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Mercenaries, Spies and Spooks

  • Written by Thai Ties
  • May 25th, 2007
  • 7 min read


China Hotel Guide
• Peace Hotel
• Radisson Plaza Hotel Shanghai
• Salvo Hotel Shanghai
• Swan Hotel

Now, I used to work in the defence supply sector in Thailand. Interesting so it was and as I worked for a Thai company then I was never going to make any decent retirement fund, not with that particular owner anyway. But people who think that they are smarter than anyone else can be useful as long as you don’t burst their bubble. Thai little boys who never grow up and find responsibility are a strange breed who feed off of others' experience and expertise. These guys are the real whores.

But one never stops learning and there’s the fun of it all.

Anyway…to cut a short story long….

Bangkok is ideally placed in a geopolitical sense to be awash with spies, spooks and other ne-er do wells. It is also ideally placed for a multitude of Walter Mitty type characters to reinvent themselves in the most improbable and unbelievable ways and if listened to closely their stories can easily be compared to the latest action type best seller, currently gracing the shelves of the world’s airport departure lounges.

I always found Bangkok to be a bizarre enough place without having to invent happenings, but per chance that was just the job that I had and the place where I lived.

As part of my job I did on occasion come across certain individuals who were somewhat reticent about their occupation but seemed inclined to offer questions and enquiries that were none of their damned business.

After all they could have been in league with the competition and keen to swipe the sources of my beer tokens, or perhaps they were just people with an over active interest in other people's business.

It is actually quite difficult to be a spook in a city of 12 million inveterate gossips and if Thais have a fair old idea what each other is up to then what chance do we farang stand?

Spooks do seem to have decent expense accounts though and it can be worth tagging along with them just as long as one remembers to be open about the things that should be public knowledge to anyone with the least wit and savvy and to know nothing about other things, anytime, ever, at all.

Remember the old adage: ’Booze helps you to forget’. And of course, my own particular slant on that one; ’Expensive, expense account booze helps you to forget very well’.

A typical approach might run something like this: A, “Rep”, from a foreign supply company or manufacturer might call to arrange an appointment with our office to deliver catalogues and a sales spiel. Of course, this meeting can always be arranged to happen in a pub or restaurant and as this was part of my job- keeping the foreigners at arm's reach, I would leave the location up to the visitor.

Of course, the first question is, ”How did he obtain our phone number?" After all, our suppliers were in no way going to lose our business by inviting the competition to visit us.

We were not in the phone book and had and have not a website. Our office had no sign outside and being in a small backstreet, foreigners were not often tempted down on the off chance of rustling up some business.

We doubted very much if our end users were pointing manufacturers and suppliers in our direction as this would involve them cutting direct commissions. This sort of left by a process of elimination the various Embassies and Consulates scattered around Bangkok. Tsk-tsk, as though to suggest that any foreign power might want to spy on another….I will say ten ‘Hail Mary’s’ and pass wind loudly.

But what the heck, we’ve all got a job to do I suppose.

In most cases, the usual greetings and salutations would take place then the product demo and exposition would be introduced. After a general chit chat about possible presentations to end users which was as always just a polite way of saying ‘wait until we’ve had a look at you’.

The ‘Rep’ would suggest lunch in a flash hotel, and for some reason, never a bowl of noodles in a shop house down the Soi.

Eating expensively at some other company’s expense or even some government’s expense never came difficult to me and if they chose to throw in a gallon or two of fine wine- well, so much the better and who’s to argue with a gift horse on the plate so as to speak.

A good alcoholic lunch would be followed by some friendly conversation which would lead to the pitch, beginning with some generalisation about the economy and the state of the countries bordering Thailand and with perhaps a diversion into the political environments of these countries.

Then would come say, a question about a procurement budget for mortars and if it existed as the, ‘Rep’, had heard rumours to that effect. Strange why a nut and bolt salesman might have heard that in downtown ‘Kiss-me-Kate’, but then again, in the global economy the planet is indeed a small place.

Imagine perhaps, that one had heard of such a request and indeed had attended a small boozy gathering of middle aged Thai chaps discussing that very thing. And just imagine that these mortars had to be large bore and not of Western origin and carry no Western or traceable routing markings.

We all know what mortars are used for and it ain’t flat trajectory shooting is it?

Any spook with an ounce of common sense would have perused the back copies of the various publications concerning the immediate theater then had a look at a map to see where and why these things might be required. Much easier than spending an expense account.

Any sane person would have legged it from a procurement request such as this as though the hounds of hell were after them, after all deniable ordinance means deniable people. And we know where deniable people end up don’t we? In unmarked graves if they are lucky…

The ‘Rep’ might then elaborate on his theory as to where these potential mortars might be used which you could well agree upon as you didn’t know sweet bugger all about it anyway did you?

I’d guzzle some more wine, look pensive then suggest that I had heard a rumour of a large order for water pipe about to be announced for that very region and indeed such and such a company was very liable to win the bid for the contract as we hadn’t even bothered to consider it.

Honour satisfied, our conversation would return to familiar paths for a few minutes at which point our man would suddenly remember a pressing prior appointment and sidle off into the afternoon.

Having paid the bill, naturally.

And one thing all these chaps have in common? They are terribly, terribly forgetful and never remember to leave either a business card, telephone number or contact details.

Well, I’d have a cigarette and finish the wine then wander out into the sun replete and well watered then either walk back to the office or catch the bus and happily muse on which government had just paid for my lunch.

On arriving back at the office I’d score a bottle of beer from Jay sit at my desk and loosen my necktie, get my feet on the desk then contemplate siesta time.

Sooner or later Nu’s curiosity would get the better of him and he’d wander out of his enclave to ask me how it had gone and ask, ”Spy?"

“Spy”, I’d reply, then settle back for a snooze having told the girls that no calls for me as I was in an important meeting with myself.

Bee would generally give me a strange look and as I closed the door to my office there would be a brief, “Baa”, as she and Mem recited the by now standard mantra that I was as daft as a brush and, as always I would shout back through the door, ”Mye chai-phooying Thai ting tong maak”. (Not agree-Thai women are as crazy as coots).

Makes you feel like an executive you know: A good, rich, wine sodden lunch to hear the office girls howl with laughter as you doze off knowing that the phone is on hold.

Spies, point me at ‘em….

Stickman's thoughts:

If some of the punters in the bars were to be believed, there are more spies and ex-military special forces and what not in Bangkok than anywhere else on the planet.