March 31st 1984

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Val showing our photo album

So we set off this morning on our own unaccompanied tribal trek.  At first all went well.  We found the right mini-bus, + as soon as it was full – meaning as soon as not a single other person could be crammed inside, the roof was packed with baggage + people, + 4 others were hanging off the back – off we went.  As the route progressed, + passengers were dropped off, gradually we had some room to move – I was even able to dislodge the little girl who had been sitting on my lap.  Gradually, tho, another problem gained in importance – where, exactly, we should get off.  There had been masses of turnings off the road, but even where they had been properly sign-posted, they were worse than useless to us, since, naturally enough, they were written in Thai.  And nobody aboard the bus spoke any English, it seemed, isolating us, + increasing our insecurity even further.  It had all seemed so clear last night when Mr Pon had been explaining it – the reality this morning was very different, especially when we realised that the only name we had for the village was Yao, which is, in fact, a tribal group name.  And it was near a waterfall, but we didn’t know the Thai word for waterfall, so that was pretty hopeless.  We almost got out at one point, where the name, Tung Lung, seemed to correspond to our sketch map, but the general consensus seemed to be that we should go a little further, so on we went.  Our frustration + insecurity were increasing by the minute, however, + the wisdom of having a Thai-speaking guide now seemed obvious.  It was with a good deal of relief then, that having dropped off the last remaining other passengers, we returned to Tun Lung.  Once again, we perused our map, + this time around it did seem to indicate a correlation between where we were + where we ought to be, which somehow we’d missed before.  In addition, 3 students who’d got off the bus before were still there (God knows why) + 2 of them spoke a few words of English.  What was more, they were heading up to a Yao village approx. the right distance away.  Whether it would turn out to be the Yao village would remain to be seen, of course – they certainly hadn’t heard of Lao Su, the family with whom we were meant to be staying.  It seemed our best bet so we set off with them, On a hot, dusty, + vaguely uncomfortable trudge, in that we could barely communicate with our fellow-walkers.  Just one question from one of them that I remember, as we came to the end of the walk: “Why you come here?”  Which is a fair enough question, especially to a Thai mind.  I don’t suppose he understood much of my reply about wanting to see people who are different.

At the village, we barely had time to slug a warm coke down our throats before one of the Lao Su family came to collect us + take us to their home.  So, despite our worries, we had arrived at the right place – all’s well that ends well, as the man said.  Paused for a cup of tea, + for Val to show our album to the family – mother, daughter, + young children is all so far –  then set off to see the waterfall.  Surprised a mother with 3 children on the road – she had been bathing, I imagine, + had no top on, but she hurried ahead, adjusted her dress, + was then happy to be photographed with the youngest one.

Our vision of the waterfall had been as unspoilt + barely discovered wilderness – in fact, it seemed to have been set up as a resort, + tho’ the stalls etc weren’t operating, there were enough people around to drive us quickly away.  Moreover, the fall itself was unimpressive, tho’ perhaps that is because it is now the dry season.

Back at the village, we spent some time taking photos of the local people – the women have a distinctive costume, black edged with what looks like red fur – + looking at their handicrafts.  We both fell in love with a beautifully embroidered waistcoat – naturally, that particular item turned out to be not for sale.  We were given a tasty evening meal at Lao Su’s, rice with eggs + cabbage soup, + then had a pleasant evening.  We were allowed to try a couple of pulls on their big bamboo bongs – we had suspected opium, or at least ganja, but it turned out to be just tobacco.  And the young man of the house (son? Son-in-law?) shared some Mekong whiskey with us.  Val capped off the evening b y playing the penny whistle – much appreciated by all.

No-one was more surprised than us that we had managed to find thew right place and the right people, despite our concerns thjat we were getting ourselves hopelessly lost. But it ended well after starting badly, which is definitely the right result.

March 30th 1984

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We were now up in the Golden triangle area, where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet – it’s the world-renowned opium centre.  In order to explore the area at all, one can take an organised tour, or hire a motor-bike or pushbike from the guest-house.  Or one could do what we decided to do, + rely on one’s feet.  This way we reckoned to be able to take advantage of any local transport that might be around, we could venture off the main road if that looked interesting, + we would be spared the necessity of returning to the guest-house.  It seemed we had chosen well, when straight away we were offered a ride up to the Triangle’s focal pt, where one can look directly into the 3 countries, about 10 kms out of Chang Seng.  It was in the back of a battered old pick-up, so we were flabbergasted + angry when the guy wanted to charge us B10 each for the ride – daylight robbery.  We gave him B15 in the end, + that was too much.

There were a couple of guest-houses up there, but apart from a marker to tell you where you were, + a hazy misty view, not enough to occupy one for the day, so as it was still early we decided to push on.  The next sizeable town was another 30 kms or so, Mae Sai, so we wanted to get there if possible, but this was a further cause for contention – we can’t be sure, but it seems the truck-driver might well receive a small commission for taking us to that particular guest-house.  It was a bit of a dusty walk, but we were both, for one, feeling reasonably fit.  Even so, we were pleased to be offered a ride, from a tiny tractor-like vehicle pulling a trailer with 3 agricultural workers in it – a most curious contraption.  The pace was sluggish, but we had some rest, + were pulled up a couple of very steep hills.  After 7 or 8 kms we reached the place they were working, so had to get out + walk once more.

