My First Business Trip to Thailand: Day 1
The bump of the jet’s landing woke me from a very sound sleep. I glanced out the window and saw fairways and golfers. Why are we landing in a golf course I wondered? I shook my head a couple of times. Oh yeah, this is Bangkok and I have just landed
at Don Muang airport, where jet aircraft and golfers mingle together in surreal harmony. As my senses further returned to me, I also remembered why I was here: this would be my first business trip to Thailand. My excitement grew as I gathered
my things together in my case and prepared to exit the plane to set foot in Asia for the first time in my life.
It had been a hard “day” of travel. It started out with a very crowded flight on United to Heathrow, where I had a 2 hour layover, and then boarded a British Airways flight directly to Bangkok. Unlike my first flight, this one was half full so I settled into my business class seat next to a window in front of the wings of a 747. The food and service were pretty good and as I settled in with my 4th glass of red wine, I fell asleep looking out on the steppes of Europe. After arriving in Bangkok, I stood in line at immigration half asleep, numb to the step-by-step approach to the desk. I do remember waiting for my bag and the oh-shit realization that it would not be coming off the conveyor. A chat with the agents at BA confirmed that my bag had gone to Sydney but it should arrive later that evening. It was now 8 AM and I was supposed to meet my party at 9 AM. I assumed they would be at the airport. Instead, as I walked into the heat of the greeting area, I was surprised to see a pretty Thai woman holding a sign with my name on it. I said hello and she gave me a breathtaking smile that I remember to this day. I had had my first Thai smile. She led me to a black car outside and without a word from my driver, I headed into the city.
The year was 2000. As I got closer to the city, I noticed all the tall cranes that did not seem to working and the half-finished high rise towers. I had read something about the financial crises in Asia in 1997, so I guessed this was it. After an hour’s drive I arrived at a modest office building and walked in with my laptop bag wearing my crumpled blue suit and red tie. The receptionist told me what floor my company’s office was on and when I got out of the elevator, I met another receptionist who asked me to sit down and would I like some water. Yes, please. After a few minutes, Yongyuth bounded out and started shaking my hand. Yongyuth was my company’s account representative for the large Thai bank we would be visiting today. He explained we would be accompanied by the country manager, but we had to move fast as our meeting started at 10 AM. I told him about my bag and that it had been 24 hours since I last had a shower, hoping in some way he might have a solution for me. But no, we had to go now no matter what. Down the elevator and back into the same black car that had not moved since I had gotten out.
We arrived at the front of a very tall office building in what I assumed to be Bangkok’s business district. There in the very plush reception area we met Karoon, who was our company’s country manager. Together we took the elevator to the top floor to a very large, high ceiling waiting area with elegant chairs and couches. Yongyuth told me that this bank had been a loyal customer over the years but recently had started to question the products they were using and whether they were robust enough for some high-profile projects they had planned. The infighting over these issues was such that the executive committee of the bank decided they would make the decision whether to continue to be our customer. My job was to assure the committee that our company’s products were evolving to meet their requirements, and I assured Yongyuth I had given this presentation successfully many times before. After waiting for over an hour in this plush area, another pretty face appeared and motioned us into an adjoining room.
When we entered I saw an enormous executive table made of teak with 20 ornate chairs around it. Eight of those chairs were occupied by elderly Thai men in perfect suits with one younger man at the head. He immediately got up and introduced himself as Tommy in near perfect English. Later, I learned he was the executive vice president of the bank. He said he did his undergraduate and graduate degrees in America and had worked there a number of years before returning to Thailand. He had lived in some cities I was familiar with and we talked about some of the places he missed in America. After a few minutes of chat, he gave me a sad smile and walked back to his chair and sat down. It was now my turn to talk.
