On winter nights at home in England, when the rain outside was horizontal, those of us who had been to Thailand would be cackling in corners at a local pub. Stories we’d each told a thousand times before, of various mis-adventures in The City of Angels, were all enjoyed again as though heard for the first time. On those evenings spent at our favourite Thai restaurant we would almost convince ourselves that we were back in Bangkok. “Our little oasis” we called it. The aromas, and tastes, of Thai food. Drinking Singha Beer as though it were fine wine. Making small talk with a sloe eyed waitress, while trying to imagine what she’d look like in the dentist’s chair at The Playboy Hotel. But in the end the more we tried to convince ourselves that we were back in the LOS the further away it seemed. Belief could only be suspended for so long. Grim reality, like a malevolent force, lay in wait on the other side of a rain spattered window. On a cold windswept High Street, where newspaper blew into darkened doorways, the dream would be gone. The waitress would not be going short time, longtime, or any time and there was nowhere else to go but home. It was on nights such as these that a friend from Ireland gave me a piece of advice for my next visit to Bangkok. Advice, unfortunately, that I’ve never been able to forget. Advice on how to distract the mind to avoid the embarrassment of copping a stiffy when having a massage where happy endings are not on the menu. Advice on how to distract the mind to delay the moment of climax so that you can love your tilac for longer. “Just think of nuns and dead pigeons,” he said. I laughed into my beer till it hurt. The problem I’m now faced with whenever I have a much needed massage is that I start laughing. How do I explain to the girl when she asks, “What you laugh?” And if I’m almost at the point of no return with some black haired beauty I sometimes find that I’m thinking of a red haired Irishman.
Our good friend Chris died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was thirty eight years old. The news reached me in a call from London while I was on Patpong. The night market was in full swing. I became detatched from everything around me. Suddenly adrift in a river of people where there was nothing to hold on to. Caught in the flow the surrounding scene became dreamlike. Things barely registered anymore. The music that pounded from every bar. The vendors urging me to, “take a look please sir.” Glimpses of near naked girls through open doorways bathed in stage light glow. Touts grabbing at my arm to assure me, “No cover charge no cover charge, look free look free.” I washed up at the end of the street where the market spills out on to Silom Road. One of the last sky trains of the night glided by overhead. To avoid small talk in a taxi I pushed my way on to a bus that already had people hanging out of the doors. At The World Trade Center, long ago closed for the night, I got out and tried to come to terms with what I’d just heard. I made a call back home. Overwhelmed with sadness I cut the call short, unable to speak. Lights became blurred and bled into each other. The city roared. Life went on all around.
The following morning I climbed to the top of The Golden Mount Temple. In an effort to mark the passing of a friend I lit a candle and burned some incense. I didn’t know what else to do. Bangkok sprawled out below me to its smoggy horizons. I sat for a longtime with memories of Chris. I’d met up with him on a couple of occasions in Bangkok. The first time I met him at Don Muang he was on the first leg of an around the world trip. Someone had made a bet with him that he wouldn’t be able to go all the way around carrying a red bucket. He arrived a with red bucket and a big grin. I couldn’t believe that I was doing it but that first day was spent taking photos of him, and bucket, in various locations as proof that he’d carried out the bet. Photos in the back of a Tuk Tuk. Photos outside The Grand Palace, and on Patpong with a couple of bar girls who thought he was making an early start with the Songkran Festival which was just a few days away. Later photos showed him, and bucket, in Singapore, Hong Kong, on top of Ayers Rock, outside The Sydney Opera House, overlooking The Grand Canyon, at the gates of Gracelands and on top of The Empire State Building in New York. It just gives a small insight into his character. Somehow he always managed to look like a complete newbie in Bangkok. He often appeared to have an awkward, uncoordinated, look about him. He spoke no Thai except for the one meaningless phrase that he decided to learn, for no apparent reason, which was “Pen yang ngi sawng aathit laew.” (I’ve been like this for two weeks now.) He took great delight in using it on unsuspecting bar girls. Though they enjoyed the slight madness that surrounded Chris it often meant that he attracted girls who had a touch of madness in them. It never occured to him that this was the case. “Why me?” he would ask as one of the old girls in The Beer Garden with the plucked, and unevenly painted back on, eyebrows would start massaging his neck as we sat at the bar. One night he took a girl from, what was then called, Buckskin Joes Village. Always a strange sort of place. Different music blasted from every bar. Overhead the traffic on the expressway never stopped. And then, every now and again, a train would rumble past just a few feet away that made everything vibrate and added to the cacophony of sound. You wouldn’t have gone there for a quiet drink. I watched Chris dissapear into the night with his chosen girl who, unusually I thought, wore a dress that covered her feet. When we met up again in the small hours he was looking a little puzzled. The girl it seemed, once he’d got her to a nearby room, wasn’t up for anything. “All I got to see were her ankles,” he said. The first time I took him to The Queens Castle Bar on Patpong he was swamped. They saw him coming a mile away. I sat with a couple of girls that I knew. Sometimes I would see Chris’s hand reach out for his beer from a writhing mass of brown flesh and black hair. Colas and beers just kept on coming. After a while, with him being on an around the world budget, I suggested moving on. I had visions of him blowing it all on his first night. I can still see his face now as he peered out from a pile of near naked Isaan lovelies. “Just one more,” he said, with a big stupid grin before sinking back into paradise. One of the girls turned to look at me with a scowl. She reached out and put her hand over my mouth, “You no speak,” she said, before turning back to help Chris lighten his wallet further.
Back home in England, a few months after Chris’s death, I met up with his sister. As it had been a place that he had also enjoyed we spent the evening at our “little oasis”. In memory of Chris we bought him a Singha Beer and left it at one of the empty places on our candlelit table. The waitress, being Thai, seemed to accept it and explained to the others. When we were leaving they said that they would leave the beer there until they closed up for the night. Several weeks later we were back there again. The waitresses seemed to be viewing us a little differently. Chattering amongst themselves and glancing over at us now and again as we enjoyed a drink before ordering. The reason was soon explained. We were assured that Chris’s beer had been left untouched on our previous visit until closing time. I believe a few words of prayer were spoken before removing it. But when the candle was blown out the whole restaurant was suddenly plunged into darkness as all the electricity failed. With the Thais strong belief in ghosts I can only imagine how spooked they must have been. As if that wasn’t enough to confirm their belief in an afterlife they were left in no doubt with what happened next. Returning to their rented room across town the light was flicked on which lit up the room for a second before once again they were wrapped in the darkness of a power cut. Over time this story made its way back to Thailand. Chris wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Life goes on, though the world is a poorer place without him.