Went thro’ a couple of villages, + it seemed quite a novelty for the villagers to have tourists walking thro’.  It’s a good way to see places like this – it gives one time, + it doesn’t place one on an exalted level.  The places looked more picturesque from a distance than they do from within however.  And they certainly don’t conform to one’s preconceived ideas about tribal people – apart from one village where a couple of women were weaving (+ that was a village we passed when we were being given a lift, so didn’t get the chance to stop + look.)  Bought a coke, + were promptly charged B2 for some ice, which seemed extravagant in the extreme, but may not have been.  Anyway, we contented ourselves with disapproving looks, + paid up.

From just beyond there, we caught a bus to the next town, Mae Sai.  An amazingly dusty ride – when we climbed out we had to brush all our clothes off, + it looked as tho’ our hair had turned grey.  It was just as well that we’d taken it, however – it had been for a fair distance, + would have taken us the rest of the day to walk.  As it was, we had time to have a cold drink to wash some of the dust from our throats (+ into our stomachs) + then catch a bus on to Chang Rai – Mae Sai was an unprepossessing town, + we were happy to leave as quickly as possible.

Arrived in Chang Rai in time to change some money, + then were directed to Pon’s guest-house, which was exceptionally clean.  Even so, when we went on a walk around town after checking in, we were a little disappointed we hadn’t delayed our decision, since we had a drink at Chat’s guest-house, which seemed to have a better atmosphere – while we were there, Van Morrison  was doing his stuff on the stereo.  We made some enquiries about their organised tribal treks, + tho’ we didn’t come to a firm decision, I think we both felt they were too expensive for us.  However, as it turned out, things went well for us.

We returned to Pons to eat, + by means of Val’s Sarawak bead-work, as an introduction, got into conversation with one of Mr Pon’s daughters, + thro’ her, with Mr Pon himself.  He is an impressive man, with the dignity + stature of an American Indian, + tho’ his English is a little weak, he can express himself in that language – in any case, both his daughters who were there speak excellent English.  He knows a lot, + obviously cares a lot, about the tribal peoples, + we spent the entire evening talking about them + other related subjects.  Our small personal photo album has been worth its weight in gold for providing a bridge between ourselves + strangers in the past, but no-one has been as interested in the non-family pictures, the ones from PNG + Indonesia, as Mr Pon + his family.  He had certain theories about the links between various races which struck me, I must confess, as naïve, but then who am I to judge what is or is not possible?  The Pons responded by showing us their own albums, which contained some real gems (tho’ suffered, as do so many photo albums, from a lack of labelling + selectivity – we hope to avoid those pitfalls.)  Best of all perhaps, Mr Pon was able to give us some instructions + a sketch map or 2 to enable us to visit a couple of tribal villages on our own.  Very public-spirited of him, since we could thereby dispense with the services of a guide – one of the services he offers.  All in all, a splendid evening… + an end to regrets about missing out on Van Morrison + his ilk.

Definitely back knto exploring mode, and walking was definitely the way to do it (if you didn’t want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a guided tour.) But good to feel that we were fit enough to cope.

March 29th 1984

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The view from the restaurant

Obviously we slept well + late.  When we awoke, we re-packed our bags, so that we could take a light bag with us, + leave the heavy one behind.  It was our intention to go west, over to the Burmese border, + see if it were possible to visit some of the hill-tribes in that area, staying out there for a couple of days.  We weren’t in any rush however, tho’ probably we should have been.  We certainly didn’t rush our breakfast, but at the end of it, we discovered that it was getting on for 11 o’clock, a discovery that dealt us a severe blow, there not being all that many buses going out that way, + most of them being concentrated in the morning.  We were galvanised into action, paying up, seizing our bag, + marching off to the bus station.  It was further away than we had thought, too, which didn’t add to our self-composure – we seemed to be striding out for ages along the road, + since we’d also managed to mislay our town map, we weren’t exactly sure (being stricken, as always, by self-doubt) that it was the right road.

We did arrive, however, at a huge, new, relatively empty bus station, at 11.30, + discovered that the next bus heading out to where we wanted to go didn’t leave until 2.30.  After a moment or two of inaction, caused by self-pity, self-annoyance, etc, we decided to try a different attack, + check out buses heading north, up to the Golden Triangle – this we had intended to do after our trek west, so it wasn’t too violent a change.  There was a bus going up to Chiang Rai almost immediately, + we were lucky to get the last 2 seats on it, just climbing aboard before we pulled out.  The conductor was good enough to arrange things for us to allow us to sit together as well.

