In The Navy
It was a holiday again and having exhausted the possibilities of entertainment in the office, I began to feel bored. What to do for a few days?
Staying at home wasn’t an option as all there would be to do would be to sit around the pool and listen to the expats bitching about how stupid Thais were. Of course, I could have a laugh with their girlfriends but then they’d bitch about me – not that I gave a monkey’s, but it’s wearing you see to be surrounded by a cumulative frown.
Soi Zero seemed worth a go and though I’d checked out some months earlier everybody there still made me welcome and I could always crash out in one of the girl's rooms if things got too late into the night and a stumble Sukhumvit wise for transport deemed a bad idea; The Mekhong Jive we called it – two paces forward, a graceful pirouette resulting in abrasions, then a further two paces forward, and, repeat until finding street lights whereby a taxi may be found.
An added dimension could be added if Daeng had been rolling her ‘do it your self’ herbal cigs and then the street lights would rotate at a ninety degree angle to the direction of rotation of the pirouette(s), thus involving a greater surface area of abrasion.
These never hurt at the time but all in all, if party time developed it was best to crash in one of their rooms and as they were, the party would restart once they awakened…
Actually, not a bad way to spend a holiday in the Mango.
I called Rob and his phone rang and rang until some wench unknown to me picked up the handset and began one of those conversations so peculiar to Thailand.
Me: ”Hello, speak to Robert please."
Wench: “He no home."
Me: ”Robert yuu nye?” (Stay where?).
Wench: ”Go upcountry." (Out of Bangkok).
Me: ”Tii nye?” (Where?).
Wench: ”Mye ruu." (Don’t know).
Me: ”Come home when?”
Wench: ”Come home two day, three day, him not say."
So, that was that then, Soi Zero out the window for the time being.
I put the handset down then propped my feet up on the desk and had a suck on my beer awaiting inspiration when the fax rang. And rang.
It kept ringing so I picked it up and found myself talking to Alain who was now resident in Pattaya. Within a couple of minutes we’d sorted out that I’d catch the bus through to Pattaya and have a bit of a run ashore, which cheered me as knowing Alain’s ability to source the cheapest, dingiest ratholes around then I wouldn’t be too out of pocket after a couple of days.
Minutes later I had everything switched off and was away into Rachaprarop Road and heading for the boat stop. Whilst filthy, noisy and dangerous the boat service was at least quick and there was a stop in Ekamai.
I legged it into the block where I then lived, threw the essentials into a ditty bag then hopped a motorcycle taxi along to the bus terminus.
A bus was leaving in five minutes which allowed me the time to score a couple of cans of beer and the newspaper and immediately after boarding we were off in a Pattaya direction.
Two hours later we were sitting in his garden and watching the darkness descend around the banana tree when Alain happened to mention that a French Naval frigate was berthed in Sattahip Naval Dockyard. In fact the very same frigate that we’d blagged our way onto the previous year in Bangkok.
Being where we were, the night life beckoned and as we walked off down the soi I thought that this could be worth an adventure then put it out of my mind as we went in search of cheap grog and bints by the sea.
As the night wore on we returned to the subject of the frigate and how to get on board it once more; The problem being of course that Sattahip is a military base and military bases have armed guards who in S.E. Asia have the unfortunate habit of shooting first and asking for the translation afterwards.
Later, an unsteady walk back to Alain’s led on to the next morning where we sat in his kitchen drinking his 20 cents a ton Vietnamese coffee. Disgusting stuff to drink and had Ho Chi Minh dished it up to the Yanks in 63’, they’d have turned tail and never ventured back therefore saving everyone on both sides a lot of heartache and angst.
As I tried to swallow a second cup he darted upstairs and returned with a couple of army fatigue shirts which he placed on the table and began to root around in the drawers next to the sink. Grinning broadly he produced some rank badges to mount on the epaulettes and said, ”Now you’re in the French Army, is O.K.?”
“Well, in a crisis, you know how it is…!”, I laughed back.
Donning the shirts we tried to look military by tucking sunglasses into the breast pockets and as our hair was nice and short we felt that wearing clean jeans we may just be able to blag our way past the Marines.
Our secret weapon was Alain’s army reserve ID card which being a French document sure looked the biz and thus armed we carefully adjusted our hangovers and hiked up to the highway to flag down a Pattaya – Sattahip songtaew. One duly arrived which was headed our way and we climbed aboard for the 30 km trundle to Sattahip town which the grinning woman sat in the cab had said was to be a whole 20 baht. Each.
On board were a bunch of grannies returning from shopping, a couple of matelots who were presumably heading for the base and an exhausted looking young woman.
Alain caught my eye then inclined his head in her direction before shouting over the noise of the vehicle and slipstream, ”A boyfriend with a box of Viagra…"
I smiled and concentrated on my hangover which seemed to be getting worse for some reason.
The songtaew ground along slowly, bumping and lurching as the driver would stop on call to let people off to sighs of relief as we stretched a bit and grimaces as he picked up as we squished a bit closer once more.
