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Another Night in Bangkok

Tears, taxis, a bid for Iceland, and a rather big KISS.

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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AH. BACK IN THE City of Angels. Krungthep. Bangkok. A place to delight the senses and rejuvenate a Methuselah, a McCain campaign, or even an angst-ridden pit bull without lipstick. Wednesday 8 October 2008. I opened the Bangkok Post newspaper to get au fait with Amazing Thailand. The banner headline was intriguing. “BLOODSHED”, was all it said in stark capital letters. This was the only word on a front page dominated by photographs of assorted carnage. Okay, but where’s the news? A tad more verbose, The Nation roared, “BLOODBATH IN BANGKOK”. Okay, so now I had a noun, a preposition, and a proper noun. I was getting somewhere.

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The Post narrated the unfolding drama thus: 3am – prime minister Somchai Wongsawat chairs urgent cabinet meeting at Don Muang Airport as Government House is occupied by protestors; 6.20am – police fire tear gas to disperse protestors; 9am – deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigns (later calling for a military coup that he says will “save democracy”); 11.55am – thousands of PAD supporters seize parliament entrance from police (which does not go down well with the men in brown); 2.30pm – PM sneaks out of parliament and climbs over fence into neighbouring royal mansion (which does not go down well with the PAD protestors); 3.45pm – suspected car bomb attack. More tear gas. And so on.

6.30pm - taxi driver demands Bt150 to go two blocks of Silom; 6.31pm - Verghese tells cabbie he'd rather buy Iceland for that sum...

I would add to this chronology, some further crucial data: 6pm – Vijay Verghese, visiting journalist, heads to Boots to pick up his favourite lemongrass shampoo; 6.15pm – Verghese jumps out of the way of oncoming bus; 6.30pm – taxi driver tells Verghese the fare over two blocks of Silom Road is Bt150; 6.31pm – Verghese tells cabbie he would prefer to buy Iceland instead for that sum. Pretty much a normal day in the City of Angels and not a decent story to be had.

A visiting group of over 1,000 journalists and travel agents flown in by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and THAI Airways got up close and personal with events. They needed stories too. What better time to stage one of the biggest PR exercises in the capital? They were bussed to shopping malls, temples, wineries, beaches, and even American-style rodeos where cowboys lassoed burly steers, both perhaps eager to get the show over with so they could get back to a chilled Singha beer and ogle lip-syncing ladyboys. Everywhere I looked the signs were normal. There was the one sign that worried me however. Brazenly posted outside a bar entrance, it read, “Many pretty girls, and a few ugly ones.”

Nope, nothing happening in Bangkok. I flew to Phuket to find a useful story angle. The airport was no longer under siege by PAD protestors. Nor were any government meetings being held there. Boring. The THAI flight was uneventful and surprisingly pleasant. There was no sign of the feisty pilot who had just made news by offloading members of parliament as he “could not guarantee their safety”. He didn’t specify whether the threat emanated from the mob, or himself. I am all for offloading members of parliament. Any parliament. I tried to explain to the stewardess that I was a liberal-fringe-lunatic baby boomer who should be upgraded to business class at once, for my own safety of course. “Khop khun ka,” she said sweetly, “K4 cough-ee?” “No thanks, tea please and, if you’re single, I would like to marry you.” Everything normal.

The police flagged down my KISS car, perused the giant lipstick marks all over it, chuckled, and waved me off...

At the stylish Twinpalms resort I cut a bedraggled figure, sweating, carting laptop, cameras and assorted impedimenta, still looking for something unusual. I was shoehorned into a comfortable “Kiss” car, a white Toyota Yaris emblazoned with large crimson and pink lipstick marks, several bearing the names of their hotel-staff donors in small type. It was splendid advertising for Twinpalms and an unconscionable embarrassment for me. As I drove up the coast to Khao Lak, policemen pulled me over. I waited for the tear gas and baton charge. They just chuckled, gave a thumbs-up sign and waved me on. Everything normal. I drove on, waving kisses to smiling women and chuckling kids.

I was returning to Hong Kong the next day and I still didn’t have a real, meaty angle. I perused a pocket English-Thai Bar Guide phrasebook and flipped through the pages. The suggested conversations were simple and to the point. “Thai women are so beautiful”, the book began, followed by “Do you want to share your life with me?” The next few chapters brought things to a rapid conclusion. “I have to go to a clinic now” and, finally, “If you trouble me any more I’ll report you to the tourist police”. The authors should have added, “If I speak to anyone like this, please smack my teeth and throw me under a bus.”

Waiting for friends at a beachside café, I called a friend in the USA. “Hey, are you okay?” He was concerned. “What the heck are you doing in Thailand? The place is ablaze, the police are baton charging rioters in the streets…”

“Well,” I said, “what I’m doing in Thailand is sipping an ice-cold Singha, enjoying a sunset, and waiting for the flight attendant of my dreams to marry me so I can pick up a Thai passport, learn flying, become a pilot, and offload parliamentarians and guide-book authors.” What are you waiting for? The End of Capitalism As We Know It? Come visit.

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