I went to Greyhound restaurant at Ari BTS station last Sunday evening. Customers are almost exclusively Thai but I’m a regular and am always well received. Sitting to my left a young couple ordered food and drinks using the smartphone, telling the service girl not to bother with the printed menu. Me, I gladly accepted the menu and ordered a small entrée, Tagliatelle with pesto sauce and scallop, a glass of Rosé + another free for happy hour. By that time, the people to my right paid their bill again only using the smartphone, the waitress tapping a few buttons on hers or possibly a restaurant-issued device. A small problem arose when ordering dessert to the obviously new staff member. Crêpe Suzette did not register with her. I showed her the image on my own smartphone that I had taken some time ago. Recognition was instantaneous and recorded on her own device, rewarding me with a large smile. After Espresso I asked for the addition and paid using a credit-card. The young couple to my left smiled that gentile Thai smile to acknowledge, looking at me. The body language was obvious and said. Nice, old-fashioned farang. The times they are a changin’. As per Bob Dylan’s words!
This to introduce you to another “good old times” story. Qualified as such by a few readers feedback and Stick himself many years ago. As per the above introduction, the story’s narration starts in a restaurant. But a different style of restaurant and a generation ago!
It’s a few years before the turn of the millennium. Salaloy is a Thai-style restaurant along the beach road in southern Phuket on the way to the much visited Phromthep scenic viewpoint, mostly known for its spectacular sunsets. Salaloy’s cuisine is authentic Thai and fairly priced. The gentle breeze early evenings, the view over the sea and the nearby Ko-Bon island most inviting. For some years it has been my favorite restaurant that I sometimes mention it in my subs. Less well-known is the fact that a dozen and a half somewhat rudimentary rental bungalows behind the restaurant enjoy much popularity during high season. Often rented out by regulars for the whole season.
It’s where I first became acquainted with Horst. In fact, I had lobbied with the Salaloy owner to pre-reserve a bungalow for one of my clients. It seemed to meet what Horst was looking for in our preceding emails for his upcoming holidays. I was not surprised after his arrival to see Horst elated with the choice of lodging I had made for him. It was exactly what he had envisioned, he said. Simple, functional, cheap enough, and quiet, although only a short 250m from the sea. The large green pelouse (lawn) in front and the nearby beachfront restaurants an additional plus.
Horst was a young looking 60-year-old, freshly retired from his job in his hometown’s administration. He sported a healthy, somewhat darkly complexion. During his school years kids used to call him “weisser Neger” (white negro) he told me. That was not regarded as misplaced at all. Switzerland never had any foreign colonies nor slave trade. Horst was a heavy smoker of cigarillos and was often to be found enjoying one in an easy chair in front of the bungalow. It was his first trip to Thailand. He arrived in the second half of November. Inevitably we had quite a few impromptu meetings at Salaloy the following months. We talked and discovered many common interests, places and occurrences as we both originated from the same region.
Occasionally Horst turned up in our office to rent one of the Suzuki-Caribbean Jeeps to undertake mostly solitary discovery tours around the island. When the end of his bungalow rental and return flight booking approached he asked to extend for another month and change the flight booking. He wanted to experience the much talked about Songkran festival. Besides, he told me, he had met a lady that he was keen to get to know better.
Less than 6 months later, in October of the same year Horst returned and once again checked into his bungalow behind Salaloy. But things had changed a lot now for Horst. Dong had become his regular girlfriend. I met her on one of our dinner reunions at Salaloy. Dong was not the typical north-eastern girl best known in Phuket’s farang community. She came from the south. More precisely Songkhla. She talked easily, offering same very personal events that I will not repeat. But her love for Horst was genuine despite the age difference. They were an incredibly happy couple, she told me more than once. Long-time residents of the Kingdom know that southern girls have a different mentality to the Esan variety. Besides, she offered, soon approaching her thirtieth birthday she would soon become ineligible on the Thai marriage circuit. She longed to have a good husband or partner and in time raise a family.
