Out And About
When I first came to Thailand to live I decided that I would do my utmost best to culturally fit in as much as I was able to do so and actively made an effort to understand my new society and the people around me. I did this by reading, by being a keen
observer and by doing my utmost best to learn the Thai language especially that required to be used on an everyday basis. I even made a point of not pointing anything at anyone, least of all my wee willy wodger, to never losing my temper and to
trying my hardest to basically not stand out in a crowd. I figured that if I remained as invisible as I could be, then I wouldn’t be treated as a tourist or made a target for the Thai and Farang plebs that roam the streets everyday. So
for the first 18 months living here I have been a very polite little soul and I would often be the one who would kindly step out of the way of people as they belligerently pushed their way through life, to opening doors for people as any gentleman
should do and to patiently waiting in line, not letting it get to me when people pushed in ahead of the line at the 7/11 or on the BTS and well I have just been the perfect model citizen that Thailand could ever wish and hope for. So far I have
to say things have pretty much worked out ok, but I do admit that there are the odd occasions here when this isn’t always the case, and these little encounters have ranged from the usual taxi drivers trying to get me to pay without the
meter on, to being under changed at the restaurant or the shop and so forth, usual stuff really, and in some cases to certain in’duh’viduals sidling up in a shifty manner asking if I want to buy something illicit, which usually culminates
with me being offered a soapy girl in a massage parlour, which I always refuse.
The other day though, I was standing outside Century Park Hotel, it was about 7pm and I was waiting to grab a taxi to go and attend a late working dinner when a German guy with a bald head fashioned in the manner of an Olympic swimmer comes sidling on up from some alley close by…
Shifty Bald Guy: “Wanna buy an Armani Suit”
I try my best to look the other way but mumble: “err no thanks…”
Shifty Bald Guy: “How about some Rolex Watches then?”
He opens up a little red box and shoves them under my nose… I start to shift uneasily and walk two steps to the right, but he is persistent and follows me…
Shifty Bald Guy: “How about some girls then, I know a great place where all the University girls hang out looking for a good time…”
Me: “No thanks, I’m married…”
I stick my married digit in the air followed quickly by my middle finger to emphasise a point, but it appears he didn’t notice.
Shifty Bald Guy: “I know where to get some drugs, Cocaine, Speed, Hash, would you like me to arrange something?”
Me: [I let out a little laugh] “oh for fucks sake, listen chum-‘p’, I am not interested in anything, especially not that sort of shit… just go away will you and bother someone else…”
Shifty Bald Guy: “How about a gun then… would you like to buy a pistol, or perhaps an Armalite rifle…”
I turn around and face him, “You’re a persistent little bugger aren’t you, listen Fritz, if I was living in Manila, then perhaps I would want one, indeed actually need one, but not here in Thailand, so for Pete’s sake just piss off will you”
The thing is, I was actually tempted for at least 10 seconds about the gun thing because owning a pistol here would actually be useful when one has to have a conversation with the Thai’s about playing their music at sonic boom level day and night but I just as quickly dismissed it as a fanciable notion because I come from a country that still has police with truncheons, besides guns scare the crap out of me, especially the ones that are pointed in my direction, and after sitting in a mini bus surrounded by friends who were all wielding pistols as we drove through downtown Johannesburg a few years back, well they are not something I generally want to be involved in, so ‘no thanks’.
I look the guy up and down, he was about 5 foot 10 inches tall, and he had that sort of shifty creepy look about him. He wasn’t the best dressed guy on town either, so if you meet him, you at least know what he has to offer. Lucky for me, a taxi pulled up and I made my escape.
Now, I love walking, in fact I practically like to walk everywhere as often as I can, and I do so not only because of the traffic problems here in Bangers but also because it forms part of my personal fitness plan. I also believe that the best way to learn about a city (as does Commander Vimes in Terry Prattchet’s excellent disc world series) is to just pound the streets and to feel the cobble stones underneath your boots. But my wife hates doing it (walking that is) unless she has a pair of training shoes on her feet. In fact, it would be probably fair to say that most Thai’s dislike walking anywhere if they can help it, but these past few weeks however has seen a lot of rain in Bangkok, and the consequence of this is that it’s almost impossible to get a taxi with the BTS getting overloaded to boot with long queues for each packed train that comes in. So on one particular day, I decide to walk back out of the BTS station at Siam because it was just too damned packed and decided to walk on down to Chidlom and over to the wife’s office.