The journey to Chiang Rai took something over 3 hours, + was uneventful.  The countryside was flat + barren, the villages, towns + people Western.  The highlight was when, to our huge delight, we passed an elephant plodding along the road, working.  This caused Val to launch into a paroxysm of elephant impersonations – she has become quite a dab hand at quite a number of clever + funny little mimes, always guaranteed to amuse both myself + her.  Communicated a little with a young, male fellow-passenger – he offered us food, + we showed him our small photo album, from which he requested 2 photos: the one of the pair of us, naturally enough, + one of me crossing a log bridge in PNG.  I scrawled my address on the back of one- he returned by doing the same on a B10 note… except that for him both name + address seemed to consist of one word, nothing more: PRAKOB – not even a town name.  He couldn’t be induced to give more, evidently feeling this was sufficient information, so it was left at that.  I’ll send a card at some stage, but have severe doubts about it ever reaching him.

At Chiang Rai we transferred direct to a bus continuing further north to Chang Seng, another hour and a half or so.  We were very pleasantly surprised by the town, which was on the bank of the Mae Khong river, + small, quiet, + peaceful, a pleasant contrast to the bustling + crowded towns that we had come thro’.  There seemed , to our surprise, to be a choice of guest-houses too, so we headed toward the one that the Belgian couple had stayed in + recommended.  It was basic, but clean enough, + cheap, so suited us.  Because of some forthcoming Buddhist festival, they weren’t serving dinner however, forcing us to go out for a meal. – we wanted, in any case, to have a look round.  There was very little to see, so it didn’t take long.  We were only able to find the one restaurant, however, tho’ there were supposed to be two, so, after a brief look at the market, + having purchased a half-bottle of Mekong whiskey, that was where we went.  The restaurant itself was nice, built on a platform overlooking the river (which was being Asian + mysterious, disappearing from our view in both directions into shrouds of mist.)  The menu was unexciting, but we both hit the Mekong bottle pretty hard, + I at least was able to provoke an appetite.  Of more importance however was the fact that the booze was able to loosen both our tongues on a subject previously strictly taboo: our bust-up + my relationship with Sue.  I can’t say it didn’t raise a few pangs of various emotions on both sides, but they were controllable, and the experience was on the whole beneficial.  We were able to clear up matters of fact that we hadn’t been clear about, + to a large extent we were able to exorcise the ghost that the whole thing had become.  We talked + talked + talked, that’s for sure, + even when we were in bed we kept talking, showing, I suppose, the hold that the events of those years ago still held over us.

Shan’t dwell on the final discussion(s), as all of that is even more firmly lodged in the distant past. but clearly beneficial to clear the air at the time.

Good to have some flexibility in our arrangements, heading north to the Laos border rather than west to the Burmese, and it was good to sit, watch the river, and drink Mekong whisky (laced as ever with coke.)

March 28th 1984

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It was a long journey, nearly 16 hours, but we have had many which have been shorter + worse.  Even so, we were pleased when the awakening + rearranging of the locals in the know indicated we were approaching the end.  It was really quite cold now, so we pulled on our jumpers.  When the train pulled into Chiang Mai, we made the acquaintance of 2 other Europeans on the train, a pleasant pair of Germans, Tony + Monika, + going thro’ the gate, we were all attracted by the forceful personality + attractive photos of one lady among the many anxious for our business, so we all went with her.  Among other advantages, she had a car, so we had a more comfortable ride to her place.  It seemed nice enough, too, so there we stayed.

Over b’fast, chatted with our German friends, and then with a Belgian couple who have just come to the end of their stay around the area.  Previously, we had been quite fixed on exploring the area with one of the local trekking companies, but they had been travelling around under their own steam, + while they had done no trekking on their own themselves, they’d met a few people who had.  So we, ever eager to climb off the roller-coaster if at all possible, were immediately interested.  A problem particularly at the moment, is the border tension with Burma, one of the areas we would be going to.  Where such things are concerned, I definitely err on the side of caution.  We went o the Tourist Office, who could give us some local information, but not very much in trekking, largely because they officially disapprove of trekking at the moment, even with a company, because of the political situation.

We took a bus to a handicraft centre, which has some terrific stuff, + really not at an inflated price.  We can wait, however, until we come back from touring ourselves.  We then spent an hour or 2 wandering around town, visiting a wat or 2. + after enquiry ending up at Daret’s, the town’s travellers’ restaurant + information centre.  We had some fruit drinks, + Val quizzed the bloke about their treks.  We were particularly interested to see that one of their treks actually went into Burma. Tho’, nowadays, with all the troubles, that seemed to be little more than a token entry.  And one paid heavily for the privilege too – $2,200, tho’ that does include some elephant riding.  The clearest thing we found out is that it is difficult to get good information – naturally enough, since the trekking companies are commercial outfits out to make some money.

