Yow’s nature to be aggressive, and as the evening drew on, it became apparent that some of his formative years had been spent in jail. I gathered that he still didn’t exactly obey all the laws of the land and probably was little better than a petty criminal.
I also guessed that he wasn’t beyond using the odd bit of violence when the occasion demanded it.
Also there was Piak, a heroin addict. He was a sad and very scrawny young man, who was in imminent danger of losing his boyish good looks if he didn’t find a way to cure his terrible addiction.
As with Job, the tramp, most people welcomed Piak to the table, particularly Prasert, who went out of his way to ensure that Piak was properly fed and that someone stayed close to him as he started to withdraw from his most recent fix.
Even more bizarre were the presence of two policemen, Vichai and Vitaya. They were both young, fit specimens of Thai manhood, and Vitaya, in particular looked very handsome and dashing in his tight fitting, razor pressed khaki uniform.
Vitaya was quite voluble, and prone to argue very loudly, while Vichai, who was accompanied by his pregnant wife, was more content to sit quietly and sip his whisky.
Neither of them seemed to find it incongruous that they were socialising with criminals, drunks, addicts, and other ‘dregs of society’. I gathered that they were both police sergeants, which meant that even though they already moved two steps up the promotion ladder, their official salaries were still extremely low.
But as sergeants, they were able to wield not inconsiderable influence, and they managed to augment their meagre earnings through other nefarious, less official means.
They didn’t look as though they were people to trifle with, and they were clearly held in respect by many of those present that night. Prasert however, treated them in his customary manner, chiding them when they spoke out of line, dispensing advice on their personal problems and at one late point in the evening, calming a very drunk Vitaya when he started to become violent.
Amazingly, Vitaya submitted totally to Prasert’s gentle demands that he must desist, and even apologised for the unpleasant incident. Som told me later that the two sergeants held Prasert in the greatest respect, as he had been very kind to them in the past and had given them a lot of help in both their personal lives and their careers.
There were many more, some pretty near destitute, and others: a mishmash of factory workers, labourers and street traders. Most of them had saved a little cash to spend on eating and drinking with their friends on a Saturday evening after a long hard week.
I concluded that the “spirit of traditional Thai hospitality” was alive and well in this humble setting, for it was apparent that those who were able to, willingly contributed to the general purse, and those who had nothing, enjoyed the generosity of their slightly better off companions.
There was also a fair sprinkling of females around that large table. Some were wives or girlfriends of the hardened male drinkers; others were seasoned ‘drinkers’ in their own right.
I was introduced to Som’s wife, who was the large woman I had seen busy cooking when I first arrived.
Som’s three daughters appeared at various times during the evening, and I was pleasantly surprised to meet three neatly dressed, charming, polite and intelligent pre-teenagers.
How Som and his wife had managed to bring them up so well in the prevailing conditions was a little short of a miracle.
But I started to gather that Prasert might have had something to do with it. He was clearly the central cog in a lively and tight knit community.
Whenever I asked Som about one or other or the characters seated around that table, their personal situation almost invariably involved Prasert in their background, somewhere along the line. Prasert, at some point in their life, had been engaged in some act of generosity or kindness towards them that had helped them get back on their feet or had saved them from a tricky situation.
‘What is Prasert’s job Som?’
‘Oh he is a teacher, and so is his wife.’
‘But he can’t earn much as a teacher, yet he seems to be so generous to everyone.’
‘Mr Mobi – how do you say in English? – “A little money goes a long way.”
Pee Prasert lives very simply with his wife, in a small room in that house on the corner. Their salary is not a lot, but they don’t need much money, so there is always a little to spare on a good cause.
‘They have no children. Sometimes I think we are their children – all of us who live around here. Prasert holds us all together – the good and the bad – and as he says, “Even the bad have some good in them. You just have to find it.” He is a very good man Mobi.’
I was beginning to see that, and it made me feel very humble. It was getting late, and I suddenly remembered that we hadn’t accomplished the purpose of my visit to this strange corner of Bangkok. I decided that it was far too late to do anything about it at that time of the night.
