Bangkok, March, 2025, Part 2
Larry was walking down Tong Lor as it started to rain. Great. No umbrella, and no cheap ones for sale where he was. Not that he had money to waste even on the cheapest possible umbrella, like the ones available in the old Pratunam market.
He was summing up his situation as he trotted towards the BTS station on Sukhumvit. Out of work. Out of funds. And likely out of a place to stay come the last day of the month. The new shoes he had bought for the interview had dug too deep into the money he had managed to set aside for the rent. Moving out should in theory boost his finances with the payback of the standard deposit, equal to 5 months rent where westerners were concerned for about a decade now. But one thing that had not changed was the Thai attitude towards such deposits – they where nigh on impossible to get back. And even if he did, it would take time and a lot of hassle.
So no job, no money, no prospect of work. Soon no roof over the head. One or three friends would likely give him a bunk for a few nights, but nobody in his circuits could afford a freeloader these days – he would not make himself popular.
He was remembering those years where a Friday afternoon meant calling a few friends and meeting up for some beers after work, possibly to go on to Nana or Cowboy in the evening. Or maybe go to one of the many places, big and small, up in the Lad Prao area. Or hang out in one of the hundreds if not thousands of places in the city where some nightlife could be enjoyed by someone who spoke the language and was familiar with the metropolitan area.
Now, he did not have the money, and even if he had been better off Bangkok had become so very different.
Cowboy had not survived. Since well before the great crack of 2014 the Japanese had started coming there. As with the old Thermae on Sukhumvit, they had gradually taken over, simply by spending. Bar after bar became gradually less friendly towards westerners, until some bars started putting up "Japanese Only" signs on the doors. And these bars got raided a lot less than others, if at all, by the police – a clear "hint" to other bars to follow suit.
Then the increasingly affluent and adventuresome Chinese made the scene. Money was flowing. Not being very good at thinking long-term, bars and bargirls went all out to extract as much money they could, as fast as they could. Greed took full control, as it had started to do at the Nana Plaza about 20 years ago. Especially the Chinese, tough and smart businesspeople as they were, got hit hard in their first year in Soi Cowboy.
Then a few incidents with drugging of clients went bad and some people died. Chinese and Japanese people. A few episodes followed, involving very tough, very organized and heavily armed people taking revenge – a bit too loudly. Word got about, and the Asian customers just stopped coming. Prices however did not fall either for drinks or services, and so western expats of the kind previously favoring Soi Cowboy never returned. Today, the soi was just another dirty side street with a mix of shops of all kinds occupying the old shophouses.
Larry had made it to the BTS, thoroughly soaked from the rain. He had intended to fork out for passage up to Victory Monument station out of his meager funds, but he was stopped at the escalator entrance. A strict Code of Dress had been in place for years for both the BTS and the subway. Arbitrarily enforced, it was a source of some small income to the attendants, who would make at least lunch money from "improperly dressed" passengers slipping them a few baht to look the other way. In his best clothes, the dripping-wet Larry was told he would be a nuisance to other passengers and ordered to piss off. He knew that they knew he was not a tourist, most Bangkokians seemed to make the difference with the shortest of glances. And if the farang was not a helpless visitor or someone in an S class Benz with a driver, he was less than nobody. Larry knew better than to argue, and went down to the nearby bus stop to figure out which bus could get him home, or close to it.
How many times had he not taken the BTS over the years, to hop off at Nana, Asoke or sometimes even Sala Daeng. And in various state of dress, not to mention state of drunkenness. Not that he ever went out in shorts and flip-flops, as some of the less aware tourists thought they could get away with. But still, no dress code police about. No more stopping at those locations now. The old Nana Plaza had been taken down, to be replaced by an upscale shopping centre 34 floors high, set up to attract affluent Indians and the odd Arab straying by. The Nana Hotel had also been demolished, glittering with baroque decoration was instead the Mahal Royal Palace Hotel – again a venture aimed to serve the class of Indians sporting water-cooled credit cards and a taste for grand luxury.
Larry's bus was crawling through the intersection of Sukhumvit and soi 4. Indians and Arabs were all over the place, getting screamed at by deaf street vendors and countrymen with tailor shops. Thai people mingling, hardly any westerners to be seen. He could remember when this part of Sukhumvit was full of westerners day and night, expats and tourists alike. And most of them out for some fun, at Nana Plaza or at one of the many spots on Sukhumvit Road or in its side streets. A couple of fancy nightclubs still existed in some of the sois, but you had better be rich and dressed like it to get in – especially if you were white.