When I get there, I tell her to look out of the window at the traffic logged roads and declared that I had come to walk her home. She was of course happy to see me, but I am not totally sure she was happy with this suggestion as she was wearing a pair of her office shoes, but she obliged anyway because she knew that I wouldn’t have done the alternative of sitting on a bus for at least 1 hour in the traffic when the walk would (at a brisk pace) only be about 20 minutes. Actually, why is it that the average Thai would rather sit on a bus for 1 hour for a journey that takes 20 minutes by foot anyway? Quite bizarre! Anyway, this one evening, it was like dragging a terrible twosome ranting huffing and puffing toddler behind me. I actually turned around during the slow march she was doing and asked her when it was exactly that she had turned into Harry Enfield’s sulky teenager ‘Kevin’, for which I received a glare in return. I also found that for every 3 paces I made, I had to either stop for her to catch up or to back pace two steps in order to stay walking together. The only other alternative to this was for me to give her a piggy back or to crawl along on my hands and knees, both of which I was not interested in doing. When we were half way home (20 minutes into the walk), she decided that she was “Hew Kao maaak” and so we had to stop to eat as well. In the end the journey took us about 1 hour anyway and half of me believes’ she was trying to make some kind of subtle point for which I have subtly returned by refusing to meet her after work ever since.
Normally though, the weather (when it’s not raining) is a little too muggy to walk in because you just end up looking like some damp squib at the other end, and so I tend to try and adopt a strategy of occasionally getting onto the BTS or to jumping into a taxi (especially in the mornings as I don’t want to spend the day humming around the office like a hovercraft with manky armpits) where I and the staff then spend the rest of the day wearing a coat freezing our nuts and cracks off in what feels like icy conditions with the air-con blasting up our trouser legs and underskirts. The girls in the office have all told me that they have tried in vain to find out where the master switch is but as yet to no avail and as our building is so big, none of us has the time or inclination to spend the time looking either, so we all just live in our artic conditions between the hours of 8 to 5pm everyday instead. One of the girls asked me the other day during a meeting if I was alright because my fingernails had actually gone blue but I couldn’t say anything because my mouth had frozen shut. Normally it wouldn’t be so bad to have the luxury of the air-con in the office, especially when you consider how hot it can get outside in Bangkok, but here we even have to put the ice back in the fridge to melt it down a bit because even the ice complains that it’s just to cold outside in the office. So quite naturally, when it comes to the evening, I will usually opt to walk the two or so miles back home as it’s great to just get out and pound the beat and to also warm myself back up again.
Unfortunately what this means is that you also have to meet the average nutcase, to dodging the pavement motorcycles, to keeping yourself from tripping over the many hazards beneath your feet and like it or not, to meeting the locals face to face… you just can’t avoid them… they are just about everywhere! One of the guys I used to work with once complained that he hated interacting with the Thai’s and did his level best everyday to just avoid dealing with them. I pointed out to him that he would have to live in a bubble or not go out 24 hours a day to achieve this because I couldn’t quite see how he would manage to avoid them otherwise. I also pointed out that his current girlfriend was a Thai and that as he ventured down to the naughty bars at least three days/nights a week that he was probably making it very difficult for himself to avoid interacting with the Thai’s everyday… go figure that one out eh!
Anyway, as I am out and about walking it is inevitable that I will bump into the locals, and when I say bump, I mean it quite literally. Anyone who spends any time walking around Bangkok, especially those of us with a sense of purpose or a desire to get somewhere, will often despair at the lack of speed by which the Thai’s will ambulate themselves down the local Soi and for someone like me who tends to maintain an average speed of 5 to 6 mph, it often means that I am skidding in and out of people, to screeching to a halt as someone waltzes out in front of me with no real ambition to get anywhere, or as is the case recently, to just playing bumper cars with each other.
At first I found walking around to be a novelty and as I bumped my way around and about, I would be ever so polite saying ‘Kort Toht Krup’ to all and sundry, but it got to the point where I was saying it so often that I began to sound like I had some kind of strange cough, and even more interestingly, I began to realise that I was the only one probably saying it too… but what is it with the average Thai that makes them not want to get to where they are going anyway. Are we meant to really believe that it’s because they simply have no motivation to get anywhere and that their work, or their home life or the lack of fun and rewards when they get there (meaning food and money) is just so low and crap that they feel that exerting their energies is just not worth the effort… perhaps it is.
