I’ve never met either of the two famed or best-known Bangkok nightlife gurus personally but like any English-speaking farang in the land I know of them and for years followed their ramblings either in printed word in the Bangkok Post or on a computer or tablet screen. Now one has long since retired and the other is currently enjoying the charms of his homeland.
In the unlikely event should I ever meet one or the other I’d bring along a customary small attention? For good old Bernard that would be a few tins of Dinty-Moore Beef stew or similar delicacies, for Stick a six-pack of Beer Lao.
The thought occurred on a recent shopping stroll through Villa Market, Ari, where both items were on offer. Out of sheer curiosity I bought a tin of the beef stuff and a bottle of Lao beer. To be honest I was not impressed. I prefer German or Belgian beer and a tasty beef stew needs to be lovingly simmered and gently boiled at home. A fairly decent hobby cook myself, I’m sure even Trink would appreciate my homemade stew.
About 15 years ago I was hunting for another reuniting present. For real this time and for someone I had known for almost all my life. An old school friend here in Bangkok. He was part of a group tour of his village’s bowling-club travelling in Southeast Asia. On our planned meeting my little present to him was a pack of Bazooka.
That needs explaining.
Bazooka then, in the 50s and 60s, was a much-loved chewing gum. Each pack contained an extra wrapping with the byline saying “If you want to make giant bubbles this gum’s for you” and “included a little booklet with the latest adventures of Bazooka Joe”. As kids we bought them at a nearby, small kiosk at 20 or 25 centimes (think a few pennies or a dime).
Remember this was a time when 8- or 10-year olds did not play with hand-held or tablet devices but spent free time in nearby forests, on the lake swimming in summer and ice-skating in winter when it was frozen over. Sliding down the local waterfall and exploring caves. When nothing else was at hand we just sat around for hours competing as to who could make the biggest Bazooka bubble before bursting. When they did burst, and not always involuntarily, in to the face of the next sitting boy it provoked immediate and hilarious laughter.
Moritz was not a simpleton but often foolish and gullible. Definitely not stupid but he certainly was not the sharpest knife in the draw, as the saying goes. He always sat in the last row of desks in school and then one year he had to repeat the same class over again. But we never lost touch with him and were happy to keep him in our group. Partly because he could easily be used to play practical jokes on, just as kids do at that age.
Not too far from where we all lived there was a farm. Apart from tending to various crops on his land the farmer raised vhickens, piglets, cows and horses. These where his pride and joy. Often in the late afternoon he would take one or two of them for a walk around the village. He didn’t ride them just walking along holding a leash. Every now and then the horses would pause releasing their droppings. Firm, little, round ballen or balls in appearance not unlike the meatballs that could be bought cheaply at the butchers and were fried or deep-fried in oil by our mums.
And that’s what we told Moritz. Eat one and see how tasty they are. Sceptic at first he eventually considered more seriously and acquiesced when told as an extra incentive we would buy him a pack of Bazooka. So Moritz went ahead. Afterwards when he saw us all snicker and giggle he realized that once again he had been made a fool of. With his simple and gentle disposition however he soon joined in the laughter with no hard feelings. Though he never told as how it tasted he happily accepted the Bazooka. But he had not learned anything. Many more times he was played practical jokes on often for just a pack or two of Bazookas. Hence he became Bazooka Moritz.
While it was not probably not always easy to find Dinty-Moore or Beer Lao, getting hold of a pack of original Bazooka in early 2000 in Bangkok proved to be even more difficult. Eventually I located a few packs in an out-of-town shop that seemed fairly genuine.
Moritz had now grown into a tall, somewhat heavyset and seemingly strong man. Despite his size he remained a gentle, unassuming man as he had always been as a kid. He was also a heavy smoker. We had a few beers together and reminisced about the good old schooldays. In between two fags and a beer he finally tasted the gum. He did give it a good try for 5 minutes or so. A time that I left him undisturbed waiting for his expert opinion. Eventually he declared the gum inferior to the real thing. Worth, he could not even produce a decent bubble.
It did not diminish the pleasure of the reunion and the joys of having met again after so many years.
Moritz returned home with his tour group but the close to 10 days he had been in Thailand was enough for him to catch Thai fever. Moritz took early retirement and returned. He settled in or near the town of Prachinburi.
Over several years the only contact I had with him was by telephone. He had married a local lady who he said exploited a small Mum / Pop shop there. I’ve never met his wife. He was doing fine, life was good and his wife industrious although the takings in the little shop were meagre facing the competition of the ever-expanding network of 7-Eleven stores. Occasionally he had to help out stocking up goods with his pension money or give a helping hand in the shop. But Moritz was used to living frugally and it did not bother him.
Then one day I received an upsetting call from Moritz. He had just spent a night in the local police cell on order of the Immigration official. What’s more, he was ordered to leave the country within 7 days accompanied by the dreaded stamp in his passport. I told him there was hardly much I could do to help but advised him to urgently contact or better yet, go himself to the embassy.
But Moritz was adamant to meet with me first.
That posed another problem. Although now living in Thailand for many years though mostly confined to the small community on the outskirts of the small town he lived with his wife, he did not know how to commute in the capital or find a particular place. After some thoughts he said but I know the German Beerhouse on Soi 5 or 7 Sukhumvit in Bangkok. After all, he added, that’s where I met my wife.
That fits the Moritz I know I said to myself but I kept quiet.
When we finally met Moritz was in an animated state and at times barely coherent. But I did nothing wrong he repeated over and over again. It turns out that he still had the original tourist visa now several years expired but had never bothered to renew it or get an extension.
Seems he was not all that discreet about that too and told anybody who wanted to know. Next a neighbor informed on him after seeing him working in the small Mum / Pop shop. That was sufficient for the authorities to intervene.
“But all I did was to carry heavy boxes or put stuff on the top shelves that my wife could not reach”, he said.
It seemed futile to explain to him the complicated rules to obtain a work permit let alone that for this kind of job he would not even be able to obtain one. Instead, I accompanied him to the embassy.
Much is talked about or written about embassies or their staff and not always favorably. In the present case the Swiss Embassy‘s handling was exemplary. Moritz did not speak English and only a few words of Thai so they sent a junior officer accompanying him to the airport and to help with formalities to get him on the plane in time. Naturally he still had to fork out the overstay fine which I believe was 20,000 Baht. My last words to him was to tell him the undertakings he needed to accomplish back home to return to his beloved wife in the not too distant future.
Nevertheless Moritz was a troubled man boarding the plane to Zurich. Before going through Customs he turned around, spread his arms wide, palms open. His metaphoric way to say once more “but I did nothing wrong”!
I do wonder how many long-stay foreigners are in a similar situation to Moritz where they have neglected to stay on top of their visa and then one day, probably completely out of the blue, there is a knock at the door and they get their marching orders. I’ve heard of more than a few cases similar to this. Sad, but at the same time staying on top of one’s visa is one of the most important things an expat in Thailand must do!
The author cannot be contacted.