Mad Rob and Roxy
I naively wondered why there were so many ladies sitting quietly around the beer garden. Fifteen minutes, a few received smiles and half a beer later and I suddenly had a good idea why they were there. It was the fourth day of my first trip to Bangkok and I’m not a highly travelled man, so forgive my ignorance. The beer garden seemed very still and quiet considering the number of patrons seated around the bars. My friend had his trusty Polaroid camera as always; I was packing my trusty Canon SLR. The low light in the bar posed no problem as I’d come prepared with my fast 50mm lens. I didn’t know how my friend would fare with an old Polaroid with no flash.
My friend was known as Mad Rob in certain circles, for a myriad of reasons, such as fracturing his arm in Japan and then boldly continuing on with our unruly drinking sessions every night for another week. In fact, the chronicles of Mad Rob and his antics in Bangkok alone would form a few volumes of total lunacy.
Without warning I heard the Polaroid click and whir three times and before I could sip my beer, three Polaroids lay on the bar.
The image of an attractive lady with a strikingly beautiful smile slowly appeared on the three white squares. I looked across the bar but the mysterious beauty was nowhere to be seen. I looked back at the Polaroids and as I watched the images fully form, a sweet perfume filled the air. I looked to my left. The beautiful lady was standing between me and my friend.
“I like the photos you took,” she smiled.
“You can keep two of them,” said Mad Rob. “You have an amazing smile,” he added.
Mad Rob was mad but always kind hearted.
“Oh thank you. I’ll give these photos to my daughter. She won’t believe it’s me!”
“You have a daughter?!” I was genuinely surprised.
“Of course! My daughter’s ten.”
“You look very young,” I remarked.
“You’re very kind,” said the girl.
We chatted some small talk then she wandered back to her spot at the bar, joining her friends who immediately checked the Polaroid photos.
I quickly snapped a few shots of our new found friend. She smiled back at me.
“Nice girl,” said Mad Rob.
“She’d make a good model for our photographic endeavours,” I mused.
With that, Mad Rob snapped a few more Polaroids. I always took so many bad photos that I had to use digital; film or Polaroid was just too expensive for me. Mad Rob, however, was a bit more extreme. He had once embarked on a photography project that involved taking a least one Polaroid photo every day for a year, mostly whilst inebriated. That project had produced many unusual and bizarre photo specimens to say the least. My favourite photo would have to be the one of a laptop computer being smashed with a sledgehammer on Mad Rob’s lounge room floor one balmy Saturday evening. Perhaps that should be barmy not balmy. Mad Rob’s computer programmer friend had done the smashing. Is that dramatic irony? I never did hear what the neighbours thought.
Suddenly the gorgeous girl was next to us again.
“Do you want to see the picture I took?” I asked.
She seemed surprised. “But you don’t use flash. I thought you didn’t take any picture.”
“I did take a picture. Take a look,” I said, showing her the camera’s screen.
She seemed impressed with the photo so I promised her I would print out a copy for her at a photo shop in the next few days.
After some more small talk the lovely lady thanked us and joined her friends nearby once again.
After snapping a few more photos of the bar and downing another beer, Mad Rob belched out the words: “time for a curry perhaps!”
I agreed and spontaneously invited our model to join us. I didn’t care if she was the most mercenary wallet hunter in Bangkok or not, she’d put on a lovely smile for us and we’d got some decent photos. I didn’t think the food court across the street would break the bank either.
She said that she might join us and I found myself uttering those famous bar girl words, “up to you.”
I didn’t know if this girl earned a fortune or was desperate for money, but either way, I felt I owed her dinner at least, and a drink.
We left her there in the beer garden with her friends and their fake handbags and ambled across the road to the food court.
Would she join us for a free meal and no money? I wasn’t sure. We sat down and ordered a spicy curry and a frosty beer each and pondered the previous few days in Bangkok. It had been a whirlwind of bars, booze, girls and a lot of completely awful photos. We’d been led to Bangkok by our friend Julian who was a professional photographer. Would any of our photos meet the photo guru’s high standards? That wouldn’t be easy and looking at the mostly atrocious digital images on my camera, I felt like throwing it into the nearest canal.
Mad Rob however, seemed happy with his Polaroids. Much to our surprise, as the food arrived, so did our new friend.
“Did you think I wouldn’t join you?” She smiled.
“I honestly didn’t know what to think,” I said handing her the menu.
She thanked me and told us that her name was Linn. I told her she could order anything she wanted and a drink too.
As she checked out the menu, Mad Rob was suddenly half under the table with his camera.