I started my presentation using a small projector Yongyuth had brought and I immediately started to get the nodding heads of approval from the executives. All except one; he scowled through most of my pitch. Anyway, I kept eye contact mostly with Tommy and at the end he smiled broadly and jumped from his seat to shake my hand again. The rest of the executives stood up, which I instinctively knew that it was time for us to leave. I passed out my business card, thanked them for their time, and headed for the door with the rest of my team. After a few minutes, the scowling executive came out and introduced himself as the CIO of the bank. He said the committee had some additional questions for us but they now had luncheon engagements; could we come back after lunch? My Thai hosts assured him we could. He then said that although he liked my presentation, his recommendation was to pull our products. My Thai hosts started talking to him in Thai while I stood there watching like at a tennis match. After a few minutes, Yongyuth said we were all going to lunch together to discuss this at more length.
We piled back into the black sedan and stopped in front of what looked like a run down house of ill repute. Once inside, though, another pretty Thai face greeted us and led us to a large table. This house turned out to be a small restaurant that was beautifully, yet tastefully decorated in Thai silks and ornaments. The furniture was of good quality and as I looked around at the other patrons, I got the impression this was an expensive place to eat for executive types. The menu was all in Thai so I sat and smiled as the others ordered. Yongyuth asked if I could eat spicy food and I nodded “yes” thinking of the jalapeños I ate back home. Everyone gave what I thought was an evil smile and the conversation continued in Thai. Then the waiters started bringing food, lots of it, until the entire table was filled. I kept wondering when the other people of our party were to arrive, but they never did. I dutifully tried every dish, and only a couple sent me to my water glass. They smiled and continued to talk; occasionally asking me a few questions. When we finished eating, leaving enough food to feed another ten people, we piled into the sedan and went back to the waiting room at the bank. After we sat down, the CIO announced that he was sure our products were not good and that he was going to convince the committee of this. However, we should hang around until the bad news was officially announced to us, and then he left. My first thought was he had snookered us out of an expensive lunch after the decision had already been made; the creep. But Yongyuth and Karoon said to be patient and to not form any ideas yet. We sat mostly in silence for another hour until we were again summoned back into the conference room.
The executives were seated exactly as we had left them, only this time we sat down at the table with them. Tommy started to talk about some of the doubts the CIO had raised earlier, with the CIO now smiling at his elbow. When it was my turn to speak, I decided I had nothing to lose so I let them have it. I told them I was so confident that our products could meet their requirements, I would be willing to create a working model of some of the projects they wanted to build, using their equipment on their site, and if they didn’t like what they saw, we would pack it in and say goodbye. The CIO started to frown. Tommy asked how much this would cost and I said zero; we would do it for free for a good customer. Tommy then asked how soon we could do this and I said as soon as they were ready. The CIO was now in full scowl while my fellow employees, Yongyuth and Karoon, were giving their best impressions of fish out of water groping for breath. Tommy asked if we could wait outside. After another 30 minutes, the CIO appeared and said with much humbleness in his voice, that the committee wanted us to create this proof of concept. He said he would get his engineers working on getting the space and the equipment ready for us, probably in about a month. In the meantime, we should stay in touch with him for more requirements. Tommy appeared and came over to thank us. He shook my hand and said I should call him the next time I was in Thailand. Then both he and the CIO excused themselves. The gamble had paid off and our victory was complete. Now all we had to do was to make the prototype work, which would not be so easy as I did overplay my hand a little. That was for another day, though.
We were in good spirits as we again piled into the sedan when I realized I had no clean clothes or toiletries. No worries Yongyuth said. We dropped Karoon off at the office and headed to a place called the World Trade Center. There in the men’s department, we quickly assembled an entourage of young, pretty Thai girls. Yongyuth gave a few quick commands and the girls scurried off bringing me all types of clothes. I chose more casual clothes and tried them on until I found some that fit. Yongyuth offered to pay for them but I insisted. At that time, the dollar bought a lot more and the clothes were actually quite cheap. Yongyuth did buy me some cologne; it was his favorite he said, which I thought a little weird at the time. Later, I realized it had now been almost two days without a shower and I must have smelled like horse put in the barn wet. Back into the sedan and dropping me off at my hotel, Yongyuth said he would be back to pick me up at 7 PM for dinner. I would be staying at the now gone Siam Intercontinental hotel.