‘Som, I hate to mention it, but what happened to our proposed tour of the local rooms for rent?
‘Oh my God! Mr Mobi. I forgot all about it, I’m so sorry. Maybe we can go tomorrow if you’re free?’
I was, but although I had enjoyed an absolutely fascinating evening, I wasn’t too sure that I could get used to living in an area such as this and was starting to back away from the whole idea of moving ‘down-market’.
However, the decision was taken out of my hands when Som started discussing my affairs with the assembled group, after which he happily informed me:
‘Mr Mobi, my friends want to help you to find a home, so we will all meet tomorrow and have a look around the neighbourhood.’
I was trying to think of a way out, so in desperation, I told Som in English that I’d love to meet them all tomorrow, but I didn’t think I could ever find my way back. So maybe it would be better if we left it for a few weeks until I was able to familiarise myself with the area.
Som passed this on, and much discussion ensued, which culminated, to my horror, with the decision that a group of them would come to my apartment in the morning and accompany me back to the environs of my ‘new home’.
It was past two in the morning, and I wasn’t in any condition to argue further. In fact my main concern at that point in the proceedings was how on earth was I going to make it home. if that is possible.
It was at least twenty minutes walk to the main road, even if I could find the way, which I considered most unlikely. Once again Som anticipated my problem by arranging for one of my new found police friends to give me a lift on the back of his motorcycle to the main road. From there, I could hail a taxi.
In retrospect, I’m glad that I remember very little about that ‘hair–raising’ lift to the road on the back of a high-speed motorcycle, driven by a very drunken police sergeant.
Suffice to say I eventually made it home, after a long and remarkable day, during which I had probably doubled the number of friends I could claim in Bangkok, and had met a most extraordinary man – Pee Prasert.
* * *
My very deep and dreamless sleep was shattered by some loud banging on my front door, accompanied by the intermittent shouting of my name, ‘Mr Mobi… Mr Mobi… Wake up!’
I looked at my clock and was shocked to find it was already past noon. ‘That was some sleep, the longest I’ve had in ages,’ I thought as I roused myself to get up and open the door. Then the headache and nausea kicked in, and I remembered.
‘That was also some night,’ I mumbled to myself. I was still a little drunk as I walked unsteadily across the room and opened the door to Som, and what appeared to be most of the group who were at the previous night’s drinking session.
They all trooped in, as bright and cheerful as though they had been sleeping for a week, despite the fact that when I had left Som’s compound, I had the distinct impression that the party was far from over.
‘Good God Som, how can you all be so cheerful? What time did you all go to bed?’
‘Oh about four o’clock, why?’
‘And what time did you get up then?’
‘Around nine. We’ve all been to check out all the rooms for rent before coming over here.’
‘How do you guys do it? I feel terrible.’ I responded disconsolately, as I looked at the assembled motley collection.
They were busying themselves exploring my untidy apartment and taking in the impressive view of Bangkok from my balcony. There was Yow, the ex felon, (who made me feel a little uneasy,) Piak the drug addict, Vichai, the quiet police sergeant, together with his pregnant wife, Vitaya, the more voluble cop, and a number of others whose names escaped me.
The consensus of opinion seemed to be that it would be a great place to have a party or to entertain a mistress, but no one in their right minds would fork out the kind of money I did every month to live in such a place. Now that my earnings were much reduced, I was obliged to admit they were right.
‘Come on Mr. Mobi, let’s go and check out the rooms,’ Som badgered me, as I ‘walked’ through my shower, and threw on some clothes.
We all shuffled out into the road, where the two policemen jumped on a parked motorcycle, and the rest of us squeezed into a passing bus.
We had another walk through the suburban maze at Bangbor, before stopping outside a three-storey ‘shop house’ which looked to be in a reasonable state of repair. We all made our way to the third floor, where to my surprise, I found Prasert, awaiting our arrival.
‘Welcome, Mobi. Come in and have a look around,’ Prasert said as he opened the door.
It was a very clean room, with a highly polished wooden floor. There was a sink at one end, with a small shower/WC at the other. I would be able to do the odd spot of cooking here, I thought, and there was even a pleasant view of the surrounding streets from the window at the front end of the room.