I began to stare in fascination at the wench who was by now fast asleep at the back of the cab as her head whacked off one of the roof frame supports every time we hit a bump. She never woke and her head lolled as though newly dead. Then I began to count the seconds between the front wheels juddering and the bump as her head connected… bump… dink… bump… dink…big bump…dink- dink and the thought crossed my mind that where there is no sense there is no feeling, but then again, perhaps uncharitable.
Alain noticed my gaze and after smiling, closed his eyes in a pretence of sleep, after all there are only so many palm trees and pineapple farms that a chap can see before the novelty wears off.
Eventually the truck hung a right off of the main highway and we began to head seawards once more with everyone beginning to come to in realisation that we were nearly arrived.
The bint awoke as her internal body clock told her she was just about home and after a stretch she looked around her travelling companions with barely disguised loathing until Alain leaned over to her, smiled then said, ”Viagra."
She spat an obscenity at him before turning her gaze to the dusty road unravelling slowly behind us. The pick-up entered Sattahip and came to a halt in what could be determined the centre of town i.e., outside the fish market. We disembarked, filling our lungs with the pristine sea air as we did so, the turquoise of the sea visible between the gaps in the wooden houses and shops opposite us. Hot and hungry we made for the nearest noodle shop where we ordered quitio neau, (noodle soup), water and a bottle of the beer chilling in the fridge.
As we ate we could see across the bay to the dockyard where a collection of grey vessels sat at the quayside the only recognisable one being Thailand’s pint sized aircraft carrier which couldn’t go anywhere cos they couldn’t afford the fuel and in any event they only had one sea harrier serviceable enough to fly and no money for spares for the grounded ones.
I knew that because I’d spent fruitless hours trying to obtain bits for the damn things to sell to the Navy…
(This actually happened, really ; At U-Tapao once we were doing the usual business thing, see, “The Sentry”, and I got talking to a Navy air mech and in his hand he had a can of Teflon based lubricating spray. Being an aircraft engineer I asked him what he was using it for; And this is what he said, “It’s for the Harrier pilots, they never move." Brought the house down that did!)
The locals eyed us briefly and seeing our shirts passed various comments of the, ”They must be from that Farang boat,, type, but we as usual never let on that we knew what was being said.
Never march in and start with the local language :- Have a listen first – never does any harm at all.
Our plan called for us to take a taxi or tuktuk to the boat and as tourists would be unaware of any local bus service and loath to use it. We also knew that we would be overcharged but would sort that out when it actually came to passing over the loot.
After some palaver we finally got our eats and drinks paid for then wandered over to where we could see some tuktuks parked. Explaining that we were from the French boat in appalling English and wanted to return there resulted in total chaos as various worthies tried to explain that tuktuks couldn’t enter the base. Well, not with farang passengers anyway.
Helpful suggestions were offered until taking the bull by the horns Alain bellowed, ”But zees ees my sheep over here, (pointing), over here, you look?” Then he pulled a 500 baht note out of his pocket and waved it around.
This had the expected effect and within seconds a grinning local had shoved us into his tatty tuktuk and had the engine pop-popping away in expectation of a fare worth 20 times the going rate.
“Here Al, show him your ID”, I suggested.
Alain showed the driver the card saying as he did so, ”See, for me ees no problem."
In seconds we were heading seawards then over the little bridge to putter slowly along the seafront towards the security gate which we could see in the distance.
The driver was certainly not of the Big Mango school of driving as he slowly negotiated the road and tried to make polite conversation with us until his lack of English caused the conversation to peter out which left us in a contented silence.
On the right we had a pristine golden beach, lapped by the sort of sea only seen in Bacardi adverts and to the left the pristine lawns of the Naval hotel bordered by colourful flower beds.
I like Sattahip.
Soon we de-accelerated as the driver slowed for the barrier and the fully kitted marine standing there with a loaded M-16 held loosely in his hand.
A long conversation between the sentry and the tuktuk driver began as they discussed us ergo the problem of letting us arrive where we wanted to go. As they did so we looked at the pretty boats berthed across the bay and noticing what appeared to be a submarine tied up next to a Minesweeper.
I pointed this out to Alain with some surprise.
“Thailand doesn’t have any submarines…"
He shrugged then replied, ”Hey – anything is possible…"
True; I’d forgotten which country I was in for a moment.
It appeared that there was no way that the marine was going to let us through, French Navy or not, but we had prepared for this eventuality.
“Officer”, cried Alain, ”Officer."
I thought that this was a good idea as an officer would not have a loaded M-16 and would not be pissed off standing in the 40 degree heat with a tin hat on his head. A bad combination.
The sentry also seemed to think this was a good idea, after all, let an officer take the flak, that’s what they are there for and duly stomped into the guardhouse to seek further instructions.
After a moment or two he reappeared and beckoned us to him.
We entered after making, ”Wait here”, noises to the tuktuk and found ourselves presented to an officer of some sort dressed in full cammos but thankfully without a bloody great gun in his hand.
