didi and gogo march on

posted in: Hotel Lessons | 0

Apologies for the absence of a post last week – it was as simple a matter as not having taken a photo.  But actually, both weeks can easily be fitted together.  In both cases, we have reached the stage of running sections of the play.  And encouragingly, the words do seem to be sticking; no small achievement when this is quite a wordy play, and is, of course, in a foreign language, so far as our actors are concerned, so all the more credit to them.

We have had a bit of a problem with technology, finding the right clip of music to accompany a short movement sequence in the play.  I wanted to use some Laurel and Hardy music – their theme tune – but though I have this on CD, moving it across to digital, so that it can be played from a phone, seems to be problematic.  But we do seem to have solved the problem, using the good offices of Spotify and/or You Tube.  Not that we have yet tied music and action together.  Next week, perhaps.

April 10th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Royal Palace

I’d stayed up pretty late last night, so was happy to sleep in.  Meanwhile, Val went off to the Royal Palace to take some photos.  It is quite expensive to get in during the week (+ impossibly crowded at weekends) so we’d decided just one of us should go.  She was gone quite a long time, which was probably just as well, since it enabled me to lie in, as well as have enough time to do the washing + start to pack.  I am not a very good packer – I don’t do it enough to have a quick routine, + I plod rather.  So it wasn’t surprising when Val returned + I hadn’t finished.  With her help, however, it was soon done, + we went out for some breakfast.  We are both of us, however, fed up with the cafes along Kaosan Rd, which are basically very boring.  Tho’ I suspect that the lifestyle associated with the street, + with our role as tourists plays an important part. 

Had a film developed, which was disappointing – it never rains but it pours, does it.  Then headed down to Siam Sq. to check on our mail at AmEx.  There was just the slimmest of chances that some mail could have reached us, but it was, indeed, a very slim chance, so I was not surprised when the lady at the window handed back my passport with no accompanying letters.  So the shock + surprise were doubled when Val received 2!  One from her mum, one from Brent + Liz, with the bonus of another from her mum, returned from Singapore, plus one from Mike Power.  We sat down where we were, on the floor of the corridor of the Siam Centre, + read the lot.  2 pieces of important news, both gynaecological.  Nema, it seems, has cancer of the cervix – what a blow that must be to herself + Dave.  And Sue Colman is going to have a baby.  Happier news, + almost as startling, she being one of the last people one could imagine as a mother.

Next stop was the British Embassy, where we wanted to enquire about getting new passports, our old ones being very nearly full.  Surveying the queues of people there, applying for visas to enter Britain, we felt smug, but that self-satisfaction received a severe jolt when we were told it would take around 3 weeks to obtain a passport in Bangkok, + between 12 + 18 weeks in Hong Kong.  Quite a severe blow, not helped by the smug bastard behind the counter (“Forward planning is the name of the game, old boy.”)  Still, there wasn’t very much we could do about anything – it is a problem we will have to work out when we get to HK.

By the time we got back to Kaosan, it was pretty late in the afternoon, so we wandered over to the park to fly the kite for the final time.  Once it was safely aloft + moderately stable, we looked around for a child to hand it over to.  This proved more difficult than I’d expected – normally we attract the attention of quite a few waifs, but this time all the youngsters around seemed to be kited.  We were even turned down by one boy – obviously he’s never heard of gift horses.  But we were finally able to locate a young man without a kite, + when I handed him the string wrapped around an empty condensed milk tin, the standard spool in the park, the result was a joy.  First he looked dumbfounded at the tin in his hands, then followed the string up with his eyes to the owl kite floating way above, at which point he broke into a giggle.  I felt terrific, I must say.  Cute kids who aren’t trying to be cute are a joy.

We’d checked out of the guest-house already, as we were flying out tonight, but Mr P was good enough to let us have a final shower – in Bangkok one needs 3 a day for choice.  Ate a final indifferent meal on the street (it’s our own fault for being so unadventurous), drank some coffee, read the paper, + were just about ready to head for the airport.  A girl traveller in one of the travel agencies had advised us to take a taxi for around B150,  but we had no intention of doing that if it could be avoided.  Our flight wasn’t till 3 am, but we didn’t mind taking the regular bus + getting there early.  Mr P wrote us out our directions in Thai as usual, + even escorted us to the bus stop – he really is a remarkable person.  What I like most about him is that, un like most guest-house, losmen, hotel proprietors, who are as nice as can be until you sign up at their place, + then cease to give a shit about you, he is as friendly + helpful now as he was when we first arrived.  And I’d reckin it makes good business sense too – we at least will almost certainly go back to his place.

