My First Business Trip to Thailand: Day 2
This follows on from: My First Business Trip to Thailand: Day 1
There is one thing nice about working yourself to near exhaustion, either through real work or real hard play, is that when you finally sleep; it is the deepest and most satisfying of all sleep. After my first full day of business in Thailand, coupled with the travel and the difference in time, I was just now waking from one the best night's sleep I have ever had in my life. Having had sex for the first time in years with one of the most beautiful women I had ever been with, added to this feeling of complete rejuvenation of the spirit and soul. When I sat up and opened my eyes, I expected that this good karma would mean I would see my wayward luggage bag standing just inside my hotel door. Nope, and nope again when I called the front desk to see if it had arrived there. Oh well, I had had the forethought to buy an extra set of underwear and to drop my suit off for pressing at the maid station the night before. When you travel as much as I do, you learn to plan ahead, especially when it comes to underwear.
Trying to regain my earlier karmic good feelings, I realized there was only one problem; it was 6 AM and it would be 10 AM until my next appointment. This time I was to be the keynote speaker at a marketing event my company was sponsoring in the hotel conference area. A quick look out the window showed a smattering of lights at the hotel office. I looked at the hotel menu and saw that breakfast would not be served until 8 AM. What would I do until then? First, I checked the closet to see if my suit was ready. It was hanging up neatly pressed, with even a whiff of some sweet smelling starch. Wow, what service. Next, I opened my laptop, fumbled with the power adapter that promised Thai compatibility, and tried to get connected to the internet. In 2000, most connectivity in hotels outside of Japan was still through a phone line. I put my line into the wall and used my VPN client to make a connection. Lucky me I was in at 24 kbps, I had a good line. I started to replicate my email and while I waited, I looked at the breakfast menu. Let's see, congee, egg with sausage, Kellogg's corn flakes, and coffee; not much for an American on this menu. After about 20 minutes, the replication stopped and I started to reply to my email. I glanced at my presentation for the keynote address; it was a speech I had given a few times before so no worries there. When I finished it was 8:30 so I ordered breakfast, got into the shower, and when I was dressed in my semi-fresh suit, my breakfast arrived.
At 9:30 AM I decided to walk to the conference center and check out the scene. The center was a separate building adjacent to the hotel so you had to walk outside to get there. Already, it was starting to get very hot as the sun was very bright this day. No matter, the grounds of this once grand hotel were meticulously maintained. I enjoyed every minute that my eyes were open here, and I still cherish the hotel robe I bought on a later visit. Anyway, the conference building had one large room that could hold a few hundred people, and then a number of smaller rooms of various sizes. The main hallway was already filling up as people came early to imbibe our complimentary coffee and sweet buns. I went into the main room and walked to the podium. There was already a Thai technician fumbling with the wiring. I started to hook up my laptop video to the main cable, and with about one minute before 10 AM, we finally got it to work.
By that time, the room was mostly filled and I was ready to speak. Right before I started, it occurred to me that I could have been a man from Mars who decided to speak at this event; no one challenged me or escorted me to the podium. I was just a foreigner who hooked up his laptop and started speaking!
And speak to them I did. I knew from my meager research into talking to Asian audiences not to use American euphemisms. I noticed more people were still entering the hall, many of them openly talking with the rest of my audience sitting quietly with smiling faces. Making direct eye contact with a few of those faces just brought on bigger smiles. I noticed one young, Thai woman positively beaming at me, so I decided to devote the rest of my looks her way. I finished my speech in 30 minutes and received quiet applause. Afterwards, standing on the edge of the stage, I answered a few questions all the time looking for my muse from the audience, when a Thai woman came up to me and introduced herself as the event organizer. She apologized for not meeting me earlier and said at 11 AM I was supposed to speak to a smaller group.
Still looking for Ms. Beaming Smile, I decided to stay and see the next speaker. I was surprised to see a former colleague jump up on the stage and plug in his laptop. I had known Tony briefly in America; his family is Japanese-Korean but he was born and bred in the States. He started out his career on one of the product teams, traveled to Singapore on a temporary assignment, soon fell in love with the city and in a matter of months had secured a local position there. This was the first time I had seen him since he left. His speech was halting, he fumbled through most of it, but he had a nice smile and the crowd was appreciative at the end. As I approached the speaker stand to say hello, I saw a group of young Thai women already there peppering him with questions. Most had business cards in their hand and when he answered their questions, they still begged him to send emails with more detailed information. After the crowd dispersed, he was surprised to see me as well. I asked him if this happened often to him. He said only in Thailand. We both laughed and agreed to meet later in the afternoon.
