The Brokenman Is Repaired Part 11
Dudley bus station always seems to be a rather inauspicious location to begin an Asian adventure, but boarding the National Express coach would see me on my way to Heathrow airport and on to Bangkok. I felt a fair degree of apprehension about this trip. I had three Government agencies chasing me for almost £10k in benefits they claimed I owed them from a previous spell of unemployment. I was almost destitute, not enjoying the best of health and had been intermittently plagued by the black dog. But then again it is only being miserable that keeps me going.
The whole enterprise probably wasn’t a sensible idea considering my current circumstances but then again when have I ever shown even the slightest tendency to be sensible. My reason for the trip Eastward was a six week work assignment in China, but my plan included a 3 day stay in Bangkok on the way and a return for a week or so once the assignment was completed. Whilst I knew I couldn’t afford it, my justification for the three days was for the time I worked in Essex last year without a break and the subsequent week would be reward for the spell in China…. no I probably wouldn’t have swallowed it either.
Arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 is always an ordeal; even once you get through security the route march to gate 46 is tiring and made me feel old. That is until I see the gaggle of seriously aged geezers sitting patiently for the flight to be called. It was like God's waiting room but they were also on their way to the land of vertical smiles with similar intentions to mine. The thought that I may find employment offering to lift them on and off their young paramours whilst in the kingdom cheered me up no end.
The flight was uneventful but noted Thai's new Airbus A388 had a camera in the nose cone allowing passengers the pilot's view. I engaged this facility with great enthusiasm and was once again like the little boy I really am; I had great fun pretending I was flying the plane. My imitation of a Lancaster bomber engine and squeals of childish delight was probably acceptable but I think it was my enthusiastic rendition of the Dambusters march that caused offence. It finally drew the attention of a stewardess who removed the controller from me and requested I sit quietly and watch a film like a good boy.
Arrived at Swampypoo airport to find the immigration process somewhat of a disgrace. The officials were courteous enough and working efficiently but there just wasn’t enough of them. It took an hour to get through. The already abhorrent situation with taxis had deteriorated since my last visit which was the previous Easter. I did my usual amble up to departures hoping to catch a taxi that having dropped someone off would be more compliant. This was not to be, one taxi driver quoted 1100 baht and it took me some time before I finally found one willing to take less than 600 baht for the trip to Suhkumvit. The traffic was awful and it took another hour to reach the Mothership (aka the Nana Hotel).
Once I had checked in all these concerns were put behind me, I threw my case on the bed, showered and changed into a drinking shirt ready for the evening’s revelries. My old pal Union Hill had phoned from reception informing me he would be waiting in the Golden Bar. I joined him with all good speed and within the twinkling of an eye had put myself outside a cold beer. We quickly caught up with our respective news. My definition of a true friend is when I can pick up a conversation with him as if it were only yesterday since we last chatted rather than the twelve months it actually was.
We take Bangkok helicopters to Soi Cowboy and into the Tilac to meet up with the usual suspects Phil and Bangkok Barry and catch up with our respective tales. After a few beers Barry moves on to mischief anew and Phil departs for his beauty sleep. Union Hill takes me upstairs at the Dollhouse where I receive eye level confirmation of my opinion that a Thai girl’s dhjim is the Eighth Wonder of the World. We drink in a couple more bars but I eventually have to throw in the towel. I consider myself a fairly serious drinker but compared to Union Hill I am a petal dick lightweight. I return to the Nana as refreshed as a newt and slept like a baby.
The next day I had a lazy day gently perambulating the various daytime bars on the Nana Tai. By late afternoon I end up in the Golden Bar. One girl in particular catches my eye so I sit and have a drink with her. She was slender, willowy and dressed with some style. Her tailored cream slacks and classic silk blouse suggested she just had come out of the office to collect some paperwork rather than actually working in the bar. Her understated elegance seemed completely out of place even though she appeared quite comfortable in the surroundings. Although not a classic Thai beauty she had a lovely face that suggested a Chinese ancestry and completely outside of my usual “spec”. We sat talking for some time as I was quite taken with this girl. I could quite easily see her becoming the third Mrs. Brokenman. She was soft voiced and spoke with an eloquence that suggested she had a higher than usual education. She told me she was 37 but I would have believed her if she had said 20. Because it was late afternoon and the daytime girls like to finish their shift at 1700 I did not think it worth taking her that day and did not want to break the spell by suggesting what my auntie describes as “unpleasantness”. So I instead returned to my room for a short nap before the evening’s festivities.