Returned to the guest-house for a siesta – not that one really needed to escape the sun, it being a misty, muggy day, but we were both very tired.  I intended simply to rest, but fell asleep, feeling upon waking, as a result, bloody awful.  With the sun gone down, we made our way thro’ town, picking our way thro’ the simply amazing pavement vegetable market.  So much food – cauliflowers, tomatoes, everything piled in heaps.  Such a contrast to the scabby dried-up stuff we have seen in so many other places, from Mexico to Malaysia.  Made even PNG’s celebrated Hagen market look sparse by comparison.  And this was a side-affair, not the main market at all.   Just stunning.

Crowds were gathered along the way to watch Thailand’s boxing world champion – sorry, don’t know his name or weight – on television, defending his title against what looked like a very fierce little Mexican, who, from the snatches we saw as we walked along, was making all the running.

At Daret’s again, where we were to eat our dinner, we just had time to order our meal when, to the delight of at least all the Thais in the place, the champion took control, launched a superb attack, + won on a TKO.  I was pleased too.  Difficult really – I know boxing is a barbaric sport, but I love to watch it.  With that over, we were able to concentrate on looking at some photos we had just had done.  Pleasing, too, on the whole, with the more or less average crop of 3 or 4 excellent, 7 or 8 a waste of money, + the rest ranged between.  Our meals too provided a contrast: mine was simply magnificent, Val’s indifferent.  I had a pepper steak with baked potato + vegetables, followed by a plate of fresh strawberries.  I must say, it makes a pleasant change to get things right.

On the way back, stopped to take a couple of photos, first of the amazing sight of a host of Buddhist novices whitewashing the wall of their wat, then of the market.  Home then, to hot drink + bed, none too soon for Val who was tetchy + irritable because of extreme fatigue.

Spending some time in Chiang Mai before heading off to visit the local villages. We do seem to be far more enamoured of Thailand than eityher Malaysia or Indonesia, but maybe we are reacting agasinst the Muslim culture.

March 27th 1984

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There were 3 things to do down in the southern end of town, so, leaving Val to pack etc, I headed off on the bus.  The bus system here is so splendidly well-run, I think, but has to cope with massive use.  I didn’t have a very comfortable journey, as I had to stand all the way.  Doubly uncomfortable – apart from the strain on the legs, I had to bend to peer out of the window at regular intervals to see where we were.  I managed, however, to get off at the right stop.  Task no 1 was to check with American Express whether their 1 month holding period for mail was rigid – I don’t know why we had blithely accepted the bad news yesterday without a murmur.  It turned out that all I had to do was write a note requesting a longer hold, so that’s what I did.  Whether it actually works or not, ie whether they pay any attention or simply sling the lot in the general direction from which they came is, of course, speculative.

Task no 2 was to see if the Walkman could be put in for an exploratory check-up on its troubles.  No such luck here – the woman was decidedly unhelpful, but reckoned if I wanted it examined, but not fixed, I would have to take myself to the head office + talk to the engineer.  Ah well, another day maybe.  The 3rd item was to go to the British Embassy + clear up a problem with our passports.  We are rapidly running out of space for visas, entry stamps etc, but want to check that it is possible to hang onto our old passports for mementoes if we get a new one in, say, Hong Kong.  I had some time yet, however, so decided, since I was on the doorstep, to spend a little time in the British Council.  I managed, however, to become so engrossed in my reading that I lost track of time, and made a right balls-up of things, arriving at the embassy at 12.05, when they’d just shut for an hour and a half lunch break.  Not very bright of me, and it was as well that the enquiry could wait.  So, out of my 3 fixtures, one win, one loss, and a draw, making 4 points out of 9 by the new reckoning.  Not bad, but no championship stuff.

The bus back was as crowded as the bus out, which was probably divine retribution.  When I arrived back, Val was in the travel agent’s, trying to finalise our flight to HK.  It wasn’t the mere formality that had been suggested, but eventually it seemed we were confirmed on Air India’s flight at 3 am on April 11th.  Which is cutting things desperately fine for our visa, but never mind.

As soon as that was sorted out, we headed out to the station to catch our train up to Chiang Mai in the north.  Once again, a long + crowded bus journey, but we had both information + a helpful note in Thai written by the proprietor of the guest-house.  He is a splendid man, ready + willing to do all he can to help, not like so many in his position who are friendliness + affability itself until you agree to stay with them.  The station was impressive, like a London Victorian station, but on a smaller scale, all being contained within a single span arch.  In just about every other respect, it towers above London rivals, however, being cleaner, quieter + more efficient.  The information from both the boards + the booth was clear + precise, the people were polite, + we had, even in 3rd class, reserved seats, + not uncomfortable ones at that.

The first part of the journey at least was pleasant.  We had brought along our own bread, ham + cheese, + were able to relieve the thirst aroused by the heat by drinking copious quantities of coke, 7-up, + a local beverage called Green Spot, sounding (+ ultimately tasting) more like a plant disease than a soft drink.  The movement of the train wasn’t violent enough to prevent us writing a couple of letters, after which I settled down to read Newsweek, bought especially for the purpose.  This was a mistake in fact – I should have taken advantage of the scenery while it was still light, but I feared they would switch off the fluorescent lights at an early hour.  In fact, they stayed on all night.  When the Newsweek was read, I imbibed a little of Gogol’s “Dead Souls”, but for the most part we spent the night experimenting with various ways + positions which would allow us some sleep.  We changed position many times, but most afforded us some sleep, some a healthy hour or so.