I remember one of my professional friends recently talking after running a Masters Degree module at one of the local universities. It was the end of a three week course and as he stood at the door on that final day greeting the students as they arrived for their final exam, he was gob smacked at the lethargy and lack of motivation by at least half of the class to get there ahead of time or even on time for that matter. Back in the west, regardless of traffic issues, we would tend to think ahead and plan the journey and do our level best to be there on or ahead of time and by and large would be horrified to be late for an exam. Miraculously most of the students somehow managed to arrive within at least 15 minutes ‘after’ the exam officially started, but as always there was one who felt that no impetuousness on her behalf was needed. She eventually turned up 45 minutes later, no excuse, no apologies, and she just ambled on in and sat down and did the exam. Remember, this is an exam allegedly for a master’s degree, and perhaps she was just being confident and thought that it would be easy for her; she certainly gave that impression during the classes according to my friend because she was opinionated and overly confident. Anyway, guess what happened when the results came in… yup! You got it, this particular lady failed. In fact she was the only one who had failed in the whole class with the rest of the class receiving either a grade ‘B’ or an ‘A’. But it didn’t end there, oh no… not by a long chalk. This particular lady then had the audacity to create a huge stink with the program office complaining about the professor and the exam, saying how she deserved a pass and that her mark should be upgraded. So a review panel was formed, an investigation was undertaken, an interview with both the professor and the student was done, the exam paper was evaluated for fairness (despite everyone else having passed it) and finally despite her wailing about how unfair it was, the University had the sense on this occasion to rule that she had indeed failed because she should have arrived earlier and that had she arrived earlier she would have finished the last question and probably would have passed. It could have easily gone the other way though because we all know how Thailand hates to fail any of its little darlings… but don’t get me on the subject of the standards of university education here because I will be writing this for the next month or so with no end in sight. Anyway, I digress.
So as I wander out and about, I encounter all sorts of folk. The other day I was walking down the bottom end of Phaya Thai road and the footpath was clear of Thai pedestrians, and as such I was walking along at a very brisk pace. Up ahead I could see a bus stop with about 20 or so Thai’s hovering around. So I looked ahead, I planned a route, and pinned myself to one that would optimally take me through the myriad of bodies. As I continued to venture forth, my obstacle detector was on full alert and as I got close to the throng of bodies I was constantly making mental awareness notes to myself of the exact location of every person that was around and ahead of me. I noticed as I was quickly walking through, that about 20 paces ahead of me was a Thai woman of about 45 years of age. She was well dressed and the thing that I picked up on was that she was looking over her left shoulder and away from me in the other direction. Straight away my obstacle alert button went into full alert mode, and in anticipation I physically side stepped a little and planned a path that would take me at least 5 paces in front of her. As I got closer, I kept my eyes on her ‘just in case’ and woe and behold, the minute I managed to plant a foot 5 paces in front of her, she decided that she would choose that moment to turn around and walk straight bang out in front of me. What possessed her to do it I will never know, but I couldn’t avoid her, not with the speed and pace I was walking, and the effect was that as we connected, she went on a 45 degree trajectory back in the direction that she just came from with a howl of “Kooooort Tooooht kaaaaaaaaa!” emanating from her lips. Fortunately for her, I was fully aware and managed to put my arm around her slim body and with a tug of my left arm managed to stop her from flying off into the sunset. After I managed to keep her in the upright and ensured that she was ok, I just carried on walking as if nothing had happened, muttering to myself about the lack of peripheral and spatial awareness that the Thai’s have to things around them.
A week of so later, same road, same path, I and a Thai lady where walking along in the same direction. It had been raining for most of the day and so we where dodging puddles together on the foot path. I was walking up at a quick pace behind her trying to anticipate her moves and watching her bottom and skirt wiggle with a swish. More importantly I wanted to just get past her and get on my way. Well, we all know Thai’s have an inability to walk in a straight line and can veer of in any direction without any notice or warning whatsoever but as it was just me and her and the puddles, I felt that it was not going to be an issue as I came up and set a path that would take me in on her left side. As I started to over/under take her however, she decided for some unknown reason that now would be a good time to side step right into my path and thwacked right into my right hand side. At the time I was in mid step and so was standing on one foot as she hit me and I had no choice with my momentum to just bounce off into the fence on my left hand side.
