Delightful Thai Efficiency
I step out of the Udon Hotel. 5 pm, my favorite hours begin, and of course I will be outside in the fresh cool Isaan December air. I will stroll a little west to Udon Thani's large field named Thung Si Muang, there is the huge annual trade fair now. The miles of cheapie items won't keep me for long, so I will stroll one block further west to the Nong Prajak park. Sunset will be across the reservoir there. Then even more straight west through the park to the amazing Good Everything restaurant at the other side of the park, near the hospital, for dinner. Last night I had partied to the max, so this time it might end quieter. But then again, the town is full of fun live music pubs and discos – so a nice evening lies ahead.
The hand phone rings. Miss Pook on the display – should I answer? I guess she wants to meet me. I am fine with solitary evenings out, actually I worry she wants to drag me into boring activities like prolonged shopping around the trade fair.
"Hello?" We agree to meet for sunset in the park. How long will she need to go there? "About ten minutes by motosai." She wants to pick me up at the hotel. But the air is already wonderfully cool, I want to start walking now. So I suggest we meet at one of the park entrances, I tell her which one: "The one that's closest to the hotel. It has a big bridge, many motorcycles parking and many food stalls."
We only met yesterday in the pub, danced and talked. She is a student in town. I have no idea where she lives. But she agrees to see me at the park gate "in ten minutes". Only after talking I realize that I cannot walk it in ten minutes, so I take a tuktuk to reach the park in time. No Miss Pook there; that gives me time to buy orange juice and snacks for us. The sun already hangs dindaeng superred over the lake. I sit on a wall at the park gate and am looking forward to relax in the grass with Pook and maybe hear a bit more about her.
You know, Pook has that kind of old style Thai charm that you don't see in many youngsters today: Polite, cheerful, caring, a certain rural elegance. And Pook is a dedicated look thung singer who can do wonderful Thai dancing as well, as I had seen in the pub. But then again, she has good English and we even had a discussion about adverbs and adjectives in Thai versus English language, so she isn't all about rice field, som tam and Siriporn only.
30 minutes later, I am still waiting for her. I call her. "Pothole! I wait you at the park door!" – But which door, the one closest to the hotel as agreed upon? – "I wait you at the main door!" – Oh, the main door is at the other side of the park. I ask her to drive around the park to meet me.
15 minutes later Pook calls me: "Where are you!?!?" – "I am still waiting at the park door, you wanted to come there, right?" – She: "I am at the center of the park now." – "So you are at the center of the park", I ask back; "stay there, I walk to you". While the park is quite spread out, one could locate a "center" there. I walk towards the center, darkness sets in already, that was not the nicest sunset today. I venture beyond the center, but still no Miss Pook.
I ring her up again. She: "Sorry, can understand you so bad, because driving motosai." I shout she should stop her vehicle so we can talk, be she keeps on riding. I explain the park door again to her: "It is the door that is the closest to the hotel, and it is also close to the Thung Si Meuang field with the market – not on the hospital side of the park." "Oh, wonderful, we meet at Thung Si Meuang", she agrees. "NOOO", I scream back, "we meet at the park door that's CLOSEST TO Thung Si Meuang, NOT inside Thung Si Meuang, market there too big to find someone." "Yes, ok, Thung Si Meuang", then she seems overrun by a tuktuk and is disconnected.
15 minutes later. Pook sobbing on the line: "I am at Thung Si Meuang now, but cannot see you." I get louder: "We talked about the park door close to Thung Si Meuang, not about Thung Si Meuang itself, that's still one block away!!!" She sobs more: "Oh, you angry me, I so sorry, so sorry, so sorrrryyyyyy!". She agrees to walk from the Thung Si Meaung to the park door. It should be a short walk westward for 5 minutes.
15 minutes later, mobile rings. Pook, not sobbing, but fearsome: "I am at your hotel now." What?? So she had left Thung Si Meuang straight in the wrong direction. I worry she will not even manage a tuktuk ride to come to my location, so I say: "Stay there, I come to you by tuktuk, do NOT move." I hop on a farting three-wheeler.
Five minutes later, I see Pook standing in the neon lights next to the hotel. She looks very shy. "So sorry, sorry…". "Mai pen rai khrap", I say. I am really angry about her not listening to one instruction, but what can I say? No use to scream at a little girl. Next time, I will suggest meeting at Robinson's, or her favorite temple, even if it is far from our destination.