It does seem to have occurred more than it ought, that I have become so engrossed in my reading that I have missed some important deadline. Not vitally important on this occasion since, despite having said yesterday that we weanted to l.eave for Chiang Mai early, in the event we did not appear to be in any rush.

Learning lines

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Mr Big?

All three of the cast present, back in our old space… all positive.  But now the task is to persuade the actors that they both can and must learn their lines.  We have had enough rehearsals now when the actors are reading to me; in order to make progress, we need to experiencer, and repeat, the process of acting… and that cannot happen when you are holding a book, occupying your hands, your eyes, your focus.

But having said that, we did manage to cover a couple of scenes, which covers five or so pages.  We ran the opening of the play a few times, and eventually we were able to do this off-script, and it really came to life.  We also looked at the Pozzo scene, which is becoming one of my favourite scenes, as Sasha brings a new dynamic.

And finally we made a start with the movement scene, indicating the increasing crowdedness of their daily life.  It does have a piece of music that can accompany it, the Laurel and Hardy theme tune (also tying in with the clown aspect of the portrayal), but we have met a technological obstacle.  I have the piece of music on a much-used CD, but transferring that to a format which can be played on a phone is proving surprisingly tricky.  Most PCs no longer have a disc drive, which was the most straightforward method.  So I have passed the CD tp Roji, and he is going to consult some of his more technologically-minded friends.

But it was a good session overall, and in my more optimistic moments, I allow myself to become excited by it.

March 26th 1984

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Val with her new friends

Val put our film in to be developed, then we had breakfast.  There are any number of small cafes along Kaosan, catering to the travellers’ trade, so once again we patronised one of them.  As usual we overheard – were forced to overhear –  various travellers’ conversations.  I don’t know why I don’t bother to switch off, when they annoy me so much, especially if they’re Brits or are talking about something I know as much or more about.  This morning a guy was both, + it was probably as well that I only caught snatches of what he was saying.  After he left, we chatted with his audience, another Brit, but one with more interesting stuff to talk about, in connection with the legal, quasi-legal, + illegal attempts to stay in Australia.  Tore ourselves away eventually, in order to collect our film.  A tense time, since we would now discover whether our camera was stuffed, hence hastening our departure to Hong Kong.  To our relief, it was alright, all 26 shots coming out.  Not as sparkling as some in the past have been – we still need to get the camera fixed so that we can operate it on its automatic setting, but in the meantime it’s still turning out the goods.

Next stop was equally successful.  We enquired about flights to Hong Kong, + discovered we could go for US$95 one way.  What was more, contrary to what we had heard elsewhere, there was no problem about getting a student card, so we handed over the photo + cash for that straight away.  The 2nd + 3rd pieces of good news.  Changed some money at the bank, then took a bus downtown to the Siam Centre – we wanted to check American Express for mail.  Unsurprisingly, there was none there, but the bad news, the first of the day, was that they only held mail for a month.  Not good, especially since we’d only sent off the post-cards to our mothers this morning, giving the new address.  Have to work out how to get around that one.

Went to the British Council just across the road, Val particularly wanted to read the Burgess Malayan Trilogy, which she was interrupted in half-way through.  Fortunately, they had a copy, so she was happy.  I buried myself in various newspapers from home, tho’ they weren’t as thrilling as usual, largely, I suppose, because I’ve been keeping up to date more with the news, so it wasn’t so exciting.  (I read the Times Educational Supplement, largely for old times’ sake, + I must say reading the jobs’ section gave me a severe memory jolt.  At one time, I used to live for the bloody thing.)

The bus back to our area at a little after 4 was ridiculously crowded, + the traffic was horrendous, but we squeezed + shoved our way thro’.  We did run into something too, but nobody seemed to pay much notice, so it can’t have been important – I think it was the kerb.  Called in to collect our student cards + book our flight.  The girl tried to get us to come back tomorrow for the latter, but we aim to head north to Chang Mai tomorrow, as early as possible, so we persuaded her to try for us then on her own.

Collected our kite, + then headed over to the park – the place was packed with kiters + spectators: just the most terrific atmosphere.  We soon had ours up there with the best of them (tho’ there was an early upset when it tangled with another + they both plummeted to earth in a great corkscrew spiral.  Soon up again however; I wanted it to fly higher than any other in the park.  We’d brought along some extra string, a reel of tough cotton that Val had, + with that added on it was way up.  Tops?  Maybe.  A short-lived triumph tho.  Eventually the inevitable happened – another kite sawed across + eventually thro’ ours, liberating our kite.  We had 4 young local girls sitting chatting with us, + 2 of them dashed off to the rescue, but returned to tell us our kite had ended its trip in a tree.  The girls, about 11 years old, were fun.  Giggly and silly, of course, but fun too.  They spoke a tiny amount of English, so there was some communication.  They took Val’s address, + promised to write, + we did the same.  When the time came to leave, they wouldn’t leave us (or, in fact, Val) so we had a giggling escort back to Kaosan.  Once there, I dived into a snooker hall, leaving Val to cope with them.  (They invited her home, apparently, but she was busy, + didn’t really cotton on until they wandered off.)

