Stickman Readers' Submissions January 13th, 2004

Delightful Thailand – Land Of Scares

1) Scary Ubon Ratchathani province

I am on a straight stretch of the road, and I see the other motorcycle is still behind me.

He Clinic Bangkok

In the black Isaan night, the motorcycle behind me has been following for seven kilometers now. We are in the middle of nowhere. I am sure they have seen the farang in the lights at Pha Thaem national park and will catch up with me when they wish to. Then, me, the farang, will have to part with Honda, wallet and maybe also with his life. Welcome to the Land of Scares.

I drive around a long bend, the light in the back disappears.

To the left, there is a kilometer of bush, then the Mekong River, then Laos. To the right, there are many kilometers of bush. Up ahead, but still about ten kilometers away, there is the peaceful village of Khong Chiam where I have rented a tourist bungalow.

CBD bangkok

The road is straight now, and the light behind comes up again.

Even the stupid fat lady in my default noodle shack had told me: "In nighttime, no go outside, ok?" She had pointed at my Honda. "Have some bad people." With a bewildered ugly frightening face, she had moved her stretched hand along her throat. I had promised to never venture out of the village at nighttime.

In the dim light of my moto-sai, I enter another curve and lose sight of my chasers again.

But I had broken the promise I gave to the noodle shack lady. One late afternoon, I set off for the cliffs of Pha Thaem national park, about 20 kilometers far from Khong Chiam. I had paid the ridiculous 200 baht special farang entry fee, walked through the miniscule visitor center towards the rim overlooking Mekong River and some Lao lands. Yes, and then I fell for one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen in my life. I sat on the warm rocks, stared and clicked at the sunset and completely forgot that this heavenly drama would finish within a few minutes – and that black night was next on the repertoire. Without seeing much I stumbled back to moto-sai and tried to find the road back to Khong Chiam. I remembered the noodle lady: "In nighttime, no go outside. Have bad people."

wonderland clinic

Bad people are still following me on their motorbike, for about twelve kilometers now. I see them again as we are both on another long straight stretch of road.

I can't drive real fast in the pitch black night, I'd surely hit buffaloes, bicycles, chicken, dogs, kids, cats, cows, coconuts or potholes, just any of the delightful country road population you meet in Isaan. Out of nothing, a very poor village appears to the right side of the road, I didn't remember that one. There even is a shabby fried chicken stall. Grotty lights, dim, dirty, uninviting, only a few people on broken benches. But without further thinking, I slam on the brakes and steer the Honda right in between the benches. I get a surprised look, and then everybody continues to munch on their ropy chickens with khao niaw, sticky rice. They seem quite apathetic, kind of drugged, it is only about seven thirty by now.

But then my chasers near. The motorcycle that has haunted me for about 12 kilometers, never to let loose. I want to disappear completely behind the stall, but too late now, I remain visible.

Two elderly housewives in pyjama dress zoom by on a farting pre-war moto-sai. They carry about ten plastic bags with veggies. They are in a hurry to get home and cook. They don't look left or right.

2) Scary Ubon Ratchathani town

When I noticed that the motorbike key was lost, I was shocked enough. But soon I was shocked even more – the rented motorcycle itself dematerialized, too.

Heck, I had danced away in that huge disco on the edge of town called "Only One" or something. Had a nice flirt with a waitress from Nakhon Sri Thammarat (should I venture down south one day?). Then what I thought was a lady volley ball team in trainings suites had invited me to their table and to some whiskey; turned out they all worked in the same furniture superstore near Tesco Lotus and showed up in sales outfit (should I venture for some bathroom mirrors next day?).

Okay, 2 a.m., glaring lights are turned on. I smile goodbye to Miss Thammarat and the furniture team, dig myself through the congested exit fingering for the key in my pocket – but no key! Shock!

Maybe the key fell out somewhere in that dance hangar?!? I dart back to the entrance. There I see Miss Thammarat again, in line with 20 other waitresses, waiing the customers home. I tell her my key is lost and she wants to go back with me to search. But first we have to fight our way through some drunken men who are still dancing like dervishes right in the entrance. They grab my arm – "Hello mister, you happy-happy". Oh, delightful Isaan, please, not now, farang mai happy, farang scared, I shake them off in a rude and un-Thai way.

Back in the emptying dance hangar, sweet Miss Thammarat and I dive for moto-sai keys under the tables. You can find anything there, just no keys.

Then I have another idea: Maybe I forgot the key in the machine? This happens to me all the time, actually. In peaceful Isaan, so far it had never been a problem. Whether stopping at a 7-11, a bank, a restaurant, a pagoda or just somewhere in the outbacks for some lotus pond clicking – whenever I returned, there was my Honda with keys, luggage and all.

