Stickman Readers' Submissions May 24th, 2017

It’s Only A Taxi Ride Away

“It’s only a taxi ride away’, she told me. It took us a good 30 minutes to get to the house. On the way there they told me how they were cousins. They were both about 20, I was 37. They were dressed in casual attire, nothing flashy about them, just two average ‘innocent’ Thai girls that ask total strangers back to their home for lunch.

On the way there the leader girl was on the phone back to base, ‘We have a moron and will be there in 20 minutes, this is not a drill, all stations are go.’ At least I assumed that’s what she was saying – Thai language is not my forte. I knew something was going to go down, I just didn’t know what. I had seen in movies how hijacked people would sit in the back of cars with a hood over their head, not knowing where they were going but would listen out for sounds in the background so they could identify the area they were in, for example, a church bell ringing, or the sounds a car makes while going through a tunnel. I was in the back of this taxi with full vision and didn’t have a clue where the hell I was. But that didn’t matter, I had scored me a free lunch.

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We made small talk about whatever, and finally got to our destination.

Man, this is a big house! It was huge, a family of wealth. This is where I got nervous and started to pay a little bit more attention to detail. We walked up a short path to the front door, the door magically opened when we were two steps from it.

“Welcome to my home’ said the short Thai man. I done the whole hands together and bow thing to show my respect to this man who was possibly going to take my money, kill me, chop me up into little pieces, store me in a freezer and eventually sell my parts to a local restaurant.

I would give the welcome a 5-star rating if Trip Advisor was around back then.
I was given a seat at a large table. The man of the house sat directly opposite me, the two girls and the mother / his wife (I presume) were darting around with plates and sticks and glasses, an older lady sat in a chair just looking.

They made me feel very at home, a huge spread of food was on the table, mostly seafood. I don’t like seafood which meant I would have to buy something later to eat, which meant I didn’t score a free lunch. But not to be rude to my new best friends, I did force down some bits and pieces over the assessment period…

He was a really smooth talker, perfect English. He worked in the cruise ship industry, managing a floating casino or so I was told. I placed him at about 45, he was well dressed with perfect hair and teeth.

He asked where I was from, Ireland, I said. His face lit up.

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I have met many Irish people on my ships. Yes, well, us Irish do like to get around. You are all so nice and friendly. Well actually no, some of us are complete tossers and then we have the moron variety that go to places they shouldn’t go to.

He went on to tell me how he had met one Irish couple on a ship and became their best friends. He helped them to win huge money at the black jack table.

It sounded like I was going to be playing Black Jack soon.

And sure enough, ‘Have you ever played Black Jack. I had in my younger days but only with brothers and sister and uncles and aunts but only for matchsticks and we called it 21. I wasn’t a gambling men when it came to money, but when my life was involved, sure, I would take a gamble on getting in to a taxi with two girls.

I told him I had but wasn’t very good at it. I had not played it in years. Never mind, he said, after lunch I can show you some tricks and tips that you can take away with you and use whenever you feel the need.

Lunch ended and I knew I had to start planning my exit strategy, before things got too involved, but first I wanted to learn some tips.

Mr. man brought me down this hall way into a cool dark room. The daughter followed behind, the entire room was decked out as a full on gambling den, a full on bar and 3/4 card tables, chips were stacked neatly behind the bar.

We sat down and he started to deal. Daughter was sat way at the other end of the room, I assume she was his protection in case I turned out to be a total nutter and tried take him down.

Within 10 minutes he had me trained as a fully professional black jack player, I was the best student he ever had.

Would you like to make some money?

Nah, I’m not a gambling man but he insisted. One of his friends happened to be very rich and happened to be in town on this particular day and if we worked together as a team, we could take some of his money from him.

He explained how we would could not lose if I just followed his lead. But I only have a few hundred baht on me. I don’t have the money for playing cards. He had that one covered as well. He went behind the bar and came out with a hundred dollar bill. You don’t need money, just use this and from the winnings you can pay me back.
My feet were getting itchy. I was in too deep, and he was on the phone to his friend. While we were waiting for his friend, he showed me the cheat system we were going to use. It was straightforward, easy-peasy, we were going to be rich in a few hours.
There was a knock on the door to the den. In walked an even shorter man than my delightful host, dressed in a purple suit, purple shirt, black tie, the pointiest shiniest black shows I had ever seen and the killer aviator sunglasses still covering his eyes. Mr. Small was Mr. Big.

Introductions were made, and we were about to sit down when I asked if I could please use the bathroom before we played.

Of course, follow me, he took me out the door and pointed to a door opposite, it’s in there. I walked in to the bathroom, waited a moment, took a look at myself in the mirror, gave myself a little confidence speech.

I left the bathroom, turned right, walked down the hall I had used to get to the den, walked through the lounge where we had eaten, said goodbye to the old lady and the mother / wife who were still sat there as I quickly made my way to the front door.

The ladies were probably in a state of confusion, and I didn’t hang around to find out. Once out the front door, I sprinted down the short drive to the street. Running, I was wondering should I go left or right once I got there as I would not have time to stop and figure out which way I should go once I reached the road. I decided to go left. The taxi had come in from the right. This is what they do in the movies, and my host would think I had tried to make my way back to town using the route I had used to get to their house. Thank you, Hollywood, for educating me on how to escape from a cartel!

I was sprinting down the street, head held high, I was invincible, I could run for days….wham…I face planted the pavement, pesky Thailand wonky sidewalks had got me. Nothing major, just some scratches to my hands but I should really clean that up once I got back to my hotel using bottled water…

The thing is that I wasn’t invincible nor could I run all day. My adrenalin had maxed out, and there was nothing left in the tank.