The snooker hall was a pleasant surprise, tho’ it shouldn’t have been – the guys running the Sydney one were Thai.  After watching for a while, I was finally able to get myself into a game, first a 4-sided, + for subsequent games a 3-sided affair, with 3 Thai students.  I acquitted myself reasonably well, too, tho’ I only won the 3rd game I played.  To celebrate, I had a banana split in a nearby café, expensive but enormous.  And then returned to the guest-house.

A reasonably successful day so far as business was concerned, plus the British Council for pleasure, as well as a return to the park for more kite-flying, my favourite activity at the time.

March 25th 1984

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Val had already done the washing + hung it out to dry before wakening me, then we went out for breakfast.  We have a lot of business to do in Bangkok. But today is Sunday, which pretty much wipes that out, so we’re doing a little sight-seeing instead.  We wandered across the park, close to our guest-house, where a lot of locals were flying their kites (as they had been yesterday evening, I remember) to the Royal Palace.  It was utterly magnificent, quite superb, + leapt straight in to my Top 10 world attractions chart.  We didn’t stay long, however.  On Sundays there is no entrance fee.  Which is good, of course, but makes the place impossibly crowded.  It was barely possible to move without getting in front of someone else’s camera shot.  So we took a quick look round + left.

We then strolled on to the Museum, + once again were hugely impressed with both the scope + selection of the place.  There were just so many galleries (tho’ they weren’t overcrowded with exhibits – everything was attractively arranged.)  My favourite gallery had a display of puppets which was quite superb – I’m sure they wouldn’t miss just one.  (But they would, they would.)  In the end we left the museum two-thirds unseen, ripe for another visit.

Strolled over to the park where I indulged a whim + bought a small kite.  Too small actually – we couldn’t get it to fly.  What can one expect for B2?  So we went a little up-market, + paid 7.  No comparison – this was wonderful, + simply soared.  We even looped our poor B2-er onto the string, to give it a taste of freedom.  Up the string it zoomed.  This was the first time I’d ever a controlled a kite in the air – when I was small we had a couple, I think, but could never even get them off the ground.  It felt magnificent, heady even, to see this flimsy thing of paper + string reach such heights… + with me in control.  Eventually, of course, the first excitement palled, but we brought it down + sent it up again, to prove we could do it, + then brought it down once more + returned home for a belated siesta.

I got Val to rub some cream onto my chest + groin.  Under the blast of the Ko Samui sun, I first blistered, then peeled, + now have any number of sores + scabs, which itch viciously.  Serves me right for laughing at Val, when all she did was peel.  We relaxed for 3 hours or so, then went out to see some of Bangkok’s nightlife.  We decided to walk down to the Red Light district, though I’m not sure we would have done had we realised how far it was.  We had a map now, of course, but it wasn’t all that easy to find the way.  A lot of the streets have their names written in English, but it’s fairly sporadic.  And our map isn’t wonderful.  Arrived eventually at Patpong Rd, the street, but it was tamer than I expected.  Mostly it was bars advertising girls, so, in the interest of scientific discovery, we tried one – Roxy Bar.  And it was full of girls, mostly very young girls, wearing very little, as in the briefest of swimming costumes.  Half a dozen of them at a time would be on podia, dancing.  There was a strict roster system, pinned to a wall.  The others would sit around, being groped by customers, trying to get them to drink, I imagine.  And all the while, a video was silently playing cartoons.  Weird.  Was the place for screwing?  Certainly not on the premises – there was no room.  (They even had lockers on public display.)  By private arrangement maybe.  I’m an innocent in such matters.

We headed for, home after the one drink, with no more tempting offers along the way than “live sex acts”.  It was quite the disappointment.  We now had a bus guide to assist us, so on consulting that we were able to work out that no 47 was the one we wanted.  Much to our amazement, it worked, + we were dropped off by the Democracy Monument.  Val had a meal, me a snack, then home – reading + writing.

Apologies for all the stuff on Bangkojk’s sex industry – I wouldn’t take that tone now (and shouldn’t have done then, but there you go.) But the kite-flying, that being ao much more innocent, and, indeed, enjoyable.

