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Vignettes And Reflections In The Time Of Mourning

  • Written by Anonymous
  • December 12th, 2016
  • 29 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I first visited Thailand about 20 years ago and have found myself returning with increasing frequency in recent years to the point that it has now almost become an annual Autumn pilgrimage. This year, I bagged myself a great deal with KLM, booked my flights with a self-satisfied smirk and began the countdown to my eagerly anticipated trip. About one week before D Day, I spotted the sad news that his Majesty, the late, great King had passed away. My antennae immediately shot up and the alarm bells started ringing. My carefully planned itinerary with highlights and optional extras too numerous to mention was suddenly looking in serious jeopardy. I had been in Thailand a few years previously when an eminent monk that was close to the King had died and I had seen the devastating impact of his passing on the entertainment industry – albeit a short-lived hiatus on that occasion. But I instinctively knew that the ramifications this time would be far more serious. Oscar Wilde might have observed that it was unfortunate to have my Thai travel plans interrupted by a mourning period once but for this to happen twice was just pure carelessness on my part !

Anyway, with economy flights offering me no wriggle room and a hop, skip and jump itinerary with all accommodation already pre-booked and paid for it was full steam ahead and stick with the plan (like a brave Irish man).

On arrival in Bangkok I immediately notice that black is the predominant colour being worn by most airport ground staff. I catch the airport link to Makkasan. There are the usual mixture of regular Thai commuters and Farang tourists on board. The regular Thai ladies look so demure and pretty, without even trying to. Talk about understated elegance and chic.

I notice two female Farang backpackers on the train, who would no doubt turn heads back at home. Tall, leggy, young and blond. But here they look oversized and ungainly. I sometimes feel sorry for Farang ladies in Thailand. How can they possibly compete with the natural, exotic looks of the local females?
Fast forward a few hours and after re-acquainting myself with the joys of a soapy / nuru massage I find myself sitting outside a small biker-themed bar near the mouth of Soi 8, sipping a cool beer and watching the world go by. I notice how the Soi seems to reflect so much of Bangkok life with a steady stream of Thais, Indians, Africans and Farangs coming and going to / from the various bars, hotels, restaurants, massage shops, and street stalls. A motorbike pulls up and a demure young Thai beauty slides effortlessly from the passenger pillion seat and collects her laundry from the shop next door to the bar, and pays the woman. She slips back onto the pillion, sitting side-saddle and disappears off into the night. Immediately another bike pulls up and a farang girl struggles to throw her leg over the saddle to dismount, stumbles a bit and finally regains her composure. She foosters in her (very large) bag for her purse and eventually pays the driver and thanks him. She looks around as if expecting to find somebody she knows there and then defaults to her phone for further information. I am absent-mindedly appraising her. Not my type but I guess a lot of guys might rate her. Tall-ish, short blonde hair and wearing a well chosen long black dress that is bare at the shoulders and split at both sides from knee to ankle, that could hide any unwelcome features such as bad legs or a spare tyre. She gets her head out of her phone and looks around again – and our eyes meet. She immediately looks away and I realize that she has completely misinterpreted my gaze. Then she’s off, stomping across the Soi to a small group of farang ladies and a handsome young farang guy in an open neck shirt and a suit that are seated at an outdoor table of the Bar / restaurant just opposite. Most likely English Teachers gathering for a night out.

Meanwhile a small, dapper, white-haired farang in his seventies is deposited outside the bar / restaurant by the complementary tuk tuk from his hotel further down the soi. His clothes have been immaculately laundered by a loving wife back at home. White polo shirt tucked into beige chino shorts. White sports socks and tennis shoes. Glasses as thick bottles perched on his nose. You know the type. He looks around as if slightly dazed. He could have been dropped here by helicopter and is still trying to get his bearings. He turns to look into the restaurant and is then distracted by two pretty Thai girls walking past. He turns to watch them, does a 360 degree mechanical sort of shuffle like a wind-up toy and ends up facing the restaurant again. Then he rotates another 180 and notices the small bar where I am sitting. The music is good and he seems to make a decision and starts to walk across the Soi in my direction. As he gets closer he notices that it is a biker themed bar, loses his nerve, backtracks and starts appraising the restaurant again. He decides that discretion might be the better part of valour and finds a table with a good vantage point in the restaurant, which is open to the Soi on two sides.