I had run maybe a good 500 meters through various streets and alleys, for all I knew, I could be right outside the house I had just left.

I had no idea where I was and could not seem to find a taxi and I was still in a state of panic.

I approached a bunch of school kids that were hanging around a group of scooters and motorbikes. They had probably just finished school and were evaluating the lessons of the day.

“Excuse me, do any of you speak English”

One boy jumped forward and proudly said that he did…

Could you please tell me where I can get a taxi.

‘I am taxi’ as he pointed to his motorbike.

Ok, it’s not a taxi but it will get me out of here.

I pulled out my wallet and took a business card out, the business card held the name and address of my hotel. I felt quite proud of myself at that moment as about 20 years earlier I was in Barcelona, drunk and lost with no idea of the name or whereabouts of my hotel. From that night in Barcelona, I promised myself I would always keep a hotel card in my wallet in case I ever got drunk and lost again.

The card was shared around, and they worked out where I needed to go and on I jumped to this death trap on two wheels with a boy that was no more than 17.
5 minutes into the ride I was convinced I would have been safer with Mr. Big / Mr. Small. By now we would have been sipping on whiskeys and having a great old laugh over our cards as our cigar smoke hung in the air.

It was the most hell-raising ride I was ever on. I suspected my driver had watched too many Hollywood movies also.

I presumed by my state of mind and actions to this bunch of teens that they assumed I was some kind of secret agent and if I didn’t get back to my hotel within 5 minutes Bangkok city was going down under a cloud of nuclear dust.

This kid could handle his bike. It wasn’t a big machine, but it could certainly go fast and we were weaving in and out of traffic with inches to spare either side. I obviously made it back in one piece and lived to tell the tale.

I jumped off the bike, took out my wallet and handed him some cash, and then my knight in school uniform revved up his bike, smiled and took off into the wild blue yonder. I turned around and walked to the entrance, My trusty tuktuk driver saw me, he shook his head in sorrow. He had been there for me when ever I needed him, always waiting, one step behind me sometimes two steps in front of me as If he knew where I was going to be before I even knew myself. He was my main man in Thailand, but now, our bond had been broken and the trust gone. I gave a limp wave and a smile to let him know everything would be okay between us. I never saw him again.

Up in my room I washed off the blood from my hands with bottled water in the bathroom. Glancing at myself in the mirror I called myself a complete moron. I bailed too soon from the card game and I would never find out what could have been.

But I did. It was only two years ago when I was flicking thru Netflix looking for something to watch. I stumbled upon an Australian comedian who happened to experience the very same thing, only it was a man that convinced him to go back to his house. He went the complete 18 holes and found himself hiding out in a dingy apartment for 48 hours as Mr. Big was after him..or so he was led to believe.

On my last night in Bangkok, I went to an Irish pub. It was quiet. On stage were the Asian Beatles, miming the real Beatles. They were very convincing until it a song ended and they had to introduce the next song, their accents gave the game away. Two Asian girls were sat near me. In front of me was my empty cigarette box, on front of the box was a photo of the most hideous teeth ever, this is what you will look like if you smoke. I was never really sucked in by advertising. I ripped the box apart, carefully tearing out the picture of the ugly teeth. I placed the picture in my mouth covering my own teeth with it and waited. One of the girls finally looked, I smiled revealing my new set of dentures. The tall attractive one came back to my room that night, next morning as I was taking the lift down to leave for the airport with my new lover, I bumped into an Irish girl that I had got to know over the past few days in the hotel. This time her Irish mother was with her, we were introduced. The Irish mother was none too impressed with me as I’m sure she thought this Thai girl that was with me was a hooker. She may have been, who knows? But as the saying always goes, your mother knows best.

They were on their way to Chiang Mai. Where is Chiang Mai? It’s up North. Thanks, I must visit it someday.

My lover came with me to the airport to see me off. She even cried a little bit – don’t ask me why but we had exchanged e-mails and promised to keep in touch.

10 years later I made it to Chiang Mai and here I was packing up in another hotel about to get on a bus to make my way to Phayao. My internet date had already texted me a few times to make sure I was up and ready to go. My injury from the previous night was surprisingly sore and ugly, my favourite tee shirt in the rubbish.

I jumped in a tuktuk and made my way to the bus station…Why am I doing this? going from town to town meeting random women. Well I had three months to kill, I was at midlife crisis age, I had a dream that I wanted to see through, maybe I am a little insane, I don’t know why I’m doing it, just do it and stop looking for answers…

My internet date met me at the bus station in Phayao. She was smaller than I expected, very pretty of course, she was 35 with a killer smile, her dress style was simple and practical, she was poor, two daughters, one 16 and the youngest 8. To survive she spent hours sewing up little purses for a few baht each purse that would be sold in the Chiang Mai market for 10 times the price she was paid.

She led an interesting life that I was going to hear all about over the next 5 days.

This lady has a name: Nanya. I grew very fond of Nanya and we still spend a lot of time texting or talking on Skype. Just two days ago, Nanya contacted me asking if I was free on Skype. I was, upon opening the screen on my phone, I could see she had being crying.

Stick’s thoughts:

The card scam you were almost caught up in is usually perpetrated by Filipinos (and not just in the Philippines but throughout South-East Asia) and when you mentioned how good the fellow’s English was, I’d be willing to bet that they were actually Filipinos and not Thais.  You were wise to leg it as things can get ugly. This scam is not common in Thailand but is VERY common in tourist areas of Cambodia and to a lesser extent, Vietnam.

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