My Introduction To Thailand
In the sixties and seventies when I was in the RAAF, I had been based in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Though I made a couple of quick weekend trips to Thailand I did not have any time to visit any of the attractions outside of Patpong road.
On my discharge from the airforce in the latter part of the seventies I noticed an ad in the paper looking for people with electronics experience to work in South East Asia. I applied for the job and two days later found myself on a plane to Singapore. The company was called Coastal Surveys and was founded by a man named John Peters.
John Peters, as a few of you may know, was a mercenary who was second in command to Mad Mike Hoare in the Belgian Congo during one of the many shit fights in the emerging African countries in the sixties. He gets a Guernsey in a couple of Freddy Forsythe’s novels as well.
Here I was told what my job entailed which was providing navigation signals to the various vessels operating in the Gulf of Thailand searching for oil and gas. This was in the days before Unocal had established platforms in the area and basically the entire Gulf was virgin territory when it came to oil exploration.
After spending a few days in Singapore it was off to Songkhla in Southern Thailand where I was met by the local rep and a disreputable looking truck with many years and many kilometers on it. Hopping in the truck we took off north up the coast to a small fishing village about 90 km north of Songkhla. There I was dropped at a small café along with five drums of petrol, boxes of spares etc and was told to wait. A couple of hours and a few Singha beers later an even more disreputable truck arrived picked up the fuel and myself and we proceeded 12 km up the beach to an even smaller fishing village where I met the guy I was supposed to replace. The station was situated on a spit of land called Laem Talum Phuk and was surrounded by mangrove swamps infested with mosquitoes, bugs and snakes.
He was a total burnout with all the prerequisite twitches. After showing me around the campsite he started telling me about the problems in the area with local criminals and local communist party guerrillas who in most cases were the same people. Oh fxxk, I thought! What have I got myself into here. He then handed me a vintage M1 Carbine with a few spare magazines of bullets. Oh double fxxk, I thought, but he then introduced me to a couple of Thai policemen who were supposed to be my bodyguards. I thought I would stick it out for a few days and see what transpired. He then grabbed his bag, hopped into the truck and just before he disappeared down the beach he mentioned the radio was stuffed and he could not communicate with base.
I sat there with a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach then tried talking to the two policemen and my camp helper, none of whom could speak any English. My Thai at that time was absolutely zero as well. I opened up the SSB radio and found that the main circuit board looked like someone had used a soldering iron which was normally used to repair car radiators on it. After cleaning up the board and re-soldering a few joints it burst into life and I managed to communicate with base and the other navigation stations dotted along the coast. After a few days stay I quickly settled into a routine that never changed over the next couple months and with the help of a Thai English dictionary the previous occupant conveniently left, I began rudimentary conversations with the locals.
Every few days a girl would walk down the beach. Some would stop and talk, stay the night and depart the next day leaving us both richer for the experience. One time a girl was walking past and stopped to talk. She was a stunningly beautiful teenager. The type you only meet once or twice in you life and she offered me her services. I was certainly tempted but something made me hesitate. When I refused my two guards took her to their tent and did the dirty. She then availed herself to all the men in the village. Later that week a doctor arrived with a bag load of antibiotics to cure a plague of the galloping knob rot. You could hear the old crones in the village cackling with laughter for days!
Every morning when the fishing boats came in I would wander down to the boats and buy some absolutely delicious fish crabs and prawns to cook. This would cost about 50 baht for about as much as I could eat in one day. The camp helper's wife would come and cook Thai food for me. The king prawns available then were nothing like what is in the shops today, some of them were about 50 cm long and averaged about 5 to a kg. With a few bottles of Singha to wash them down life was great and I quickly forgot about the dangers of the area.
After a few weeks of idle bliss I had a rude awakening. I got up one morning and found three headless bodies on the beach, with a crowd of people around milling around them. Shortly after a truckload of police arrived. They quickly identified the bodies by their tattoos as members of a local mafia gang that had been involved in a turf war with another gang. After doing their usual sloppy police investigation they grabbed shovels and buried them where they lay. After the spadework was done they sent someone down to the village to buy some whiskey and proceeded to drink all day. When the bottles were empty they emptied their guns in the air, fortunately with no damage done to anything and everybody was relieved when they hopped in their truck and departed my station to leave me in my quiet solitude once more.
After two months of this I got the call to shut down the station, pack everything away and make my way to Songkhla. The two guards organized some motorcycle taxis and with my bag in one hand we were back down the beach to the cafe where I waited for the taxi to Songkhla. When it arrived it was an ancient Chevy Impala left hand drive which was driven by an equally ancient wizened old man who drove with reckless abandon all the way to Songkhla. Checking into the Samila Hotel I introduced myself to the guys from the other three stations. We were then grabbed by a bunch of girls and we began a hedonistic party that lasted for days. Thus started a hiatus in Thailand that lasted for nearly thirty years.
Sounds like you had quite an odd job. I presume the station did not have air-con either back then?!