1900 hours saw me once again in the Golden Bar to find Somkit waiting for me. We had expected to see a few other Stickmanites in attendance, as was the case on my arrival in previous years. However this time no one else turned up. I ventured the opinion that maybe they had all finally heeded the admonishments the blessed Stick gave in his weekly column. Seeing the error of their ways they had all forsaken the naughty night life, found the righteous path and were attending bible class with him that very evening. <Full turn out that evening, with Reverend Korski delivering a stellar sermon from the pulpit – Stick>
The presence of Somkit more than made up for the absence of the usual miscreants. Despite his relatedly tender years he is an intelligent, cultured and well-travelled fellow and is always an entertaining companion. He wanted to show me a couple of new places I had not seen before. After a couple of beers catching up on our respective misadventures since we last met, we make our way to the Heidelberg restaurant.
As soon as I set foot in the door I had the irrational urge to invade Poland, or throw a towel over a sun lounger. I had never seen such a Germanic establishment outside of Bavaria. I suspect most of the clientele bore the title Obergruppenfuhrer at some time in their past. I would not have been surprised to see Martin Bormann sitting quietly in the corner. However I can report the food is excellent and the steak the best I have had for quite some time.
Suitably filled we make our way to the third floor of the Nana Plaza to take a look at the new Las Vegas bar. This bar was new to me; I believe it has been opened since my visit last Easter. I was immediately impressed. There were some very attractive girls on the poles. But I was even more impressed by the show they later put on. The choreography was of a very high quality and the show girls themselves were exotic and shapely. This was easily the best bar I had seen that week. A couple of the dancers joined me for a drink in between shows and they were clearly of a higher calibre than most girls in the Plaza. They told me they could not be bar fined and Somkit explained this phenomenon extended to all girls who called themselves “Coyote” dancers. I can understand bars not wanting to lose their girls during a show but could not fail to suspect this trend could eventually change the whole dynamic of the bar scene.
I only stayed for a couple more drinks once Somkit returned home to make babies with his lovely wife. Whilst I am pointing Percy at the porcelain, in walks the legendary Dave the Rave of Angelwitch fame. I greet him with “Hey Dave, they have a great show here” and mischievously added “at last the Angelwitch has some serious competition”. His initial reply was inaudible but he continued “Harrumph…they have more customers than they have girls” and stormed off. Now forgive me for my naivety but I thought the purpose of a bar was to attract customers to divest them of their cash, not to have a bar filled with girls and no customers….but what do I know?
Next day after breakfast I enter the Golden Bar with the intention of taking the future Mrs. Brokenman for the day. A spot of lunch, an extended session of afternoon delight and maybe dinner to finish was the order of the day. Well that was my intention. However she turned me down, saying she did not go with customers for sex! I was a little disappointed but not totally surprised as she just did not fit the usual bargirl profile. I am sure there is a fascinating story about her life but that will keep for another time. It disrupted my plan for the day but mai pen rai….never mind. There was another suitable candidate for my attentions in the bar who had caught my eye but the niceties of bar etiquette prevented me acting on it then. There is always tomorrow and there are always other bars.
That evening I meet Phil in the Offshore bar on Soi 22. We have chicken and mushroom pie with chips then on to the Tilac. We meet up with David who is quite a character and always good for an engaging conversation. He later takes me to Toy bar and the Dollhouse before taking a taxi to a bar in the Nana area I had not seen before. With a quite dodgy clientele it was more reminiscent of the bars in Pattaya than Bangkok and not one I am likely to frequent again too often. There was however one piece of totty there with a hint of promise that was maybe worthy of further studies. But certainly not that evening, she was already far too drunk to stand up unaided.
Next morning I resolved to find a daytime date and reflected that I was becoming rather fussy. I was working on the premise of, why take an ugly one when beautiful ones are same price? My experience with the future Mrs. Brokenman prompted me to rethink this outlook. I took a look in at the Golden Bar as I had my eye on a prospective candidate but it was apparent she had not turned in for work that day.
