Eulogy For a Patong Warrior
I sat down for a cool Singha in one of the cul-de-sacs leading off Soi Bangla in Phuket. It was just six weeks after the tsunami had wiped out the Patong seafront and the town was much quieter than I heard it normally should be at this time of year. Thinking
about it, that was probably a blessing because, if my sources were to be believed, the place is normally overrun with beer-swilling human flotsam whose huge guts perfectly compliment their minute charisma.
My base in Kata beach seemed a decent place for my first Phuket trip. There was a good vibe and the occasional discreet beer bar without the distasteful seediness that I had been led to believe Patong and Pattaya possessed.
After prancing round Patong for two hours that night, I felt that the place had been done an injustice. It was clear that the bar ‘shop windows’ were well stocked with eye candy, but the atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. The aggression and avarice I had expected was not apparent. (Later experience proved to me that this was due to the post-tsunami lull. It’s back up to full flotsam speed again).
Wandering the streets I ended up sauntering along one road when I noticed two men hand-in-hand, one old farang and one young Thai – something I hadn’t seen before. Then I started to get the usual cat calls of ‘heellooo …. …” from the dingy bar entrances. Preening myself I looked round and clocked eyes on the biggest bunch of leather-clad Thai gaylords I could ever have imagined. Without realising it I must have wandered into the gay district.
Rushing back to Bangla, I decided to take a seat in one of the open front bars in a soi off Bangla where I knew exactly what the scene would be. In the bar I chose, the hostesses were pretty and fun, although one or two looked a little worn, and there was decent live music playing. I grabbed a wooden stall and perched myself against the outside railings.
The warm breeze blew across my brow and the icy drips of water from the cool Singha in my hand plopped from the glass onto my wrist and trickled along the fingers. The cluck of connect 4 and howls of tension from several Jenga games only heightened my sense of belonging. It seems strange to call Soi Bangla relaxing, but that’s how I felt. I understood everything that was going on around me and that meant my world was at peace.
I had also noticed how many English ex-pats this area of Thailand attracted. Some looked perfectly normal, others rancid and deformed. Many were probably on business and had come to relax, enjoying the chance to live it up in another country, others were certainly hardcore sex merchants that like to pedal their sin in every corner of the globe. Just like anywhere in the world, expats here seem to range from the good to the bad and the ugly. What was strange in Patong was to see it all squashed into such a small area.
That’s when he made his move. Ruddy-faced and overweight, my soon-to-be companion couldn’t wait to engage me in conversation, along with his reluctant drinking partner. However, after a couple of minutes, the drinking partner took his cue
to leave. The look of relief in his eye when I was dragged into their circle of dreariness told me that he’d been waiting to get away from this Patong bore for a while, and my presence was the perfect excuse.
“It's f brilliant here ain’t it,” said the sweating mass as we were left alone. “I bet you’ve never seen anything like Phuket before. I remember my first trip to Thailand. It blew me socks off. I’ve bin here ages. I can tell you everything you need to know lad. How old are you anyways, 19?”
“No, I’m 27 and this is my sixth trip to the land of smiles, so I don’t need any advice thanks,” I said, trying to smile. I tried to start a conversation, but he was more interested in talking AT me than talking TO me.
His presumptive, failed attempt at guessing my age left him uncomfortable, so he rubbed the blotchy creased flesh on his forehead. In looks, the Patong jester reminded me of the Gestapo officer in Raiders of the Lost Ark whose face melts at the end of the movie – except this guy was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts rather than black leather.
“What do you think of the Thai music on the island then?”
“Well,” I replied. “I haven’t really heard any Thai music here, but lots of western music, if that’s what you mean. I quite like some of it though. It usually adds to the atmosphere.”
“Yeah, but it’s all 2 years out of date,” my acquaintance said. “I’m a club promoter here, me. I been trying to convince the bars round here to play the latest club tunes, the kind of stuff they’re pumping out in Ibiza. They haven’t got a clue, the Thai club owners. I’m gonna make a fortune when they realise the latest tunes I can get for ‘em”
I tried to be positive and, while he chuffed on his bottle of Becks, I pointed out that one of the reasons I love Thailand as a holiday destination was that it was relatively free from the ‘Ibiza’ influence. In particular, I’m glad the chavs haven’t taken over yet, but they’re coming, en masse, I fear. But he ignored my comments.
“Now I don’t want to make a million, me. I’m a committed socialist,” he droned on, sweating profusely. “But I want to be a success though, like. I’ve seen so many people fail, but I stay ahead of the game. I’m always innovating. That’s why I’ve got so many friends here. Honestly, I can’t buy a drink anywhere. I’m always getting the drinks bought for me cos everyone knows how powerful I am in the Thai club scene.”
But people with power rarely feel the need to shout about it. Especially to a stranger they just met in a bar.
Next thing, he pulled out his mobile phone. “Do you want to see a picture of my wife?” he asked, shoving the screen in front of my nose without waiting for a reply. His wife was a moderately attractive Thai girl in her late-30s. Not my type, but she was several divisions out of his league.
“She’s very pretty,” I said to placate him. “Where is she?”
“She’s a business woman so she’s off taking care of business. She’s involved in all sorts of business with her brother.”
“What sort of business?” I asked.
“Oh, everything. I don’t know the specifics, like,” he muttered. “She’s got a temper on her and she gets a bit angry if she thinks I’m prying. She used to work in one of the bars round here, see, so she’s dead independent, like. She’s been off in Isaan with her brother for a few months, but she’s coming back next month, so you’ll see her if you’re still around.”
I wasn’t going to be around and I enjoyed another 10 minute burst about how much of a success he was in Thailand, especially compared to how he is treated back home in England.
“I’ll tell yer what mate,” he waved his hands around. “I’ve found me niche here. When I go back to England I can’t believe how rude some people are, especially the birds. Like, last time I went back to Manchester I was at this bar and I just turned round to this girl standing near to me and said “How ya doing then?” And she gave me a look like she wanted me to drop dead. So, you know what I said to her? I said “fxxk you, I can get laid for a tenner.” Some people are so rude an’ she deserved it.”
“That’s the sort of verbal justice I dish out whenever someone gives me grief back home. I say “Do you know who I am? I’m me, like. I’m a club promoter in Thailand. Who are you, like?”
I just about managed to follow his illiterate procrastinations. He was animated now, as if he was finally getting years of bile off his chests.
“And if I’m in a club and someone doesn’t like me shoes, me new shoes, the ones I bought recently, the ones all the girls round here love. And if I’m in a club back home and someone doesn’t like me shoes, you know what I say to them. I say “fxxk you I can get laid for a tenner.”
The boot’s on the other foot now that he’s at last a winner!
The night was drawing on and I used the break in conversation to take my leave. He smiled and shook my hand but I suspect he knew, deep down, what I thought of him.
When I was at a safe 50 metres from the bar I turned and looked back. The most popular guy in Phuket was sitting alone, staring into his bottle of Becks. Then the cheque came and the guy who couldn’t even force people to buy him a drink pulled out his wallet and paid his tab.
By now I suspect he may have become one of the few genuine farang suicides in Thailand.
Ooooh, I enjoyed this a lot!