Until The Last Visitor Leaves
We jumped into a couple of cars and started prowling around deserted streets. Most of the shops were closed already. We kept driving until we could locate an ice cream parlor. Before we could even pull over our cars proper, we saw the lights getting switched off inside the shop.
The most optimistic among us jumped off the car and rushed to the door with a sheepish smile pasted on his face. From inside the glass wall of the shop an elderly oriental gentleman saw our guy running for his ice cream. He nodded.
In no time we 5-6 people thronged into the shop. All the lights were turned on again on this pleasant gentleman’s instruction. A couple of the workers were putting the chairs upside down on the tables. They stopped and put the chairs back in their proper places and walked up behind the counter waiting for our orders.
We soon settled down at the tables, each with a bowl of boutique ice cream. The smiling gentleman came to our table. We thanked him profusely for letting us in well past their scheduled closing time. He said with a hint of pride, “When I come to America long time back, I went for dinner to a restaurant once. They didn’t let me in because it was too late for them. I vowed there that if I ever open a shop, I’ll never stop anyone entering into my shop and I’ll keep it open until the last visitor leaves”.
I couldn’t resist but asked him which country had he migrated from. With a warm smile the gentleman told us the name of that land. We left the shop thoroughly charmed by his hospitality and willingness to serve with a smile.
The positive impression about that oriental gentleman’s country was reinforced after several years when I landed on Don Muang airport on my first trip to the land of smile.
Upon arrival I was looking for a particular facility at the airport. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate a suitable signpost and hence had started enquiring the airport staffs about it.
Soon I was startled by their lack of English language skill. But they had compensated it with their warm smile and willingness to help. Each one of them started taking me to another person who knows a few more English words than him. After the third round I’d started to anticipate two possible outcomes – either they would take me to the right person, or I would be given an English-to-Thai dictionary for free!
Ever smiling, very polite and always willing to help – that was my first impression about the city of Bangkok. I fell for the city in no time. Many high-seasons passed since then and I kept visiting Thailand.
Going for unplanned walks across unknown streets became my favorite activity. I also became addicted to Thai street foods.
I still remember a small eatery where I used to have my dinner quite frequently. There was this motherly lady who was the cashier cum manager cum head cook cum what-not. She had an army of 3 or 4 dark skinned, T-shirt and Bermuda clad beauties working as waitress. Their cute eyes used to be glued to a small TV set hanging beside the cash counter. But they were very attentive and cordial while serving their guests. This itself was a good enough reason to become a regular customer, but the foods were also very delicious and cheap.
In general I could feel a kind of warmth in the atmosphere anywhere in Thailand which I had never experienced before in any other countries that I had visited till then.
For a very long time I was completely oblivious about the night time delicacies that Bangkok has been famous for since ages. But eventually I discovered the hidden gems in the glittering alleys of Potpong, Nana and Cowboy. The kind of customer experience that I’d become used to receive at any regular places during the daytime, still continued inside a relaxing beer garden or a livid go go bar at night.
Fast forward to many years of exposure to Thainess in many form, on a hot summer night (technically early morning) last year, I was sitting on a plastic chair at the makeshift street bar set on the pavement right in front of Golden Bar at Soi Nana. The Nana Plaza has been closed already. Girls are coming out. The crowd is thinning. Some tuk tuk guys are shouting “massage massage”. The Isan food stall right beside the pharmacy on the other side of the Nana parking lot has got busy again.
A 25-ish guy appeared from nowhere (actually from Nana Plaza that I knew later) and occupied the chair next to me. He was a fine gentleman, still fully alert, holding a half empty bottle of Sinha.
He strikes up a conversation with me which is a strong enough sign that he is still a green horn at Soi Nana. Though I’m a believer of the practice of “third-party introduction” while I’m at lower Sukhumvit area late at night. But I won’t mind taking part in a chit-chat if the approaching gentleman is still not intoxicated.
So the conversation starts. The guy was from a small country of EU. The topics were pretty general in nature and far away from any of the subjects surrounding us at that time and place. It was a mere coincidence that one of my friends was a fan of a small time musical band this young gentleman’s native place. That was a nice ice breaker. But the young man was intelligent and the topics kept changing.
After a good one hour of discussion about life in Bangkok, Thailand and other parts of the world, the smart guy could correctly guess my daytime profession. A little surprised I was. He said, “I could sense it as I’m also working in the same field. Your job is basically a natural progression of mine a few years down the line.” And then he asked for my views about Bangkok and my advice, career advice for him!
Now I believe that one can possibly draw inspiration from anybody at any place at any time. But the advisor should be a right person, at a right place at right time to say the least.
Nowadays someone’s career can’t grow anymore purely based on opportunities and market conditions. It is the age of finding a “balance”, a “work-vs.-life balance”, a “body-vs.-mind” balance, or even an “earn-vs.-fun” balance.
But I believe people who got used to maintain a set routine that integrates their daytime activities at a business district like Sathorn and night-adventures at lower Sukhumvit, is struggling more to have a balanced experience across the places.
So, am I the right advisor, at the right place? When the world has started expecting a guy sitting on a plastic chair on Soi Nana at 3 am in the morning with a bottle of Lao, to maintain a tidy balance sheet on how has he been transacting on every aspect of Bangkok?
The guy who set foot on LOS many years ago, can still hide his tired eyes behind thin rimmed glasses, or can bury his face in reports and presentations, or can divert any common Thai queries about his personal matters to some unintelligible business topics while having lunch with his acquaintances from Thai corporate workforce.
But as the sun sets over the Chao Praya River, that very guy looks at the mirror and reminds himself once more that things aren’t the same anymore. Less things fade out like daylight these days, where more and more things simply get transformed overnight.
As I read experts like you (Stick) and I believe that the neon lights will still keep shining for some more time, with of possibility of a transformation taking place looming large.
But my question is, will they still keep smiling until the last visitor leaves Soi Nana?