The book is essentially about an Australian man travels to Cairns from Sydney for a break. After a chance encounter with one of the locals, he plans to go to Thailand. He and a friend will try to bring something back from there and sell it in Australia. It’s not drugs but it could land them in gaol.
(The descriptions of the Issan region of Thailand, as well as the locals, are taken from my own firsthand account after living there for three years).
Each of them ends up in a relationship. One of them with a local and the other with a Japanese woman. Yuki has her own story and it is quite unique. Will she be a help or a hindrance?
They have to split up after the authorities become suspicious and start to ask Paw, the Thai woman, some questions. They go their separate ways for a time but agree to meet up later. They finally manage to get ‘the product’ back to Australia.
They think that it’s going to be smooth sailing from there but it turns out to be a rocky ride. Are they successful? If so, what do they succeed on doing?
The book is 44 chapters long and the Prologue is below.
“Bye Tesco?” asked Tom. The driver nodded and he climbed into the back of the blue songtao. It was well past the morning rush hour, so he found a seat easily. It was as hot as blazes! An old lady and what looked like her two grandchildren as well as two male Rajaphat university students were the only other passengers.
The songtao putted on down the road, trailed by a few puffs of black smoke from its aging exhaust. Tom passed a five baht coin to one of the students and knew, without looking, that the student would pass it through a small gap in the cabin window to the driver.
Even the Thais were finding it hot. There was very little breeze. Shop owners sat outside on the footpath, fanning themselves under flimsy awnings. He was glad that they'd missed boxing that morning. He watched motorbikes and cars passing by. A part of Tom started to realize that he and Nev had both failed and needed to bite the bullet and go back to Australia. It wasn't the end of the world. They could both get work and pay Ritchie back. The sooner they did, the less they owed.
Anyway, the idea of being holed up in a Thai prison was bad enough when you were in Australia. After having lived here for a while, it really brought home the risk. It had been a good experience none the less. Nothing to tell the grandkids, but still interesting. Despite the constant honking of horns and squeaking of brakes, Tom started to doze off.
Next thing he knew, he woke up with a start and realized that he'd completely missed Tesco. He was actually about half way between Tesco and Big C. He'd have to walk back about a kilometer or wait for another blue songtao on the other side of the road.
He pressed the small buzzer above his head and the driver pulled over, letting him off. He wasn't wearing a hat and the sun beat down mercilessly. 'I'm going to be as burnt as hell!' He could see the overhead bridge a couple of hundred meters down the road. He felt dizzy. He decided that the bridge was definitely the best way to cross the road and he started walking towards it. Even with the coffee that morning and a liter bottle of water at Ting's supermarket, he still felt really thirsty. He looked back down the main road. There were just a few people on the footpath. 'More bloody sense,' he mused. He was buggered.
He saw a white building off to his right. There was a sign above the doorway both in Thai and in English. He didn't much care what it said though, he just wanted them to give him – or sell him – some water.
“Sowadee ca,” said the beautiful, petite Thai. She had opened the door and straight away Tom could see part of a water cooler to her left.
“Sowadee cap,” replied Tom.
“Welcome to Ubon Ratchathani Museum, Sir,” she said. She smiled at him and soon realized he needed a drink. She reached into a small fridge near the front counter and handed Tom an unopened bottle of cool water.
“Ta rye, cap?” asked Tom.
“Mai pen rai,” she replied. Tom didn't offer the slightest protest. He undid the lid and skulled the whole bottle. She smiled and then he thought she'd said something about a museum.
“Did you say 'museum'?”
“Yes, Mr. This is Ubon Ratchathani Museum.”
“I see,” said Tom. He decided he might as well look around. It only cost thirty baht and at least he'd get relief from the heat. It was air-conditioned. He handed the woman a fifty baht note and waved to say 'Keep the change'. She insisted, however, on giving him the change.
Tom started moving clockwise around the room. The first exhibit had farming equipment. There was an old plough with a small label in front of it but it was only written in Thai. It was very basic. There was a long wooden part in the middle with a large hook at one end. Then two arms were attached to the other end of this middle section. The farmer used these to steer the plough. He’d seen plenty like it around Ubon as the farmers had buffalo pulling their ploughs to work the land. He looked at the next one. It was older and less sturdy. There were a few tools scattered around each one.
Next there was a dinted metal tripod over a model campfire. This was surrounded by green woven mats. The following section had weapons and things. An old assistant was checking the string on a bow to make sure it was taunt. Then he hung it back on a small hook and started cleaning the arrows from a quill hanging next to the bow. He smiled at Tom. He was wearing a spotless white lab coat, black pants and shiny black boots.
Next he came to a section with pictures of people. These must have been some of the first photos ever taken in Thailand. There were different female villagers looking at the photographer and from their expressions it was clear that they had never seen a camera before, let alone been photographed. They were all about twenty five to thirty five years old. Bewilderment clear in their eyes, they'd each forced a smile. Luckily, beneath each one were both English and Thai descriptions. There was something intriguing, earthy and perhaps innocent in the pictures. ‘Did they feel like they were part of some kind of experiment? Did they get to see their own photos later?’ (There's no saying how long the photos took to develop). ‘Would their curiosity about the 'thing' someone was pointing in their direction have ever been satisfied?’
The one photo that stood out most to Tom, (although they were all unique), was of a woman that came from Burma or somewhere near modern day Burma. She had about twelve silver rings around her neck, stretching it skyward. This caused her apparent no discomfort. Although she smiled, she peered warily at the camera, wearing a reddish colored headpiece, kind of like a cap without the visor. This was adorned with an intricate pattern of fine white stitching that would have taken a lot of time and skill. Her face was round and beautiful. She looked like some of the younger Thai women Tom had seen around Ubon but her cheek bones were higher and her skin more weathered and creased. She wore a white tunic with a diagonal green criss-crossing pattern and a long, red dress. She was quite captivating. This woman had travelled hundreds of miles with her family to trade, probably on foot.
It turned out that the photos were taken at Mukdahan, now on the Thai-Loatian Border. Apparently people came there to trade for centuries from Myanmar, China, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Women from these different countries were represented in the various photos. Thailand must have had its own version of the Silk Road. 'Marco Polo – eat your heart out…'
Feeling eyes upon him, he turned towards the entrance. The old man and the young woman were standing next to each other, sporting huge grins. Tom smiled. He'd pretty much seen it all.
He looked towards the last corner of the room and saw what looked like a huge fish tank. 'That’s strange… it looks empty…’ There seemed to be something moving inside it, but where was the water? He looked at the two near the door; their faces now gave nothing away. He walked towards the tank and before he started to circle it, he knew there was definitely something moving inside.
He walked around so that he could view the longer side of the tank. Before he was fully side on to it, he saw what looked like a large, fluid ancient creature. He realized that the tank had looked empty, only because it was full to the brim. He couldn't believe his eyes…
Thank you for reading this. I hope that you enjoyed it. For readers that may be interested in the whole book, it can be found at the this link