How could everything have changed like this? Larry was thinking back. As long as he had been in Thailand, there had been changes taking place, gradually, in the nightlife business. Campaigns from time to time, to clean things up. Then the situation reverted, then there was another campaign or a "new brush" in office with an agenda. Some people kept saying "don't worry", "this is Thailand", it will pass. And it always seemed to pass – just that with each passing things got a little bit more restricted. And that went for visa regulations too. Then one day, even the most optimistic westerner had to see that the party was near the very end.
Not that money was not spent in the City of Angels day and night on pleasure. But it was spent by the Chinese and the Japanese, who tended to go about business in a way less offensive to the Thai. They where more discrete than the average farang. They dressed better, and did not shout and sing in the streets hanging on to Isaan girls with tattoos and makeup of the kind any Russian prostitute would approve of. In short, they blended in.
Larry's bus was passing Siam Square, on its way to turn up Phaya Thai. Lots of people around Siam Square, including western tourists. The Hard Rock Cafe was still going strong, as was the renovated MBK mall. Flocks of Chula students around, these days with an attitude towards anyone looking like a western teacher comparable with old Stalin's sympathy for peasants. Not wise to hang out there too late at night for an obvious expat.
When the bus came up to Soi Rangnam Larry got off on a whim. Soi Rangnam was one of the last few places in Bangkok where he had a chance to meet fellow low-income expats. The Pratunam area still offered some of the cheapest rooms in the metropolitan area, and with that cheap restaurants and shops. The place had looked like it was moving upscale a couple of decades ago, but ultimately the neighbourhood had been too cheap for the increasingly affluent middle class Thai. It remained a place where the average English teacher could afford the odd dinner out and a few drinks. And there were no Japanese or Chinese about, except for those you could sometimes see stretching in the backseats of their Crown Royal Saloons or oversized Benzes passing through.
As in the west, you got most jobs through the network of people you knew. Another reason for Larry, in addition to the hapless economy back home, as to why he had no chance to land a job in the US. He'd had no network there for so long, it was totally hopeless.
Walking down the soi he spotted a Tourist Police car some distance in front of him, parked by a noodle vendor. He made sure none of the officers was looking his way, and made it across the street. Still dripping wet from the rain he knew his appearance could easily attract the attention of the Tourist Police, and that inevitably meant paying money. They where highly inventive where it came to finding something wrong, something that had to be fined. And especially so when encountering a farang outside the normal tourist haunts.
He made it without incident to the Ajarn Restaurant, a place that had been around since as long he could remember. The place had been very popular for its food back in the 1990's, and despite setbacks in the kitchen it had survived. Appropriately named for it, the locale was now a meeting place for teachers hailing from Europe and the US, with a few surviving Aussies thrown in for flavour. It was a bit early, about an hour before the first teachers would make it there after work.
Larry reflected that he really should have gone straight home to change out of his wet clothes. But he had had such a bad day, and he dreaded the look of scorn he would get from the ever-present mother of the landlord, always sitting in the entrance area of the building looking to hook anyone late with the rent or guilty of some sin against the house rules, of which she had an extensive catalogue to select from. "See the filthy farang, all wet, noo good" her eyes would tell him. So having already messed up his budget with his expensive and now ruined-by-Bangkok-rain leather shoes, Larry opted for a bottle of Sang Som and a plate of cashew nuts.
There was a copy of yesterday's Nation, generously left by some patron, for him to peruse. The first few pages were filled with glorious news, as always. Not a single negative comment on anything. That was reserved for the international news on page 4. After that, the sports section. A big headline there, Thailand had beaten the national team of some very small African country in soccer. Then the classifieds, all 6 pages of it. More than half the ads were in Thai, Chinese or Japanese. Not only in the jobs section, but also in the Real Estate and the Entertainment pages. Larry missed the old Bangkok Post, although it had been a rather sad rag in its last surviving years. Some Thai tycoon had bought it and used it to shamelessly further his business interests. Half the paper had been in Chinese the last year it was published, then one day it was no more. Rumor had it that a long running Chinese-Thai publishing consortium had seen competition coming, and then there was the proverbial "no proper businessman's Benz without a few bullet holes in the side" thing yet again.
Larry noted several ads that in multiple languages promoted churches or bible schools or both. Trust that lot to keep going, he thought. Your good old' bible belt Baptist will keep giving, even through times of recession and hardship. Tenacious, he had to give them that. The Thai had never been too eager to embrace the Christian belief. They were not at all attracted to the idea of a hell to burn in for sins that could not be hidden from an all-seeing god. Not much in the way of inspiration for winning lottery-numbers to be had in church either. A tough religion to peddle in Thailand. But those folks stayed on and kept printing bibles, they kept holding meetings, kept doing charity…
Over half-way down in his bottle Larry got an idea.
To be continued………
A thoroughly enjoyable read! I warm to Larry more and more.
God forbid this scenario should eventuate!