Taxi driver, the deer hunter, New-York, New-York, Raging Bull, Cape Fear, Casino and many more. Just a few of the movies with Robert De Niro I enjoyed and occasionally watch again on DVD or TV reruns. Why do I like De Niro?
1. He’s a great actor and made some really fabulous movies.
2. He’s a contemporary of mine. We could have shared school benches. Our respective birthdays are only 3 days apart in August.
3. Because he’s Bob De Niro.
Over the Songkran weekend when most of us oldies prefer to stay home rather than take part in the mad water battles and the yearly occurring road carnage, I switched on TV and saw an aging De Niro in a film called Dirty Grandpa. Introduced as a comedy, it wasn’t funny at all just plain stupid and definitely not De Niro vintage. If it left one impression it was that of a greying, sad old man making a fool of himself.
Usually interpreting tough guys or gangster kind of types De Niro used to play in his prime years. Refusing however to be typecast in the genre he also interpreted occasionally underdogs, challenged, soft or vulnerable kind of characters. As in Mad Dog and Glory. Reviewing the flick recently reminds me of an incident that dates several years back in Phuket and has more than a few similarities to this film. Most of you probably haven’t seen the movie in question so here’s a short synopsis:
Mad Dog and Glory, released 25 years ago, casts Bob De Niro as a gentle, even timid crime scene police photographer, teased by his fellow officers as mad dog. He inadvertently saves the life of a gang mobster. Feeling indebted to mad dog he wants to compensate him but mad dog refuses money. Instead he offers him the “use” of one of his barmaids for a week. Mad dog accepts. That leads to some complications as does the following Thai story in the early years of the new millennium.
Jürgen was an elderly German in his mid or late 50’s. Life was good for him in the little bar he had financed with his earnings in hard currency over many years in his home country. Situated on the then newly emerging bar street on Soi Sansabai. A sort of extension to Soi Bangla next to Jungceylon. Officially the bar was run by his wife Poo or maybe Kung. I forget. A girl he had met soon after his arrival in Phuket and married only a few months later.
The takings during the few high season months just about covered rental and other expenses. Followed by the long low season months when Jürgen had no choice but to fall back on the remaining nest egg for his survival. He mostly sat in his chosen corner table of the small bar drinking beer or Mekong. The consumption of the amber liquid over the long evenings, weeks and months of the green season as he liked to call it increased dramatically over time. Not to the joy of his wife who more than once had to practically carry him home to their nearby lodging with the help of the remaining bargirls.
We’ve all experienced those awkward moments when the doorbell & the telephone ring at the same time, the wife calls you to the kitchen because the gas won’t light, and the 3 year old has fallen down the steps possibly hurting himself and needs your immediate attention.
In a figurative sense that’s what happened to Jürgen.
Weary of his heavy drinking and more often than not in an inebriated state at the end of the day or rather the early morning hours the wife had asked for a divorce and easily and fairly speedily obtained it. Simultaneously the time of the yearly visa renewal had come up for Jürgen. Not a problem in past years but not having a Thai spouse any longer the guarantee fee now doubled. Several hundred thousand baht was missing from his piggy bank. In the midst of low season the bar takings were nowhere near enough to make up the difference. With no decent collateral to offer, the banks would not lend money and Jürgen thankfully knew better than to approach the local money sharks whose reputation he’d heard more than one unpleasant story about.
We remained friends and acquaintances. When he asked me, the answer was swift and possibly a bit harsh before he had even finished telling of his dilemma. That surprised and angered him. I told him why.
I’d lost a sum of money early in my time here lending to a seemingly trustworthy couple. In the wake I was given a significant lesson by an old Thailand hand. A lecture I never forgot. It went something like this: Never lend money to a Thai – chances of being repaid are remote. More importantly, he went on, never lend to another Farang as your chances of being repaid are even slimmer. That of course angered Jürgen even more and our mutual familiarity took a downturn. I wisely avoided his premises for a time.