Unfortunately for her however, physics has a law that states that ‘all actions have an equal and opposite reaction’ and as I seem to bounce quite well, I came ricocheting back off the fence at a great rate of knots and knocked right back into her, and as I did so my right hand pushed hard into her small soft but very pert right tit, and my knee also inadvertently came up and twonked her one right between the legs, sending her on an alternative trajectory which made her go much farther than the one I was originally sent on. Again, I didn’t say a single word, and after staggering a little, I just continued on my path as if nothing had happened. She actually bleated out a ‘Kort Toht Ka!” towards the back of my head as I walked away but lord only knows what was going on her mind. For all I know she could have been giving me the bird behind my back as I merrily skipped my way up the road, and I didn’t care because I was one happy chappy as I had managed to tweak her nipple and get a quick lovers embrace in while we had our little interaction together… maybe next time, I’ll ask for her telephone number.
These two aren’t the only occasions I have had along this road and I have come to think of myself as a magnet. Not a magnet for beautiful ladies mind, but just for bodies that want to bounce of me as I enter their vicinity. I have had guys stepping out and blocking my path at the exact moment that I get there as they look down the road to see if their bus is coming, only for me to shoulder barge them into a spiral, and to me getting whacked in the head from vicious umbrella wielding vixens as they try to protect their own little heads from droplets of rain. Personally I have come to accept it as part and parcel of life out on the streets in Bangkok and well things could actually be a lot worse. The other week, I was walking down a fairly packed road near the victory monument when I received a bang into my left nut from the military swinging woman in front of me. I winced a little but got a little revenge as I deliberately clacked the back of her ankle with my very long and steel tipped umbrella and just smiled sweetly as she turned around to give me a little glare, but what is it with the Thai’s who walk around as if they are on parade anyway. Sometimes I get the urge to just step right in behind them in military formation shouting with my best drill sergeant accent with a ‘lupt right, lupt right, lupt right, by the left, quick maaaarch!” whilst sinking one of those silly American foot soldier songs “one, two… threeeeee, four…”
But it’s not only the walking Thai’s that give us problems. It is well documented that the mad cap motor cycles will ride along the pavement with a toot (if you’re lucky) and again that’s just life here. One of them a while back inadvertently got his Soi dirt flip flopped foot caught in the shoulder strap of my lap top bag as I carried it in my left hand as he and his motorbike zipped past. As a consequence, my left arm and shoulder were pulled left ways in the general direction of the bike, but as it was my lap top, I was not in the mind to let it go so quickly or let it be dragged down the road for that matter. So I managed to compose myself quite quickly and planted my feet firmly into the ground and pulled harshly back. Believe me there is nothing more funny than a guy on a motorbike trying to steer straight with his left leg pulled back at a 90 degree angle behind him flapping away in the air. But I did get to keep my laptop.
I also have the odd run in with cars too and it annoys the crap out of me when they come trundling down very narrow roads at a great speed of knots and it amazes me how so few people get hurt in and around our Soi, although I have witnessed the odd dog and cat receive a dink or two. On the Soi where I live, it is not wide enough for a car, a motorbike and a human to all pass at the same time and so someone or something has to give. Usually the bigger the vehicle is, the more priority they believe they have and it’s the human who is expected to just get out of the way because we are the more squashable, but having said that, I do draw the line and refuse to climb the walls in order to escape their stupidity because there are some things gentleman are just not meant to do. So instead I just stand there or walk slowly and quite arrogantly make them wait for me to find somewhere less vertical to get out of the way to. One day however, I was walking down the Soi when a bike came up on the left and had no obvious intention to stop, so I skipped slightly to the right to avoid the wanker hitting me, when at the same time a car came rattling up at a great speed of knots behind us. Where was I expected to go? So I just stood there and turned around and just shrugged my shoulders, indicating as I did so “Bpai Tee Nai?” The guy in the car started honking aggressively at me from the comfort of his car, while in the meantime the motorbike started to just inch his way down the left side of the car. In the meantime I was beginning to feel a little agitated as there was no way to go but forward, so I just decided to keep on walking in front of the car. But the guy in the car was not happy about any of this, and he began to furiously toot toot toot away. So I stopped and did the only thing I could do. I sat down on the bonnet of the car and just waited on his throbbing engine. I thought he would have jumped out and we could have had a word about where he wanted me to move to, but eventually he got the message and so I climbed off and once I found somewhere safe to side step he just went on past. I have no idea what he must have thought about what I did and to be honest I was surprised that he didn’t jump out demanding some money for an invisible scratch that he could of accused me of or to wanting to have a scrap but he didn’t.