The bus ride was long (tho’ not more than an hour) + crowded – tho’ we got a seat eventually – but it delivered us safely to the airport, + only cost us B5 – quite a difference.  Quite a wait once we were there of course, but I sat + wrote while Val read.  I didn’t write as much as I should have, tho’ – I was distracted by 4 Brits.  Not “travellers” in that sense – looked as tho’ they were returning after some work contract.  Couldn’t get over the fact that they were going to be back in England in a day or 2.

As fnal days go, not too bad. Some sight-seeing, some business – we still use the “forward-planning” quote on a regular basis, though to be fair to him, he did shut up when I told him we’d been away for nearly three years.- and even a farewell trip to the kite park.

April 9th 1984

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We intended to take a trip down one of the canals, or khlongs, of the city today.  At one time there had been a huge network of them, making Bangkok, “the Venice of the East”, at least according to the tiourist brochures, but now, under the prrssures of modernisation, most of them have been covered over or filled in.As a result, not only has Bangkok lost an attractive + effective way of getting about, but also let itself in for serious flooding problems every rainy season.  Strolled down to the Memorial Bridge, from where, according to a tourist brochure we’d picked up, it should have been possible to catch a regular boat to a temple called Wat Lao.  However, Mr P had expressed serious doubts about the availability of such a trip, +, as usual, he was the most reliable source of information.  Once we arrived at the wharf, it was difficult to obtain any information.  The taxi-boat drivers ignored us once they discovered we weren’t interested in chartering a boat.  So, not quite knowing what to do, we sat on the bench + tried to divine something of what was going on by just looking.  We nearly gave up completely + just got on a boat anyway, but luckily a guy who spoke some English happened along.   He was able to confirm that the boat to Wat Lao n o longer ran (if indeed it ever had) + he also told us where the regular boats were going, so we decided to go on one of those.  Which was the same as we had decided to do anyway, but at least we knew where we were going.

It was a good trip.  At first, the view along the khlong was predictable – wooden shacks + shops crowded on top of one another, but as we went out further, the scene gradually changed, became more open – there were even modern houses in their own grounds, worth a fortune, I should imagine.  The khlong was clearly no anachronism – it was being used as a fast + efficient means of transport for goods of all types, from a flotilla of logs chained together + oulled by a small tug-launch, down to one-woman floating food stalls.  The river was filthy, being a repository for everyone’s rubbish, yet was both a recreation centre for the kids, diving, swimming, splashing, + everybody’s bathtub.  There were a few dug-out canoes being paddled about, generally by the very old or the very young, but mostly the boats were long-tail, using an ordinary car-engine mounted on gimbals to turn a small propeller at the end of a long pole projecting way out to the stern, more like a food mixer than a means of propulsion.  It seemed something of a makeshift arrangement to me, so it was surprising to see it in such universal use – there was not a regular outboard motor to be seen.  These improvisations clearly did the job, however – one boat with a couple of young guys in it came racing past us at an enormous speed, spraying us with water.  It was funny to see another one, with a lone policeman in it, in hot pursuit – a speed cop of the khlongs.

At the end of our trip, we had a coke at a waterfront café – that’s not as romantic as it sounds, it was a seedy wooden shop, + we sat on rickety wooden stools – + then caught another boat back.  Interestingly, we were charged half as much for the return journey as the outward, which presumably meant we were charged double the first time.  Not to worry.

When we returned, we walked to Wat Po, a notable tourist destination, within easy walking distance, tho’ we managed to walk all the way around the perimeter before we found the entrance.  We then discovered it cost B10 entrance, so decided that just I should go in.  This was just as well, I think, for it was disappointing.  The best view in the temple, of the variously sized decorated chedis (or spires) could be obtained from the gateway itself.  The main attraction, an enormous reclining Buddha, was very disappointing, being patched + peeling + without splendour.  It was also depressing that so much of the wat seemed to have been turned over to the “money-changers” – stalls selling tourist merchandise, art-work of dubious quality, + coke at double price.

Walked home to 2i5 across the park.  Val wasn’t feeling too well, so she had a nap while I ate a light snack, then strolled down the road to see some Thai boxing.  It was a lot more expensive than we had expected, B100 a ticket, so maybe it was just as well I was on my own.  It certainly was a different sort of sporting experience.  I have only seen ordinary boxing on TV, but this was different, being both more subdued, lacking the fanfare hype of the big clashes, + more fervent.  Each pair of boxers (there were 9 bouts scheduled in all) prayed a lot, first with their individual trainers, then alone, in the middle of the ring, combining devotional movements with an elaborate series of warming-up exercises.  And all the while they were accompanied by live music, strange, rhythmic, oriental stuff.  Then it was final preparations, a loud buzz, stools out, boxers standing in their corners, the ring of the bell, + in they went, cautiously at first, watching, wary, just like any boxing match anywhere.  Except that it wasn’t.  I knew they were allowed to kick as well as punch, but I assumed the kicking would be a rarely-used addition to the real business of boxing.  In fact, it was very much the reverse – the early exploratory sparring was mostly done with the feet, + the fists only came into play when things started to warm up.  Plus there was a lot more wrestling allowed than in regular boxing.  It seemed to be an allowable, +, judging by the crowd’s reaction, much approved ploy to hold one’s opponent in a fierce clinch, + then tackle him with sideways blows with the knee to the kidney + ribs – vicious stuff.