I guess it is also a cultural problem: She is only used to meeting places where she has been before. Also I guess she has no concept of the city's layout; about how my hotel, Thung Si Meuang field, Nong Prajak park and the hospital are on one axis and related to each other. She has no concept that certain park entrances are much closer to my hotel than others. She just takes the quickest way, and in case of failure she is used to swap instructions every two minutes by mobile phone, with no overall strategy to reach the destination. Other than with me, she has never looked at a city map, and she doesn't know street names. It was my fault to direct her to a place she hasn't seen before. Meanwhile I wish I had no mobile; then I would have been free 20 minutes after her not showing up at the park door.
I demand her motosai key – won't let HER drive back to the park -, and we are back at Nong Prajak in 5 minutes. "Oh, this park gate you meant", she says interestedly, "I passed it two times on motosai." We walk into the park. I: "So you have been to the 'center' around here?" No, she has not. She has been at the busy aerobics place – and she has declared it the 'center', even though it is in a far corner; and she didn't tell me that it is the aerobics place, which would have been easy to spot.
Finally, one hour after sunset, we settle in the grass of Nong Prajak and watch the shimmering lights on the reservoir. She: "I haven't talked to many farangs before. I think, you are very kind and friendly, I like you." I: "And you know that I like you a lot too. I think you are very special and have a sweet smile." I already know that she might like to see my hotel room. Reader, you guessed it: She's a girl, and I am a boy, and that's the only reason why I waited for her while she cruised around the park like a decapitized chicken.
"You know I would like to know more about your heart", I drool on, fancying especially the physical aspects of that exploration. She gives me a look as if she really feels honoured. I put my arm loosely around her shoulder. She receives this
gesture very friendly and cuddles close, it is a very precious moment on the lakeshore. Then the phone rings, and that was that. She is a Thai girl, so she will not only be late for dates, will be unable to spot a rendezvous point – she will also
answer her mobile in the most sensitive moments.
"That was Miss Poah on the phone", she says. Ah, Miss Poah, she was with Pook in the pub yesterday. Poah is fun, easygoing and sexy and has reasonable English too. Actually, I had wanted to get in touch with Poah, but then ended mostly chatting with Pook. Only now I learn that Pook will sing at a look thung contest on the annual fair tonight, her voice and a karaoke CD, and that she and I will now go to pick up Poah at Pook's room. So Poah and I can see Pook on stage. They have already planned my evening.
She says she should be at the contest around 8 pm, and Poah is waiting at her room. So we have no time to lose – pick up Poah, go back to the contest. But then my Isaan lady says: "I want to sing look thung for you." She wants to do so here, now.
I lie back in the grass and hold my arm against Pook's back, she is sitting beside me. She starts to sing a soft, sad ballad with a lot of tremolo and strange notes. No Thai is shy to sing anything, and while this is mostly annoying, Pook really CAN sing. Her high, moaning voice takes me away. We are no longer sitting in the slightly drab city park. Her soft tune takes us lounging beside a rice field, with a munching buffalo over there. The park reservoir turns into a lotus pond. I caress Pook's back, and she moans on in a high pitch and gives me trance-like looks. I really want to get closer to that special lady; for a moment I forget my anger about her inability to find a big park gate with a farang on watch-out.
She ends after three minutes. Nice that she doesn't sing on and on. She is self-confident, but without any attitude. She translates the sad love song to me. I ask: "You want to sing at the fair, and Poah is waiting at your room, we should go, no?" – "Ah, no problem", she says. Okay for me, I love the black lakeshore with my romantic Isaan singer. We talk about occasions to perform the song, and where it comes from.
Finally even Pook feels we should look for Poah now and then go to the stage. Now the fair and the look thung stage are next to the park where we sit. So I suggest Poah comes by tuktuk, so we don't have to ride across town and back to pick her up. But Pook is a Thai and despises any tuktuk or mass transport, or maybe she thinks it is more polite to pick her friend up personally – "she waiting for us already".
The look thung contest is ok for me, at least to see Pook. I say I don't go on motosai with Pook to pick up Poah; I wait here. But Pook says she wants to show me her room, and that sounds interesting. And her room is only "ten minutes" away, as we know from the third paragraph.
30 minutes long we ride through town on endless roads. No, 40 minutes. Pook's place is far far out. It is so stupid for Poah to come here at all and more stupid for us to come here to pick up Poah up and then go all the way back to town. But maybe it is their inability to agree on any other meeting point than their doorstep.
