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Hardship Posting





When I lived on Phuket I was the public relations manager for a very swanky boutique resort on Kata Beach. In the low season, when the staff was sitting around playing cards in the dining room and the leftover pork was turning green in the walk-in, I was allowed to give away free rooms and food to anybody famous who would let me take their photograph and send it to the newspapers. It was the only time in my life that celebrities I’d never met called me up and wanted to be friends.

When my son Andy was born I discovered that to make his US citizenship official I’d have to take him to the US embassy in Bangkok and sign an affidavit. I never liked to go to Bangkok. To my mind Bangkok combines the open sewers of Calcutta with the dreary cultural scene of Omaha. So instead I called the consul and invited him down for a free weekend in a suite ten steps from the beach. He came, and obligingly brought along his official stamps and seals. My son became a US citizen between courses of a seafood lunch served under an umbrella on the beach. The consul was not wearing a shirt. I didn’t have to wait in line.

Bangkok should be considered a hardship posting but it’s not, so embassy employees were given a ridiculously small housing allowance when they had their holidays. That made my free rooms and prawns famous at the embassy. Between the births of my son and daughter I hosted everybody from the Ambassador to the 19-year-old marine whose only important job was folding the flag at sundown. When the Clintons came over for HM the King’s silver jubilee I hosted Hillary’s junior staff: a dozen identical attractive, energetic, idealistic twenty-somethings who surprised me by holding fairly conservative political views. Of course, I was comparing them to the political climate I had been living in.

It was through my embassy connections that I became the Warden for Phuket. This was an unpaid position that involved visiting US citizens in Phuket’s provincial prison. Most of these were just guys who owed somebody money. If you try to skip out on your hotel bill, your bar bill, or your bar girl, you’d better be quick or the cops will catch you at the airport. The bill will double and you’ll sit in jail until you pay it. The cops will split the money with the offended party and drop you off back at the airport with a “see you nek’ year!”

I also met a lot of drug smugglers, a few people who were clinically insane, and one guy who might have been a murderer. The cops said he pushed a bar girl over a cliff. He said she tripped and fell. Either way, he got life.

And during this time I met Eric, a nice young man from Rhode Island who was a junior consular officer. He visited Americans in prison in Bangkok. He came down for a free weekend and over lunch he told me how everybody in the embassy had applied for transfer.

“It’s not just living in Bangkok that makes us all hate the job,” he said. “I mean, Bangkok’s a shitty place to live, okay? The traffic, the pollution, the prices, the lack of anything to do after work.” He took a big drink of beer. I had noticed that embassy employees tended to begin drinking very early in the day when they were on vacation.

“Living in Bangkok is bad enough, but what really drives you nuts is the work itself. Being posted to Bangkok is not like being posted to London or Rome or Moscow. At least in those places you always have the feeling that what you’re doing matters. Here in Thailand, you always know that nobody outside the Kingdom’s borders gives a rat’s ass about what happens here. And that’s because nothing important ever happens here.”

He stared morosely into his glass. “It’s all just babysitting. We’re nannies for a bunch of big, fat babies. This one time, right? This one time I had to go pick up a citizen at the jail in Don Meuang Airport. Some old guy drunk himself unconscious on his flight and they couldn’t wake him up when they landed, so they carried him into a cell and left him there until he sobered up. Once he did, turns out that his carry-on bag, containing a whole bunch of money, had disappeared mysteriously from the plane.”

“Gosh,” I said, “I really didn’t see that coming.”

“Nah, right? So his passport was also in the bag, and they couldn’t release him without a passport, so he called the consul. When I got there, turned out that the old man was Irish, and a priest.”

“‘Yes, Lad,’ says the old guy to me, ‘I’m actually the Bishop of X.’”

It turned out that the Bishop of X held dual US/Irish citizenship but had not wanted to call the Irish consul for obvious reasons. Eric bailed him out, gave him a new passport, floated him an official loan, and put him in a car for Pattaya, where the Bishop of X had a two-week reservation at a cheap guesthouse in which he was a regular guest and known by the name “Papa.”

Eric’s other primary duty was collecting the bodies of Americans who died in Thailand. Because of botched murder investigations in the past the American government required that one of its officers be present whenever an American corpse was discovered and before it was removed to the morgue. So Eric got to take photographs of a lot of flattened Yanks on the sidewalks under the balconies of mid-range condos.

“The worst one wasn’t a jumper,” he said to me. “It was this guy who was tied to a bed in a short-time hotel. He was naked, spread-eagled face up, hands and wrists bound with rope. He had a length of string tied around the base of his cock, and that sucker was still hard. Standing up like a flagpole. So I take my photos, the EMT’s cut his bonds, and then they cut the string around his dick.”

“And he came. Like Old Faithful. That poor dead guy hit himself right in the eye with a big glob of cum.”

The last I heard from Eric he’d been posted to the embassy in Lagos. He was happy as hell about it.