As for the BTS, well who ever said that the Thai’s are sensitive to smells obviously hasn’t spent a lot of time staring into the mouth of a Thai sometime after dinner time on the BTS. Almost every time I get onto the BTS these days, especially first thing in the morning or at dinner time when everyone is making their way home, you can always guarantee that you will get a nostril full of garlic or the pungent fish smells from someone who had earlier been eating a Papaya Salad… it’s quite nauseating and I spend a lot of my time looking up at the ceiling, downwards or sideways going blue in the face as I do my best not to breath. Also on the BTS, especially during the moments when it is jam packed full, I would in my early days be as polite as ever and would never push my way in anywhere. In fact, I always remember my first trip to Asia, and the first place I went to was Japan. As I arrived, I was filled with all these notions of small Japanese folk scurrying politely around bowing to each other and being ever so polite. So how shocked was I when I came out of Narita airport and onto the Japanese rail network to a sea of little black heads and what could best be termed as a very busy ants nest. Where were all the bowing Japanese in their Kimono’s being polite I asked myself… clearly the notion of being polite and Japanese went out of the window in modern day Japan and after an initial 10 minutes of saying “Sumi masen” to all and sundry as I tried to find my way through, I simply ended up picking up my suitcase in both hands and forcing my way through like a riot cop as I simply had no alternative choice with bodies leaping left and right with me shouting ‘bansai jelly tots’ at the top of my voice. Upon reflection therefore, being on the BTS is very similar. At first, because I was so sensitive to being as nice and polite as I could under the banner of Thai culture, I quickly found that no-one was telling the Thai’s about this aspect though and the consequence was that people where just constantly pushing in, treading on and squeezing in and around me, not to mention up from behind me too. In the end I simply got fed up with it all being one way and decided that if you can’t beat them, then you may as well join them instead, and this is what I now do everyday.
In fact, I now play them very much at their own game and think nothing of pushing and shoving along with the rest of them. I will also manoeuvre myself to positions that take me to the front of the queue the minute those BTS doors slide open and now days I never look back or feel guilty about it either. One day though, I was right at the front of the queue after patiently waiting for 15 minutes, and behind me were about 20 or so Thai’s all patiently waiting as well, when up from my right came a very gay and camp guy who just decided to take it upon himself as the Prima Donna that he was to just walk right up and stand right bang in front of me at the head of the queue. I was not amused. So I asked him where he thought the queue was and he simply flounced, tweaked his buttocks, and pouted with the gayest of gayness. So I quietly fumed some more, wondering what revenge I could take out on the little shit. As the train arrived and the doors swished open, he happened to find himself bang in the line of sight of a very big departing foreigner who, using his bulk and no shit attitude, just somehow managed to push the camp gay guy backwards along the platform and away from me who was gleefully smirking up near the front. The memory of those wails and girly screams are still with me today as I remind myself of the moment that he was unceremoniously pushed backwards along the queue with that big guy just not giving a hoot. I guess he figured that the little knob shouldn’t have been barring his path of departure and just decided to take him along with him. Thank you big guy, thanks to you justice was done on that day!
But the consequence of me no longer making a polite effort does end up with the Thai’s feeling a little bemused as a door swings back and smacks them in the face as they often do to us as I no longer open it patiently for them. I was getting my ticket for the BTS on at the national Stadium when two Indian guys ambled up and asked me the way from MBK to Siam. Well that one is easy, so I turned to point them in the direction of Siam saying that it was 5 minutes that way, when I whacked quite hard some Thai girl who happened to be passing hard in the left tit… she shouted ‘jep’ and I said “Kort Toht Krup” and the Indian guys walked ever so slowly off in the direction of Siam without a word of thanks… oh well, I least I got to prod another titty.
For those who believe in superstitions, well you should know about the one that says that one should be wary of a black cat crossing your path because it is bad luck (or good luck, I can never remember these things).
Well I think the Thai’s who get to cross my path these days tend to want to change this notion to ‘if you see Casanundra crossing your path then be careful as it’s likely to be bad luck’. They would only say this of course because it’s likely they will get gently pushed in one direction or another, or to feeling a little twinge as their feet get kicked out from under them as I come zipping past, or to just being prodded with an umbrella, all accompanied with a smile and a nod of apology. I have actually been thinking recently about investing in some long needles or an electric cattle prod to help me along the paths of Bangkok and so if you are walking along one day and you happen to see lots of little Thai’s yelping their way left and right with a little fast moving Farang in the middle of it all, well give me a little shout of ‘hello’ because the chances are you have just seen Casanundra whizzing on past.