Billy Bunter’s Asian Hijinks And Other Misadventures – Part 1
For the uninitiated or those too young to remember, Billy Bunter was a comic book hero in vogue during my childhood years in New Zealand. I remember reading with bug-eyed amazement the wonderful shenanigans that he and his hippo-sized, cake-scoffing sister Bessie used to get up to. Set against the backdrop of a conservative English boarding school – this seemed to make their escapades even more ludicrous and unbelievable.
The two seemed to wallow from one cake-binging dilemma to the next with the hapless principal hot in pursuit.
One could not hope to find a more unlikely embodiment of Billy Bunter in yours truly – but that is without reckoning on family tradition.
I am not a sweet tooth and I am very much on the lean side – most would say skinny. As already mentioned I must be the antithesis of my ebullient childhood hero. To this day I have never been able to fathom why – but that is the name that my beloved family have chosen to lump upon me!
Even more so than the rest of my family, my younger sister solely refers to me as "Bunter"!! Even my innocent niece and nephew have been 'corrupted'. Each time I visit her I am met with wails of delight from her shrieking kids – followed closely by the Mantra like wail of "uncle Bunter is here".
It is with that short family sketch that I introduce the record of one of my recent romps in Asia. I am sure my Lard-assed hero Billy would have been put to shame and made to look like an oversized wimp if one were to put the spotlight on the Asian escapades of his modern-day counterpart!!
It all got off to a great start in Chiang Mai – with a miraculous example of the basic goodness of human-nature.
It was the last day of a four day stint in Chiang Mai, and later that day I was catching the train to Bangkok and then onto Cambodia & Vietnam. Earlier in the day I had used the toilet during a visit to my favourite Restaurant/Internet Cafe.
Unbeknown to me at the time I had absentmindedly left my wallet inside the toilet cubical. It had $3,000 US cash inside as well as all of my credit cards, Australian driver licence, important contact numbers etc. To say that it would have been sorely missed would be akin to wondering if John Howard were firmly planted up George Bush's backside.
I had loaded up on US dollars whilst in Sydney in preparation for the Cambodian leg of my journey. My experience from previous trips was that one gets a lousy exchange rate in Bangkok changing Aussies into the proverbial 'Greenies'!
I also carried a pouch on my belt with small amounts of local currency that I used for my daily shopping – hence I had no need to use my wallet so I did not realise it was missing. Later that day I went back to my Guesthouse and loaded everything into my pack then headed off to find a taxi to take me to the train station.
Walking on the side-walk I passed the entrance to the aforementioned restaurant / internet cafe. I heard somebody calling my name but basically ignored it because I travelled alone and nobody knew me there. The guy was insistent and called my name again. I stopped as he approached me. We confirmed that I was the person he was looking for. He said he had found my wallet and looked at the photo on my Australian driver licence. He said, as he walked out of the door to leave, he had recognised my face.
To this day I still kick myself that I did not offer him a reward or really say much. I was standing there with my mouth wide open – one moment he was there and next he was gone. Can you imagine the impeccable timing of it all. I had left my wallet there over five hours earlier, and as mentioned, at that stage I did not even know it was missing.
If I had come past ten seconds earlier I would have been gone by the time he came out the door – or a few seconds later I would have missed him.
That is without mentioning anything regarding his unfathomable honesty. I think the most ardent of protagonists for honesty would have been tested staring three thousand green ones down the barrel in a slimy Asian dunny. Nobody watching, not being accountable to anybody, one could have the shoved the goodies in their pocket and I would have been non the wiser.
Not wishing to cast any aspersions on the integrity of the local populace, however one would have had as much luck retrieving the goodies if it had been found by one of them, as wishing that old Garry Glitter wasn't a 'kiddie fiddler'!!
With that amazing experience under my belt I 'floated' off to the train station. I could not believe that people like that still existed so I knew that 'Somebody' was watching out for me that day – in spite of my stupidity!
However, upon entering the train, I was about to get a large dose of reality. My trip up from Bangkok had been wonderful. The seats folded down to a sleeper and being of only average height I was able to stretch out and have a nice relaxing sleep.
I thought that I must have been assigned to the same carriage number and position as my journey up – so by the law of averages I was going to have a great trip back.
My carriage was the very last in line for the journey up. In other words I was the furthermost carriage from the locomotive which did the pulling. However for the return journey they must have just chugged the 'old girl' around and hooked it up on what was the last carriage – to drag it back to Bangkok. So I was now directly behind the smelly diesel-spewing engine. Not being the best of travellers I was sick the whole night with the black diesel fumes being sucked into the carriage.
When I finally arrived in Bangkok I felt like I had gone a few rounds with a my ex mother-in-law. My African friend John was there to meet me and take me off to find a room for the evening. He was entertaining me with horror stories of what its like to be so Black and living in racist Thailand – when we met up with two American lads who were heading in the same direction.
We hailed a taxi and all piled in. We insisted that the driver turn the meter on so he willingly obliged. Things were going great and I was chatting to one of the American guys. He was a junior Karate champ from his State and was living in Thailand to train under a Thai martial arts master.
Suddenly our revelries were shattered by the shouts of two angry Thais. We had stopped for the red light and our surly taxi driver had got into an altercation with a well-to-do Thai in a late model Mercedes. Our driver wound the window down and was shouting at the occupant of the Mercedes. With that the driver leapt out and headed toward our car. The taxi driver bent down and started to pull something out from under his seat.
The Mercedes driver saw Mr Taxi reaching under the seat so he shot back to his car, and with much screaming of tyres and revving of engines he forced the Mercedes against the door of the taxi. Mr taxi driver was frantically pulling on his door handle to try and open the door and squeeze out of the gap. He couldn't get out so he reached under the seat again and out came the gun!#$%^&&!!
I looked over and the karate-expert dude from America was shaking like a leaf and my African mate John was as white as a vegetarian. In retrospect methinks that if Mr World Champion Karate dude was so scared then perhaps I should have been more terror-stricken than I was.
The hilarious thing about this whole escapade was that it was all over in 20 seconds flat. At that very moment the lights changed green, and we all just surged off is if nothing untoward had ever happened. It was as if to say "do whatever you like – even shoot somebody – but if the lights go green then it's back to business as usual". I remember at the time pondering some distant perusal of a local Australian newspaper which had the headline "only in Thailand" – I could not have summed it up more succinctly if I tried!
With his limited English the taxi driver pointed under his seat and said "Mafia man – me gun, me gun". We had no doubts whatsoever that he would have used it if given half a chance!
Welcome to Bangkok!
To be continued…