There is a period in a farang's life that starts exactly 18 months after his first visit and usually lasts for 12 to 18 months during which he decides he knows enough now to be considered an expert. We all go through it but some are worse than others. I think I realised I was being a prat the first time I explained to a really nice chap from Scotland how to pronounce suay properly and then noticing how bored he was. Unfortunately though, some of these experts never mature into normal people.
There used to be a little gang of us who used to play with them for fun but last year Bleak told me he had given up fishing. I was disappointed when he told me as he added 'you don't need to fish, they'll come to you'. Kananga doesn't seem that bothered anymore either and I suppose neither am I on my own. Fishing is fun lost but ten days back I landed one purely by accident and I swear, it really was THIS BIG. Don't give up on me here because I want to show you two quite unique things to Thailand. One is the expert. The other is the bullshit. I know what you're thinking, that bullshit isn't unique to Thailand but the stuff these experts come out with is.
I was sat on my favourite polished hardwood bench at the side of the shop belonging to a dear friend and neighbour of many years in our tiny village in the district of Kut Chap drinking coffee and listening to the women chattering away the usual bollocks about England and snow and how bloody expensive everything is. I was mildly happy. Nah, that's not true, I was bored while I waited for a couple of local lads who always come in for a beer and chat. One is a 70 year old Belgian bloke who survived cancer thanks largely to the supposedly incompetent hospital in Udon Thani that he never stops complaining about and the other a Dutch chap not yet 50 who speaks more languages than anyone else I know including the two languages spoken by the Belgian bloke, Thai, English, and the selection of three languages spoken in Holland. Belgian bloke lives right opposite the shop and daily crosses the road at 2.30pm to sit and wait for his one friend who can speak the same language as him. Flemish I think. Dutch chap arrives on the dot of 3.05pm on weekdays only as he takes his daughter from school to home and I either have no idea what either of their names are or years back when they introduced themselves I decided I couldn't pronounce them so forget them. Udon is a vast area with thousands of farangs and the great thing is you do not need to know any of their names. Like a crowd at a football match, they're all mates, and they all remember your face even though you only see each other on match days.
I was a bit early. A bit bored. A bit needed something to do so it was only 12.30 and while I'm merrily explaining to Kwan where I want my water pipe fed in to because of the Thai regulation that requires a minimum three properties to request a water supply before they will authorise the utility company to do the work and so my mate Kwan, who is building a new shop next to our house is going to organise the water supply, up comes a motorbike with a fat feller on it with blonde hair. Now I know a fat feller with blonde hair who occasionally stays in our village because he has a girlfriend and baby daughter here while he lives in Pattaya. He's a nice bloke from Scotland, no not that Scotland bloke with whom I embarrassed myself many years earlier, this is a run of the mill overweight Glaswegian who makes no claims to Thailand because he has lived in Pattaya for 12 years. So I was quite pleased to see him coming my way. Except it wasn't and I need to book an opticians appointment because the age is beginning to tell in wear and tear because this was an Aussie. Same shape and size but an Aussie who sat at the next table and asked if he could buy me a beer. I said that's very kind of you but it's too early for me. I exchanged names with Aussie Nick and he insisted I sit at his table and have a chat. So I did. Well I was bored so I had little in the way of options.
At this point fishing was not in my head as he nodded at the tattoo on my right shoulder and said "So you're ex-para eh" to which I winced slightly. Down the years I have learned to wait and see what the follow up line is. It's usually followed by a right hook or wanting a beer swilling contest or swap war hero stories either way it's nothing more than dick-waving and doesn't interest me. "Did a bit myself ya knaew" Nick continued and so I perked up as I find Bushmen and ANZACS interesting but not Nick. No, Nick is an ex-railway Police manager who told me stories of drunken solicitors on a train who wouldn't show his ticket but Nick the tough railway cop manager told him straight, "I don't care who ya are mate, sheow me yer ticket" - Actually it wasn't that bad at all, he was almost an interesting guy but he told really good stories in a funny way, I liked him. Until he said it's nice to see a new bloke in town and where am I from and having replied England he exclaims that he's been around a long time and can teach me the ropes and he has a big house and everyone round here knows who he is. Which was odd because I didn't know who he was and had never seen him before so I did what I know is best. I sat back, let him talk, and opened up the fishing creel.
His first offering was how he'd been in Thailand for elevin an harf yeers. On delving a little he had actually been in Pattaya for 9 years and in Udon for 18 months, which is the same as saying you have been in Thailand for 18 months. And on moving up to Udon he had bought, eventually, 18 Rai of land here in Kut Chap Province. Well what he has actually done is provide the money for his wife to buy 18 Rai, Nick owns nothing, and he then explains how the law has been changed so farangs can own land, not in Kut Chap they can't Nick, your wife owns it. But I didn't tell him, I just let him carry on and sink him self. Which he duly did when I said it must have cost a fortune. I sensed there was a bite and smirked as the float shot down. I don't want to be sanctimonious but this guy was maxed out on self promotion and he declared loudly "Nah it was only two million and that includes the house".
