Hello My Big Big Honey
Back in the mid-nineties I was a fool for work. I would work stints of 3 months at a time, fly back home for a week or two and then back out again for another two or three month trip. Of course the company I worked for at the time had no scruples about
taking advantage of my amenable disposition. I wasn’t exactly complaining either as we were working mostly in Vietnam.
Vung Tau was a real cowboy town back then and all kinds of fun could be had as long as you had the right motorbike driver to zip you around and then ensure that you made it back to the ship before 8 AM the following morning.
In Danang an 11:00 PM curfew was in place but knowing where to go, the astute party animal could still get into trouble without too much difficulty.
We also worked (and partied) in Singapore, Southern Thailand, Cambodia and occasionally Indonesia so you can probably understand why a whole bunch of single twenty-something offshore types weren’t too keen to go home.
Ah, the camaraderie, the drunken bottle-rocket fights during Tet, the knee-tremblers on the beach, the end-of-job barbecue head-shavings. Halcyon days!
One December, at the end of a fairly grueling three-month trip we were all having a few beers in a bar in Vung Tau prior to the flight to Singapore the next morning (and from there back to the UK) when the operations manager asked me if I would be interested in helping out in moving a drilling rig from Singapore to Haiphong in Northern Vietnam.
To those not familiar with rigs and such, I would not be physically moving it myself. I may be an offshore worker whose knuckles get wet when I walk through puddles, but a jack-up drilling rig weighs hundreds of thousands of tons. That is what semi-submersible heavy lifting ships are for.
My role would be to assist in the positioning of the rig by installing and operating a satellite positioning system and survey computer.
I was told that this trip would take about one week and that I was to be working with Barry, one of my colleagues who had been working in South East Asia considerably longer than I and who was therefore obviously much more experienced in the region than I was.
Well I wasn’t quite done with having fun yet and, not being in any hurry to go home I agreed.
Due to the monsoon, the move ended up taking a month, running through Christmas and New Year. The rig itself was French as were most of the rig crew, there was no TV, no videos, the library was all in French and Barry, it transpired, walked and talked in his sleep.
Aside from the entertainment provided by my nocturnally chatty cabin-mate, all I had to stop me from climbing the walls was a copy of “Hello My Big Big Honey”.
For those of you that have never heard of this particular work, it is a collection of letters to and from Thai bargirls from their boyfriends. This was, don’t forget, in the days before email had been firmly grasped by bargirls as their tool of choice for extracting money from their sponsors, although the format of the letters was pretty much identical to the type of emails that a large number of readers of this site are, I’m quite sure, familiar with these days.
As an aside, I met a girl in Songkhla recently who I have known for a few years since she first arrived in town, not speaking any English, and she now tells me that she is no longer working in a bar as she has a sponsor, although she was quick to add that she doesn’t have a boyfriend and was on the lookout for one.
Anyway back to the story: Whilst onboard the rig I must have read this book about ten times and gradually over the course of a very dull (dull, that is interspersed with moments of sheer terror – 3 AM fire in the crew's galley and a temporary vessel evacuation offshore Danang due to engine failure of the heavy lift vessel) trip, each time I read it, it worked its way into my mind a little more.
I don’t know, maybe it was the title: Something about the title intrigued me. It was used as the opening line in one of the letters inside, from one of the bargirls to one of the lucky sponsors and I started to think how great it would be to have some exotic lady send me letters which opened with those lines.
I thought about that and I re-read the book again and again until I had decided that I didn’t just want the letters, I wanted everything; the letters, the lies, the love (well the shagging part), the anger, the sick buffaloes, in short the whole glorious ride.
At that time I had never been to Bangkok. I had been to Songkhla a couple of times, but back then Songkhla didn’t have the gogo scene (it still doesn’t now) and there was only two or three bars which catered to foreigners (there’s considerably more than that now). So I had never before experienced the rush of walking into somewhere like Nana Plaza and having a hundred girls calling out “Hello handsome man”.
Well, Barry and I decided that the company owed us a flight each to Bangkok when we finally got off the rig and, as he’d been to Bangkok a couple of times before, he would show me around. I decided to give “Hello My Big Big Honey” another read – just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.
Arriving at Don Muang early in January, Barry told the taxi driver “soi 4” to which came the reply “soi 4 very big, which one?” Thinking back, it is now obvious that Barry wasn’t quite as experienced in Bangkok as I believed at the time but what did I care? He knew a good hotel to stay in. He knew where to go drinking. He knew where the girls were at. I just sat in the taxi looking out the window in a state of anticipation.
I was in Bangkok.
I wasn’t a hard man but I was definitely humble.
And I definitely wanted an angel next to me.
Well, early that afternoon we pulled up outside the Nana Hotel and pulled our bags out of the taxi.
“Not a bad looking hotel” I thought to myself.
“Oh no, we’re not staying here” says Barry seeing the direction of my gaze, whereupon he gestures behind me, into the plaza. “We’ll be staying in here”.
Barry's recommended hotel was inside the plaza itself up on the third floor at the left side where the Hollywood bar is now I think.
Back then Nana Plaza was a bit more ‘general purpose’.
In addition to the bars, there were a couple of restaurants and an STD clinic / pharmacy on the ground floor – the only ground floor beer bars were around the edges of the plaza, just outside the gogos – most of the area was used as a car park.
There were two short-time hotels, I think, on the third floor, one of which was the Royal Siam Guesthouse, this was where Barry intended that we stay for our weeklong holiday in Sin City.
Here now, a few words about staying long-time in a short time hotel: “It’s noisy. Stay drunk.”
Barry liked this place because he had the hoots for the girl who worked in the reception. I must admit she was very cute but in retrospect I don’t think he had much of a chance due to the procession of young ladies from downstairs who trooped up to his room over the course of the following week.
After checking into our lodgings we headed downstairs to the balcony level bars, the first of which was the Three Roses bar (I still have the T-shirt somewhere), and proceeded that afternoon to get very drunk indeed.
During that afternoon, as we worked our way clockwise around the first storey of the plaza we walked into one dimly lit bar which was showing a pirated movie on the TV screen. There were girls lying on the gogo stage, sitting slumped, head down, at the bar and generally not a lot going on but as soon as we had taken our seats at the bar, after the mamasan first moved one semi-comatose girl from off of the bar in front of us, one girl, who seemed a little more awake than the others (although now, several years later when I think back on it I’m sure her eyes rolled back and I saw her lips uncover her teeth as she moved in for the kill) sat down on the stool next to mine, threw her arms around me and said the magic words: “Hello handsome man. You stay first time in Thailand? What you drink?”
As it was early afternoon and I was hungry I decided I wanted a beer and some food. This particular bar had a menu from one of the restaurants downstairs so I decided to experiment with some Thai cuisine: “I’ll have a Singha beer and some Tom Yam Khun please”
For some reason this was met with much mirth from the other girls currently lounging around the place.
Anyway, she said I could have some “Tom Yam Me” which I didn’t understand then, but later that night our love was sealed as I vomited all over her nether regions whilst attempting to drunkenly perform cunnilingus – she said she didn’t mind, she loved me.
And that was it; she had me.
And I got it all: The letters, the lies, the love (well the shagging part), the pimple squeezing, the anger, the sick buffaloes, the venereal diseases, the family, the prepared toothbrush every night, the gambling, the infidelity, the new house, the visas, the new friends and the new enemies. In short, the whole glorious ride.
And if Barry is reading this I have only this to say: “Artistic license mate, artistic license”.