I’d been living in Soi Zero for three and a half years, deeply entrenched in the daily life and times of the varied inhabitants with life bowling along as my learning curve of the language and Thai-isms accelerated. Sometimes it felt as though
I’d been there forever as Robert and I were had been totally accepted and were no longer treated as ‘Farang’.
Why, we were even on the local temple list and would receive our envelopes as Tamboon time approached to insert our donation, (however small), for use in the temple funds.
Sometimes it’s nice to be accepted and not to be made a fuss over.
For a time, various Thais in my circle had been at me to change my address, mentioning that my current location did not suit my social status in business to live in such a down market environment.
Thais are snobs to a fault in some ways and anyway, live where you are comfortable is my motto. (Where is that South Sea island with the house on the beach and never ending bottle of grog anyway?).
A lot of the girls had married and either moved abroad or returned to their hometowns with their husbands: Others had left through having made their stake and moved onto less nefarious ways of making a living and all in all, Soi Zero was changing.
The new model wimin’, younger and already mercenary had obviously been subject to too much TV. at an early age and were well clued up about Thailand’s economic collapse of 97’ as they seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking
of Dollars, Puns and Deutschmarks. The prevailing conversation piece tending to be about the current exchange rate rather than the normal innuendo filled hilarity that was so often discussed around a plate of fiery morsels and a bottle of grog.
Alain had moved to Pattaya and thence to Vietnam, Robin left next to set up along the Eastern seaboard and with the departure of these two it was now quiet in the evenings, especially since the mob that gathered daily in the evenings outside the shopette in the Soi had dispersed to the winds.
San killed on his motorbike, Taeng and Goong dead from AIDS and the rest had just stopped coming for some reason, probably having returned up country as the jobs dried up in Bangkok.
Sometimes Rob and I would sit outside the shopette, silently observing the Soi as nothing moved, no noise, no laughter.
Most evenings there had been a batch of kids playing with hula hoops or a basketball with the corresponding squabbles and tears, but now they were gone or staying indoors and the silence weighed heavy on us.
It was time to be moving on we felt, although not an easy decision, it was something that we had to do as perhaps a nagging feeling of the world passing us by was creeping into our consciousness.
But, I needed a change.
There was a fund of happy memories from that area, more I sometimes think, than most people garner in a lifetime and certainly more bizarre happenings than most ever experience.
A couple of months earlier I’d received the sort of news that no-one wants to receive and the decision had probably been made for me in a way as a girl I’d been seeing had ended up a quadriplegic following an accident on a motorcycle taxi. A most lovely lady of Chinese Thai extraction with a personality somewhat at odds with her job as a legal secretary and it was her humour which had hooked me. (She used to call me, ‘Jim Kerry’. Goodness, I’m not that mad.).
However, the drunk rich kid who’s BMW clouted the motorcycle at 8am, (Yes, 8am), didn’t have much of a sense of anything let alone decency as he drove from the scene leaving the rider dead and Nat paralysed from the neck down. And I used
to joke that she was lazy because she’s rather spend 5 Baht than walk a hundred yards. An expensive 5 Baht indeed.
I’d visited the hospital a few times and wept bitter tears of vengeance after seeing her there, but that wasn’t going to solve anything. Her family had been good, telling me that it was time to move on and one ruined life should not lead to two or three or four….
Apartments are not in short supply in Bangkok so if one takes the time a good deal can be done, which I duly arranged and moved into a small room in a block with all mod cons. A swimming pool, snooker room, restaurant and English style pub all came with the rent price, although one still did have to pay for one’s beer….tsk-tsk.
Time passed and my gloom lessened, the weekends were spent beside the pool with a good book and ample beer, sometimes a maniac Aussie would invite me to his room to share a bong of Cambodia’s finest, which, would lend a nice slant to the heat on the top floor by the pool.
The residents were in the most part expats and it did feel strange to be living amongst so many of my own race after all that time in the Soi, especially when I would eavesdrop to be surprised to find the way in which they spoke of the Thais as a different
race. But, I’d close my eyes then turn my face to the sky as the beer and heat took my dreams to a place where English wasn’t spoken much and laughter was the predominant sound to be heard in the evenings.