But Ubon Ratchathani is a big town, and it is definitely unwise to leave moto-sai with keys in front of a most popular disco in the night. "Maybe key in moto-sai", I explain to Miss Thammarat from under the table and dart off one more time, this time out again, back to the parking lot.

And then – moto-sai is gone. Really: gone. Now I am in deep trouble. Not that I gave my passport to the rental company, and the deposit had not been too hefty (the Honda being not too impressive either). But they had asked for the business card of my hotel, and they have a passport copy. What am I going to do with a stolen rented Honda while the key did a runner simultaneously? All kinds of unethical and illegal ideas strike me as I stand there empty-handed in the night on that parking lot. I ponder the many unpleasant things that will happen in the consequence of that motorbike theft, while around me elated happy Thais set off for more action somewhere else in Ubon Ra'. I stay behind alone.

At first I don't even notice the tiny Thai man that's patiently standing in front of me. When he manages to enter my advertence, I am definitely not in for the usual "Whereyoufrom" spiel. Please, chok-dii khrap, no talk now, I don't feel interactive…

Then I see a motorbike key dangling from his fingers! "Moto-sai over there", he goes! I grab him by the arm and drag him to that bike.

It's my bike! Everything ok!

He seems to be some kind of caretaker. He has found the key and moved my bike 20 meters to create more space for other customers. Funny that he remembers me as the owner – I definitely did not see him when I arrived. And yes, obviously I had left the key in the bike, and he had kept it for me. My vacation has a future again: I don't have to become unethical, I can stay in Thailand. Life can be great.

The dervish dancers from the entrance walk by, still high on emotions. Now I feel more Thai friendly again. I flash a big and relieved smile – yes, now mister farang happy-happy maak-maak.

3) Scary Nong Khai

The police man waves me to the roadside. He points to the basket of my Honda Dream – I know immediately I am in deep trouble. Should I try to escape, somewhere in the small lanes of the riverside market area? Ridiculous, I'd crash in the first muddy pothole. Should I try to reach the highway towards Udon Thani? Absurd, with a 125 cc. I see the policeman has some more buddies in brown posted besides him on the pavement. They await me, their easy farang prey for lunchtime.

I know the scam they are going to play now. I know it because right this morning I’ve read it on the net: "Thai policemen like to 'discover' illegal drugs in the basket of your motorbike. Just a very small package. They will take you to prison, if you cannot pay a fee of 1000 dollars." I don’t have 1000 dollars. So I know my future: detained to an appalling third world prison, gang-raped, AIDS-infected, left to rot until dead. I did nothing bad, I just have a knack for pothole research with a rented moto-sai on Isaan's delightful rocky roads. Where, of course, an unscrupulous policeman can easily pick me off the road in the bright Isaan daylight.

I steer the Honda to the pavement and stop. "My" policeman motions towards me. I am watching him in hi-res slow motion. Is he going to smuggle anything into the Honda basket? I can't see that he's planning something, but then – he points to the basket again! Maybe the drug package is somewhere already?

The policemen wears a timid shy smile, looks almost feared the way I do feel. What an actor, I know he is just calculating how many DVD-players, fridges full of whiskey and mia nois (mistresses) he can afford with my money. Two steps behind, his accomplices in brown fakes a bored look. Why did I ever come to the Land of Scams?

Again, he points to the Honda basket. With a helpless smile he then points to his head, and now he seems to point to my head. Is that polite for a Thai? Anyway, his acting is not consistent with the scam script I had read online. As of now, I am still on the moto-sai, not yet handcuffed nor mistreated, human rights situation well balanced so far. I follow his pointing to the Honda basket and have a closer look myself. But of course, down in the basket I only see the…

…oh no!!! Now I understand! As I flush and smile and start to giggle and to cry, my prospective torturer looks relieved and adds a few more watts to his own smile. Sure!!! Of course!!! Mai pen rai khrap-khrap-khrap!!! Out of the basket, I take the – HELMET – and squeeze it onto my head.

The policeman gives me an affirmative smile. Khrap! That's what he wanted me to do all the time: put on the helmet. I smile and nod good-bye. Mr Law And Order nods back and casually tips two fingers against his hat. He steps back in line with the other gentlemen in brown. I am free man again, I have a bright future worth looking out for. I could hug this conscientious police inspector doing his duty there in the torrent heat: After all, he has just saved me from third world prison, AIDS and financial bereavement.

I push the Honda back into the traffic. Thailand, true Land of Smiles, here I come again. And guess what – today I come with helmet.

Stickman says:

Fantastic stories!

nana plaza