Udon Thani (1)
For some reason the air-con bus drops me on some very big road on the outskirts of Udon Thani. 7 p.m. I am trying to catch a tuk-tuk to my pre-booked hotel, but there are no tuk-tuks! Why? I am tired, hungry, sweaty, need toilet, bag heavy, legs tired, shops closed. No, one shop is open, a fruit garage, and now the lady is walking towards me, a little child around her. No, please, no small talk now, I need shower and khao pad first. She asks: "Ao tuk-tuk mai khaa?" Do I need a tuk-tuk? "Chai khrap", oh yes!! She darts back to her shop and brings me a green plastic stool: "Siddown please". That was maybe all of her English. So I sit down on this green plastic stool which itself sits right on this very big road on the outskirts of Udon Thani. A throne on the slow lane of some boring commuters' road somewhere in Isaan. And smack in the middle of the busy road: my fruit lady, screaming for "tuk-tuuuk"! Only in Thailand!
The big Isaan provincial capital and university place, which for me is "Little Bangkok", boasts the best live music pub of Thailand. According to me, that is. Around me there, 200 Thais only. The band plays a very very spicy luuk thung, local style party music. While I'd never do something like that in the west, here it is easy for me to stand up with the others and move my hands in the air like some classical Asian dancer; and I drink only coke and water (not at all local party style). Some Thai man screams into my ear: "The band just said into the microphone you farang move your hands very well." Chai mai? They pity me for coming alone, so arms from all directions pour whiskey into my glass. It is no scam. Later, I write on a serviette: "I love luuk thung, but could you play some slow Carabao ballad, too?" I slip the serviette plus 20 baht to some waiter. (Requesting tunes like that is common here.) I see my tissue arriving on stage, some mouth-to-ear among the artists while they are playing. A little later, the band plays one of my favourite tunes of Carabao, the famous Thai rock band. – I had been in that music pub one time with Thai friends, but this time I return kon diao, alone. I sit down in the dark, order khao pad and a lemon soda, and then the band sees me. The lady singer smiles to me, her smile burns a hole into my wooden table, and into the microphone she goes: "Sabai-dii khaaaaa khun Pothole!! We know you like Carabao slow songs – so here is one more for you." My Thai friends must have passed on my name days ago. The band remembers me some days later. 200 people are applauding me. I could cry. Only in Thailand.
Udon Thani (2)
Now I am well established in Udon Thani. After the usual switching I finally did settle with an agreeable hotel. I steer my rented 125 cc fake Honda towards the fruit shop with that helpful lady and her young one. After some cruising in the heat, I even do find the place. I peel out of the helmet, and instantly there is her most charming welcome smile. Yes, she does remember me, and she is not offended. I bring a smallish teddy bear for her young one. She smiles all over: "Baby loves velly much. Baby not here now, but loves velly much!!!" So even some more English from her. I am treated to some fruit juices from her repertoire, a little later I force myself to go. She is beaming and smiling as I disappear under that helmet and on that very big road. No questions or promises asked, only: "Chok-dii khaaaaaaaa!" Heartbreaking – I could take her back to Europe right now.
Roi Et province
Frolicking about in Isaan on my rented 125 cc, I see this beautiful longhaired one sitting on a shop front in some village near Roi Et. My concept of having fun in Isaan is "exposing yourself": Just make yourself visible, and some curious and always entertaining Isaan people will ask you something – and it's never boring. Some of them askers are beautiful, even female. So I see that beautiful longhaired one sitting in front of that shop. I stop, park moto-sai, fight my way out of the helmet and ask her for directions towards Yasothon (I actually want to go that way). There is somebody sitting besides her, but I only see her. Of course – like I had expected – I am not sent away after her road directions. Some ice cold water appears in front of me. We talk-talk. I only speak ridiculous tourist Thai, but they happily try to explain everything ten times and praise my 20-words-vocabulary. Then I learn that this somebody sitting besides her is her husband. Kao-chai leow khrap. They give me their business card and I learn: In their common shop, she sells wedding dresses, and he sells offroad motorbikes. All in one shop. And why not. Her hair is so beautiful, and her smile is warming. They have the usual question: "Mi mia mai khaa?" No, I have no wife. But I promise, should I marry I will buy the wedding dress at this place somewhere in Roi Et province, and an offroad motorbike, too. All smiles and full of good vibrations, we say sabai-dii khrap/chok-dii kha, and off I roar on my fake 125 cc Honda, doing some more pothole research on Isaan's rocky roads, following her directions towards Yasothon.
Udon Thani (3)
Ui, a few days later, Honda-ing back to my fruit lady, there he is: I already knew there is some "He", it is no offence to ask a Thai lady about that, "mi faen mai khrap?", you have boyfriend?, and with a serious face she had said, "Yes, mi khaa", she had some male someone who enjoyed exclusive rights on her. Nonetheless, I squeeze me out of the steaming helmet in less than ten minutes. She is all beams and smiles, while his face goes bunker. When I finally have the moto-sai parked and the helmet disposed, he has vanished. Ok for me! She is all smiles and relaxed. I receive another fruit juice, then khun baby bumps out of some back door. Sees me and shoves the teddy bear right into my face: Khun baby does remember I brought khun teddy and khun baby is screaming some kind of Thank You, I guess – loudness making up for non-existent English skills. I didn't even expect to see the teddy again, and I never expected that khun baby remembers me and even remembers me as a teddy supplier – a week after we briefly met in the dark of a very big road. Then, customers queue up. With her Him vanished, she quickly recruits me to do the job: I cut and squeeze oranges and lemons which she refines and sells to bored fat uniformed school kids. I squeeze the tiny oranges to the max, but she teaches me to squeeze them more carefully, doing it too much is "mai alloy", not delicious. So there I am, a farang preparing 5-baht-fruit-juices to fat bored uniformed school kids. Some kids are just hanging out, uncertain to buy a fruit juice or not. The way she talks them into a purchase is heartbreaking, sweet mother's and sweet lover's talk in one track. I don't understand one word, but talk to me like that and I will buy YOU!! I'd even pay ten baht.