Just then, my Thai chaperone rushed up to me and grabbed me by the upper arm. "Come, you have session." She told me some session name and a room number, but it was her strong grip around my arm that got me to move and one minute later I was in a small room with about 30 people. I opened my laptop, found a presentation that seemed close to the topic, and started to speak. This time I knew it was all about style. I smiled a lot, moved my arms in an evocative display, and spoke in such a confident manner that I am sure everyone in room would not have been surprised if I had pulled a rabbit from my pants. At the end, everyone applauded, with even a couple of smiling, young Thai women asking for my business card. I graciously gave them my card in the two-handed manner I had earlier seen and prayed to Lord Buddha they would call me later that night.
When everyone had left, my Thai matron grabbed my arm firmly again and said I was supposed to meet customers for lunch. She walked me outside and back into the main hotel into the side entrance that led to the restaurant. We stopped in front of a table of ten Thai people and one jumped up immediately and introduced himself as an account representative of my company. He then introduced everyone around the table with me smiling and immediately forgetting their names. The table was already filled with enough food to feed 30 people and they started to eat as I sat down. The conversation had a routine I quickly become used to. Some brave Thai soul in the group would ask me a technical question in semi-good English, I would answer it as best I could which would be followed by five minutes of Thai chatting by the rest of the table. Sometimes I would pick up the word "farang". No worries; this gave me time to eat some excellent Thai food and to practice my best Thai smile. This went on for 90 minutes, and then almost by magic, everyone became silent as the account representative put his credit card on what looked like the bill. When the waitress returned we all got up and walked back to the convention center.
Back in the main hallway, I seemed to have lost my Thai matron and holder of arms, so I assumed I would be free to roam as I wished. I looked in a few rooms and finally found my friend Tony speaking to a mostly Thai female audience about one of our products. Again, he fumbled his way through the presentation in his endearing manner, and again, twenty females rushed the stage to talk to him. I half expected them to throw their panties at him ala Tom Jones, but they seemed to be a conservative bunch and only business cards flew out of their hands. After they dispersed, Tony said he wanted to take me out that night but he had sessions until 6 PM. I told him my work seemed to be done so I was going back to my room for a nap. He said he would call me when he was done. So back I headed to my room, not forgetting to return the wai from my hotel maid along the way, and tried to recall my beautiful friend from the night before as I fell asleep.
Again, I heard the bells from my elementary school and soon realized it was my hotel room phone. In the 2 seconds it took me to answer the phone, I wondered why when I didn't want to wake up that the phone always sounded like bells from elementary school. Was it a Cold War child's fear of bells sounding the start of Armageddon between the Soviet Union and America? I hoped not. Anyway, it was my friend Tony calling and it was 6 PM. I suspected he had met a few of his fans at the bar after his last session but he was now ready for new adventures. I told him I would meet him in the bar in fifteen minutes and set about to shave, shower, and pack my dirty clothes in a hotel plastic bag. Where the hell was my luggage bag? I guess it was having too good a time in Sydney to return. I walked to the front desk and asked if my bag had arrived. "No, sorry sir." I checked out of the hotel but asked if they could hold on to my things while I was out. My flight was at 12 midnight so it would only be for a few hours. I rolled into the bar to find Tony still talking to a lovely conference attendee at a table. Tony ordered some food and beer and an hour later his new friend excused herself as she had to get home. Tony and I jumped into a cab and he said, "Have you ever been to Patpong?"
Tony explained along the way that Patpong was good place to buy souvenirs and to "see the sights." Soon we arrived at a crowded street corner. It was packed with stalls with bright lights and people milling around in a zombie-like trance; talking to vendors, exchanging money for product, and then continuing on to examine some artifact with a Thai veneer but actually made in China. As I worked my way through the stalls, I bargained for tee shirts, crazy butterfly knives, and fake Rolexes to take home to loved ones, and not so loved ones. As I veered off to the side, I saw a line of shops with neon signs and happy, smiling people in front. I approached the first one and was immediately handed a small piece of paper with names of beers and whiskey with prices that what I assumed to be Thai baht. Before I had a chance to read the paper, two arms wrapped around mine and started to walk me into a door, assuring me that I would see the "best show". As I took one step in, Tony grabbed my shirt from behind and pulled me out. He then put a strong arm under my shoulder and walked me down the lane, "you don't want to go in there", he said.