At the registration desk, I asked if my bag arrived from BA and they said “no.” Amazingly, they had the phone number of the BA baggage claim office (I suspect they had performed this task before) and said they would call them for me to find out what was happening with my bag. The bellboy took my laptop bag and escorted me to my room. Along the way, we ran into a hotel maid who put her hands flat in front of her face and gave me a quick bow with a big smile. I returned the gesture and both she and the bellboy broke out into laughter. Little did I know that I just performed the equivalent of kissing the local soi dog on the lips. <Yes, that's right and a beautiful, original analogy! – Stick> What a friendly hotel, I thought. Inside my room, I noticed the distinctive Thai furniture and beautiful Thai wall paintings. I looked outside my window and saw a courtyard that was landscaped with many different types of trees and plants, and dotted with small ponds and fountains. This was like a small Garden of Eden in the middle of a major metropolis. I know now that a modern shopping area resides on this spot, but Bangkok is less beautiful for it. Thai couples used to have their wedding pictures taken in this courtyard for goodness sakes. Anyway, my room had a mini-bar and I tried a Thai beer called Singha (strong to my taste), sat on my bed and turned on the TV. The news was on and in Thai but I watched anyway. The commercials were the wildest I had ever seen, with crazy housewives and hyperactive kids, all in flashes of explosive color. After a few minutes, I was dead asleep dreaming of dancing Thai soap suds.
I awoke to what I thought was alarm bells from my old elementary school but soon realized was my room phone. A Thai voice speaking English said he was here to pick me up. My mind raced all the way from America to Thailand to Yongyuth in two seconds, as I blurted out I would be there in 10 minutes. I had been asleep for two hours and felt like I was on a small boat in a rough sea. So this was real jet lag. I showered and shaved and remembered to put on the cologne. Meeting Yongyuth, he seemed surprised to see me in casual clothes and I am sure he was relieved I smelled better. Yongyuth was now driving his car, a Honda Accord, with numerous Buddhas and flowers hanging from his rear view mirror. I saw pasted pictures on the dashboard of him, and what I assumed was his wife and two small children. He had some guitar music playing and I said I liked it. He excitedly told me it was music based on songs the King had written and said it was the best music he had ever heard. After a few more minutes of driving, we arrived at a building with many colored lights in front of it. His car was valet parked and we were whisked in with two people holding the large door open for us.
Inside, it was a restaurant like any other large restaurant seen in America, with tables of various sizes and uniformed staff buzzing about. The hostess, again very pretty, seemed to recognize Yongyuth and she escorted us to a table near the center of the room. Yongyuth ordered beer and a few plates of Thai food. As we ate, we talked about the events of the day. Yongyuth said that, of course, the work on the prototype would be done by Thai engineers, but they would need my help. I assured him that I would when I started to notice the room filling up with other business types, but they were sitting with pretty girls dressed in short silk dresses. I wondered if that was how Thai girls dressed on dates. When we finished, Yongyuth paid the check over my protestations and then said, “I want to show you something.”
He led me by the arm to an opening at the back of the dining area and when I entered, the bright lights in front momentarily blinded me after sitting in the dark dining area. When my eyes refocused, I saw a large glass enclosure with about 30 girls in various states of dress and undress, facing us with red numbered tags pinned to their shoulder. In front of the glass were five other men and one large on with his arms folded on his chest. Yongyuth explained that you choose a girl by a number, pay a fee, and then she leads you upstairs for two hours in a bedroom. He said, “You do want a girl for tonight?” Events were now speeding way too fast for my brain evaluate. Standing with my mouth open, I thought of my crumbling marriage back home, now sleeping in the basement with my dog, and the years without marital bliss. We would soon separate for good. “Of course” I blurted out, “but who should I choose, they are all so beautiful.” Yongyuth smiled broadly, like a pirate who just recruited a new shipmate, and said I should tell the tall gentleman what I wanted and he would choose one for me. I remember saying to the tall gent something silly like a girl with a nice figure, good personality, and good morals. He nodded his head, looked at one girl and waved his hand. I suspected I was getting the foreign businessman’s special regardless of my requirements. She climbed down from her perch and I tipped my new friend 100 baht. Yongyuth said he had a regular girl here and that she was already getting ready. He led me to a cashier desk where I paid my three thousand baht via credit card. Then we waited near some elevators in leather chairs.
