Loy and the Garnet Ring
It was some time in 1977 when the Thai Airways DC10 I had caught in London landed in Bangkok. The trip had been eventful as the plane lost most of its interior lighting which had cast a doubt about the airworthiness of the rest of the unit. The DC10 wasn’t a great plane and had a tendency to fly “nose up” sometimes to such an extent that walking to the toilet was like heading to base camp. Anyway, the fare had been cheap, the ticket was London to Sydney with a compulsory stopover in Bangkok. Thai Airways were quite new at that time and in fact I had never heard of them until I bought the ticket in London. I knew very little of Thailand or Bangkok. I was at the end of a 12 month jaunt which had covered Europe and North Africa. The hostesses were nice and everyone got an orchid and free drinks for the flight. South-East Asia was a region with a bad rep at the time. The Vietnam War had ended but the region was still far from settled and I was greeted upon landing in Bangkok with news that there and recently been a coup and a night curfew was in place.
I had met a Chinese guy on the plane who was on route to Singapore and he said he knew of a good cheap place to stay. The said hotel is still there but at the time it was going through its faded grandeur period, it was so cheap, relative to what I had been paying in Europe, I loved it. That first day was like every man’s first day in the city of angels and the story has been told so well by others I’ll leave it at that.
Across the hall from my room was an Australian girl about my age, hippy trail clothes, bare feet and a real good looker. I managed a brief conversation and later in the day armed with a few Singha I thought I’d “pop over” and say G’day. The door to her room was ajar, which wasn’t unusual in those layback days, and so I popped my head in to see if she wanted a beer. She was injecting herself as she looked around in my direction and then grinned and looked away. I was out of my league.
It is strange how an event can change your perception of everything around you, the faded hotel it now seemed was a heroin- filled death house and the Chinese guy I met on the plane an obvious user. I needed to move but curfew had trapped me there with my Singha for another night. I was getting the feel of this place called Bangkok.
The Grace Hotel was a compass point destination at this time I had found out from a couple of surfer dudes I had met at my new hotel and together we set off to have a look. I wasn’t that fond of Asian chicks back then so while I was looking forward to some Rand R I was easy, I’d be back in OZ soon and I had plenty on tap back there (I know it sounds sexist, but hey it was the 70’s). Well the impact of that night can only be described as life changing. It was the first time I understood that magic was real that spells could be cast and enchantment could woo the traveller into the sirens grasp.
In taking stock of what had happened to me in the following days, strangely I drew upon Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I’m sure others have too as it is a famous tome. In this strange new world I began to transform from Starbuck to Ahab and only the ticket to Sydney and lack of money released me.
1977 Bangkok had no BTS or MRT and a large portion of the city was still timber slums. The traffic jams were monumental, Australian built cars common on the streets and there were more children. I spent a few days with Loy in a timber slum, not unlike the Klong Toey timber area but much rougher in construction. The room was over water and the communal toilet was a tap and a board over this stagnant rubbish filled pool. Loy's roommate (I can’t remember her name) had lived in Chicago for five years with an ex-GI who spent his days drinking and bashing her. I still remember the chill I felt when during a day of drinking and smoking she enacted out her bashings and when playing the husband would take a boxing stance rocking on the balls of her feet and jab and uppercut and then kick into her imaginary self, so far from the “backhander” I had understood to be domestic violence. Loy had a caesarean scar which looked like it had been done with a chainsaw and she said the baby was American but born dead. Her roommate had a different take on events and told me that many girls were given a caesarean when pregnant to GIs and the babies were always dead. Truth or fiction didn’t matter really when lying on a teak floor in an enchanted Indo Chinese city where stories and reality are one and the same.
Loy came to the airport with me and as I kissed her goodbye she handed me her silver ruby ring. I still have that ring and sure a jeweller can say it's alloy and a garnet but what he doesn’t know is that it is magical and can be anything in the enchanted city.