Arthur wanders in and is delighted to find his favorite bar stool unoccupied. Before sitting down he adjusts the stool slightly so that he can see the TV and the street. Dave’s new girl is already pulling a draft. The ‘pub’ is the same as ever. Four or five of the regulars are sitting at the bar. BBC World is on the telly. Last week’s Bangkok Post is open at the Nite Owl column (Arthur has an eye for detail) and behind him a couple of blokes are playing pool. Outside on the street things are much as usual. The shop across the road is still selling plastic buckets. Some dogs are sleeping in the sharp shadows cast by the Krung Thai Bank. A few motorbikes and a tuktuk or two putter around aimlessly. It’s another slow, hot day in Sakorn Nakhon.
Dave the owner says “Look mate don’t get me started on girls. Lets find something else to talk about for a bloody change.”
“I hear Skipper’s back in Bangkok,” says someone.
“Skipper’s dead.” says Dave.
“Not that Skipper. The Ozzie one.”
A young fellow with long blonde hair and a backpack who they haven’t seen before wanders in and orders a Sing. He sits at the bar and says, “Anybody feel like a game of Trivial Pursuit?” English by the sound of it, waiting for a bus probably, “ Nobody? OK. Just asking.”
One of the pool players, the Yank, says, “Ask louder pal. They’re all deaf in here.”
“Saw Max in Chiang Mai.” says the same bloke who’d tried to get the Skipper story going.
“What’s he doing?”
“He was eating Shepherd’s Pie. In Eddie’s old place.”
“No I mean what’s he doing?”
“He wants to send motor bikes to England. Good business he thinks. Buy ‘em cheap in Chiang Mai. Crate the buggers up. Put ‘em in a container. Somebody at the other end flogs ‘em for him. Good demand he reckons…”
Arthur was only half listening to it all. After a few beers it all got to be a bit of a drone anyway quite frankly. The quality of the conversation, and the caliber of the ex-pats, these days had gone right downhill if you asked him, which nobody ever did. He hardly ever heard anybody say anything interesting and he wondered why he bothered going to the place really. He even knew the answer to that one. Not much choice. It was either beer at the “Silly Suds” or sit in the bookstore.
The Yank at the pool table was talking; to his friend Arthur supposed, but loudly enough to include everybody in the bar…and even a few on the street…
“…it’s the falang this and falang that that gets to you in the end…falang, falang, falang…it never stops…even when they don’t mean any harm it’s always there…hello falang, here comes the falang, look at the falang everybody…yeah I get a laugh out of these guys who’ve been here twenty years and think they belong here…”
When Arthur had first come to Thailand 20 years ago things had been different. The Thais had been more…what was the word? Not innocent exactly but certainly more likeable. He’d had a bar in Pattaya for a while with his wife at the time, Dao, the bar had been her idea come to think of it. He smiles inwardly to think how naïve he must have been in those days. Mai pen rai. All water under the bridge. Dao had cleaned him out but he had learned a lot from the experience.
“Got any good videos then?” asks the young English lout. No manners at all obviously. Can’t he see everybody is watching the news? Smoke and flames over a city somewhere. Baghdad? Tehran? Jerusalem…can’t hear the TV properly with all the noise…
“…met a guy once,” the Yank again, “been married 3 times here still couldn’t figure out where all his money was going. He didn’t care about it too much, had a pension from the military and a couple other pensions coming in, but boy did those women know how to skin him…”
The bar phase had lasted about two years then Arthur had met Nong, his second wife, whose ambition was to open a guest house in Chiang Mai. So he’d got that started, one of the first to do trekking actually, and he’d even done a bit of import/export work on the side until things had become impossible with Nong and he’d moved back to Bangkok with Ning where he’d tried teaching English but that was a young man’s game and then came Tui and the move to Isaan, which was when he’d taken over the used bookshop…ah the Bangkok Years (sigh)…if he ever gets around to writing his autobiography…which he fully intends to do…he will refer to his time in Bangkok as his Panty Period…perhaps talk about the collection…or perhaps not…nobody would ever publish stuff like that anyway…
“…money! That’s all they want from us…basically they hate us…don’t ever kid yourself otherwise…”
The Yank was still talking…showing what a smart guy he was…Arthur was tempted to comment but he kept his mouth shut and listened. Until recently, the last few years say, he’d always found the Thai people polite and respectful. In fact it was one of the things he’d always liked about them. They could be infuriating in some ways but they understood the value of good manners. Lately though he’d noticed a change…especially among the younger people. He attributed it to exposure to Western culture. In fact he blamed American culture for a lot of Thailand’s ills. It had been the Americans after all who started the whole Patpong/Pattaya thing. Oh the Thais had gone along with it readily enough…there were always two sides to everything…he would be the first to admit that…
“…those girls can’t get out of the villages fast enough. Get themselves a rich stupid falang and they’ve got it made…”
Arthur listened. Why did they always have to be so loud? He knew the type all too well. They showed up in Pattaya for a couple of weeks every year loaded with money and thought they knew all there was to know about Thais and Thai culture. What did a person like him know about living in a Thai village for instance?
