Thoughts #11 – Serendipity
The successful Western man has a beautiful wife, home and family. The successful Western man in Thailand has a small apartment, no family and the freedom to choose among thousands of beautiful women daily.
I am quickly nearing the end of another wonderful sojourn in country. I reflect that I have covered more mileage than usual this time around but it has all been worthwhile. Scenes of the rolling hills between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are still reeling in my mind like a happy carousel. Rowing along the Mekong has been a terrific experience along with bathing under the piercing weight of waterfalls. The fresh mountain air in the north will not been forgotten and neither will the Pandas in Chiang Mai zoo. The happy eyes of the Lanna children clothed in their tribal wear ready to take photos with passing tourists bring a smile to my face. I can still hear angry waves crashing against the pavement barrier in Prachuap Khirikhani while I tried to avoid their spraying zig zagging on a buzzing motorbike. On that day, I was on my way to touring local fishing villages along the coast, each adorned with a multitude of colourful empty boats enjoying their daily respite before venturing out at sea again.
I reminisce of my long afternoons changing into evenings on the shore of romantic Koh Samet, with a cold beer on my table while I penned a few notes in my journal. I have lingering visual images of all the foods I have enjoyed while here but I am not finished just yet, there is one more person I have arranged to see and he is someone I have been looking forward to meeting and for some reason I figure that this will be an interesting encounter. He is aware that I would be here and confirmed that he would make himself available. I will be leaving in a couple of days and as always it does get a little hectic as I try to fit everything else that I had planned before entering my final 48 hours over here. I texted him and finally we agreed to meet half way in Pattaya of all places. It will be my first time there and I look forward to it. He sends me final directions one day before, the Edge Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel will be our meeting place.
This morning I had breakfast at my hotel and then made my way to Ekkamai station where the public buses leave for the south east. It does not take me long to find the appropriate counter. I purchase a return ticket and it is not long before the driver leaves his allocated parking space. I am told this is usually a smooth journey, the road is straight and it should not take long. I text him to let him know that I am on board and he texts back to send final directions from the bus station to the beach front. A happy accident, eleven words across. Hmm, I will have to come back to this one later on…what kind of happiness, I wonder, can one have when involved in an accident? Or perhaps is there another meaning to this?
It is just gone eleven o’clock when I arrive. I am not meeting him until twelve noon. There is still time. I head towards the makeshift information centre consisting of one bench occupied by three young Thais and ask them for directions to the beach.
“Take one songthaew, on the left” says one of the young men in decent English. There is a row of them, so I look at him as if to say which one? He understands from the expression in my eyes before I can ask him and he adds “Any, you pick any” and he motions me to go.
One of the songthaew already has some people on it and I decide to join in, hoping it will leave soon. Three young French tourists follow me. They seem happy and their banter confirm that it is their first time too. Then, an elderly gentleman gets in. He has a tired expression and does not look too mobile, a woman looking a good 30 years younger follows him in tow. They sit next to each other. He has a walking stick with him and he is wearing a short sleeve tee shirt, Bermuda and deck shoes while she is wearing a sleeveless vest, hot pants, high heel shoes and a big tattoo on her back. He seems to have some difficulty breathing. In contrast she has no problem whatsoever shouting and laughing on her phone. The only remaining empty seat is taken by an Austin Power lookalike in the film “The Spy who shagged me”. He has bright orange hair and wears tight black leather trousers and a long colourful tee-shirt with the words “Born to be wild”. He boards with a big suitcase and his thick framed black spectacles sit on the tip of his nose his eyes peering just above them. We are ready to leave.
Opposite me a middle aged woman, holding some carry bags, is absorbed in thoughts. Two men sit on either side of her. One is young and wearing tee shirt, jeans and flip flops with a skin head hair cut. The other from what I can gather from his conversation on his mobile is Japanese and he is plainly dressed. Next to him, there is another man. He sits peacefully in the corner simply dressed in a clean shirt and slacks. He glances slowly on both sides of the parking lot as the driver pulls out as if to check that he is manoeuvring correctly and safely. Then he stares ahead as if meditating.
The songthaew turns right and we are now in a wide and straight road. The temperature is pleasant. I never fail to be impressed that it is December and I am wearing linen trousers, an Egyptian cotton short-sleeve shirt and brown suede shoes while in Europe is wet and cold.
People seem to go about their business in a leisurely way and the traffic does not look too intense. As we approach a roundabout with a fountain displaying dolphins in the middle, the Japanese man rings the bell and he alights followed by the elderly gentleman and the woman who has been shouting and laughing on the phone all this time and now ends the call by saying “mai bpen rai, mai bpen rai”
Once past the fountain, the driver makes another stop and this time it is the turn of the three French people to alight. As the driver takes a left turn, I can see the beach front and I realise that I need to ask someone for direction. I decide not to ask the Austin Power lookalike because he has the air of someone who has just arrived in town. Then again he seems as if he knows where he is going, could this be Dana, I wonder, but I do not see any lady boys nearby and I desist from considering this probability further.