March 24th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

We were late arriving at Ban Dou, which may or may not have meant that we had missed the first train up to Bangkok.  We weren’t too worried, however, as our information ws that there were plenty of trains all day.  Getting out to the station looked to be a bit of a problem however – the guy with a truck wanted B20 each, double what we had paid on the way in.  I walked off sown the dock to look for his competition, + again language was a problem, tho’ maybe I was getting somewhere.  It didn’t matter – the truck came along, beeping its horn, with Val + 2 fellow passengers in the back – she’d negotiated B15 each.  Payment was demanded when we stopped for petrol – I tried to withhold B15 until we arrived, but they weren’t having that, so I paid up in full – I didn’t see that I had any choice.  Another interruption along the way, to change a faulty spark-plug, but we got there in the end.  Unloaded the bags, + the truck pushed off swiftly.  It’s hardly surprising – when we enquired at the ticket office, it seemed we had indeed missed the early train, + there wasn’t another till 4 in the afternoon.  The guys on the truck must have known that, but still they’d brought us all the way out here.  After some thought, first our companions, 2 Germans, + then ourselves, decided it would be foolish to wait for the train, so would go by bus instead.  The problem was the bus left from Ban Don, where we had just come from, + so meant another bus ride back.  Infuriating, even if it did mean an ordinary bus, hence the proper fare. 

We were fortunate to get the last 2 seats on the bus up to Bangkok.  They were reserved seats, tho’ we weren’t too sure of that when we got on – fortunately a public-spirited gentleman checked our tickets for us, + told us the seats we should have (+ hence, who we would be dispossessing.)  It was  not a good journey; on the other hand, considering it took 11 hours, it could have been worse.  There were 2 food stops, at which we were able to stretch our legs + have a bite to eat.  And for a good deal of the time, we were buried in our books.  (That reminds me – I knew there was something I had forgotten about yesterday morning.  We had spent a couple of hours chatting with a Canadian couple, + tho’ it was in no way a marriage of minds, we did discover a couple of things in common.  They too were distressed by the isolation that attends travelling as a couple… even more than travelling alone, I’d say… when one speaks to almost no-one except one’s partner.  They too aren’t enthralled by every new country – we sometimes wonder whether we’re too picky, or are others completely undiscriminating?  Or are they lying?  And we were delighted to discover they didn’t think too much of Indonesia.  Best of all, they had books to swap – good ones too.  We got “Deadeye Dick”, Vonnegut’s latest, + “Dead Souls” by Gogol, which I know nothing about, but it’s high time I read some more Russian literature.  Which is what reminded me about them.)

I was reading the Vonnegut, unsurprisingly.  Another of his Midland City novels, the usual light read with barbs.  I didn’t find it as powerful or funny as his other stuff, however.  Is he going off?  Or is my 10 year love affair with KV Jr finally coming to an end.  What else about the journey?  The landscape wasn’t remarkable, except that there were, from time to time, huge cliffs rising up out of otherwise flat plains.  I only know 2 types of rock, + they weren’t granite, so maybe they were limestone – left behind after the oceans receded?  Buddhist temples became more noticeable as we went along, + there was a huge agricultural development quite close to Bangkok, with mile after mile of flooded fields, with canvas-sailed, 6-pointed windmills to pump the water from one to another.  I suppose rice is the most likely crop, but it was very different from rice we’ve seen growing in Java + elsewhere.  If it is rice, it hasn’t yet been planted. 

We both slept a little too – a very little, because of the insane driving.  We were lucky to be at the back so unable to see much, but he drove impossibly fast.  On one notable occasion, he drove at full speed over a level crossing, throwing us all high into the air.  Nothing if not exhilarating.

Arrived in Bangkok about 5, + seemed to spend ages driving round + round town.  Bur since we had no idea as to the best place to get off, we sat tight until the bus station.  Even then we weren’t much better off.  We had discovered during the day that we had somehow lost our copy of the Yellow Guide – not a good time to do so, just before arriving in a big city, where they don’t speak English, or even use our alphabet.  The 2 Germans were just about equally helpless, so the 4 of us, brushing aside the touts, clustered around the only other European on the bus.  He was better equipped to cope than we were, having been in Bangkok before, + possessing a bus map.  The only problem was, he didn’t know where we were right now, + couldn’t find anyone to tell him.  So we all set off, him an unlikely Pied Piper marching out in front, we 4 straggling behind.  The Germans soon went off on their own, + we too were separated from him when he got onto a bus.  He was, to be fair, waiting for us, but Val had temporarily disappeared, so I waved him on.  Not without a sinking heart, I’ll confess – we were now left entirely to our own resources.

We tried a bus that we had been recommended, but then discovered that, since the conductor didn’t speak any English, + we couldn’t read the street names, we wouldn’t know where we were even when we got there.  So we got off again, no wiser than before.  Next try was a garage over the road, (mainly so that Val could use the toilet), + here we had some luck, since both a girl working there + a male customer spoke fair English.  We did have the name of a street with some cheap hotels, + I’d gleaned from our short-lived PP another landmark, so with these 2 for reference, they were able to work out where to go, + how we could get there.  I asked them to write down the name of the place in Thai script, which they did – a lucky thought this, as we were able to show it to the conductor and to another passenger.  When they both told us we’d arrived we got off, + from there, following the little map the man at the garage had drawn, it was just around the corner to Kaosan Road.  Phew.