Giving myself one round to appraise the fighters, I managed to pick the winners to the first 3 bouts.  The first one I judged in defiance of convention, at least to the tenets of ordinary boxing, for while the guy in the blue shorts was instructed at each round’s end in the best Angelo Dundee style, the red fellow + his trainer simply prayed together (a technique some more-scientifically-minded coaches might profitably adopt.)  However, my choice was not entirely whimsical, for although there was little to choose between Red + Blue in terms of their kicking ability, Red was by far the better boxer.

Fight 2 was equally simple: Red was pretty + danced stylishly to the rhythm of the drums, but Blue hit so much harder.  By the end of Bout 3, when I’d done it again, I was beginning to daydream about the money I could be making, doubling my stake each time.  But it was, I realised even then, no more than a daydream.  The gambling around the deeply-terraced stadium was frenetic, but to me totally incomprehensible.  Various guys who were bookies would hold up so many fingers, 2, 3, 4, but what they meant – odds, the round? – I had no idea.  There wasn’t even a way I could tell which guy they were taking bets on – there were one or other, stranger gestures, just to make sure I couldn’t understand.  And in any case, my dreams of winning a quick fortune disappeared when I, mentally, backed the wrong guy in the next 2 bouts.  By the 6th bout, I’d seen enough, + my head was beginning to pound a little from the noise, + the bout looked unexciting, so I left.

Val was feeling a good bit better, so we went out for a drink – Mekong whiskey + coke.

Another busy day – considering we are just idling away time, we do seem to be getting to see quite a bit. And both activities – the canals and the boxing – had their rewards.

April 8th 1984

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The bridge over the River Kwai

Set our alarm + got up at an extraordinarily early hour, so that we would still have time to go + have some breakfast before getting over to a different railway station, just across the river.  We were however, nonetheless a little pushed for time, so we were particularly annoyed when our breakfast at Ronny the Rat’s (the only place open) was so appallingly slow in coming.  It wasn’t as tho’ they were particularly busy, or that our order was very complicated.  So, by the time we left, we were both even more pushed for time than we had been before, + flustered.  Both of which factors contributed to the balls-up we made of getting to the station.  Tho’ the Tourist Office, in giving us some confusing information, had also played their part.  At any rate, we got on the wrong bus, going in the wrong direction, + tho’ we got off again as soon as we discovered this bus wasn’t right, we promptly got on another bus which wasn’t right either.  Our train for Kanchanaburi left at 8 – we had about 20 mins to get there from where we now found ourselves.  There was only one way we cold possibly get there now, by taxi (or tuk-tuk) – with the help of a Tourist Police officer to whom we’d gone for help, we were able to negotiate with a driver.  So I was furious when, arriving at a price that wasn’t too painful, Val said she didn’t want to pay.  So off went our driver, + with him our chances of making it to the station.  I blew up at Val for penny-pinching, + in a rage, stormed off.  It didn’t take me long to relent however – amongst other considerations I had the key to our room in my pocket – but I was very very pleased to see Val, who had also turned back.  I was contrite for having raged at her; she was contrite for having turned down our chance.  That’s the trouble with attempting to have a democratic relationship.  Mum + Dad never fought, at least in public, because Dad made all those sorts of decisions.

Our emotional response was to give up on the day entirely, but once we’d both calmed down, + were able to think about things, we decided to try to get to Kanchanaburi by bus.  Which we did.  It wasn’t a very comfortable ride, it must be said, but I lost myself in a book of short stories by J D Salinger, + survived the discomfort.

On arriving at Kanchaburi we went straight to the Tourist Office.  They were very helpful, + supplied us with a simple map of the area, as well as providing a machine supplying fresh, cold water.  So, thus equipped, we set off to explore the town.  First stop was the JEATH museum, run by a Buddhist monk.  Kanchanaburi is best known as the site of the bridge over the River Kwai; it was also at the head of the Japanese death railway, + the museum has been set up to commemorate those 2 constructions, + the people who worked on them.  It was, in many ways, a primitive museum, housed in a rude bamboo hut, apparently modelled after the huts the POWs lived in at the time.  The exhibition was mostly of old black + white photographs, + many of these were deteriorating.