“ …I’ve lived in a village. Boy that was something…being the resident falang…that was a real test of mental stamina let me tell you. They treat you like a god dam ATM machine…it gets to you…sure there’s some good folks there but most of the time I’m playing with half educated chimps. The phee/nong stuff. I’m supposed to do what the older chimp says! The guy might be a smack head but he’s telling me what to do! Do it like this falang…we need this and that falang…no respect at all… and I was the one that fed ’n kept them all…and I’m supposed to keep smiling…oh yeah keep smiling whatever you do…don’t for gods sake get angry…and don’t ever criticize anybody…cos you’re just a dumb falang anyway…”
The fellow had a point. Arthur wouldn’t have put it quite the same way but he had written several letters to the Bangkok Post — anonymously of course — on exactly that subject. The difficulty foreigners had finding acceptance in Thailand. It was all part of the same paradox…the way the Thais could be welcoming and tolerant on the one hand aloof and xenophobic on the other. He could write a book about it.
Still he didn’t see his time in Thailand as wasted, and as for the bookstore, well it wasn’t a bad life. Or hadn’t been until recently, he should say. Lately it had got a little depressing. Hardly any customers and now the Thais were starting that thing again about falang not being able to work in their own bloody businesses. Enforcing the law. Ha. They were good at doing that when it suited them. So now technically he couldn’t move the books around or handle money…typical Thai bureaucratic nonsense really but it meant every now and again he’d have to hide in his bedroom upstairs and hire a Thai student to run the shop…2 students really because it needed one to sort the books and stack the shelves…in alphabetical order ha ha. The other problem was his own literary aspirations…very frustrating, suffering from a severe case of writer’s block and being surrounded all day long by other people’s outpourings…not ideal conditions for writing that’s for sure…and maybe it was too easy to blame the shop…perhaps he just wasn’t cut out for writing…there always seemed to be more than one way of looking at things…maybe that was why writers use a group of different characters…get them arguing and discussing amongst themselves…showing different points of view…
“…trouble is,” said the American, winding up his monologue, “we’re all pussy-whipped….”
It was as if Arthur had been suppressed all his life, by his mother mainly of course, and growing up in England, the class system, the climate. The school she’d sent him to hadn’t helped much either nor had his two years of National Service. It was a burden he seemed doomed to carry around all his life and he wished there was some way of exorcising all his demons. Living in Thailand hadn’t done much for his joi de vivre either really. He desperately wanted to write but he didn’t know where to start…his head was full of ideas and experiences from his own time in Thailand and the stories he’d heard over the years…but he knew the creative process couldn’t be rushed. It either comes or it doesn’t. He made notes…but so far he’d only been able to come up with a couple of short stories. He had got one short story more or less finished and he’d shown it to Dave. Which had been a mistake in hindsight. It had taken Dave weeks to get round to reading it and then he hadn’t said much. It’s not bad Arthur but…but what?…well mate I’m not really the one to ask am I?…lavatory walls is about my limit…
The Yank and his friend have finished their game and come over to the bar. “Well Dave, that’s about all the excitement I can stand for one day. What’s the damage?”
“Two beers and two games…150 baht.”
“Shit I don’t want to buy the goddam table. You charging for the games now?”
“Have to mate.”
The Americans leave, things get quiet again and then the young backpacker fellow says, “Anybody fancy a game of pool?” Nobody does.
It had been a lot of work getting that final draft ready for public consumption. Arthur had written and re-written it and kept making changes right up to the minute before he’d had it printed out in the Internet place and then one day he’d bitten the bullet and sent it off to a magazine in the UK. How long ago had that been? Five months? Six? And he’d heard nothing. Not even a rejection slip. It was enough to drive an aspiring author to drink. He takes a notebook from his pocket and begins to write…
Dear Whatsname…Thank you for your total lack of interest in my manuscript. I sincerely apologize for submitting the thing in the first place and appreciate your unwillingness to respond to my e-mails or long distance telephone queries. I should have sent it to somebody who knows good writing when they see it instead of wasting your valuable time. Also I regret calling your secretary a snotty bitch on the phone and hope she understands that I have been under a lot of stress lately. She is just doing her job and I suppose she gets tired of shielding you from the unwashed herd of unpublished writers but that’s her job so she should be able to deal with it don’t you think? And as for you and your spineless approach to editing all I can say is that you have passed up a great opportunity as far as my work is concerned and one day you will regret it. I am not a vindictive person by nature but I can be a vengeful when I’m roused I’ll have you know. I should also point out that I am in the book trade myself and I have connections. As for my manuscript which you probably didn’t even read and with which I enclosed the appropriate stamped addressed envelope well don’t even bother sending it back to me as you should by rights do. Instead please be so kind as to fold it into a cone and shove it up your arse…I mean anus…no arse…
There, that was the way to deal with those people. Who did they think they were anyway? Sitting in their fancy offices in Kensington and places and going to literary lunches. Nitpicking Old Etonian twits mostly. Bloody punctuators. They knew nothing about real life. CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! What? Long time since we heard that. Good heavens…somebody is ringing the dusty old bell. Arthur missed the actual ringing but he looks up to see the young person with the backpack heading for the street.
“Did he pay his bill?” someone asks.
Dave picks a 50 baht note off the counter and calls out, “Here mate, see that sign, you’re supposed to buy everybody a drink when you ring that.”
“Fuck that,” says Danny, “I can’t read.”