Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shakedown Street

While staggering back to my new digs like a herniated pack mule with my backpack full of groceries, a couple of Thai cops with their motorcycles parked in front of a gated residence were eying me. I'd seen them before irregularly and assumed they were basically neighborhood beat cops and had done my best to ignore them. My history with authority in any form is, er, well, checkered to say the least, and with police? Well, let's just say I don't wanna talk about it.

Longtime farang residents here had also told me tales of being shaken down by cops for infractions they otherwise didn't know existed - like failure to be in physical possession of a passport - so I smiled tightly at them, nodded and kept trudging.

"Hello! Hello! Where you go?"

Oh shit, I thought. My passport is in my bedroom...

"Hello, officer! Sawadee krup! (Elaborate wai on my part, the backpack's weight forcing me to an even lower level of obsequious, lick spittledom than usual when confronted with armed authorities). I go Soi 51."

"Soi 51? Why you go Soi 51?"

"I live there. My home."

"You live Soi 51?"

"Yes. No holiday. I work Hua Hin. I work Soi 39." I reached slowly for my wallet to show my Official Thai Foreign Correspondent Card, but held it back for a moment waiting for the next question.

"Where you come before?"

"USA, America." No response. Blank stares. Unlike China, I've found the United States' rep in Hua Hin mostly varies from neutral to virtual ignorance. (I've seen several maps in Hua Hin where Thailand is depicted at the largest country in the world, with China, Africa, Europe and North and South America reduced in scale to the equivalent of Texas at best. Geo-nationalism at its finest!) So I went to the Place of Origin Plan B answer, one all Hua Hin Thais seem to know.

"Hong Kong. China." Ohhh, Hong Kong! China! Yes, yes! Very good!

"My mother China," said one cop, beaming. "You have Thai lady?"

"No, I live myself. No lady. No Thai lady. Have lady in China."

Good Cop with Chinese Mother beamed.

"Good, good! China lady good, very beautiful! Thai lady too much yak-yak-yak! Too much, 'Where money? Give money yak-yak-yak-yak, money, money. No money, no honey!' You know?"

I laughed, and thought: Paging Dr Freud, but said, "Yeah, sure. I know. I know, no money, no honey yak-yak. Yes, China lady number one!"

Then Bad Cop with No Chinese Mother asked, "You have passport?" I paused for a beat. Or beating.

"Uh, yes. Yes. But in apartment, Soi 51. Not here. But, but.. I have this with me." I paused and pulled out my Super Dooper Magic Secret Decoder Thai Press Credential. I'd heard these things were gold when it came to dealing with Thai authorities, but wasn't banking on it. They both scrutinized it carefully, passing it back and forth and exchanging comments in Thai.

"You write stories? Make news?"

I didn't bother to say, No, I actually copy edit mostly tedious, poorly written reports and academic tomes by people whose native language isn't English for a website whose readers seem to be largely hysterical Indians, Pakistanis, foreign policy wonks of all nationalities, and extreme left-wing Americans who are still mourning Ralph Nader's failed presidential bids ... and just said, "Yes."

For the first time they looked at me with some modicum of almost-respect. Shit, I thought, this card really WORKS. Maybe there is a Santa Claus, too.

"You write good stories, okay? No bad Thailand stories?"

"Oh, no, no! Only good Thailand story! Good Thailand POLICE stories!" They both laughed and Good Cop with a Chinese Mother Oedipus Complex and Lousy Marriage to a Thai Wife handed me my ID back.

"Bye, bye," he said. "Remember, 'no money, no honey yak-yak'!" He laughed again.

I chuckled, shook their hands, waied goodbye for good measure and kept walking, just grateful that they hadn't asked for any money or honey

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Astute readers (all three of you) noted I'd recently posted a blog entry ('Dark End of the Street') about the unexpected death of a British guy I'd come to know and enjoy here in Hua Hin, only to see it gone when you next checked in - probably hoping for some lighter fare.

For those who didn't ask but wondered (all 1.3 of you) it was a slapdash memorial of sorts to someone who'd all too briefly touched my otherwise fairly uninspired life in this seedy little piece of Thai paradise and my regret and sorrow that he was suddenly gone. It unintentionally touched a nerve, however, among some first-time - and I'm sure by now last-time - readers, who included some relatives in the UK offended at the description of how he died. It wasn't pretty but it was honest, and honesty was one attribute I really enjoyed when it came to him.

What was I thinking?

Here's one of the comments: I'm really close friends with his daughter and i agree with what she said. You ARE a sick fucker and i think you should remove this post. I didn't know him personally but I Know for sure that he didn't deserve some faggot like you to speak about him in this way. fucking remove this or you'll definitely be reported.

Most others were in that same civil, restrained and understated British vein. Though, once I realized I'd hurt some hearts I had no desire to injure, this comment - just due to the basic polite tone - had me hitting the "save to draft" button for the entry immediately. I could relate and understand. And at least he didn't call me a sick fucker, he only had an momentary urge to stomp me on the sidewalk.

X's brother says he would appreciate it if you would remove this posting. Show some respect not just to X but to the rest of his family. The way i feel about you at the moment for posting this at this traumatic time is as though i have just trod in you on the payment.

Thus I was keeping a low profile at one of X's wake's last night, one of about three that have gone one in various bars since his Buddhist-style funeral and cremation. Kind of an extended after-life pub crawl that culminated in a generally bittersweet send-off amid beers, memories, songs that the deceased enjoyed and an amazing culinary spread provided gratis by the only foreigner in Thailand who owns a private butcher and meat catering operation.

I talked with X's wife for awhile about how they met and his amazement that he'd found a Thai woman who appreciated Aretha Franklin as well as Stone Roses, and tried to fend off the pressure of a party-crasher, another Brit who upon learning that me and a coworker were both journalists tried to tell us that we should write a story about a short boat voyage he was planning. It was thoroughly unremarkable, though he was convinced otherwise, mostly I think, because he was a participant.

My coworker, an experienced sailor here as well as other climes, politely played the salty mariner card to no avail.

"It is a story," the party crasher insisted. "It is 'cuz I'm telling you it's one!"

"It's not a NEWS story," we said. "Sorry."

"It is!" he replied. "And, and...(pause for dramatic effect) we're sending a tape to the BBC!"

"Go ahead. Good luck with the Beeb," I said. "But. Not. A. Story."

I left the wake and my next opportunity for a Pulitzer after saying goodbye again to X's widow and a couple of his friends who had seen the blog but hadn't taken offense, and caught a motorbike taxi back to my new neighborhood, a studio apartment with an "ocean view".

Goodbye to former felonious psychobilly roommate R and Faulty Towers, yes.

The ocean view is a small levy about two blocks east facing the Gulf of Siam and flanked by two upscale Thai-foreign eateries and a Thai sidewalk diner. The rest of the area is quiet and close to services I need, like two small mom and pop stores, an ATM, my bank, my office, a "Mormon" 7-Eleven (no cigs or booze, cuz it's close to a school, an oddity here) and what appears to be a combination OBGYN/aroma therapy/Thai massage clinic. Regrettably there are no roaming cattle herds and few soi dogs but it's a largely Thai neighborhood, though tourist season is in full swing which means scads of elderly, large, creaky white haired, bald headed Scandahoovians and Germans filling the sidewalks with their guttural utterances, lumbering gaits and demands for fresh surströmming, frestelse und KROG!

Actually, it feels a bit like Miami Beach if Germany had won the war.