We explained slowly that we wanted to return to our ship, Alain proffering his ID as proof and me saying that mine was still on board as we’d only gone for a short walk and got lost.
Alain also offered to talk to the boat by landline if need be to prove who we were not and was banking on the fact that the chap wouldn’t do that as it could possibly result in a loss of face for him.
The guy seemed predisposed to believe us as after all, farangs are a bunch of hippie peaceniks who weren’t going to be dressing up as members of the military for nothing.
He smiled at us then marched out to the tuktuk driver where he barked a few instructions and ordered the barrier raised.
After a handshake, a salute and an invitation to join us on the ship that evening for dinner we reboarded the tuk and drove slowly into the base.
As we rounded the next corner we shook hands with wide grins, Alain saying as we did so in his best Inspector Clouseau accent, ”And now, where ees zee bum?”
It took the tuktuk driver about 15 minutes to reach the dockside due to him getting lost but we enjoyed the sedate pace he kept to and saluted anyone who even looked military which brought beaming smiles from a host of pedestrians.
As there was only one boat without a Thai flag the driver rolled to a halt there and we leapt out beside the stairway leading to the deck.
I handed the driver 50 baht and despite his howls of protest we were quickly off and up the steps to introduce ourselves to the officer of the watch.
Well, we had a nice afternoon drinking their beer and eating their cheese. They even served us wine and olives with nice bread and we took a few happy snaps to show that we’d been there, then had a gaze at the unmarked submarine parked next door.
Alain reckoned it was Russian and they’d probably taken the flag in to wash as nowadays the Russian navy was so poor that it could only afford one flag per vessel.
I reckoned that somebody was more likely to have stolen it to sell for grog money.
Later as it cooled in late afternoon we managed to hitch a lift from a crew bus heading to Bangkok, guessing that it would be using the main entrance to the highway rather than the side one that we’d entered from the village.
It was cramped in the bus what with us two, the driver and his mate and about fifty conscript matelots but after getting him to stop so that we could pick up some cooling refreshments we managed to all get comfy and headed off in a Pattaya direction at what was presumably Thai Navy Transport Speed. Mopeds overtake you…
Along the way we relaxed into Thai and proceeded to tell the driver and his pal, (both conscripts), of our adventures that day which caused great hilarity and many intimations that we were lucky not to be in the brig or worse. Still, they weren’t going to stick us in.
Along the way they pointed out a few places were Naval conscripts went for their entertainment, money being something that they never got very much of and we duly noted their location for future reference. Could be interesting.
The driver generously drove to a bus stop for us and dropped us off outside a truck stop where food and beer could be obtained while we waited for further transport.
Later we sat in a bar frequented by farang ex-military types.
Over a beer we sat and talked of how easy it had been whilst keeping half an ear on the bullshit coming from the aces standing at the bar. It is frankly amazing how many people that you meet in a “Place of Entertainment”, in Thailand was or is a Green Beret. Amazing how many of them are 30 years old or younger and served in Vietnam. Must be amazingly hard work lugging all that kit around the boonies when 5 years old.
Alain pointed to a photo on the wall of a group of miserable begrimed young men carrying weapons then said, ”We are the real commandos eh?”
I laughed in reply and nodded slowly.
The next morning I woke slowly in the knowledge that something was not quite right then discovered warm soft flesh pressing into mine. A brief conversation ensued which reminded me of the previous evening which had involved meeting a couple of Bangkok girls who it appeared had blown all their money on shopping and drink and that I’d agreed to see them o.k. back to the Mango.
Ho-hum – the sun had risen, the flesh was warm and my morals incomplete so it was a time before I arrived downstairs for some of Alain’s god awful coffee.
He smiled at me and asked if I’d enjoyed the garlic grilled crabs which brought an instant panic attack as the recollection of the French restaurant in which we’d eaten with the girls surfaced. My wallet was somewhat depleted but Alain made good half the bill which to be honest cheered me up no end. I could eat for another few days.
The girls duly joined us and no way were they obviously tarts so over breakfast we had a laugh and got the particulars sorted out. Particularly which office they worked in.
But that’s another tale for another time.
Several weeks later a letter arrived for me postmarked Pattaya. Enclosed were a few photographs of Alain and I on board a French Frigate and a card signed, ’Stealth Commando’.
The boss happened to be playing pinball on my computer at the time and reached a hand over for the pictures. He studied them for a moment then frowned.
“That’s Sattahip dockyard”, he said.
“True, very true Nu." I replied.
“Foreigners cannot go there alone." He stated.
“We can”, I laughed.
Turning to me he smiled and asked, ”How did you get in?”
“Aha – I can’t tell you Nu…National Security and all that”, then I laughed and tapped my nose in that age old gesture.
Nu shook his head then returned to his game of pinball and beer.
He only said one thing. ”Coleen baa!, Alain farancet baa ruam kaan!"
Quite funny to read this sort of thing when there has just been a coup.