Meanwhile at the outdoor table the farang blonde is busy smoothing her dress (that doesn’t need to be smoothed) and gesticulating fiercely with her hands as she tries to ingratiate herself into the company to which she is clearly a stranger /newcomer.

A middle-aged farang couple pass in front me. He looks dreamy or half stoned and may have had his quota for the day. She looks sweaty, overweight and overwrought. Neither of them could be described as wearing sombre attire in their garish shorts and vests. In fact they both look disheveled and their staggering gait(s) as they try to dodge taxis and tuk tuks are so completely at odds with the elegant movements of the young Thai lady that had just arrived and departed by motorbike taxi.

Another glance at the outdoor table and the blonde is now smoking a cigarette and her nervous energy seems to be dissipating. The young man in the suit has made a decisive move to get some menus as the overworked staff seem to be ignoring them. The ladies at his table seem to be suitably impressed by this move.

I drain my beer and head for Soi Nana. Stickman has been banging on a lot about Billboard recently so I decide to go and see what all the fuss is about. I first do a lap of the ground floor at Nana just to see what’s cooking. Just beside London Calling deep inside the ground floor there is a small brightly coloured drinks van. A VW I think. A ginormous rat scurries out from beneath it, passes beneath the stools of two bar girls that are sitting chatting and disappears in behind the outdoor bar counter. They seem nonplussed by it. I guess they see a lot of rats around Nana – even four legged ones occasionally. The girls catch my eye and we all share a laugh. It occurs to me that the next time somebody tells you they got rat-arsed drinking at Nana Plaza, there may be more than a grain of truth to it.

Next I am intercepted by a Hello girl handing out a flyer for a drinks promotion at Angelwitch. A beer and a shot for 95 baht is too good to miss so in I go. It’s showtime and a tiny lady is doing things with a violin and its bow that were surely not intended by the instrument’s creator, but nonetheless it’s a creative endeavour. Show over and I head into Bangkok Bunnies where I am one of only ten customers among at least 50 dancers. The odds are overwhelming and its impossible to look anywhere without finding a lady (or three) trying to catch my eye. I drink up and head on up to Billboard where there are at least 100 ladies in black bikinis, some of them real stunners and only about 20 or 30 punters. Now this might be some guys’ ideas of heaven but be careful what you wish for. I am swarmed by a succession of lovelies that want to talk and drink with me. Eventually I make my choice after numerous intros and interviews and buy drinks for two of Isaan’s finest. They immediately proceed to practice their massage skills on all parts of my anatomy. The holiday is getting off to good start so I thank the ladies for their attention, tip them, drink up and decide to head for my favourite Bangkok playground – Soi Cowboy.

The darkness at the entrance is the first sign that all is not well there and this is soon confirmed as I scoot in and out of my favourite bars. The morbid, dull atmosphere and lack of punters and energy in the bars is depressing. There is some music but it’s very muted and the girls seem genuinely sad. Some of them comment favourably on my attire of black shirt and dark trousers. It is fast becoming clear to me that many Thais are really hurting at this time and a little respect and empathy is appropriate.

At the outside table of one of the more earthy bars in the Soi, a lady of indeterminate age starts to massage my shoulders so I buy her a drink and chat with her for a while. She invites me inside to ‘her office’ for further ministrations but in the spirit of the evening, I politely decline.

Next day, I notice the extravagant black (and white) mourning decorations all over the railings outside Terminal 21 and at the Asoke BTS station plaza. There is also a table with a book of condolences open for people to register their thoughts. When I pay attention to the people milling around that very busy area I notice that most people are wearing at least one black garment. It is truly touching to see how seriously the Thai people are paying respect to the late King.

After two nights in Bangkok it’s off to Pattaya for me. As I get older (now in my late fifties) I find that I don’t have the energy for staying out too late at night when I’m in my home environment so the early closing / curfew imposed by the authorities shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. However, whenever I visit Pattaya its like being in one of those old Hammer Horror films (that always featured lots of sexy temptresses) and I seem to assume a vampire like existence, staying up until all hours, sleeping all day and only emerging again as the sun goes down and with lots of biting, sucking and nibbling action in between. So far I have managed to avoid the steak through the heart but the longer I spend there the more I fear for my sanity.