Some of the guys had girl friends from the North East so I’d sometimes chat away with them to see who we knew in common then try and throw in a bit of the dialect that I’d picked up which invoked shrieks of laughter as the Isaan dialect lends itself to a lot of sexual innuendo.
Then of course the boyfriends would get a face on: They couldn’t get their girlfriends to laugh so what was I up to?.
I dunno, some people just have to learn to lose their previous outlook.
Luckily we were busy at work so I was out of Bangkok a lot and in any event never returned home before 9pm so my thoughts were mostly occupied except when alone in my room on rainy days and the Mekhong bottle beckoned….Dear Nat, why you?. Then the bitterness would creep in.
The rainy season came around with the associated downpours and traffic chaos and as it had rained one afternoon then stopped, I thought it prudent to get on the bus to get home before round two arrived around 8pm.
Alighting from the bus up Petchaburi Road at the Ekamai junction, I quickly scooted into the Foodland there to grab something to eat, (Dare I say – not Dinty Moor horse meat stew), and score a can of beer for the amble back to my apartment. On leaving the store I began to walk to the bridge over the road, as I did so, noticed that it had suddenly got very, very sticky. The wind was also beginning to gust- a sure sign of an imminent downpour.
Quickly I dashed into the cover formed by the stairway of the bridge, not a moment too soon as the heavens opened as I arrived there.
I uttered an oath as I watched the raindrops bouncing a good thirty centimetres into the air in the moisture sodden darkness and resigned myself to a good half hour wait for the storm to pass.
Well, one thing that you learn in Thailand is patience so pulled a can from my bag, opened it and then lit a cigarette before looking around to see if there were any soaked fillies standing around who could require to practise their English language skills.
Helpful, that’s me for sure.
The bridge was more or less opposite a restaurant, the sidewalk separating the two, so I took to examining it as it seemed to be in an odd location for an air-con joint being as it was located in a no parking zone and as we know, no self respecting Thai is going to walk a hundred yards to eat after parking their car.
I deduced that this place was aimed at the tourist market as it had a menu in English stuck to the front window, the colouring was black, white and chrome and of course it was air-conditioned which is a dead giveaway as it means the prices are going to
Trouble was, there weren’t any tourists in that neck of the woods apart from some massage parlours aimed at the Japanese and Koreans who would be eating their Sushi and Brigoggi in more luxurious surroundings than this.
“Location-location-location.”, I thought to myself, ”Both to make and lose money”.
I drank some more whilst noting that the rainfall had now turned into a steady roar which meant that it was on for the night which left me the choice of staying in my present position or heading homewards and getting drenched neither of which I much fancied. I elected to stay where I was for the interim as I still had liquid provisions in my bag and the pavement was sufficiently high above road level to stop me getting soaked by the barely moving traffic.
The girls in the restaurant who were dressed in pink blouses and black skirts stood pressed against the window looking out into the watery gloom and all looked to be about 15 years old as they (probably) discussed the rain. There weren’t any customers so it would fill some time until closing.
I gave them a wave then a smile which drew the expected response of grins in return and no doubt comments of the “Ooh- look, there’s a farang!”, type.
A sign was taped to the window above their heads, which I had initially taken to say, ’Happy Hour’.
On closer examination it read, ’Happy Hoor’.
(Where I come from this means ‘Whore’).
The mouthful of beer went up my nose as I giggled at the response this would bring to a U.K. licensing committee, the girls turning their attention once more to the farang standing under the bridge who seemed to be having some sort of seizure judging by the beer running out of his nostrils.
Being a helpful sort of a fellow, I thought that it was perhaps best if I enlightened the staff to the exact meaning of the sign taped thus, so picking up my bag I made a dash for the door.
As I stood inside shaking some of the water from my hair I noticed that the girls had by now relocated at the back of the restaurant and were whispering as they tried to jostle one another to approach the stranger. Waitresses of that age would have a minimal grasp of English you see.
Bidding them, ”Harro”, in Thai, I asked if they were scared of foreigners which perked them up no end and had the effect of the oldest looking one shyly walking to me and who pointed to a table beside the goldfish tank at the window where
I could have an uninterrupted view of the stalled traffic outside.