From there, we walked along the river a little, + caught the simple ferry across the river.  On the other side we were walking to one of the town’s 2 war cemeteries, + then on to some caves another km or 2 beyond that.  In fact, however, we were lucky enough not to have to walk very far, getting a lift to both places.  Which was just as well, since it was a good bit further than we’d anticipated.  And we didn’t have all that much time – we’d arrived in town at 11, + the train went back at 2.25 (we were determined not to have to return by bus as well.)  The cemetery was laid lout as an attractive garden, peaceful, + even beautiful, but lacking in the emotion or character that the years lend to such a place.  The caves were very odd, being in the grounds of, + administered by, a wat.  We went down some steps to a locked gate across the entrance to a cave,  but we had been spotted, + 2 small boys came running across to open up for us, + act as our guides.  We needed them too, for the place was a veritable labyrinth.  The first 2 caves were laid out as temples, with buddhas + other religious images, but from then on they were more or less as nature designed them, with the exception of brilliant fluorescent lighting, useful to guide one’s path, but destructive of any atmosphere.  The path was tortuous + narrow, with a number of tight squeezes thro’ tiny gateways + arches.  Quite a lot of stalactites, but most had been broken off – a pity.  Received a shock when we reached the end, + one of the boys (dressed in the robes of a novice, as well) asked for B30.  I thought this extortionate, +m gave them 20 – even that was considerably more than we’d anticipated.

We had to walk all the way back to town, a long + tedious journey in blazing sunshine.  We were running short of time by now, + were dealt a severe blow when, after wasting time chasing around the bus station, we discovered there was no bus out to the Bridge – that was what we were told, in any case.  So, in something of a panic, we rushed out to the main road, determined to hitch if necessary.  We didn’t have to, luckily – a bus came along, took us along to the junction to the station – + after a swift march along the road, we arrived at our destination: the Bridge over the River Kwai.  It was now about 2.10, so didn’t have very much time at all, but in fact everything worked out very well.  We discovered we could board the train here, rather than have to return to town, + really there wasn’t all that much to see: just an ordinary iron bridge across an ordinary muddy river.  The whole David Lean, Alec Guinness thing was cinematic fabrication.

Drank an ice-cold Pepsi, so cold that it hurt, + climbed on the train.  Sat thro’ a long + uneventful train journey, arrived at Thornburi Station at a little after 6, caught the half-baht ferry across the river, + strolled back form there across the park.  Had we but known, we could have strolled there this morning, without getting in such a flap.  I bought a replacement kite, this one in the shape of an owl, + we joined the thousands of others hanging onto the other end of a piece of string.  Kevin II proved a far more erratic + unpredictable fellow than his predecessor.  Our first kite had sat placid in the sky – this one soared + swooped at whim, sometimes plunging to earth.  We were very tired after a long day, so were happy to retire at an early hour, as soon as we had eaten.

A pretty full-on day, what with breakfast frustration, transport confusion, and a lot to see, but in the end we managed everything successfully, even at a severe cost to our mental well-being.

April 7th 1984

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We went out today to Ayutthaya, one of the old capitals of Thailand.  We’d intended to go out by train, but Mr Pao Boon, our landlord, reckoned the trains only went early in the morning, + as he is generally a magnificently reliable guide, we took his word for it, + caught the bus up to the Northern bus station, + climbed on to a bus.  Mr P supplied us with notes written in Thai to show to bus conductors etc, to smooth our path.  The bus ride was not at all pleasant, however, the bus was crowded, the seats cramped, + it was very fortunate I had a Time magazine to lose myself in.

We were dropped off on the outskirts of the town, + had a cold drink while we gathered our wits, tried to gain our bearings, + rebuffed the attempts of the puk-puk drivers to take us on conducted tours around the ruins – we had to be pretty rude to dissuade one particularly persistent character.  It was around noon, + we spent three and a half hours or so wandering around the various ruins – it was quite a hike, as there were a huge number of temples etc, scattered all over town, + we weren’t able to see more than half a dozen different sites.  We had a map, but it seemed out of sync with reality, but we managed to get around the most important ones within walking distance.  They were impressive too, not much more than the ruined piles of chadis, tho’ quite a lot of restoration work had been, + still was, going on.  Which makes a nice balance.  Like the Mayan temples, the temples were too old + too remote from my own experience for me to feel any humanity associated with them.  But it was an interesting enough day, tho’ exhausting.  We walked out to the station at the finish, + tho’ the first train that was supposed to come thro’ didn’t, for some unknown reason, the next one did.  A quiet journey back – we had to sit apart, so lost ourselves in our own thoughts.  That was quite enough for us for the day – we showered, had dinner, went to bed.