At Sugar Baby, Mr. Egg and one of the waiting staff recognise me and welcome me back. So I buy the waitress a drink and we catch up on what’s been happening. The show goes on but the energy or spark just doesn’t seem to be there so I decamp to Babydolls where it’s like a scene from a Roman orgy. There’s a stag night group in and they are living it large until somebody calls time and they disappear in a beery mist on to their next stop at Dollhouse. Next it’s on to Windmill for me (the unholy trinity of naughty bars) where the vibe is pretty much business as usual.

Next day, I feel the need of a decent (if very late) breakfast and head to Soi 13/1 to visit the lovely Wanna (Break) for a healthy / nothing fried, English breakfast. Wanna is in double-mourning as she has also lost her husband this year and the sadness descends on me again. I head on to the seafront and take a stroll. I am soon intercepted by an Indian gentleman who claims to be from London and who has a tale of woe about losing his ATM card. Do I know where he might find a HSBC branch? Anticipating a sting / scam I suggest that he tries the internet for such info – and I keep walking. He traipses along with me for about five minutes and finally trails off as he realises I haven’t come down in the last shower. I notice a large gathering at a memorial to the King that is being unveiled on the Pattaya seafront with lots of decent, respectable Thais dressed in formal dark / black outfits paying their respects. It’s good to see that even in the hedonistic capital of the World that decorum and respect are still present. The nightlife is definitely livelier than Bangkok and the bars are open a little later but the sense of sadness pervades everything.
After five days of Pattaya excesses its time to head to Ko Samet for a little R&R.

I had been trying to ignore a growing stomach upset for the previous few days but the increasingly regular bursts of diarrhea make it impossible to ignore further so I decide to go cold turkey for 24 hours and only sip water and avoid food completely. That should do the trick. But no. As soon as I try some solids again I am immediately in trouble and reluctantly I go to the Island pharmacist who prescribes a 4 day dose of norfloxacin that I later discover is also used to treat urinary tract infections and STIs. Well, that can’t be a bad thing I reason and so I take my medicine and her strict instructions to drink nothing but water and eat nothing but rice or plain pasta and maybe a little chicken or pork. But no vegetables, sauces, spices, juices, alcohol, ice, etc. WTF !

That definitely puts me in tune with the mood of the people but I decide to just ‘suck it up’ in the hope of enjoying the rest of the trip once my little problem has been cured. The good pharmacist’s diagnosis and prescription is spot on and I swiftly go from one extreme (multiple daily toilet visits) to the other (no toilet visits) over the next four days. Some of my friends had warned me that this would most likely be a sh*t time to visit Thailand – due to the expected restrictions, but not in the manner that transpired ! 7-11s are very common in Thailand but this is the sort of 7-11 day experience that nobody would wish for.

While I am relaxing on the beach one day I see a speed boat arrive and deposit an unusual trio. A middle-aged farang couple and young Thai lady. All of them are dressed appropriately / respectfully in black clothing. The man and the young lady carry the bags from the boat to the beach and on to the hotel while his wife / partner swans along carrying only a water bottle. Later that evening as I am strolling around the village, I notice the three of them again. They are still wearing black, dressed respectfully but their behaviour begs a question. The man and the girl are holding hands and the farang lady is walking on his other side – and stroking his bum crack ! I’m sure there must be a logical explanation for this but I just can’t quite figure it out. I decide it must be the medication and head back to my hotel for a rest.

As I can’t drink and pretty much can’t eat I am restricted in my options so I go for a massage. There used to be a lovely feature on the Island of ladies selling massages on the beaches but that seems to have all stopped now and the action has moved indoors. Now for those of you that have never been to Samet, there are a few hostess bars but massage shops are all strictly above board and no extras are offered. That’s fine with me as I don’t have much to give anyway in my current state. A large girl with the build of a Sumo wrestler is summoned and she pummels me into oblivion all the time with a smile on her face and frequently bursts out laughing as she finds every sensitive bone and muscle in my body. I am reminded of a friend at home that has a penchant for the larger ladies. He reasons that they are more grateful for the attention than the hotter, fitter models and go the extra inch / mile in the sack. I decide to try a different massage shop the next evening but much to my surprise the same lady is summoned and she collapses in fits and squeals of laughter when she sees me. I shrug my shoulders, roll my eyes and decide to offer this one up for my sins. You can guess the rest.

