They talked in a strange and comical language, the rights to which I assume are owned in perpetuity by some Hollywood film studio. It’s a language in which everybody’s called ‘’Dude‘’, and ‘’Dude’’ is always preceded by either ‘’totally‘’, ‘’awesome’’ or ‘‘radical’’, …. surely real people don‘t talk this way? There were four of then, I guess in their mid to late twenties and from a town that I‘d never before heard of in a state that I‘ve since forgotten. It wasn’t California but it could possibly have been Oregon, at least it was somewhere on the West Coast where the surf was ‘’banging‘’, which I assumed meant that it was at least marginally better than ’good’. I’m getting older and with each passing year I’m constantly reminded that my mental dictionary is becoming woefully out of date but like flies to fresh poo, the four American’s were now sharing my small table in an otherwise perfectly acceptable bar. It’s a small place, a bar with no beer-girls, a bar where I can avoid the sex-tourists and read through the chapters that I’ve already completed, a bar that gets me out of my guesthouse and reminds that the world still exists beyond it‘s charming but claustrophobic walls. They’d come into this bar on what they try to tell me is the wrong side of the Chao Phraya River and on seeing my open laptop, had immediately decided to disturb the only customer who really didn’t want to be disturbed. They were loud, they were shouty and they were brash. After every couple of unnecessarily loud sentences they’d break into song or perform little orchestrated dances and then laugh uncontrollably at nothing in particular. Perhaps the fact that I was the only ’farang’ in the bar was the real reason behind their attraction, maybe they hadn‘t expected to find another Westerner here. In here, amongst the Thai’s and migrant workers of Bangkok, away from the dusky dancing damsels and purveyors of all things that are fake, I don‘t get disturbed by people the likes of which I have absolutely no desire to meet,….. until now.
They insist on telling me tales of their travels, tales that I’d really rather not listen to tonight. I’m trapped between London and Khon Kaen, two places where right now I’d much rather be, but since the airline have informed me that my ticket is the lowest of the low, the kind of ticket that is non-refundable, non-transferable, a ticket that only allows me to return to London on the originally specified date, I‘ve become an accidental resident of Bangkok. Tassaneeya asks me daily me to return to Khon Kaen, and trust me when I say that such offers are very difficult to refuse , but if I return to Khon Kaen she’ll fill my days with distraction and the work will never be finished. The body of the book is completed, but now I have to concentrate and place everything into the correct tense and context. It’s a process that’s turning out to be a lot more difficult than I’d ever imagined and distractions will only confuse and delay me further. I’m not complaining that I’m trapped in Bangkok, it’s actually more of a comment and I appreciate that having the freedom to be here at all, makes me a very lucky boy indeed. It’s just that there are now places that for very different reasons, I would much rather be.
Ignoring my complete lack of interest, the four uninvited disturbances to my tranquillity inform me that they’re on a mission to discover the ’Real Thailand’. For two whole weeks they’re going totally native, they’re eating only Thai food and drinking only Thai beer and visiting the places where less adventurous travellers would fear to tread. Whilst undertaking this extreme and dangerous act of cultural integration, they’re staying at a hotel on Silom Road, the Dusit Thani, a hotel that I know to be five star rated and that I suspect charges well in excess of £200 per night, … very dangerous and native indeed. They ask me where I’m staying and I tell them ‘’around the corner’’, but I don’t tell them that it’s only £8 per night. The older Dude speaks Thai, apparently he’s almost fluent but tonight they’re travelling with a local guide, a guide who for what they deem to be a reasonable fee of 2,000 THB, (£40), is introducing them to the darker side of Bangkok. I tell them that the ’Darker Side of Bangkok’ is probably situated no more than a few hundred yards away from their hotel in Patpong 1 and Patpong 2, but they seem to see these two notorious streets as being the gloss of Bangkok rather than the tarnish. Thankfully, after a solitary bottle of Singha Beer apiece, their guide for the evening claps his hands loudly and informs his temporary charges in perfect English that it’s now time to move on. As they wave goodbye and file out of the door, I begin to question the older Dude’s fluency in the native language. The Thai’s in the bar are smiling and waving goodbye to the four young American’s who have now formed a conga chain and are singing and dancing their way out of the once peaceful bar, waving and smiling back at the other drinkers, patting their guide on the head and thanking him for an awesome evening of discovery in this apparently lawless side of town. The same faithful guide had just informed all Thai speakers who were willing to listen that it was time to take these drunken pieces of sticky shit back to their own world and apologised to all for their vulgarity. At least that’s what I think he’d just told them, but then unlike the Older Dude who appeared totally oblivious to this statement, … I’m not even close to being fluent.
My week of self imposed solitude here in Bangkok, admittedly with the support of the airline, has helped me to achieve at least two things. Firstly, and as mentioned above, the book is now finished and only the tedious task of editing it remains. I’m worried that the book might be too lengthy but it’s difficult to remove any of the constituent parts without ignoring some of the experiences that help to make sense of the journey ahead. Every single thing that happened had a direct influence on the next and by skipping individual and often unreported adventures, the story begins to make less sense. It’s probably really two books, ’’Ashes To Boonville’’ and ‘’Homeward Bound’’, because looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, the two parts of the journey were actually two totally separate adventures, ….. but I’ll wait and see what happens from here.
Secondly, despite my failed attempt to gain access to a swimming pool here in Bangkok, an attempt that saw me being unceremoniously evicted from a Bangkok Hotel during daylight hours, I’ve continued my exercise regime and my medical condition has improved remarkably. The problem still exists, but it’s much less of a problem that it had been. I can walk, I can sit down and I can now even ride a bike. I’m looking forward to getting home, to start riding again, to earn some money and to begin dreaming of the next adventure. I know that London will be cold, and probably raining too, and I know that once I arrive in the unwelcoming surroundings of Heathrow’s terminal three, I’ll wish that I was back here in Thailand, ….. and one day soon, hopefully I will be.
My daughter Hannah wants to come here, perhaps not to experience the amazing culture, perhaps not to experience the seemingly unfathomable conflicts between ancient beliefs and modernisation, for Hannah is a teenage girl and as such has much more pressing desires. And so for Hannah, I post the photograph above. MBK, Bangkok’s Mecca for affordable shopping, .. bring an empty suitcase and shop until your heart is content, but please don’t be at all surprised if your designer frocks and tee shirts shrink during their first laundromatic experience, ….. for this is Bangkok where beyond the welcoming smiles, less and less of everything seems to be genuine.