Poah is waiting in front of Pook's house with a sour face. She had been standing there for some time, while Pook had sung Isaan ballads for me… Quickly, Poah hops on the motosai, and back we go. We don't see the room.
Three people on one motosai, and tiny Miss Pook at the wheel – I don't like that. Normally I would have driven the Honda, but I am very sure they will not be able to give me reasonable directions. I say, they go by motosai and I will follow by tuktuk.
They insist I stay with them. And stupid Mr. Farang obeys his two sweet adventurous Thai girls.
While bouncing back to Thung Si Meuang, there is a phone call for Pook, who is desperately clinging to the motosai handles. Poah answers the call, then holds the cell phone to Pook's face, so Pook can talk and listen and drive at the same time. Such we arrive at the Thung Si Meuang fair and find a paid parking.
We stumble onto the huge, dirty field and walk through endless rows of flower stalls, furniture stalls, food stalls, plastic household items stalls, plastic toys stalls, CD and VCD stalls, clothes stalls, drink stalls… (They don't read StickmanBangkok.com, so they never ask me for any favour.) "Where is your look thung stage", I ask Pook. – "Hmm – don't know", she says. – "We are so late already", I remark. – Pook: "No problem." Only now she starts to ask around for the stage, including policemen. Nobody knows anything for sure.
Finally we arrive at a stage where 50 school kids in red T-shirts do a naïve dance to disco music. The girls watch happily. "Is it here", I ask? – "Not sure." – "Isn't it too late", I ask? – "I think maybe not." They seem to be happy watching the kids hopping about. To fully enjoy the performance, my girls have chosen a place on the far side of the stage, where we have no frontal view at all and cannot even see all of the troupe. We stand very close to a blasting wall of loudspeakers, and just five meters away, across the lane, there is another blasting wall of loudspeakers – announcing something about Udon Thani's Red Cross. To me it is hell on earth, but the girls live up in the acoustical crossfire and happily watch the kiddies "dance".
Surprise: Pook wants to set out and inquire about a chance to sing here. No 15 minutes of waiting next to the throbbing speakers, she is back. "So can you sing here", I ask? – "Maybe, not sure." – "But what time can you sing?" – "Later!"
"You had dinner already", they inquire? Of course I had no dinner, as my wanderings to the Good Everything restaurant had been replaced by waiting for Miss Pook. I am very hungry now. I guess they want to take me to dinner. I am sure this will be another chaotic affair. They will not find back to the motosai somewhere around the huge market, and who knows how far they want to travel to find their favorite cheapest som tam place.
"Yes, I had dinner already", I lie. They say they are hungry… I say, "Sorry, I feel tired and dirty now, I have to go to hotel to take a shower. We can call each other later." Poah gives me a sceptical look: "You sure you happy? I worry you will not call us when you had your shower." That is for sure. I: "I happy already, just a bit tired, I had a long hot day of pothole researching in Isaan already, so see you later, okay?" I don't let them start talking into me, I walk off slightly abrupt. I am really sorry for that, but these girls are able to spend the whole night just shuttling between places without actually STAYING and DOING something except shuttling.
I walk to the next exit, take a tuktuk to the quiet Rabiang restaurant on the lakeshore, have a very nice seafood dinner and happily ignore Miss Pook's five or seven calls. Won't let her ruin the other part of my evening!
Then I ride to the music pub where I met Pook and Poah the night before. They might be here or not. Hell, what a load of sanuk we had last night, dancing our socks off to pounding western and Thai beats: sexy easygoing Poah, charming old-fashioned Pook and I. It had started with a few toasts across the bar, then a few dance moves in the right direction – and soon we had shared drinks, rhythm and fun. Good clean sanuk with an open end after 1 AM. Really, a gorgeous Only-In-Thailand night. That was yesterday.
This time they are not in the pub. People are having fun, but not me. A few other girls raise their glasses towards me, dance in my direction, but they have such an attitude, even tattoos. I miss Pook and Poah madly. Why did I ditch them? They are real
girls, even personalities, can't be replaced like a karaoke hooker. I guess their chaotic behaviour and their good-natured fun-loving party mind come in the same package, you can't cut that off them. No partying for me tonight. I ride
home alone. I step back into the Udon Hotel alone.
Another truly delightful story – GREAT stuff, and well worthy of the delightful label.