Khon Khaen province
Thai girls know how to pose for a photograph! These young college girls posing in front of Ubonrat dam for their friend's camera – god, it looks sexy and innocent at the same time. It is another sunny weekend in Isaan, and I am making me "exposed" on some Thailanders' weekend place. I'd really love to take a picture of these beautiful girls posing so cutely. But I am shy, even though I know they do enjoy being photographed. So I sit down nearby on a little wall, just playing with my camera and watching their wow shooting session. Then they sit down 2 meters away from me, playing with their camera either… should I dare to ask for a picture…? Well, after 10 minutes of by-the-way camera swinging on both sides, some shy smiles go across… I go "Aeh..", they go "Oeh…" Turns out, they find me as exotic as I find them exotic! They want to take my picture! I can take their picture!! We take pictures with everybody on one frame!!! Ten minutes of animated talk-talk, lots of good vibrations, and we go apart I think everybody sabai-sabai maak-maak.
Udon Thani (4)
8.30 a.m. A telephone call for me? Slowly I arise from my dreams. Oh, I am in Udon Thani, right? That hotel again. Who might be calling? Oh, my fruit lady. "Sabai-dii khrap", I merely manage to whisper and cuddle back to the cushion, pressing the receiver to my ear. Half dreaming and half listening to her warm voice from some outer world. I am not sure what she wants. Our common vocabulary does not exceed a total of 30 words in two languages. "Sabai-dii mai?" "Sabai-dii khaa." 8.37, I try to speak a full sentence: "Khun ma hotel mai, chawp mai khrap?" I ask if she likes to come to the hotel (correct, Stick?). I had thought of having breakfast together. But I realize only after this longest Thai speech I ever made that I might sound sleazy: inviting, from out of my bed, a young poor fruit seller to a hotel. What with my bedroom voice, as I was still half asleep and fully horizontal. And there it came: her very firm "NO", very clear. Seemed to contain a little smile though, like "Maybe I like, but I cannot" or maybe like "I know you'd try, my little nasty boy, but I am not easy like that". But who knows Thai ladies? I felt bad now, indecent, like an exhibitionist, so I made sure why I had invited her to the hotel. As we didn't have a common word for breakfast, I sad: "Drink coffee, chawp mai khrap?" She didn't want. But she wanted to know more about this exotic farang creature: "So you like coffee very much, chai mai kha?"
I meet some staff of a small private English school. They invite me to their school for the afternoon, when many customers turn up. I pose as the farang-on-charge, they show me off as an evidence of their contacts to the mundane anglophone world. Not that my rusted school English is so impressive, but their English is even worse. They ask me to take some pictures of teachers and kids with my digital camera. They plan a web site and want to print some pictures for the blackboard in the lobby. Asians that they are, they just love posing for the digicam and checking the pix on the camera screen. After some time I have to go. I know very clearly these people have "chai dii", good heart. So I tell them they can keep my camera for some hours and I'll pick it up when they close at 6 p.m. They agree happily. I think, well, and then I also show them how to do videos with that camera. So they keep my camera, a card reader and an empty 256 MB memory card, all about 1000 USD worth. Would you do that? Without one worry, I roar off on my fake Honda 125 cc. When I return around 6 p.m., my teachers lie on the couch in the lobby somewhat exhausted. Of course I quickly get camera and everything back with no trouble at all. They have a happy, slightly idiotic smile on them a little like me in post orgasm koma. But not what you might think: They had taken 100s or 1000s of pictures in a growing state of frenzy. Obviously, they had to empty the full memory card several times onto the computer before they could continue. And they had taken dozens of videos, then watched them on the PC. "First time I saw myself on TV", says one especially beautiful lady teacher with dignity, anticipating a career on a channel 7 soap opera. Do they need the digicam any longer? No, no more photographic libido finally. I say sabai-dii khrap, go back to hotel for shower and dinner, then hit town for some live music. When I return to the hotel around midnight, the night time receptionist smiles: There are several presents for me – some small Thai souvenirs like wooden elephants etc., and some printed pictures that "my" teachers took that afternoon. The teachers knew I was southbound the next morning and had brought the souvenirs to the reception. I found that very sweet. Some very friendly letters and cards, too. Chai-dii khrap. Obviously, several of them had brought presents to the reception independently and I am not sure who brought what and – most important – if the one especially beautiful lady teacher was among them? Anyway, this was a very delightful end of my stay in Muk'.
Udon Thani (5)
Yes, there is an "Udon Thani (5)". But that is a different story. Delightful? Depends.
The title of this submission says it all. Yeah, there are seriously good times to be had in Isaan.