Later, I decide to visit the two hostess bars on the island, where all the ladies are demurely wearing modest black dresses, and as I’m slowly recovering, I take a chance and push the limits to a bottle of Sprite (no ice). I also decide to take my chances with my annual game of pool fully expecting to be humiliated by my 45-year-old female opponent. To my surprise I win the game and chivalrously offer her a rematch. I win that too and it occurs to me that I might win more often if I only drink sprite. In the chit-chat that peppers our games I discover that my opponent (from Buriram) is a grandmother but at odds with the normal Isaan model her adult daughter stays at home in Isaan with her two children while Grandmother plys her trade on Ko Samet. That must be a first ! She is concerned at my only drinking Sprite and when I inform her of my condition is anxious to ‘take care’ of me but despite her simple charms I am not yet ready for the return to action that this would inevitably lead to. It strikes me that I often hear that expression from a bar lady in Thailand – ‘I like to take care youuuu’. A cynical view might be that it’s just a ploy to get a guy to commit to a long time session but I prefer to think it shows what a caring nature they have at their core rather than being a ploy.

After a few days on Samet my condition is improving and its time to head to back to Bangkok and catch a flight onwards to Krabi where I will be making my debut / first visit to Ao Nang. During transit I am counting the mosquito bites that have mushroomed all over my body during my few days on Samet. The paradox strikes me that for such a lovely gently race of people the Thais have the most vicious little bastards of mosquitoes and the most debilitating tummy bugs. I read years ago in a travel book that it’s a good move to ask for a hotel room on the fourth floor or higher as the mossies cant fly that high. When I shared this gem with a long-time liaison one night she pointed out to me that my theory was flawed as the mossies could just ride up in the elevator with me ! Who says bar girls aren’t clever.

On arrival in Krabi I am shown to my very large hotel room (fourth floor to avoid the mossies). As usual I had requested a quiet, non-smoking room. I open the curtains to a wonderful view of the ocean – and a building site for a new high-rise development about five metres from my face. Construction work commences at 8 a.m. sharp each morning with the Thai crew going at it hammer and tongs (literally) until break time at about 10.30 after which the noise and energy tapers off – but long after I have given up on any chance of getting back to sleep.

On my first night in Krabi and with my meds just finished, things suddenly start moving again. I’m sitting at a bar near RCA, one of the main entertainment zones enjoying a great live band when suddenly I need to dash to the toilet where it all comes and goes in a heaving / heated rush – just not quite as the Pointer Sisters might have imagined (although that too would follow later). Relieved of that burden / weight off my mind, I decide its time to celebrate in the only way I know how and I’m back on the beer faster than you can say Jack Flash. As my remaining days in Thailand are running low I decide it’s high time to roll out my James Bond impersonation. After all, James Bond Island is nearby. I wander on down the small soi and pitch up at the bar with most pretty ladies and introduce myself. A pretty lady engages me in conversation and as usual with Thai ladies cannot quite pronounce the ‘S’ in my new name that comes out as Jaime Bond – but perversely can pronounce the ‘S’ but not the ‘V’ in Zero Zero Seben ! She informs me that she would like to be fu*ked by Jaime Bond. So we are clear on where we stand. After a while I decide to go for some food and butterfly a little and take a look at some other bars. Later, feeling ready for a lady at last, I come back to see if my Ms. Moneypenny is still available. I don’t see her and so I ask for her by name – Pok (not her real name) only to be told ‘Pok she go home. Period come’. Hmmm. I wander off in search of solace elsewhere and only get about 20 metres when I hear Pok shouting at me Jaime, Jaime, Wait me ! It appears her name was actually Pook and it was the unfortunate Pok that had the monthly curse. So to her delight we become re-united and a tryst is swiftly arranged. She tells me to wait for her at the top of the soi and she will come to collect me on her motorbike. I do as I am told (now a little the worse for wear) and shortly a motorbike pulls up and I climb on. I direct the lady driver to my hotel and we dismount. Then to my horror I realise that the driver is not Pook but is in fact a ladyboy that was looking for a date ! I make my apologies and excuses and rush back to the Soi where the real Pook is being comforted by her friends at the loss of a night of passion with Jaime Bond. Apologies and excuses abound. I blame it on the medication that is still in my system. And we zoom off on her motorbike back to my hotel. A night of passion ensues as I endeavour to make up for lost time and opportunity. And then to put the tin hat on it, we have a broken condom episode. I bet Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan never had to put with this kind of sh*t.