Pure sight-seeing, of the type that occupies quite a bit of our time. But interesting enough, for all that. But, like I say, we are just finding ways to occupy ourselves, until we can be on our way once again.

April 6th 1984

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Arrived back in Bangkok feeling very weary indeed, + I was none too pleased when our Thai neighbour woke me 15 mins before we pulled into the station.  I’ve no idea why, but I imagine he thought he was doing me a favour – he had a big pleasant smile.  We stumbled out of the station, + after a few minutes, necessary to re-orient ourselves, we found a 35 bus stop, + from there were soon back in Kaosarn Rd.  We woke Mr Pao Boon to let us in – he didn’t, of course, have a word of complaint.  Our previous penthouse apartment was unavailable, unfortunately, but there was a room, + that’s the important thing.  We were both feeling pretty bushed, but held off from going to bed until we had finished our business – most notably getting our air tickets.  Killed some time until the travel agents’ office opened with some breakfast – not very special.  Were hoping there would be no problems regarding our tickets, but, of course, there was.  We had expected to be able to pay for them with US dollars, but it turned out it was necessary to pay in baht.  Which would normally have caused no problem, but today was a bank holiday.  One of us would have to go down to Siam Sq, where the Bangkok Bank was operating an exchange service.  I wasn’t happy, but offered to go down to change the money, while Val tackled the washing.  I knew which bus to catch, so it didn’t really take long, but it was still a pain.  Returned + handed over the danegeldt – did I mention it before?  US$95 each – + we were booked + conformed to Hong Kong, flying out Wednesday am.  Not that I yet had the tickets, but they were promised for Monday, + I couldn’t really believe that the travel agents would take the money + run, not for a measly 200 bucks anyway.

I was finally able to take a nap, + most welcome it was too.  Val woke me during the afternoon, + we went down to the Tourist Information office to find out about the various trips we’ve got planned for our last few days in Bangkok.  And then sought out, + found, a used bookshop.  Unfortunately, they didn’t exchange books at all, but I was able to get a copy of the latest edition of Time for just B3, as opposed to the normal 40.  We ate our dinner, as usual, at one of the Kaosan eating-houses.  Their menus are pretty unexciting, but it’s just too much of a pain to get to anywhere else.  Finished off with a cup of coffee at a small restaurant that we had considered for breakfast.  I had felt really bad, actually, because the man running the place had tried so hard to please, + we had, semi-unintentionally, cut him off.  I feel very bad when I feel that someone is trying yet I’m not doing my share.  The old feller was pitifully grateful when we went in in the evening to have one cup of coffee.  It was, admittedly, an expensive cup of coffee, but it was also bloody good, the best on the street.  And they had today’s paper.

Returned to our room, where we busied ourselves with sorting out some of our paperwork + writing a few postcards.  After quite a bit of that, I suddenly became very hungry again, so went out to grab a sandwich + an ice-cream.  Overheard one pom talking to a couple of others about China + about the Hong Kong smuggling trips.  Don’t know whether I’m more, or less, relieved to hear conformation of what Klaus told us.  Good to hear of another person who’s managed it quite successfully, but trust it isn’t such common knowledge that the competition is too great.  I was eating in just about the only café still open (which is, admittedly, one of the filthiest as well) when I happened to look round + see the most enormous rat I have ever seen, up on the sink scavenging some food.  That place was instantly christened Ronny the Rat’s.

And back to Bangkok, back to the home from home that is Mr Pao Boon’s. And then business; I had assumed that we already had our tickets, but clearly not, and though it did cause something of a chore, it’s not as though I had anything better to do with my time… except sleep, of course.

April 5th 1984

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Near Chiang Mai

We had intended taking a trip out of town to see an “elephants-at-work” show, but decided on a lie-in instead – we were both pretty tired.  We killed some time instead by wandering around town.  Val was looking for some weaving or something suitably ethnic, but wasn’t able to find anything she wanted, apart from a very simple embroidered band.  However I, who hadn’t been looking for anything, bought an embroidered waistcoat.  We collected our bags, bought some provisions for our journey on the train tonight- then had some lunch at the ice-cream restaurant we’d discovered last night.  We weren’t really terribly ethnic tho’, I’m afraid – Val had a crab salad while I indulged in a cheeseburger, a coke, + (yet another) banana split.  I spotted an American in the place with a Time magazine, so asked him where he’d bought it – I’d been searching unsuccessfully for wither a Time or a Newsweek for much of the morning.  Having obtained the necessary directions, I set off to buy one – quite a trek, but worth it, I thought.  It was only after I returned in triumph, Newsweek in hand, + we had shouldered lour bags, + set off for the station, that we spotted a pile of them outside a shop 2 blocks away.  I couldn’t believe it.

