A Close Encounter With Trriads
If you go to the movies and watch a thriller, the most reckless enemies are often mafiosi. These types of criminals exist in Asia under the name of triads. They have their origin in secret societies in old China, which planned to overthrow the throne of the Qing dynasty. They were not xenophobic, because they needed foreign help. Over the time the triads developed into big businesses, seeking market domination in the rackets of prostitution, protection money, loan sharking and drug trading. In China Mao Tsetong suppressed the triads for some time, but in Taiwan they could occupy seats in parliament, and in Hong Kong they own quite openly run brothels (or better: Fun-on-demand-places), advertising with yellow Chinese letters their "Lotos Blossom Chambers" or "East ocean sex grenades". In Thailand I do not suspect a nationwide triad organisation to exist. Two reasons. First: I cannot imagine that – in contrast to the early secret societies in China – Thai people wish to overthrow the reigning Chakri-Dynasty. Second: An American author will have discovered that the biggest Bank of Bangkok in its heydays owned 600 brothels all over the world, to make money. If these serious businessmen skimmed off the cream from racket businesses – how could the triads compete? My proof: Most bargirls we meet are motivated for their work by family bonds or personal greed. Not by triads.
As I said, Farangs have nothing to fear from triad mafiosi, because some part of the money we spend in East Asia ends in their coffers. You don't kill the ganter that lays golden eggs.
It was just my bad luck that I came into close body contact with some triads in China, and the reason for this was the exceptional beauty of a Chinese friend. Her name was (or might have been) Meilan. She was a business woman in her mid thirties, who was not only successful in her trade but also possessed a stunning knowledge of contemporary arts in China as well as in the West. She did not look her age, in fact she had a radiating beauty that made people turn their heads for her. Just seeing how she held the chopsticks in her hand, was a sight of pleasure, making my heart swell with joy and pride, that she was willing to be close to me. I was lucky to have won her friendship.
As a business woman she belonged to the privileged new class of business peoples in China. Her privileges went so far, that she could quite openly travel with me on a holiday trip through China. Nobody took offence of this twosomeness of a foreign devil with a daughter of the Yellow River, which some years before would have brought the police knocking down the door of our hotel room. (Actually we had two rooms). There is really progress in China.
We were in the tourist spot of Q. at a time, when the Osmanthus-trees blossomed. The whole city was filled with their sweet fragrance.
Mailan had a penchant to sing Karaoke songs for me. She had a strong soprano voice, schooled in the western style of singing. In all Karaoke lounges she received applause from the listeners.
In our hotel there was no Karaoke room. So we strolled one early evening down the main road, looking for one. Close to the railway station we found an amusement complex which advertised Karaoke on the third floor. Leading up was a wide staircase that was repugnantly dirty. The place we looked for was a big hall filled with people, who sat around tables or just stood about. The room was misty from cigarette smoke. One could hardly see the stage at the end of the hall, were the singers performed. The amplifiers were turned to maximum, making the walls vibrate.
A sexy looking waitress greeted us.
"I am sorry to tell you, if you want to sing in public, we have a waiting list of two hours. Why don't you take a room of your own?"
She opened a small chamber next to the bar. There were two sleazy plush settees, a TV set with separate loudspeakers and a low table with two microphones. Meilan sat down and studied the list of songs you can select to be played.
Without asking the waitress brought us two cups of black tea, putting a bill for 34 Yuan on the table. Normally the welcome tea is free of charge.
"Look," said Meilan, "from all the titles listed here I do not know a single song. How can that be?"
The waitress came back and asked: "Do you have a special wish?"
When she heard no answer from us, she closed the door with a bang.
"Felix," continued Meilan, "the microphones are not connected. Can you fix them?"
Having grown up under the austere morality of the Cultural Revolution, she had no idea of the function of this room. I had seen – but never used – similar separees in Hamburg's Sankt Pauli red light district. They spell danger.
"This is not the right place for us," I told Meilan. I opened the door and called the waitress: "Laojia maidan."
She appeared immediately and placed a bill for around one thousand baht on our table.
"That is ridiculous," protested Meilan, "We have not even touched the tea. We are not going to pay that."
"I pay," I said and gave the waitress the money. Then I pulled Meilan by the hand out of the separee.
"Why?" She protested. "I want to sing for you."
"Let's go," I pressed her, "I have my reasons, I tell you later.
She followed me unwillingly.
When we reached the landing in front of the Karaoke hall, the staircase was full of people with doubtful intentions. As Meilan never held my hand in public, on the slow way down two men succeeded in separating her from me. They gripped her arms and demanded: "Gei qian – give money."
Obviously they thought Meilan was a freelancer whom I had used upstairs and now did no longer care for.
Meilan freed her arms and shouted something untranslatable. More people swarmed into the space between us. Suddenly Meilan was encircled by three mean looking men, who rushed her in the direction of a door which had mysteriously opened in the wall. From their obscenely short boxer shorts and the identical tattoos on their naked arms I recognized them as triads. Everything happened so surprisingly fast, that I reacted more with my adrenaline than with my wits. Those men were dangerous, but I stand six feet three, which is impressive in Asia. Using my shoulders as a wedge, I broke through to Meilan und took her in my arms, shouting: "Duibuqi, ta shi wode – she belongs to me."
The triads grumbled angrily, but they drew no knifes. Like a dancer I led Meilan in a tight embrace step by step down the stairs. At the exit I was relieved to see that nobody followed us. Meilan trembled and shuddered. I put an arm around her shoulder and led her back to the main road with our hotel.
"Let us go to the police to charge these criminals," I suggested.
"Absolutely not," she replied.
"This country," I reminded her, "is a police state. I can name you three organisations, where you can post your complaint: The Pai Chu Suo or local precinct, the Gung An Bu or Office of Public Security, and the Guojia Anchuan, the state security service. Where do we go to stage your complaint?"
"I better keep my mouth closed."
"There might be other women in the same danger. They need protection."
"You do not know our country. If a criminal organisation can act like this, they must have the best connections to local power holders, like the police commissioner, the garrison commander and the mayor, who also is First Party Secretary. If I come with a complaint, they will stuff it back into my mouth. And still worse: If I offer you as a witness, I am disclosing a state secret to a foreigner, the secret that there exist active triads in China. For this I could go to prison, especially because you are a journalist."
"What would the kidnappers have done to you, if I had not intervened? Demanded a ransom?"
"I don't think so. I still have looks. They might have sold me to a lonely guesthouse in the mountains, where long distance truck drivers seek rest. There I would have been chained to an iron bed to serve the truck drivers, until I died of AIDS."
"I cannot believe that."
"It happens all the time. But it is a secret nobody should know."
"Why do the local power holders tolerate this?"
"Have you ever heard of "Tea Money"? That is the reason."
She sulked the whole evening and gave me the cold shoulder. Apparently the imagination what the kidnappers – if successful – might have done to her, spoiled for her the whole male gender. I understood and respected her.
By this adventure I won insight into the two tiered system of justice in China, which is able to tolerate kidnapping as business as usual, while it loses no time to put a young man behind bars, when he clicks the words Democracy Movement on his keyboard. So the fight against corruption, which the Chinese President Hu Jintao intensified last year, is clearly justified, as well as similar wishes in Thailand.
Yikes, that's a scary story. Fortunately, such establishments really do not seem to exist in Thailand. A big smile and a "sorry" can get you out of most situations in Thailand.