The next evening I am in no shape for another round with Ms. Moneypenny so I go to listen to some live music and have a few quiet beers. There are two large German assholes that are seriously drunk and falling all about the place. One of them crashes into a table and knocks over the beer that a Thai girl had been drinking. Even the band try to point out to him that he should buy her a replacement drink but he’s too out of it to notice. And his friend is no better. I do the decent thing and buy her a beer and instantly I have a new friend. She has issues that she wants to vent and is offering me company for the night but I politely decline as I sense potential trouble or complications. And besides, Jaime Bond is known to be a gentleman !

The live music goes on until 1 a.m. in Krabi and the bars keep playing music and serving until 2 and beyond, completely at odds with the curfews and restrictions in Bangkok.

After a few very enjoyable days in Krabi its time to head back to Bangkok for my final nights before returning to Farangland. At my hotel, the receptionist helpfully informs me that Nana is now opening until 1 a.m. but not sure about Cowboy. I do the rounds again and sure enough the sombre mood and midnight closing is still prevalent at Cowboy. Even the usually reliable and sometimes erotic scene at Suzy Wong doesn’t do it for me (despite the troupe there being kitted out like a bunch of models in an advert for Victoria’s Secret lingerie), so I leg it over to Nana for the last knockings. But the entertainment prevention squad have beaten me to it and all bars are ordered closed at 12.30.

The next night on a visit to Lighthouse I spot one particular hottie who has just finished her dancing shift and is chatting to her friend and a guy that has bought a lady drink for her friend – but clearly has no intention of buying a second lady drink. I ask her if she would like to have a drink with me and to my amazement, she turns, looks me up and down disapprovingly and holds up her index finger to indicate that I should wait while she considers this. I promptly shift seats and my attention elsewhere and when she eventually looks around and finds me I also raise one of my fingers to indicate what I think about her reaction. It must be some new sales technique she is piloting based on the more she refuses a lady drink the more people will want to buy her drinks. I wonder. Maybe she’s on medication also? The next night she approaches me and clearly doesn’t remember me from the night before. When I point this out to her she tells me ‘Forget about that. Today another day’. In the spirit of Churchill, I agree with her that today is indeed another day but that she is still a precocious little bitch.

Back on Soi 8, it’s my last night in Bangkok before I fly back to Farangland tomorrow. I am sitting outside the little biker bar again, sipping a beer and reflecting on my topsy turvy Thai adventure when I notice the two very drunken Germans at the restaurant / bar across the Soi. The English teachers are also there sat at the same outside table. And a certain precocious gogo dancer from Soi Cowboy is sitting at one of the adjacent foodstalls having dinner with her very plain looking friend before they head off to work for the night. She prefers to hang out with plain looking girls as she thinks it enhances her own attractiveness. They are comparing notes on their week’s takings and much to her surprise and horror she discovers that her plain friend has made more than her in lady drinks and tips. What tactics had she been using, she asks her? The answer s simple. She always accepts when a customer offers to buy her a drink and treats the customer with respect. Gosh !

A small white haired man in his seventies, who has just finished a session at his hotel with a beautiful young ladyboy shuffles into the restaurant / bar, orders a large steak and almost gives himself neck strain as he turns to follow the cute little waitresses movements as she goes back behind the bar. The drunken Germans are making a general nuisance of themselves, pinching the waitresses as they pass, shouting at the barman when they want more drinks and just being a general pain in the ass.

The young ladyboy passes en route from the Soi 8 hotel to the BTS elevator at the top of the Soi. He spots the teachers at their table and storms over. ‘You cockroach’ he screams at the young man in the suit, who is in fact the deputy Principal at a prestigious Bangkok English school. ‘You tell me you love me long time and now you here playing with farang ladies.’ He picks up the young man’s drink and pours it all over his immaculate suit and shirt. The two female teachers that had independently of each other planned to make their move on the assistant Principal tonight, and have been flirting shamelessly with him, look on aghast as their jaws hit the floor. (I recommend that they go for a jaw massage. After all, they massage just about every other moving part in Thailand).

At one of the tables inside the restaurant the small man is choking on a piece of gristle from his steak and his face is quickly turning from shades of deep red to blue. The barman, who amazingly has some health and safety first aid training, rushes to his side and attempts to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. But the small man is broad and barrel chested and the barman cannot quite get his arms all the way around him. He calls for help from the kitchen and a chef rushes to the scene. The barman directs the chef to wrap his arms around the man from behind while he rushes around in front and starts jamming his thumbs into the dying mans sternum. The work-around manoeuvre is effective and the piece of gristle shoots out of his throat like a cork from a bottle of champagne, sails across the Soi and lands with a loud plop and splash in the bowl of food that the precocious young gogo girl is eating. Her pristine short white top is destroyed and she furiously looks around for the culprit, with murder in her eyes.