In about five minutes, two girls popped out of the elevator and stood in front of us and smiled. When we stood up they took us by the hand and we jumped into the elevator and rode it to the 3rd floor. When the elevator door opened, Yongyuth and I headed in opposite directions along a long hallway. I asked my girl what her name was and all I got was a big smile. I assumed that meant she spoke no English, but no matter; she was a little over five feet tall and a real knockout. As we walked down the hall hand in hand, I tripped on a fold in the rug and received a big laugh from my new girlfriend. When we got to the room, she opened the door for me and I saw a large bathtub on the right and a double bed on the left. She went directly to tub and started to run water. Then she came to me and started to unbutton my shirt. As I often do when feeling uncomfortable, I started to play around and proceeded to gently poke her in the ribs which made her laugh. I quickly figured out that this was supposed to be a fun experience for both of us, not the wham-bam-thank you mam of American pay-for sex I had read about. We continued to play as we undressed each other until we got into the warm water of the tub. She then became very quiet as she gently scrubbed every part of my body with a soapy wash cloth. She resisted when I tried to wash her the same way, but I insisted and she relaxed as I repeated the procedure on her. We dried off and the playing resumed on the bed. When she botched the blow job-to-condom trick we both laughed so hard I thought we would fall off the bed. Normal coitus resumed and when it was over, she curled herself around me like a loving snake as she slowly started to sleep.
Lying on my back in perfect union with the world, I noticed flashes of light coming from the lone small window in the room. The small rumblings of thunder followed and soon we were having a real Thai thunderstorm. I was still enjoying the afterglow of good sex when the small light in the room went off along with the air conditioner. My sweetie immediately woke up with a frightened look on her face and jumped up to look out the window. I guessed that the power going off in this brothel was not a good thing, so I stood beside her with my arm around her until the power came back on a few minutes later. After that, she lay back on the bed and beckoned me to her again. Not needing much prompting and with condom in hand, we resumed those acts that come naturally to a man without sex for some years and a naked woman. When the inevitable knock on the door came, I had just enough time to drink a Singha from the mini-frig as I put on my clothes. I tipped her 1,000 baht; which she seemed grateful for, and this time we walked arms around each other to the elevator. When we parted, she gave me one last beautiful smile and I did my best not to run after her.
Walking back to the main dining area, I soon saw Yongyuth sitting alone at a table and drinking what looked like orange juice. I ordered a beer and soon we were debating which one of us had the better girl. Being a gracious host, he conceded I was the lucky one and we clinked our glasses together. As our conversation grew quieter, I asked him did he do this very often, thinking back to the family pictures in his car. He beamed and said he had figured out how best a man should live. Every time he was paid, salary or bonus, he divided it four ways: one for himself, one for his wife and children, one for his girlfriends (both here and at university), and one for Buddha. This compartmentalization of his money and his life had made many people happy, especially himself. I asked him what would happen if his wife found out about the other girls. He said she was happy as long as he continued to bring in money and did not embarrass or divorce her. As strange as this sounded to my western ears, I could find no immediate fault in it and shook my head in agreement. He made a call on his cell phone, and as we walked out of the multi-colored restaurant with smiles and waves from the hostesses, his car was waiting for us. Back at the hotel, when my head hit the pillow this time, I was dreaming of pretty Thai girls greeting me as I returned to the restaurant of delicious desserts. I wonder if my luggage bag was having the same dream.
A nice report. I've heard that division of a Thai man's salary before – and seldom are the four parts equal!