We Took Off Our Pants
Okay, friends and enemies, time for a long one. Retract your antennae, libelous statements, and tray tables. Restore your seats and open-minded perspectives to their upright positions. The operation of cellphones, portable TVs, or faculties of disbelief is punishable by death.
“It all started when we took off our pants.”
That kind of sums it up right there, but I’ll go into a little bit more for the slower among you.
My friend Ash and I were in good spirits. We were only moderately hung over, the heat wasn’t too oppressive, and the beers before us were cheap and chilled as we reflected on the experience we’d just had. A truly Thai experience, complete with stray animals and corruption.
We began our day at Wat (temple) Pho, the home of the ‘Reclining Buddha’ of Street Fighter 2 fame (Vega level). The place is truly insane and it’s difficult to convey just how majestic and serene the atmosphere is. The only drawback I can think of is the Thai requirement that you must wear long pants and closed-toed shoes within the temples. I can understand this and appreciate it. It’s worth it, I suppose, for the complex emotions that the place evokes with its serenity. Of course, four feet outside the door of the Wat you’re inundated with catcalls and hoots and hollers (“Hero Farang! Sweaty cop! Rolex watch? Thai silk? Thai ladies? Thai boy?”). Ash and I braved through the crowds and started on our way toward Thanon Khao San Road, where there is beer. Along the way, we stopped on the boulevard to take the leggings off our convertible pants. Like I said, it all started when we took off our pants.
“Herro. Hot today, yes?” Affable man, bald head gleaming, bright white teeth (a rarity here) competing with the sun for supremacy in luminosity.
“Chai,” I reply, nodding my head.
“Ah, bery good, you speak Thai! Where you from, America?”
“Bery nice! I have cousin in Toronto,” he furiously scratches his behind, “he buys suits from Thai Factory and sell them in Canada. Make bery much money. Bery much. What you do today? I tell you fun places to go and you go there to see nice things. You have map?”
I showed him the map and he marked a few places where we should go, scratching his anus with redoubled vigor.
“I get you tuk-tuk to take you. You pay not more than 20 baht for whole trip. Never pay more than that.” Magically, a tuk-tuk appeared and the man sternly told the driver where he was to take us: Lucky Buddha, Golden Mountain, Thai Factory. He made a great show of telling the driver in no uncertain terms that we were to be charged 20 baht for the entire trip. We thanked our benefactor, shook hands and got into the stinky vehicle. After we departed, I realized the man hadn’t scratched himself since the tuk-tuk had arrived. For one reason or another, his itch went away, perhaps suggesting it was tied to the absence of the tuk-tuk. Hmmm, the plot plickens.
A tuk-tuk is so called because that’s the sound it makes when it weaves its way through the notorious Thai traffic. TUKTUKTUKtuktukTUKTUKTUKTUKtuk is the aural counterpoint to the symmetrical Thai mentality. Over this din, our driver told us about where we were going.
“You go to Lucky Buddha, bery nice. Bring you good luck and satisfaction. Where you from? America? Oh really, I have cousin in Toronto! Bery nice man, he make clothes for Canadians to buy. I take you to Lucky Buddha, Golden Mountain, and then I show you where my cousin buy Thai silk for Canadian clothes store. Thai Factory.”
The Lucky Buddha is located on a dilapidated Soi (side street) that has been overrun by stray dogs and lepers. I suppose this Buddha is slightly down on his luck, since he gives all his good stash to tourists. Outside his altar, I see a mangy cat staring at a rooster strutting up and down the sidewalk. The cock of the walk was seemingly in no danger from reclining feline, so I knew that things were a bit topsy turvy here.
The Lucky Buddha’s Keeper accosted us as we entered. “Rucky Buddha. You like? This is just the small temple, the big one is closed until 2:00. Where you from? Oh! I have cousin in Toronto, he buys suits from Thailand and sell them to Canadians. You know how much he sell suits for? 800 Canadian Euros each! At Thai Factory, you can buy 4, maybe 7 suits for 800 Canadian Euros! Bery nice quality, too. You go the Thai Factory and come back at 2:00, I give you special tour of Rucky Buddha’s home.”
Okay, we’re Canadians and therefore a little bit slow, but things were getting a bit too obvious. This scam was about as subtle as farting in a confessional booth, so we’d had enough. We went back to out tuk-tuk driver and woke him up. He was sleeping in the back of the vehicle with a stray dog. Heartwarming, really.
“Okay, we’ve seen enough,” I sternly announced, “khapkhun-krap, we want to go to Khao San now.” Ash and I got in the back as the driver groggily got out. “But mister,” he whined, “mister, if I don’t take you to Thai factory, I lose job and don’t get ticket for free gasoline.” The ticket seemed to be more important than the job to him and my heart melted. “Okay,” I managed over his sniffles, “You can take us to Thai Factory, and you’ll get your ticket.”
He let out a whoop of delight and started up the tuk-tuk yelling, “You go to Thai Factory. Stay two hours, three hours, five hours, I don’t care. I wait for you!” He was positively beaming and we chatted all the way to Thai Factory. Thai Factory is poorly named. It is about the size of Dewey’s, there are three or four suits hanging on the walls, a few ties scattered on the floor. A slick and greasy Thai man came up to us and said, “Thai suit. 10,000 baht. You buy.” (10,000 baht = ~$350). Now that’s pretty good service. I found it weird that here, the Point of Sale, we were treated as enemies, not long-lost friends like in the other situations. I think we met the only bitter and anti-social scam artist in all of Bangkok. Perhaps he was bitter because he had been cursed with a toonie-sized mole on his face and his diminutive frame was in danger from toppling over from the weight of the hairs growing out of said mole. We left and went back to our driver.
“That was fast. You buy? How many?”
“No, we didn’t buy today. Maybe tomorrow. Did you get your free gasoline ticket?” All of a sudden, our driver didn’t know English. He chattered and yelped in Thai and drove as recklessly as he possibly could until we got to Khoa San. He took the 100% tip I gave him without raising his head and sped off before Ash had completely vacated the vehicle. We walked up the busy road toward beer.
A man ran toward me from across the street. “Hey! I know you! You’re famous music man from Australia!” He played some air guitar and looked at me feverishly.
“No, actually I’m from Canada.”
“Canada!” he whooped, proudly showing me the Canadian pin he had on his shirt, “I have cousin in Toronto. He used to drive tuk-tuk, like me, but now he make suits in Canada. You know how much he sell suit for in Toronto?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe about 800 Canadian Euros a piece or so.” “Yes! He get them here bery bery cheap. I take you to place where he buy material. I take you for 50 baht all around.”
“50 baht (~$1.60)?!! That’s highway robbery! Besides, we’ve already been there.”
“You have been there? You buy?” He face looked ashen, afraid that some other tuk-tuk had reaped the benefits of our powerful Canadian Euros.
“Yes, we each bought two suits. Four suits! All for about 800 Canadian Euros!” I beamed with excitement as I was turning the tables, scamming the scammer. “Chai,” he mumbled, “four suits… that’s bery lots of suits. You need more? I take you there for free. You stay… you stay as long… long…” He trailed off and wandered away, mouth gaping like a fish.
“Well Ash,” I said, “we’re only moderately hung over and I’ve definitely been in more oppressive heat. Time for cheap chilly beer.”
Everyone has a tuktuk story.