It is still mid-morning so decide to take a stroll and my foot turns into the Nana plaza inquisitive to see what it was like in the daytime. I am hailed by a slightly chubby girl in one of the bars at the entrance. She had pleasing features and I vaguely recognised her. I join her and order an orange juice for me (the sun was not yet over the yardarm anywhere in the diminished Empire) and a drink for her. She reminded me her name was Wan, that she used to work in the Golden Bar years ago and we had chatted many times before. I then remembered her from my first visits to Bangkok some 8 years ago. I recall she was a toothsome little morsel then but had gained a little timber in the intervening years. I also recall she was an entertaining and cheerful moppet and I was pleased to see she had not lost her sunny disposition. We chatted awhile and she told me about her friends who had recommended she now only talk about massage to customers because she was too pum-poi for boom-boom. Although it amused me, I thought her friends a bit unkind as she was still half the weight of most women in the UK and eminently shaggable.
We are joined by another girl I put in her late 30s, (she later told me she was 41) dressed in a tight short dress that accentuated a slim but shapely body with a rather delicious pair of legs. She has an attractive face that I suspect was a rare beauty a few years ago. I buy her a drink and she is introduced as Tew. For the next hour the three of us engage in one of those wonderfully inane and amiable discussions borne from the indolence one has when there is nowhere to go, nothing to do and all day to do it in. Wan had made a routine perfunctory suggestion they go back to my room, Wan would provide a massage and Tew supply the boom boom. The proposal was made in a perfunctory manner more as a conditioned response but not really pushing it. However I thought about it, 1000 baht for bar fines, and 1000 baht for each girl plus a few drinks and comestibles ….. For an afternoon's entertainment it represented a bargain when compared to evening rates.
Union Hill once wrote me a treatise on the etiquette and practicalities essential for engagement in a threesome, an activity he refers to as the “Siamese waltz”. The document was comprehensive and is possibly the definitive article on the subject. I will not divulge too much as it is my intention to plagiarise it someday whilst his attention is diverted. However there are two basic principles, one is that the girls should be friends and comfortable enough to engage in this level of intimacy. It is no good just picking two random girls from a gogo that take your fancy as it will not work. The second is to always consider the girls' sense of sanuk, to work it should be FUN.
These girls fitted the first criteria and circumstances were conducive to the second so the deal was struck. We hot footed it the few yards to my room at the Mothership. Wan went to procure drinks and snacks whilst Tew commenced the proceedings which did not involve a referee’s whistle or linesman’s flag. To my surprise once stripped down Tew displayed a body that most of the Coyote dancers half her age would be envious of. She was well-toned with soft unblemished skin and not a tramp stamp or piecing to be seen. With a mudgeon like a mouse’s earhole and labia like Harry Rednapp’s eyelids my delight was complete. The lead in my pencil, for so long a 4B became a quite passable 2H.
Wan let herself in stowed the supplies and without delay stripped down and joined us in the tub. In theory a Nana bathtub is not quite adequate to facilitate three occupants but we managed it to great oaths from me and giggle from the girls.
Other than to note Wan’s enthusiasm and a penchant to ride me high in the stirrups like a national hunt jockey I will not tender any further details. Not wishing to offend the delicate sensibilities of my gentle reader I will draw a veil over the proceedings. I am happy to say despite my lack of match practice I turned in a creditable performance. In fact if Stuart Pearce the current England manager had been sitting on the edge of the bed I would surely had been selected for the England team or at least made the squad.
The promised massage by Wan and a full manicure and pedicure from Tew completed the experience. At 1800 her shift complete Wan excused herself and left but Tew asked if she could stay with me. She did not want any more money but was comfortable and did not want to return to her apartment. With no specific plans that evening I readily agreed. After a rather agreeable second helping I took her to the Bus Stop restaurant for dinner and found her to be very pleasant company.
We later found a bar to watch West Bromwich Albion play Man United but returned to my room to watch the second half. We lost 2 : 0 but it was a pleasant experience watching the baggies with one's todger in a young lady's soft hand, one I am unlikely to repeat very often on a cold Saturday afternoon at the Hawthorns stadium.
The next morning I woke feeling better than I had felt for months, there was a definite spring in my step and the hump on my back had vanished. I say my goodbyes to Tew and reflect this was the nearest I had to an old fashioned Thai girlfriend experience for some time. I checked out of the Nana and took a taxi to Swampypoo airport.
And so on to China.