I have another cold, by the way – once again, a roll of toilet paper is my constant companion.  I’ve grown accustomed to regular visitations, but all the same, a cold is not a welcome companion, especially with a long + relatively uncomfortable train journey in prospect.

Aboard the train it was very hot – for once I allowed Val to read the magazine while I sat + suffered.  My motives however weren’t altruistic – I was simply determined not to repeat my mistake of the journey up, + read instead of looking at the scenery, while the scenery could be seen.  Once the light had faded, + Val had finished with the Newsweek, I first wrote a letter, while my mind was still active enough to cope (to Bruce + Hil it was)+ then occupied myself with the considerably more relaxing activity of reading.  A Newsweek lasts me a good hour and a half.  I was sleepy now but sleep came only fitfully – my cold, as I had feared, was not helping one little bit.

April 4th 1984

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We were determined to move this morning.  We were finding our current place depressing + seedy, + our impromptu trip around Chiang Mai, if it had done nothing else, had shown us where a few of the other guest-houses were.  So, without even pausing to have some breakfast, we packed up + left.  We headed immediately to the area we’d seen last night, close to the night-market, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as we had imagined to change, since those places, we discovered, were appallingly expensive.  I had a look at one room, for interest sake; they wanted B100 for a dark, dank, airless little cell.  We were left in a bit of a quandary now, however, not knowing which way to direct our steps.  A becak driver must have sensed our indecision, + homed in on us as we were wandering aimlessly down the street.  He flashed a display of guest-houses’ business cards at us, + promised, for B5, to take us to a B50 place.  We generally ignore such pitches, but our bags were heavy, the sun was getting hotter, + we didn’t know where to go, so we said yes, + climbed aboard.

The place we arrived at was indeed very nice, with a big airy room + its own shower.  The problem came when we tried to check in, + the guy on the desk discovered we only wanted to stay for one night.  Obviously, he would have preferred longer-stayers (particularly as he would have to pay commission to the becak driver, but I was surprised when, after some deliberation, he decided not to let us the room – I’d have thought even a small sale would be better than none at all.  So out we went.

The becak driver, who naturally had been hanging around, then offered to take us to another place, “for free”, he kept shouting, “for free.”  So we climbed aboard once more.  Val went in to look at the next place – she wasn’t all that keen, + they wanted B60, so we said no, + started to lug our bags off the becak.  But once again, repeating his “for free” warcry, the driver wanted to take us to another place.  Presumably, he had his as yet unearned commission in mind, but one likes to think there was also  a little professional concern for our welfare mixed in there somewhere.  I was a little upset by this gallop around town, but our driver, + then Val, were able to see the funny side of things.  And there was a reasonably happy ending, since, 3rd time lucky, the next guest-house was alright.  And all’s well… as the man said.

We were finally able to have some breakfast now (I overate, as usual), +, thus replete, headed out on a shortish bus-ride to visit San Kanphang, the weaving village.  It was the use of the word village, in the tourist brochures etc which misled me.  I was expecting something similar to the tribal villages we had visited in the north, tho’ on a slightly more commercial basis.  What we found, in fact, was a small suburban town, a village only in the sense of not being very big.  There was weaving certainly, but this took place in factories.  We were, however, able to visit one of these, + it was interesting.  We both learned a lot about the making of silk.  That was, however, just about the only good point of the expedition.  I took the opportunity to buy myself a silk tie, however – a tie from Tieland.

We had passed thro’ the umbrella-making “village” on the way out (a village in just the same way) + I declined getting off on the return journey, as we had originally planned.  Val popped off, however, while I carried on back, + got stuck in to the washing – my turn.  We collected our photos from the developers – a pleasing collection they turned out to be too – + then we went to the night-market.  We’ve seen many better, + the meal I had was something of a dismal failure.  I had chicken, which was so-so (it looked much nicer than it was) with some perfectly revolting cooked vegetables.  The evening was salvaged gastronomically when we discovered a restaurant which served good + respectably-cheap ice-cream.  I had my perennial favourite, a banana split.  (I remember, when I worked at the casino, I used to make them for myself as a treat.  Whoppers too.  No wonder I got so fat.)

The usual problems when trying to do any sort of negotiated business. It did (and does) continue to get me down, but the clue is probably in attempting to maintain a good temper. And in the end we managed to find somewhere to stay.