Horst’s situation was different. Back home he had a house, a wife and two grown children. But he and the wife had drifted apart, sleeping in separate rooms in the large house. In a nutshell, Horst found himself in an emotional limbo. With Dong, he was sure to have found his soulmate. The weeks and months drifted along and once again the time came to depart for Horst. Before doing so he confided in me that he had some medical issues and needed to see his own medic back home. Further, he informed me, on his return he and Dong would stay in a house near Nai-Harn already pre-rented for next season.
During the green season I met Horst in Switzerland on our promotion tour. He counted the weeks and the days until his return to Phuket. When he did, we continued to meet occasionally at Salaloy’s, Horst now always accompanied by Dong. This time when he came to the office to make flight arrangements, he was to announce another surprise. Dong was pregnant, he was going to be a father. He needed to return to Phuket sooner than the other years, sure to be present at the birth of his child. When the office girls heard they all came over congratulating and hugging Horst. The birth of a child or the announcement thereof is probably the biggest and happiest news you can give Thai girls. To me the surprise was total as Horst in an earlier talk had professed to me that woman, sex, family was definitely not in his book any longer. Not even in Thailand and after years of a loveless marriage back home.
All went to plan after Horst’s return and the birth of his son at Phuket’s Siriray hospital. Living in his rental house now, we had less contact but met occasionally at Salaloy’s or my office for flight or other bookings. It was now the beginning of a new millennium and his son had grown into a lively toddler. A few years passed and I recall a drive to the south I invited Horst, Dong and the little boy to join me on. Horst even took the driving seat on the long and straight stretch between Patalung and Hat-Yai. My business was in Songkhla but the happy family spent 3 days with Horst’s unofficial in-laws. I drove on to the Samila-beach hotel, my preferred lodging. But it was fully booked and I had no reservation. Yes, what a recollection at a time when most hotels are either closed or half empty! Anyway, I returned to town and the Pavilion. A hotel popular with mostly American expats on leave from the offshore gas or oil rigs.
But we did meet one evening along Samila beach in one of those charming restaurants along the sea. It is one of the last memories that remains of Horst. When he returned to Phuket the following year our meeting took place totally impromptu, walking on the sands of Nai-Harn beach. It was a Sunday afternoon and we crossed path 2 or 3 days after his arrival. I wished him welcome, adding is everything OK on your side?
His shocking answer: no, I have terminal lung cancer. I only have months to live at best. Then he turned around, jogged towards the sea, and dived into the waters as if it was a day like any other. Horst died several months later. Together with Hanspeter (H-P), another friend, we assisted the funeral rites at the Rawai temple. Weeks later H-P helped Dong with the complicated but necessary paperwork she needed to assemble to receive the government benefit for her son from the social security foundation. 40% of what Horst’s contribution in CHF would have been had he lived. A comfortable sum to bring up a child in Thailand.
Dong later married another Farang. I have not seen her and the child since I left Phuket in 2008. The person on the pic of the cat and mouse statue on Samila beach Songkhla is not Horst but yours truly, 20 years younger!
One person on feedback mail asked why many people on my subs die? Well, sorry but dying is part of our lives. Besides, the original Stickman readers, then perhaps in their 20’s are now 40, 50 or more and possibly more empathetic to this fact.
You’ve met a lot of interesting characters over the years – and you really tell the story of these people’s lives and time in Thailand so well. I never tire of tales like this.
My apologies that there had been none posted for a few weeks. I didn’t update this section when I was away from home on a 2-week road trip around the South Island. At the same time only a few came in, which I am publishing this week. My thanks go out to those of you who have taken the time to put something together and send it in.
To all readers, if you would like to see more stories published here, why not think about writing up about your experiences in Thailand, or with Thai people or even how you’re coping being unable to visit Thailand due to Covid-19?
More stories published tends to have the effect of making others put something together and send it in. Of course, if nothing comes in it’s good for me as it’s one less thing for me to worry about. Over to you guys!
The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]