The Thai Airways flight to Shanghai was uneventful but longer than I expected. Pudong airport was a model of efficiency and the Chinese immigration officials surprisingly polite and courteous. A driver was waiting in the arrivals hall with a piece of paper with my name on it. He was a big burley fellow and carried my case and hand luggage as if they were feathers. He swept me away through the concourse to his vehicle. The two hour journey from Pudong to Kunshan was an eye opener; the standards of driving in China seem on a par with Nigeria and West Somalia. It would appear no indicators are necessary as sounding the car horn will suffice.
I am deposited at the Landmark Hotel in Kunshan where the company were putting me up the first night. It was a pleasant hotel but once you got past the very smart and efficient reception desk the differences became apparent. That no one spoke English was only one of the problems. In the restaurant the staff had dispensed with uniforms and were all wearing anoraks. Their idea of service was for three of them to stand over me whilst I sat looking incomprehensibly at a menu. When the food arrived I was unsure what the meat was but suspected it had been cocking its leg up a lamppost and sniffing its neighbour’s ass earlier that morning.
David, the owner of the company, collected me the next morning and delivered me to the factory which is on a huge industrial estate outside the city. The plant comprised 6 large buildings on a 33,000 square metre site. The blocks were grey and austere as one would imagine a communist factory to be but inside the foundry and workshops were very well equipped and the workforce young and enthusiastic. The company produce aluminium cast products by the pressure die and gravity die processes. There is a large machine shop and a facility for product assembly. They employ around 300 and have customers in Japan, USA, Europe and the UK.
The owner of the company is Taiwanese and although in his mid-70s is quite spritely and lives with his family on the 3rd floor of one of the blocks. The works canteen is on the ground and workers dormitories the 2nd floor. My “apartment” is one of the bedrooms on the 3rd floor with the family. It is somewhat Spartan and basic but surprisingly spacious. I initially found the cold difficult to handle arriving from the 30 degrees in Bangkok to 5 degrees there. I do not think my room had been heated for months if not years but after a couple of days with the A/C on full heat (and a slight improvement in the weather) I began to tolerate it or at least I did until the ageing A/C unit finally gave up the ghost and blew up on the third day. Until it was repaired three days later I survived by wearing almost every item of clothing I had bought with me in layers.
I was glad I had a few days in Bangkok on the way here; the memory helped to keep me warm at night.
The plan is to take my meals with the owner’s family in what they call the “executive dining room”. His wife and daughter were away for first few days so I eat with David and one of his executives, a middle aged Chinese gentleman who eats every meal to great purpose and always without conversation. The food was simple and basic Chinese but palatable. However I managed to break a filling in my teeth on the fourth day chewing on a piece of meat of indeterminate origin which gave me a little discomfort.
I am contracted to work 6 days a week with Sunday off. The assignment is not particularly onerous, the plant is well run, they produce a reasonable quality product for some prestigious western customers and their problems are lots of minor issues rather than anything major. I have identified a few issues I am confident I can address if they are willing to listen. I have followed advice and go to work looking smart and smelling good every day.
Although there are three or four delightful little minx working in the main office of greater interest is the block that houses the casting finishing department. It is exclusively staffed by around 50 young (20 – 30 year old) Chinese damsels working at benches hand finishing the small die castings. They are all very slim, all dress in tight jeans with their long raven hair tied back in a ponytail. For a man with acute yellow fever you can well imagine what this does to me every time I walk through the department.
I am advised not to go out of my apartment after 8 pm because the site is patrolled by 6 of the biggest, meanest, ugliest dogs I have ever seen. I have tried to befriend these hounds of Hell by feeding them but to no avail. Whilst it my intention to focus on the assignment without distraction and I impressed by him I am finding some of the owners actions a little too controlling and I get the impression he wants to decide all my movements for the duration. This and that the plant is on an industrial estate several miles from the city initially made me feel a little like being a prisoner. I can now appreciate what the guys in the oil industry have to endure. I am informed that this attitude is fairly typical of Taiwanese management. My initial observation was their natural parsimony makes the Scots look like proliferate spendthrifts.
Whilst the project is only for 6 weeks I did initially fear I may get a little stir crazy before the end. I began erecting a vaulting horse in my room and was preparing to carry out the sand from the tunnel in my trouser turn-ups; however there was a fundamental flaw with my plan as I am on the third floor of the building.
Joking apart, whilst I was resolved that the job took priority I knew I would have to plan an escape at least some weekends to keep some sense of equilibrium.