April 3rd 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

A few after-effects to report.  First, we awoke very late, but this was hardly surprising when we had been up so late.  Second, I still felt stoned, but fortunately this soon passed – there’s not much worse than still being under the influence the morning after.  And third – Hans as well as Bas had been sick overnight – I had even felt a twinge or 2 of the same myself, but luckily managed to keep it under control.  However, neither of us were in any state to do what we had intended + go for another walk, along a different trail, into the hills.  We were still determined, however (or rather I was) to head back to Chiang Mai today, tempting as the place was.  We couldn’t be sure that they weren’t becoming nervous about our continued absence back at the guest-house, + had alerted the Police to launch a nationwide search for us, especially since, so far as anybody knew, we had gone west.  So instead of our walk, we had a lazy morning.  Bas, however, unloaded his domestic problems.  He’s been married for 6 years to a Thai woman, formerly a prostitute, it would seem, but his marriage is going thro’ a bad time.  Plus there are 2 kids to complicate matters.  Plus, it would seem, he is having a lot of difficulties trying to work out which direction he is turning his life.  All very distressing, but I must say I found his outpour very embarrassing.  It’s what comes of being British, I suppose.  After all, we barely know him, + I think a shared drug experience is only superficially deep, if that isn’t too oxymoronic.  Eventually, he nearly broke down completely, + Hans, fortunately alive to our discomfort, took him for a walk.  This was the last we saw of wither of them (tho’ we have their addresses, + intend to keep in touch.)

At about 1, we said goodbye + caught the minibus back to Traton.  Again, I sat on the roof – there was no crush, but it’s the most pleasant place to sit.  We had a drink in the local café while we were waiting for the bus to Chiang Mai, one of a pair of young Buddhist monks introduced himself + started chatting – as usual with such conversations he wanted to practise his English (which was, actually, very good.)  They both travelled on the same bus as us as far as a little beyond Fang, the next town, but he told us he was shortly returning to Bangkok, + invited us to visit him at his monastery there.  I would like to do so, if possible.

To Chiang Mai, the ride was long but fairly uneventful, but our real problems came when we arrived.  We had foolishly lost our map of the city, + couldn’t really remember where the bus station was in relation to the guest-house.  We tried asking, but weren’t really sure of the name of the place, + in any case it was unlikely anyone would remember or know it.  So in the end we bowed to public pressure + our own fatigue + took a taxi-truck – a shop-keeper who spoke a little English was good enough to direct the driver for us to where he thought we wanted.  Once again, tho’ there were problems – we thought (because of what our landlady had told us) our guest-house was near the night-market, so that was where we were taken.  We discovered, however, that the night-market was a good distance away.  At least, tho’, we now knew where we were, + after a row between Val + I in the back of the truck, we finally agreed to pop into the front + try to direct the driver.  This didn’t work either, since she wasn’t able to cope with the one-way system, so we got out anyway.  We knew where we were, + it wasn’t that far back,  but we’d had to pay B10 for the privilege, + the experience hadn’t put us in the best of moods.





Back at the guest-house, it seemed my worried about them being concerned for our safety were entirely misplaced – we could very obviously have been gone a month, + they wouldn’t even have noticed.  We collected our bag, checked into a room, + went immediately out (sorry, after a shower) to have some dinner.  It was off to Daret’s again – I had my heart set on another steak, + Val was going to do the same.  The meal was, however, disappointing – generally the case when you build something up in your mind.  I had a beer, which I didn’t enjoy in the slightest, I’ve gone off the stuff.  And the steak was alright, but not as nice as I remembered it.  And, the meal over, I was just in the process of paying the bill when, of a sudden, I knew I was going to be sick.  I dashed out the back to the toilet, + made it just in time.  Whether it was the beer, or a delayed reaction from the opium, I couldn’t be sure – I’d reckon the beer.

After our adventures up in the hills, back to (relative) civilisation, in the shape of Chiang Mai. Our flight out of Bangkok has been booked, so really we are just killing a bit of time until that time arrives.

April 2nd 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Panga and his family

The night was very, very cold.  Panga had been generous with his blankets, but we still ended up wrestling for whatever cover there was in the middle of the night.  A rude awakening in the morning too – we heard various bumps + shouts, then Val complained to me that  a man was peering at her thro’ a crack in the door.  What was more, he seemed totally undaunted when she stared back.  At the same time, Panga was calling on us to get up + open the door.  So I leapt from bed, pulled on some clothes, + swept back the door to find myself face to face with a largish soldier (sorry, policeman) with a very large rifle.  Under the circumstances, I considered it relatively brave of me to tell him off – he can’t have understood the words, but would have recognised the emotion I’m sure.  It seems we were to be searched, presumably for drugs, so while Val quickly dressed, I pulled the bag out for it to be looked at out in the dining room.  They were extremely thorough, going thro’ our bag + checking a number of its contents, as well as giving our bedroom a shakedown – needless to say, they found nothing.  Panga was also given a going-over, he told us later, but he is a careful man, + owned several properties, so all of his illegal substances were well cached, away from prying eyes.  We don’t know why the exercise took place – Panga tells us it was a first time ever for him, but one of his guests was careless enough to lose or have stolen their wallet a day or 2 ago, + that may well have stirred up some mud.  Panga has to be extra careful, + conceals his activities (he smokes opium every day) from all fellow-Thais, tho’ he is happy to share the experience with foreigners.  The police, in their mottled assortment of uniforms, milled around for a while, asked a few questions + then left – amiability all round.  For us, it made an interesting experience, another story for the pub, but Panga must be careful.