After ordering a large beer Singha I looked at the no smoking sign and as the place was empty, asked the girl for an ashtray which she duly brought to the table with a smile.
Then she stood straight and complimented me on my Thai which as custom dictates I had to deny but in any event Thai people were very good teachers. This got the expected big grins from the rest of the bunch then my waitress said, ”Happy ow’…one free”.
She looked directly in my eye as she said it having been mentally rehearsing what to say, and as Thais have the characteristic of being ashamed of making mistakes, I thanked her then complimented on her English. Nothing wrong with being polite is there?.
I also understood that I was getting another big bottle free which if truth be told worked out at quite a bargain given the already low price of the first bottle.
As they had nothing to do I suggested they all have a coke or whatever and join me then we could practise our language skills. Within minutes they had assumed seats then the familiar quiz began.
“Where are you from, what’s your name, how long have you been in Thailand, are you married, how many children do you have, how many wives do you have…?”. Just the usual.
After the initial formalities were out of the way I asked where the happy hearted whore was. (Sopanee jai sabai yue nai?)
A cumulative “Eh?”, met my enquiry, so I repeated it deadpan.
Shrugging my shoulders I looked around their quizzical faces as they tried to work out how to reply as half a dozen serious brown faces looked back at me until one of them let out a long, ”OoooHhh!”, then pointed out the window to the lights
of a massage parlour further down the street. ”Tam thanon Caa”, she said brightly. (‘Along the street’).
I laughed then said that I was only joking and referred them to the sign in the window and pointed out the meaning in English vernacular of ‘hoor’ which caused them to dissolve into fits of laughter with much table slapping with practise for future guests, ”Harro sir you like happy hoor?”.
Naturally, this being Thailand any word play involving innuendo was seized upon to be oft repeated.
Time passed and my second beer was soon finished as we chatted back and forth. The rain had ceased for the moment so I stood, wished my new gaggle of friends good luck then stepped into the sticky night humidity.
As I climbed the steps of the bridge I looked to the window of the restaurant to see the girls standing by the sign grinning and waving, ‘bye bye’, then smiled to myself as one does so often in Thailand.
Wading home I had to laugh, ”Only in Bangkok…..happy hoors advertised in restaurants….”
Then remembered the hard faced women who lurked in the shadows of dockland in my home town.
About a week later I was ambling up the road with the intention of having a bone idle day when who should I bump into but David, who as always seemed lost in thought and perpetual worry as he slouched along, face to the tarmac.
His face brightened as he caught sight of me and with a shout of , “Yo dude”, crossed to join my walk.
“Hi Dave- strange place to find you- what’s up this time?”, I asked.
He explained that he was avoiding his wife once more and figured that she would never think of Ekamai as a place to try and hunt him down, it being the opposite direction to which he normally headed when in deep trouble.
“Come along with me if you aren’t doing anything”, I suggested then explained that I was going to get on the train at the little rail station across the way and to see where it ended up. I thought that it was Nonthaburi but wasn’t really sure, but we could get some beers and check out the scenery from the vantage point of third class. ”Sounds cool”, he answered enthusiastically and fell into step as we walked towards the bridge.
Crossing, I recounted my tale of the Happy Hoor to which he guffawed, reckoning that it was par for the course, most things being believable in Bangkok so it is said.
I suppose that if an alien spaceship landed in Lumpini park nobody would bat an eyelid but would try to sell the other worlders some noodles or snacks before wandering off to tell their friends, ”Have you seen those little green farangs?”
As we walked, I pointed to the place and suggested a cold one before the off, an idea with which he concurred and as we approached, I could see that the sign had now grown bigger. It was now written in red, outlined in pink and said, "Happy Hoor….Pay One Get One Free”.
Dave and I cracked up as we entered, barely able to talk for laughter, saw the group of grinning waitresses also falling about and pointing to the sign; We said it was indeed most wonderful but could we have a beer before we died giggling.
Dave sniffed then wiped his eyes as I poured, and said, ”Should bring the customers in anyway…”
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