Now my experiences with Thailand may have been a mixed blessing for me at times. But one benefit has been my involvement with the Stickman site. In 8 or so years my submissions have provoked correspondence with scores of fellow travellers. I have accumulated a large number of regular pen pals and quite a number I now consider friends who are always willing to offer advice and support. When I mentioned my intended trip to China I quickly received notes from a few stout fellows offering me advice that has proved invaluable and highly relevant. A couple have continued to offer excellent guidance since my arrival for which I am extremely appreciative.
On Saturday evening the owner’s wife and daughter arrived from Taiwan. With their arrival the situation became considerably more civilised. His wife is about 15 years younger than him and is clearly a cultured and refined lady although her English is minimal. The daughter Julie is a delectable little item in her early 30s and an absolute treasure. Her English is impeccable spoken with a soft mid Atlantic accent. She is also fluent in French and Japanese and is currently learning Spanish. She handles international marketing for the company. Thankfully she has taken me under her wing.
The next day was Sunday and knowing I had a problem with the filling in my teeth Julie took me to the Ji Ching memorial hospital in the city to see a doctor friend and ask his advice about a suitable dental clinic. Her friend was a young orthopaedic surgeon and an absolutely splendid bloke. He recommended a dentist and gave me the address of the clinic. He then offered to give us a tour of the hospital. I suspect this was more to impress the delectable Julie than me (which was perfectly understandable).
The hospital was fairly new and Taiwanese owned. It was a very impressive facility; clearly well managed and spotlessly clean with the most modern medical equipment in pristine condition. It put anything I have seen in the UK to shame. Our doctor friend was clearly (and quite rightly) proud of his hospital and would have kept us there all day. We finally take our leave and collect her parents for a drive to the nearby city of Suzhou.
For lunch I am taken to the Kempinski, a very impressive modern hotel in the middle of beautiful parkland. The restaurant on the top floor afforded an incredible view across the Golden chicken lake. The hotel is European owned and managed and both the food and service was outstanding.
After lunch we return to Kunshan and I am taken to the dental clinic recommended earlier. Again this clinic was spotlessly clean and well equipped with the most modern dental apparatus. I am a big baby around dentists so I was both impressed and relieved that the dentist drilled and refilled my tooth painlessly and with great efficiency in less than 20 minutes. Even more impressive was he only charged me the equivalent of £15.
Julie then takes me with her to the supermarket to get her provisions for the office so I take the opportunity to purchase a coat. I buy the biggest thickest one I can find. It cost me £50 and makes me look like the Michelin man but for the first time in days I do not fear being struck down with hypothermia.
I have yet to see any of the family without their overcoats scarves and hats even when eating. I suspect they will have them surgically removed sometime in the summer.
On Saturday evening I am making my first exploratory steps alone to visit a reputedly very lively bar in Kunshan city called Fridays that is allegedly frequented by westerners. Not knowing the buses or taxi routines yet Julie has arranged a driver for me which will cost me about £20. I have also arranged with the plant manager for the security guard to let me back into the factory and past the 6 hounds of hell into the dormitory on my return. When I am a little more confident about China I intend to catch a train or bus to Shanghai stay in a hotel in the Bund district on Saturday or Sunday night and take up the offer of a beer from a couple of Stickmanites who are residents there.
I have only been here a couple of weeks, another 4 then it is back to Bangkok. If anyone is interested in a having a beer and a chat I will be back in the Nana on the 22nd April. I will only be there for a couple of days as I intend to spend a few days in Pattaya. I will be back at the Nana on the 29th until I return to the UK on 2nd May.
With the Chinese diet I have lost a bit of weight already and feel better for it. The pains I was feeling in my legs have diminished. I don’t feel half as breathless as when I am in the UK and haven’t used an inhaler once since arriving. My spirits are high; I am sleeping well and have cut my intake of beer by 90%. I will also be attending Stick’s bible class if I am not careful.
China is definitely a country of contrasts and contradictions. I have met some lovely people and not too many of the other kind. The inscrutable manner and a perverse logic have me scratching my head in bemusement at times. There are some attractions to living here and some extremely frustrating aspects, the great firewall of China being one. It has not taken me long to realise China is a completely different world. If I thought Thailand was alien China is in a separate galaxy.
It had been suggested by one correspondent that I will I be sorry to leave China. Will I be sorry to leave? The jury is still out on that at the moment. However I can see the possibilities for me in the future. Watch this space.
Wonderful prose as always.
The China experience sounds particularly interesting and look forward to hearing more about your adventures in that part of the world.