Tuesday, June 26, 2007

After the Flood

It's moments like last Saturday night, early Sunday morning actually, that make me wonder why. While the rest of the civilized world was presumably fast asleep or 12 or more hours in the past on a U.S> Saturday afternoon at cozy family gatherings, soccer games, gardening, shmoozing,cruising through the Colorado foothils and mountains or running errands for charcoal, fluid, a 24-pack of industial strength toilet paper and cases of beer and diet soda at the JumboMart ,why, exactly, was I trapped by flood waters in a small Hua Hin bar at 3am listening to a Jack Daniels-besotted coworker's near-incoherent monologue about shoving Q-tips up his nose.

It's nobody's fault but mine, I know. Nonetheless, allow me to continue...

Peering through door at the 6-inches of filthy water streaming down the small deserted street, I looked up from the floating carcass of a dead white chicken caught on an orange plastic bag to see a long-haired Thai bar girl at an establishment across the way ecstatically dancing in the doorway, arms flung to the air, to music I couldn't hear. Inside my shelter, The No Name Bar, my inebriated pal, a Chicago-native JT, continued to hold forth as the rain came tumbling down.

"Q-tipshh! Ya' know Q-tipshh? Keew tipshh," he slurred leaning into the face of the baffled bar owner, a polite, civil English chap named Paul. "So, so, so...like, I smell bad, you know?"

"You smell fine to me," Paul replied backing away. "Whiskey and cigarettes, but otherwise fine."

"NO!" JT replied. "I mean, I can smell it but, so, I figure, quite honestly, it's nose cancer. Nose cancer! The smell ... so Q-tips. Ya know, Q-tips? So, I sit on the toilet. Sit on it. I mean, the toilet. 'Starkers', is that what you guys say?"

" 'Starkers'. yes ...why do you need to sit on the toilet naked?" asks Paul. "Starkers with Q-tips?"

"So, so.. so I can put them up my nose and get a sample. To smell. To see if I have cancer. With Q-tips."

"Why don't you simply go to a physician?"

"Weren't you listening? I had the Q-tips!"

Suffice to say, I was relieved to finally leave the No Name, Q-tips and cancer talk about 40 minutes later when the rain slowed and a covered three-wheeled motorcab was enlisted by a Thai waitress to try to haul me through the waters home. A pot hole the size of a small swimming pool forced him to cut the ride early, so I slogged the last half mile on foot, 12-year-old khaki pants rolled up over hairy white calves muck and mud stained by the time I had the key in the lock.

A 20-minute shower and not enough sleep later I awoke. I had a date. Not a serious or even real one, but a combo waitress/maid at my hostelry named Tai had the day off for her otherwise Draconian 6-day, 12 hour schedule and owned a 100 cc Honda. She'd offered to ferry me around Hua Hin in exchange for gas and lunch. By the time we rendezvoused she'd picked up her 5-year-old niece who sat confidently in front, with me perched somewhat percariously behind Tai. We slowed behind a creaky combination food stall, motorized cart that I thought she was telling to move over but instead it and we came to full halt at the side of the rural road.

"My niece, she eat," Tai said. I nodded, having no idea what was on the menu and watched fascinated as the vendor, a wiry, dark skinned guy about 30 or so hit a switch for a spinning griddle and began to gracefully, daintily pour a batter on it. He gently thinned the batter with a thin metal spatula, spinning it into a pancake. It all looked sort of familiar, but... "What is it? What is he making?" I asked Tai.

"I don't know farang name. Thai name: '"crape.'"

"Crape? Crape?" The chef reached into a plastic bucket and pulled out some chocolate chips and from another scooped some powdered sugar. "Oh!," I said. "Crepes! French crepes!"

"No," Tai said. "Not France. Thailand food!" I didn't argue. We puttered further around the outskirts of Hua Hin to drop off her niece, past rows and blocks of unoccupied, freshly built identical suburban looking tan and buff homes. There's a property boom here of sorts but it's obvious a lot aren't selling and they looked oddly like any US insta-kit development. "Her father make," Tai said, pointing to the homes. "You want to buy?"

I assumed she meant he was the developer, and politely declined. Then we left the road and turned into a muddy, semiflooded patch of scraggly near-marsh land occupied largely by stray dogs and a small, shaky shanty town made of abandoned corregated tin and wood scraps. A few 60s-era TV antennas sprouted from the shacks but I couldn't imagine what use they might be.

"Her home!" Tai said smiling. "Her father, grandfather! Come meet."

Inside the dirt floor was still wet from the rainfall through the leaky, psuedo roof but her aunt gave me a polite wai and said, "Welcome," in English. Drying clothes were draped over every available edge, as well as on tree limbs outside. Two soggy looking mattresses were stacked atop each other. "Last night, water up here," Tai said, pointing to a dark spot about 3 or 4 inches up the bottom mattress.

Amidst all this squalor, mud and poverty, though, were two signs of semi-affluence. A working flat screen Sony TV, better than any model I'd ever owned, and a recent model bright blue washing machine. Electricity seemed to be jury rigged from some nearby power lines with a long, winding, tangled plug set-up. I don't think the Royal Thai Power Company had authorized it, but it seemed to do the trick. "Josie and the Pussycats" dubbed in Thai was playing on the TV.

"Do you get Scooby-Doo, too?" I asked. Tai didn't understand so I pointed to one of the scrawny dogs. "Dog detective. Grrrrowwrufff!" I tried my best Scooby imitation but to no avail. Just another old American guy standing in a flooded Thai shanty town imitating a cartoon dog on a Sunday afternoon...


Peter said...

As always... Excellent.

I wish I had your vocabulary and observation skills. At least I have legs like you.

Ben said...

Your writings touch us in that place of common bond amongst us all. I mean, which of us hasn't been stuck in a bar with a drunk with nose cancer or stood in a flooded Thai shanty town imitating Scooby-Doo. It's what unites us in the human experience.

Keep up the good work.

Patrick said...

Something about your story makes me want to like rural Thailand more than Hong Kong.... Am I right to be feeling this way?

Justin said...

Ummm...Patrick. It depends, I guess. See "Monkey Time" and you'll perhaps derive some deeper insight into this quandry. One we all ponder, of course.