Tony told me that Patpong was actually two small streets that had no buildings between them; with only this market place between them. The market only opened at night and only sold cheap tourist items. He then explained that bars had opened up on the sides to tempt these same tourists in for a night of fun. I assured him I was up for some fun, but he said he knew a better place we could go. We crossed the market place and went into a rather small room with a lighted stage and a frowning older woman. However, when she saw Tony, her eyes lit up and they hugged like old friends. She sat us at a booth not to far from the stage and when the music began to blare, ten very young and beautiful girls came out and started to dance. They were topless and wearing thong bottoms. I couldn't help smiling at them and apparently, they couldn't help smiling back at me. After our beer arrived, we were soon surrounded by five or six girls, all in the topless-thong uniform, laughing and asking our names with a plea to please buy them drinks. I said "sure", with Tony giving me a frown, but no matter; my new found friends were laughing at every word I said. Soon, the girl on my right started to inspect my package, which was gaining in postage, and kissed me on the cheek. As I looked down at her young breasts, I was ready to follow her any where. Tony, apparently seeing the signs of impending doom, put some money on the table and with his arm firmly grasped on my upper arm, escorted me away from heaven on earth.
As I started to wonder if everyone in Thailand was escorted around by a firm clamping of the upper arm, Tony said he knew of an even better place we could go. We walked about 50 yards until we came to a street. Tony talked to some casually dressed Thai guy, and soon we were in what Tony called a tuktuk. It was cramped and smelly, but I loved it immediately. After about 15 minutes, during which time I tried to look nonchalant while I was thrown about in a three-wheeled motorcycle, we arrived at a building with bright lights and a familiar sign.
The sign said The Hard Rock Café and I wondered why Tony, by now a seasoned Asian pro, would want to go to such an iconic American establishment. We walked in and what I saw was nothing like any HRC I had ever been in. The place was jammed with people pulsating to a live rock band. Tony and I gradually made our way to the bar and ordered beer. As I was looking around, I saw a beautiful Thai face looking back at me. I smiled, by now realizing that this was the equivalent to the western come-hither look, and a few seconds later she was in front of me asking my name or something like that. My answer didn't matter as the music was so loud I couldn't hear her nor could she hear me. A second later, we were dancing where we stood and I noticed that Tony was doing the same with another Thai lovely. I remember buying drinks for our party, after which my friend stood closer to me with one arm around me. I returned the gesture and soon we were lightly kissing in the semi-dark of the vibrating lights and the pulsing music.
The next thing I remember, Tony again had me by the upper arm (this explained the bruises I had there when I got home) saying it was 10 PM and I had to go catch my flight. He jerked me away from the beautiful person I intended to marry, and we were out into the night and into an air conditioned taxi. Still clutching my Patpong valuables, I remembered my laptop was still at the hotel. Luckily, it was en route to the airport and soon the taxi was stopped in front. I retrieved my laptop and plastic bag from the receptionist when the bellhop ran up and said my luggage bag had arrived a couple of hours earlier. I gave them each 500 baht and ran to the taxi. Tony said something to the driver, handed him a 100 baht note, and the taxi started to travel at light speed to the airport. I flew out of the cab, barely thanking Tony for his help, and after talking to numerous Thai people about this and that, I was on my flight and headed home.
As I settled back into my business class seat, this time on United Airlines and headed east to circumnavigate the globe, I reflected on my two day experience in Asia. My god, everything was different here; the people, the culture, the way they did business. For all the rushing about, there was also a relaxing feeling to everything I had done. I felt it now; leaving behind numerous future wives, I knew everything would be alright and we would survive until our next get together when we would all enjoy life again. Why was the West so consumed with everything being perfect? I started to see a world much different from my own and I wondered now if I fit into my past anymore. My marriage became crystal-clear; the love, trust, and hope for a better tomorrow were all gone and could never be repaired. My wife had become the West's drive to make everything in its own image or be completely unhappy, as she would be the rest of her life. As sadness started to set in, my 4th glass of red wine did its magic and I fell asleep looking out on the black waters of the South Pacific. At least my luggage bag was firmly in tow, or at least I hoped so.
A really top notch trip report. A very nice read indeed!