It was a far cry from what I was used to, but it was certainly adequate for my immediate needs. The rent was a fraction of what I was currently paying, so my objective of increasing my disposable income would be successfully achieved.
‘I think its fine Prasert, but how will I move all my furniture and stuff over here?’
‘You’re new friends here will help you. We just need to hire a small truck and these good people will do the rest won’t you lads?’
There were general murmurs of assent we walked downstairs to complete the deal with the landlord.
He wanted three month’s deposit, which I didn’t have. However, it was agreed that I would pay over the requested sum when I moved in on the following Saturday. I decided that I could always take some of my possessions to a pawnshop to raise the required sum, should it prove necessary.
It was time for lunch, or in my case, breakfast, so we adjourned to the now familiar compound, for a simple meal of boiled rice soup with some dried prawns and pickled vegetables. It was delicious, and had the wonderful effect of settling my stomach.
After lunch, most of the group gradually dispersed, and by mid afternoon it was just Prasert and I remaining at the table.
‘Mobi, you look worried,’ Prasert said.
‘Well I do have a couple of problems about this move, Prasert.
‘Firstly,’ I said with a smile, ‘This Bangbor area is such a maze of back streets and footpaths, that I’m going to need a map and compass to find my way home every night.’
‘Oh you’ll soon get to know the way. You can come home with Som until you’re ready to ‘go it alone’.’
‘Som – yes, Prasert. Som’s been so good to me.’
‘He’s a very good person, Mobi. He has suffered a lot in his short life. Did you know that?’
I didn’t, so after a little persuasion, Prasert related the story of how Som once had a much better job in a good company, but one day he was involved in a horrendous road accident. Everyone thought he was going to die, but Prasert managed to get him moved to a better hospital and he eventually recovered.
‘He has never been the same since the accident. He now speaks with a stammer, and he can’t always remember things properly. It was inevitable that he would lose his job,’ Prasert explained simply.
Som’s terrible scars were now explained, but I was curious as to how he managed to find the job he now had with Ittiput. Knowing Ittiput as I did, I found it difficult to believe he would hire someone like Som, if as Prasert explained; he was suffering from some kind of brain damage as a result of his accident.
‘It’s strange that Ittiput agreed to hire Som, in the circumstances,’ I said.
‘Yes Mobi, you’re quite right. All things being equal, Ittiput would never have employed Som.’
‘Then how did it happen?’
Prasert seemed reluctant to enlighten me, but eventually he said, ‘I made him, Mobi.’
‘Because Mobi, it was Ittiput who was responsible for Som’s condition. He was driving his Mercedes Benz and he went through a red light when Som was crossing the road. He hit him head-on.
There were witnesses. Everyone knew it was Ittiput, but the police wouldn’t do anything because he had too much influence. So I went to see him and asked him to help Som and his family by giving him a job.
At first he refused, but when I suggested that the newspapers might be interested in the story of a well known radio personality who nearly killed a young man and then refused to help him, he eventually changed his mind.’
‘Weren’t you afraid that Ittiput might use his influence to harm you?’ I asked.
‘Of course I was, but I had to do it. I couldn’t stand by and see Som and his family starve, could I?
I was pondering what a brave and selfless man he was, when he interrupted my reverie by turning his attention back to my current situation.
‘Mobi, you said you had two problems regarding your move here. What is the second?’
‘Oh it’s silly really. But I’ll never fit all my furniture and stuff in that small room. What will I do with it all?’
Prasert rose from his stool and grasped my arm. ‘Come on, let’s go and see all this furniture and decide what we can do.’
I thought I had imposed on Prasert’s hospitality long enough, and tried to persuade him to let me sort it all out, but he insisted on accompanying me back home, ‘To show you the way out of this maze we live in,’ he insisted, ‘and to sort out your furniture problems’.
Back at my apartment, Prasert surveyed the collection I had amassed over the past two years, and agreed that I would indeed have a problem fitting it all in my new home.
We went out onto the balcony and I produced a couple of cold beers, so we decided to sit and watch the sun set over Bangkok, whilst we deliberated over my dilemma.