What follows concerning Jürgen’s troubles I know second hand only and several months later. I have little doubt that it’s accurate.
One of my office employees with whom I had shared Jürgen’s story brought along a nice young girl one day encouraging her to tell of her adventure along the dirty Grandpa line. The girl told us her name but we forgot so we always called and remembered her as Krabueang later, (it’s the Thai word for tiles).
Not a bargirl but working in a low paying job in Phuket Town, she said. However, she was not opposed to spend time with a polite farang, that’s if the compensation or rather the remuneration in this case was adequate. She had sent money to her Grandmother for over 2 years to help build a simple house on the family owned land near Korat. It was almost done, the roof was up, ready to live in. The one important thing missing was Krabueang. She urgently needed 10,000 baht to buy the tiles to make the house look more homely.
Then one day she was introduced by a friend to this guy who said he owned a bar in Patong. He’d pay the 10K upfront he said knowing she’d asked what quid pro quo was required. All she had to do was to let her be entertained for 3 days by a gentle & pleasant elderly farang in his multimillion baht villa in Ko-Sire. Hesitant at first, she finally accepted and was picked up late the next afternoon in the guy’s car. First stop at the closest ATM to transfer the money as per arrangement. They then proceeded to a nice bungalow style house with a pool at the east side of the island.
Grandpa turned out to be about 70 but seemingly in good shape. A nice meal by candlelight followed served by kitchen staff. Eventually some more intimate action was required. Thai girls are reluctant to talk about that, especially in front of a farang. What did transpire was that it took time to get the old man satisfied but it was in no way totally unpleasant. I’ve no doubt that my Thai staff where told a lot more details about the encounter later on.
I liked the girl and invited her to join me and my staff for dinner at the nearby Salaloy restaurant. More relaxed now, she told us her somewhat sad but not atypical curriculum. Born in Nakhon Ratchasima province her mother died of cancer when she was just 8 years old. She never knew her father and was taken care off and brought up by Grandmother living in a somewhat paltry shed. Relocating to the capital first when she turned 18 and later to Phuket looking for a job.
Her goal or ambition was to earn enough money to help her Grandmother she adored and to whom she’s was eternally thankful, build a proper house. But that was not as easy as she had imagined. After month of working low paying jobs it transpired that she only managed to send very small sums of money. The advancements in building the house even at the low workmen rates up in the province was slow. Even so the walls were finally up and the roof would follow. More money was needed to decorate the interior. But her meagre salary just about kept her fed and sheltered. Sending money to Grandmother meant generating additional income. But she knew there was a way. After all it was Phuket and many “rich farang” available looking for pretty young Thai girls.
When the three days were up the girl went back to her regular every day job. But the story didn’t end quite there. In due course the girl went to see the outcome of the wall tiling and happily reported back how pretty the tiles looked partly painted with pretty pink flowers.
Months had passed and I figured that a visit at Jürgen’s bar was in order. He was there sitting at his usual place drinking his usual Chang beer. We conversed pleasantly and I waited for him to mention the visa interlude. He never did. My logic assumption therefore was that he returned the wealthy guy’s loan, interest already paid up in form of a two legged, pretty flower covered tiles. His one year visa extension apparently secure in pocket.
While it would be exaggerated to call it a happy ending it certainly was a satisfactory conclusion to all parties including Krabueang. She continued to benefit of a monthly sponsorship by the old guy who had obviously taken a serious liking to her. He continued to see Krabueang occasionally in his pleasant mansion and contributed generously to acquire the last components needed to complete Granny’s house.
As for my office girls they soon turned the event into a longstanding joke that I gladly joined in. It was usually close to the end of the month when they needed an advance payment on their salary. A time when for most young Thais money becomes scarce. One of the girls would approached me to say; Boss, so and so needs three days off for a Krabueang sponsorship!
Anyone want to see the ending of the excellent 1993 movie Mad Dog and Glory can download it for 60 or 80 Baht.
The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]