I've been around too long. I know the price of land in my town. 18 rai is about three million without the house off the main road. It was obvious his wife owned the land already and he shelled out two million to build the house for her. On her land. In her name.
Offering number two was the insect bites on my arm. They were caused by moht, Thai ants, nasty little beggars that cause a rash that itches like buggery and I got them because in Thailand they never use something how it was designed if they can put it to another use. The base of our bed was currently a bench for Mae to rest her weary self and our mattress is on the floor. I don't really need to explain that any further except to say my arm fell off the mattress while asleep. "I see the mozzies av been at yer mate". The proper name for mosquitoes in Thailand is Yoong and they are also nasty little beggars. You can't hear them, see them, feel them land on you, nor notice when they bite you. They also carry some diseases that you really don't want such as Malaria and the dreaded Dengue but fortunately, statistically, you are highly unlikely to suffer from any of these in any of the major cities. But not Nick, ah no, Nick has had Dengue twice, which qualified him to advise me on being careful to not get bitten. When I pointed out that once you get one strain you have it for life he explained that you become immune to it but can be infected by another strain. This is nearly right but smacks of it happened to someone else and they told Nick about it. Dengue is not a mosquito disease, it is a human disease that can be transmitted by mosquitoes if you infect them. Your immune system is naturally in control if you are a carrier but if a different type of Dengue is introduced to you by a mosquito you develop some very serious complications. But these complications can only be caused by lack of treatment. From Nick's description he clearly knew none of this and so I started to play him. "I thought there was only one strain of Dengue" I enquired. So Nick explained to me how there are four types and once you get one you become immune and when you get the second you become immune to that as well. "And I've had it twice so only two more to go".
So, here are the facts about Dengue. It is a generic name for a group of viral infections carried by humans in the stomach and sometimes in the epidermis. Not everybody is a carrier; in fact it is quite rare. There are four known types of this virus and there are many ways in which it can be transmitted but the most common is with a particular sub-species of mosquito. The virus does not often mutate but it can and that would make it a different strain of the same viral type but essentially a carrier will only have one type in their system. When bitten by a mosquito a carrier can potentially infect the insect which will also become a carrier. If you are not a carrier and are bitten you will become infected and feel lousy with flu like symptoms. It is no more dangerous than getting the flu but go and see a pharmacist. If you get the symptoms two weeks after returning home from the tropics you do not have Dengue because the incubation period is very short, less than two weeks. Once you have had it you could become a carrier but a simple blood test will answer this. Not that it matters but you either make a full recovery or you become a carrier. If you become a carrier and are infected again by a different virus type the two will battle it out at the expense of your body's health with your immune system going into overdrive and you burning up. You will need to go to hospital. The virus you were infected with the first time will win out because your immune system has accepted it as part of your system. You will not become immune to any type of Dengue nor can you carry more than one type.
So, if you think you have contracted Dengue, and bearing in mind you more likely have a cold, ask your Doctor to check you for Dengue so that next time you visit the tropics you can take extra precautions to not get bitten by mosquitoes. And vitally important is do not take the advice of Thailand experts.
Chief Nick starts teaching me some Thai despite asking for Leo kapong, meaning a can which is pronounced grabhong, and being delivered a bottle to which he pretended that was what he meant, when he explains that someone wanted to speak to his wife whom you should call palayar but he always calls her mae which means woman. Except that neither is correct. Palayah means to take a bride or the bride so it can mean newlywed wife or wedding and Mae means mother. I suspect his wife speaks perfectly good English and cant be bothered to correct him to call her dahling or tee rak or, as would be more appropriate, miia or naan sao or even her name and not mae which she is not. The only person I call Mae is my mother-in-law, if I said it to my partner she probably wouldn't realise I meant her. And on it goes with him saying something about a yellow card "I'll explain that one to ya in a bit mate" to which I replied I already know what a yellow card is but he still missed it. It didn't occur to him why I would know what a yellow card is but he is on a roll as he starts on about short time hotels opening up in our village.
This angle had got to be workable. I knew the new resort opening up down the road from us was a restaurant and spa. I knew this for certain because my partner's brother-in-law mentioned he had worked on the roofs which prompted me to ask what the place was or was for. I wasn't going to tell Nick, I preferred to offer "You wouldn't think there would be much call for a short time hotel round here would you".
"Are you shiddin me" Nick enquired, "Most of the girls in this village have worked in Pattaya and will still do a trick for a thousand. In all the villages there is a rule, if she is over 19 it's a thousand, if she's under 19 it's two thousand".