‘Mobi, I think you have far more serious problems than deciding how to dispose of some unwanted furniture,’ Prasert said as we started to sip our beers.
‘What do you mean Prasert?’
‘Som has told me your story.’
‘What story Prasert?’
‘You lost your job, you lost your girl, and you drink too much.’
‘That’s all true, but I’m managing. As for drinking too much, with all due respect Prasert, I hardly think you can talk after the drinking session we had last night!’
‘Mobi, there’s drinking and drinking. Most of us Thais know when to drink and when to stop. Saturday night is a good time to drink and relax at the end of a hard week. Som tells me that you drink every day and sometimes all night. He tells me that some days when you arrive at work you’re still drunk. That is not so good Mobi.
‘I know, I know Prasert. But I can’t sleep.’
‘Why not Mobi?’
‘I don’t know.’
There was a long pause in the conversation. I wasn’t going to fob this man off with my usual flippant remarks, and in any event he almost certainly knew most of my background story from Som.
So I decided to be truthful, and after a while I continued, ‘Well I suppose I can’t stop thinking about my girl friend. About what she did to me, about what she’s doing now. I still love her, Prasert.’
I looked at Prasert dejectedly. ‘Can you understand that? I just can’t seem to get over her.’
‘And what about the drugs Mobi?’
Another long pause.
‘Well, sometimes I take something to help me sleep.’
‘And sometimes you take something to help you wake up, don’t you Mobi?’
‘Mobi, You can’t carry on like this. Som tells me that you hardly eat. You are so thin, you will get ill if you don’t take a hold of your life.’
‘How can I do that Prasert? I’m so unhappy!’
‘We will help you. Come and live near us and we will help you to see there is more to life than losing a silly girl. We are a big family, and you need proper friends, not just a bunch of drunk farangs, like the ones that you meet in the Patpong bars.’
I started to talk about my life in a way that I hadn’t done for years, and we chatted for hours as the sunset faded and night crept over the Bangkok skyline. Prasert’s calm and reasonable manner was somehow comforting. Time flew and eventually he had to reluctantly leave.
‘Prasert, you came here to help me decide how to get rid of my excess furniture, and you’ve spent the whole evening trying to solve my personal problems. And I still don’t know what to do with all this stuff,’ I said jokingly.
‘Oh that’s so easy. Do you know what you want to keep?’
‘I think so.’
‘Good, now give me a pen and paper.’
He wrote something in large Thai script on the paper and handed it to me. ‘Now stick this on the outside of your door before you go to bed.’
Although my spoken Thai was improving all the time, I couldn’t read or write a word.
‘What does it say?’
‘It says: “Furniture Sale – Here -Wednesday at 7 p.m.” Can you be here at that time?’
‘Yes, but who is going to read that?’
‘Don’t you worry; plenty of people will read it. I’m sure you will sell everything very quickly. Now, I must be going. Don’t forget the sale on Wednesday, and don’t forget you’re moving out next Saturday.’
I looked at Prasert and he returned my stare.
‘Don’t forget Saturday, Mobi and don’t forget what I have told you about your drinking and drug taking.’
He stare was so intense that I couldn’t refuse him.
‘No, Prasert, I won’t forget anything you have told me.’
He relaxed his face a little and smiled at me. Then suddenly his smile seemed to change into a wink. I had never seen a Thai person wink, but here was the respected Prasert , a pillar of the local community, winking at me, a farang.
I had no idea why, but burst I burst out laughing.
‘Prasert, why did you wink? It was a wink, wasn’t it?
‘Was it?’ he answered enigmatically. He was still smiling, but offered no further explanation.
I walked with him downstairs to the street, and watched as this likeable, new found friend, with an amiable smile still on his face, disappeared from sight into the Bangkok night.
Back in my room, I lay down fully clothed to think about things for a few minutes but almost immediately fell into a deep, drug free and almost alcohol-free slumber.
It was the best night’s sleep I had had in a very long time.
Tomorrow – Part 2, and on Monday the concluding and dramatic conclusion to this story