We were walking down the street when we were approached by a man who ran a guest-house, so, since he seemed nice enough + the price he was asking was in line with what we’d been told, we agreed to take a look.  The room was at the top of 4 flights of stairs, which was the bad part, but it had its own little garden + was clean enough.  So we took it.

We wound down in the room for a while – they had some old copies of Time, so I was happy – but I was surprised when Val announced herself ready for bed.  I went out for a walk on my own, + had a bite to eat, before returning to tackle another couple of Times.

The usual sort of travel problems – is it the same now, I wonder, with the internet facilitating things. In our case, it did seem to be compounded by some chicanery on the part of the truck driver, but no real harm done. It was when we got to Bangkom that the real fun began. I imagine that nowadays there is rather more use and acceptance of English, but then we came to our first encounter with the sort of helplessness one feels when not only did very few seem to speak English, even the language, with its own alphabet, was totally incomprehensible. But all was well in the end, finding ourselves in a welcoming and friendly guesthouse.

March 23rd 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

The decision in the morning was, football match or no, we should leave tonight.  Even so, I felt some regret at missing out on the game, so was selfishly pleased when I heard later that it had been called off.  We did nothing today, our laziest day yet.  Around about noon, I decided something should be done, so set about rolling a j.  Quite a landmark, being my first ever, + much more notable for being first than for its own intrinsic qualities.  By exercising huge willpower, it didn’t fall apart, but it was a close-run thing.  Miraculously, we were both able to inhale enough to make the exercise worthwhile, even if we did have to use unconventional methods – when the thing had fallen apart so much there was nothing left to hold, we still breathed in the smoke from the mini-bonfire.  I have rarely been stoned in the daytime before, but I must say I enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to listen to any music, the Walkman packing up after 5 mins.  The thing has a whole catalogue of ailments right now, the latest + most serious being one of the pairs of headphones only playing on one channel, +, as  now, a tendency simply not to produce sound whenever it feels like it.  One can’t complain too much really – it’s a couple of years old now, + has taken a hell of a battering.  Annoying nonetheless, especially when taken in conjunction with the camera’s ailments. 

Later, when we had returned to earth a little, we began to get ready for moving on once again – washing, packing, etc.  At our request, Alan made us a joint to take with us, to smoke before we got on the boat – we donated the rest of the BH to him.  Then off we went.  The lady in charge said thank you + goodbye, checking that we knew the right way.  Yes, yes, we said, we’ll be fine, + off we went.  We hadn’t gone 150 yards before we heard a yelling + shouting – she’d been watching us, which was fortunate, for we’d already gone the wrong way.

At the 2nd attempt, everything went well.  In fact, with the afternoon sun sinking + fading, it was a pleasant walk.  Rather than arrive in town ridiculously early, we killed some time by having coffee at the last bungalow, watching the sunset, then moving on before dark.  Even so, we had plenty of time, so sat in the sort of bandstand-like shelter, common throughout Thailand.  Feeling slightly nervous about the whole thing, we smoked our j.  At first, I thought it was a bit of a washout, but it crept up on me, + in 10 mins I was my usual gibbering wreck.  The next stage, naturally, was the munchies – as if on cue, a lady wheeled her barrow in to the square in front of us, + set to work, obviously preparing food of some kind.  We didn’t know what it was, but were sure it would be wonderful, so I struggled down the steps to buy a couple.  It turned out to be a roti-like pancake, spread with sugar + condensed milk.  If that sounds revolting, you are doubtless entirely correct, but they seemed wonderful at the time – we had 3 each.

We were so absorbed in conversation, we didn’t notice that the tender for the ferry had come in, + all of the people had disappeared.  We rushed out in a panic to join the throng – we were last aboard.  It almost seemed a mistake to have gotten so wasted with the nightmare journey that came.  First, they couldn’t shift us off the dock – with the weight of all the passengers, we were wedged hard on the slipway, tho’ eventually sheer muscle got us moving.  The next 5 mins were weird.  Someone was whistling, giving Val the image of us being a boatload of Negro slaves being taken to our new owner, while I saw us as the cast of one of those dreadful lifeboat movies: you know, a bunch of disparate people who somehow learn to love one another + survive the elements.

The next + final stage was the worst of all, transferring from the tender to the ferry.  The sea was very choppy, with both boats bobbing violently… + not quite together either.  I was almost the last to scramble across, making it successfully, + then had to crawl on hands + knees with the pack on my back, like a deformed tortoise – the ceiling was so low on the lower deck it was the only way to move.  Not very dignified, however.

The boat was similar to the one we had crossed to Ko Samui on, tho’ not quite as well equipped.  The mattresses were harder, flatter, shorter, + there were no fans.  We made ourselves comfortable, nonetheless, + prepared for the journey.  Not that it came for a while – we didn’t leave until well beyond the 9.00 ETD.

A day of drugged excess, for the most part; it dies seem likely that this would be our last opportunity for a while, but it did make for quite a surreal journey.