The young man in tee shirt, jeans and flip flops is listening to his i-Pod, which leaves me another option, the man peacefully sitting in the corner. I move across and sit next to him and then I ask him if he speaks English. He gives me an affirmative answer. His eyes are alert, his manners measured and his tone of voice friendly. He tells me where I need to alight and asks me if this is my first time in Pattaya and we begin a light conversation. We move slowly along the beach front because of traffic and inevitably the conversation is about Pattaya and soon after the availability of women there.
I tell him that I am meeting a friend at the Hilton and it is a sentence from this friend of mine that amuses because of the way he makes a comparison “The successful Western man has a beautiful wife, home and family. The successful Western man in Thailand has a small apartment, no family and the freedom to choose among thousands of beautiful women daily”
“It is interesting you say that” he says “Because I have been corresponding with an Italian gentleman of late and he told me exactly the same thing in one of his emails. We both write submissions for a Thai centric website and his name is Tommaso”.
I look at him straight in the eye and then I say “I am Tommaso”
His eyes lit up, he smiles looking genuinely happy and then says “How very nice to meet you” and he shakes my hand warmly as if he really means that. We continue our chit chat and he remarks on what an extraordinary chance this is of meeting this way. I nod in agreement. Few minutes later he has alighted and I wave good bye to Nimrod M Buffalo.
About 150 metres later it is my turn to get off. I walk inside the Hilton and then to level 6. My mobile phone beeps “Where are you?” reads the text
“I am here” I reply.
The doors of the lift open and as I exit I immediately see him sitting down in the coffee bar area. He is wearing a polo shirt, a pair of chino, trainers and a baseball cap. He is sipping an espresso. We smile without knowing it is us but we are the only two farang there so it must be us unless this is a happy accident.
“How are you?” I say smiling
“Good to meet you at last” he replies and we shake hands.
It is my first time here and he knows that. He tells me a little about the place then he takes me to see the view from the terrace. A gentle breeze accompanies our steps. We lean on the railings and I notice that the bay stretches for as long as the eyes care to follow her. The letters in the name “PATTAYA” stand tall in the distant hills, looking Hollywood like and similar to the latter, these shores are known for their performances too, which over the years have encapsulated all genres from drama to love and romance to action to thriller, to comedy and more often than not, horror but they do not award Oscars here, only bar fines.
They have a noodles buffet at the Hilton today and we are stringing along quite nicely. I feel comfortable with him. He is softly spoken and an excellent raconteur and he is such a pleasure to listen to his incredible life. I sense that no matter what story I came up with, even if I gave him ten of my best stories, he would always be able to top them with a better one.
The time flies and soon we are enjoying our dessert and sipping coffee. He, very kindly, walks back part of the way with me and tells me more about Pattaya, its streets, its scents, its allure and its many exotic tales. He lived here for some time until he decided to move out because it seemed surreal after a while and it felt as if he had lived 30 years in just three years. He still enjoys coming back for the sea food when time allows it. He has kept himself busy and he has kept his mind sharp. We walk across what looks like a long soi and he tells me this is soi six.
“The infamous soi six?” I ask him
“You’ve never been?” he asks
I shake my head and he adds “Come with me I will take care of you” and he does.
We walk the entire length and if I thought that the girls in Soi four by Nana sounded a little enthusiastic when I walked by, then Soi six is like the difference between night and day compared to that experience and perhaps that is natural because I am walking with one of the doyens that has done and seen it all.
All the girls shout and scream as if possessed but none of their adulations are reserved for me. They smile towards me yes, they scream deliriously towards me too but it is as if I am invisible. He seems as if all men in soi six have become invisible because there is only one man these girls, all of them, want and it is his name they keep shouting loud and they all seem to want a piece of him “Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly you number one, you number one”
He smiles and waves at them as if he is royalty and actually he is because he is the King and he knows it. Long live the King.
We walk the entire length of the soi to the very end and then we trace out steps back. Before leaving the soi, we sit down for a quick drink and a round-up of the afternoon.
Then a little later, we say goodbye, he jumps on a motorbike and I see him becoming smaller while the rider pulls away from me and I notice a young lady looking at me and smiling. I smile back and she asks “Hello hansum man, where you from?”
I look at her and ask “Do you realise who that was?”
She looks at me not sure if she understood what I said and I add
“Kelly. That was Chiang Mai Kelly”
Heading back to Bangkok on the same bus, I feel a little sleepy, perhaps too much food or too little rest. Along the way I open my unfinished cross words… a happy accident, eleven words across and I write “Serendipity” and shortly after I nod off.
Good to see some old friends making an appearance.