“What are you doing?” Linn asked, looking surprised.
“Just photographing your foot,” explained Mad Rob, “what else?”
She laughed as Mad Rob handed her the semi developed photo.
“You can keep that photo too,” said Mad Rob as he took yet another photo.
“I’ll send this to my ex-boyfriend,” Linn said excitedly.
I didn’t know much about Thai culture but sending a photo of a foot surely couldn’t be a friendly gesture.
Linn ordered one of the cheapest dishes on the menu and only drank water.
“You don’t drink?” I asked, surprised.
“Too early,” she replied.
I complimented her on her brilliant English level. I was surprised when she told us that she couldn’t read or write English. She explained that she planned to learn to read English in the near future, when she returned to her hometown.
“So how long have you lived in Bangkok?” Mad Rob enquired.
“I don’t live in Bangkok. I just come here every six weeks and make as much money as I can, then leave. I stay about ten days.”
Her honesty surprised me more than her English.
“So why do you visit Bangkok?” Said Linn, as her Thai food arrived.
“There are many reasons,” Mad Rob grinned.
“We love our photography and Bangkok’s a good city for it.” I added.
Linn had a sly smile. “So what do you like to take photos of?”
“Beautiful ladies such as you,” I said with great sincerity.
“Just my foot?”
“I’m sure the other parts of you are quite nice,” said Mad Rob, snapping a photo of her legs.
Linn was intrigued to learn that Mad Rob was called Mad Rob.
“You don’t seem Mad to me,” she said in a kind voice.
“Well let me just interject there,” I said.
There were many stories I could recount, but which would it be? Would it be the famous quiet Sunday afternoon head shaving incident? Or perhaps the vomiting into the girlfriend’s washing machine debacle? I decided to keep it Thailand related.
I recounted to Linn how on my second day in Bangkok I’d walked out of the hotel where our group was staying to see Mad Rob hobnobbing with the local street sellers as if they were all his life-long friends. There they were, joking, chatting and laughing. What had happened? Every step Mad Rob took, a local stepped forward with a big smile and then they would chat or share a joke. How had Mad Rob reached such intimate levels with seemingly every local? Did he secretly speak Thai? Did he possess secret knowledge of Thai culture? I was jealous and intrigued by the camaraderie unfolding before me.
Later that evening I’d ventured into our hotel bar where one of the helpful girls there explained all.
The evening before I’d retired quite early and left Mad Rob drinking in the bar. He was a big man and he liked to drink big and being the first night in Bangkok he’d really drank big. According to the bar girl, after copious amounts of scotch, Mad Rob’s pants had mysteriously come off. At around the same time, the rest of our group arrived at the hotel. As the bar had a glass front you can guess what happened next- the old arse against the glass trick. It was a grand welcome to Bangkok for our fellow travellers indeed. All of the bar girls and the street sellers thought it was all very sanuk, hence the numerous friendships struck up in one night.
This probably wasn’t the most appropriate story to tell while eating, however Linn found this story and other tales of our shenanigans most amusing.
Before long, Linn had to get back to her business in the bar and so we parted ways. We thanked her for her time and for being a most gracious model. As we watched her cross the road and disappear back into the beer garden, I couldn’t help wondering if she was happy with her life.
Mad Rob and I then headed out for another night of photographic tomfoolery.
A few days later as I casually strolled around the same Soi, taking photos as usual, I heard a voice call my name. I looked up to see Linn standing in front of me.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to buy another t-shirt.”
I accompanied her to the small shop nearby which sold shoes, bags, dresses and hats. There must’ve been a makeshift change room, as minutes later Linn appeared before me in a black shirt with “Roxy” in white lettering. I didn’t have to ask her if I could take her photo, she was more than happy to oblige and asked for nothing in return. In my mind I owed her a drink at least and we went to the beer garden.
I wondered if it seemed unusual, a farang walking with a girl into the beer garden instead of out.
We sat at the bar and I opened my camera bag and handed Roxy the photos I’d promised her. She was genuinely surprised that I’d remembered. I was happy to see the expression on her face. We chatted for a while and then I had to leave and meet my friends.
“When do you leave Bangkok?” Roxy asked.
“Tonight,” I said despondently.
“Well have a safe trip home and thank you so much,” she said, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.
I thanked her and walked out the beer garden, alone but smiling.
I know I don’t know Roxy. In fact I hardly know anything about her but she showed true appreciation for a simple gesture.
I don’t know if everyone has a good side, but I know I’ll always look for it.
Nice. Pictures would have been nice too!