Meanwhile the small man is recovering and gasping in large lungfuls of air. He staggers towards the pavement and crashes into the table where the two Germans are so drunk that they are oblivious to what else is happening about them. He knocks over dishes and bottles and staggers off down the Soi, back to the relative sanctuary of his hotel. The Germans are livid and start shouting at the staff to clean up the mess and bring them more food and drinks immediately. The chef, who is quite a large man, and does not like being disturbed from his routine, turns towards them, picks up the meat cleaver that he had thrown on the bar counter and tells them they will have to pay for the breakages at their table. The waiting staff freeze and wait to see what will happen. The Germans attempt to assert themselves and tell the Thai staff that they will not be paying for anything. After all on their three previous holidays (in Portugal, Ireland and Greece, also known as the PIG countries, funnily enough) they had pretty much marched in and done as they pleased and nobody ever said even boo to them. This sudden and unexpected development has thrown them and in their seriously drunken state they have crucially overlooked the simple fact that Thailand is not part of the EU and will not accept drunken Germans barging in to their country, riding roughshod over local sensitivities and imposing their will on people. The smaller of the two Germans seems to sober up a little and has noticed that the situation may be about to get dangerous. Even the Soi dogs have become involved as they start growling and nipping at the Germans heels. The smaller guy tries to tell his friend to back-down and reaches for his wallet. Their holiday is almost over and they are running a little short of cash. He offers 150 baht to the chef. The big chef demands the wallet from him, removes 1500 baht and then turns to the bigger guy who has finally cottoned on to the changed atmosphere. The chef demands his wallet also and removes 1300 baht – and throws the empty wallet back on the table. The big German starts to protest, thinks better of it, looks at his friend and they quickly decide to beat a hasty retreat, stumbling out of the bar, muttering darkly and casting anxious looks over their shoulders. From the way he’s walking, the bigger guy looks as though he may have also picked up a touch of the 7-11 day tummy bug. They seem genuinely mystified at the sudden turn of events. The gogo girls finish up their meal and head off to work, the prettier one still disgusted at the large stain on her top and her failure to find the culprit. A large rat emerges from the darkened soi and starts nibbling at the spilled food under the table.

All the while a Phil Collins album is playing on the bar’s sound system and the tracks segue from ‘Something in the Air tonight’ into ‘Paradise’ (Think twice. Its just another day for you and me in Paradise’). As the dust settles and normal service is resumed on the Soi, I finish my excellent PD James book that is rather ironically titled ‘A Certain Kind of Justice’, drain my beer, settle my bar tab and stroll off into the evening.

Conclusions

As usual, things didn’t go exactly according to plan on my trip. They never do. Nevertheless I had a great time in Thailand and the highs easily exceeded the lows during my visit in the time of mourning. The ladies in the bar industry were generally ‘down’ but seemed to have accepted their immediate fate and were resigned to a quiet / poor month. There was no carping or complaining about the restrictions or the authorities. But there was still plenty of fun to be had discreetly – joyful events even, in a manner of speaking ! I was glad that I didn’t cancel my trip and hope that my small contribution will have helped a few people to continue to make a living in some small way. However, I can’t help but think that his Majesty, the late great and much revered King of the Thai people would not have wished for so many of his subjects to suffer so much both emotionally and financially on his passing. But this is Thailand and we farangs must learn to respect their ways and culture just as we expect visitors to our shores to respect ours. I am not sure about the etymology of the word ‘farang’ but I guess there is a clue in the similarity to the word ‘foreign’. Our ways are different and ‘foreign’ to them as theirs are to us. We all get on together by showing understanding and empathy with each other in both good times and bad.

Footnote: As I am sat at a transit bar in Schiphol, Amsterdam, waiting for my connecting flight to Dublin, a text message bops in on my phone from an unrecognised Thai number. It simply reads: ‘I miss you James’. I assume that some lady must have mixed up my name / number with another of her customers. And then the (money)penny drops and I burst out laughing, much to the bemusement of the other people at the bar. And then I am certain that James Bond will live to die another day in Thailand.

The author of this article cannot be contacted.