Sat on the bench behind us are two women who have worked Pattaya, one of them still does 6 months of the year, and are listening in. Alongside them is my partner who has five sisters and none of them have worked in a beer bar. Our village of 100+ has about half a dozen who have worked the bars and two of those are in their late 50's and 60's who would probably think you insane if you propositioned them. Even the one sat behind us who works part time in Pattaya would be offended if you asked her in her home town.
The age of consent in Thailand is 21, until then girls are a ward of their mother and if they are under 18 you are committing a sexual offence. A teenager is likely to tell her mum who will go to the Police who will advise you as judge and jury to pay compensation. You are going to be very lucky if it is less than 50,000 and refusing to pay is going to result in a few days in a cell. A Canadian spent four months in prison until his family came up with 300,000 baht because they did not understand the law nor the con-trick being played on them to extort money. They are the law, they will beat you, so wailing 'I'm off to the Embassy' is going to get you nowhere in Thailand. Nick was talking bollocks on an epic scale but he was now getting a bit tipsy and it was time for his coup de grace. "You can ask any of the girls in the village if they want to go with you and they'll say yes. I don't because I don't believe in shiddin' on yer own doorstep" went Nick, and you better hope your doorstep doesn't read this Nicky, "I go down to Day and Night to get me jollies (a beer bar hall in Udon more commonly known as the cowshed because of the shape of it, though I suspect it is more to do with the quality of the bar girls, and as I am now convinced, the slurry). The missus knows what I do but as long as I keep it away from here she's ok with it".
Now I cant say if that's true because I don't know his wife but I know mine would kill me even though (although probably because) prostitution is a cultural thing for Thai. The men go to their own beer bars and they wouldn't care for a farang trying to get in on a cheap shag. They expect farangs to have money and their own beer bars hence Day and Night. Just down the road however, well about 6 kilometres down the road, is a bamboo beer shack where Thai men, more often young Thai men, go to drink and get merry with the girls. It isn't that a farang would not be welcome, buy a Thai man a beer and he's anybody's friend, it is that he cannot compete. I have frequented the bar and met Thai blokes who wanted to buy me a drink and I love that kind of thing. I also know this is the only place you should proposition a Thai girl and even then it is crucial you understand the system. If you proposition a Thai woman in our village she is going to call the Police so do not, under any circumstances, take the advice of a Thailand expert who tells you, you can have any woman in the village because if you don't get arrested, you might get a knife in you delivered by her husband.
Talking of knives Nick set about explaining how his training came in useful a month before when a drunken Thai started an argument with him in the open air coffee shop that is Kwan's. "I hit him so hard he went over his own motorcycle" Nick described in detail, "the fu**er weren't satisfied and came back ten minutes later with a knife. All these guys saw it happen you ask 'em. So I grabbed his wrist and made him drop the knife and I hit him again so 'ard I broke all his front teeth. The c**t comes back with several mates but someone in the shop had realised what was goin' on so they called my missus who came with the Police to stop me killin' one of 'em"
Now we all know stories grow over time and when we've had a beer it tends to become a little bit more than it actually was. If it didn't we wouldn't have Holy Scriptures or Greek Mythology but really he hadn't noticed Kwan, Kwan's wife, my missus, two ex-bar girls and two old grannies who should be respected had gone back into their own little world where I could hear one asking 'Is he drunk' and another saying 'I'm not sure he's sane'. Largely because Nick's language skills didn't allow for him to understand but mainly because he was on a runaway verbal bogie with both ears firmly closed.
Nick paid the bill as he asked "Where are yer stayin mate". It was time to land the fish, "We have a house in the next street behind this shop", but still he didn't catch on. Ah right, I have a really big house, he went on as he pointed behind his head up the hill, and 18 rai of land, as if I had missed it the first time. "Do you have any land" he nosed and forgetting that I have a house in the next street.
"Yes", I replied, "You're standing on it."
I have no doubt self-defence is taught in railway Police training sessions. I also have no doubt about the size of Nick that a smack in the gob would break some teeth. But it always pays to know who is within earshot if you are going to use the 'F' word and or bullshit. For Aussies the 'F' word is every day language for both sexes. For Thai, and all of them do know what the 'F' word is, it is offensive and worse still, never to be used in earshot of elderly women. I confess I was cringing every time he said it and wished he would stop. I don't know why Nick didn't consider that I might actually ask Kwan about the incident who said, while his wife and one of the younger girls was nodding in agreement, that there was a lot of shouting and Nick called his wife to come and sort it out during which time the Thai drunk left of his own accord and didn't come back. My missus added "The fat man is talking ballacks. I think he a idiat."
So do I tee rak, so do I...
all names changed slightly