After breakfast we set out on a walk, hoping to visit at least an Aka tribe.  Panga had explained the route + drawn us a reasonable map, so we hoped not to get lost this time around.  At first we followed the road, which took us past some hot springs – no development here beyond a broken-down hut + a sign, but no chance to bathe either, even if the water had been cool enough to allow it.  5 or 6 kms further, + we came to our marker, a school for the Chinese refugee village here, + we took a path from around the back.  It was steep, but we’d been forewarned, + to our delight we were able to cope reasonably easily.  We met some Aka ladies on their way down – their costume is unmistakable – a short black skirt, embroidered bodice, + tell black cap, onto which is attached shiny silver baubles + often, coins, frequently British or Indian, presumably obtained from the time of British occupation of Burma, from where many of the tribes come.  They were happy to have their picture taken, too, but at a price: B1 for each participant, not counting the 2 horses.

When we came to the village, not long after, we could see that this wasn’t an isolated policy – it seemed that just about every woman + child in the place clustered around us, asking for a photo to be taken – with appropriate recompense.  We soon exhausted our small change, since, despite their pushiness, they are extremely photogenic.  They also pressed, quite literally at times, their handicrafts upon us – this was the hard sell.  Most of it, however, was pretty cheap + shoddy – shell bracelets, bamboo pipes.  Eventually, I bought a pipe, + Val a waist cloth, more as a gesture of friendliness than out of any desire.  A couple of girls were weaving, but we saw no work of quality that they could have produced.  When it became obvious that our supply of money + patience had worn out, we were left alone, indicating their profound lack of interest in us.  The men, interestingly, had remained aloof at all times, either because they had more dignity or because they were busy, building a new house.

We considered trying to move on to a Lahu village reasonably near by, but the map wasn’t clear, the advice in the village confusing, there were several paths, + Panga had advised us against trying it without a guide, so we gave up on that idea, + started to retrace our steps.  After a while, however, it looked as tho’ we might be able to follow a tail parallel to the road  but way up on the ridge overlooking it.  Surely we wouldn’t be able to get lost up there, with the road keeping us moving in the right direction, so we took that instead.  For a while all was well, but the further we went, the less likely it was that Val would be prepared to turn back if things didn’t go well.  And the incentive to continue was increased when, way down to our left, ie the opposite way from the road, Val spotted a small village.  She made it clear she wanted to get there if possible – my own doubts increased, but I allowed myself to over ride them, + we pushed on.

From the top of one charred crest – the farmers had obviously been busy recently burning the stubble off their fields; indeed, it was going on right now, a mile or 2 ahead of us, + very ominous + threatening it sounded – it began to be clear we would not be able to get across to the village to our left.  We should have cut off left well before this in order to manage that, but as if in compensation, we could also see a small village off to the right, halfway between us + the road.  The trail was by no means clear however, but we pushed on.  We soon ran into trouble, however – the trail swung left, + tho’ it headed in the right direction for the first village, it also passed uncomfortably close to one of the stubble fires which were filling the air with smoke + loud cracks.  Neither of us wanted to be involved with that.  I was for going back, but Val clearly disagreed, so I suggested we break off from the path + head across country down to where we could see another path heading over to the 2nd village.  It seemed reasonably sensible; after all, the path was not all that far away, just 2 or 3 hundred yards, but it turned out to be a grievous + stupid error.  The hill was much steeper than it looked; there was little or no grip; there were steep gullies running straight down the side of the hill which could only be crossed with difficulty, + forced us to take circuitous routes to avoid them if at all possible, + made us constantly re-assess our route; the plants were vicious, scratching our arms, legs, necks wherever possible.  In short, it looked a lot easier than it was, + those few hundred yards were a half-hour nightmare.

The very last section was the worst of all, for Val at any rate.  I spotted what seemed to be a short-cut across to the trail, so headed across there, but Val, aware that at so many other times what appeared a simpler route had a difficult stretch, decided to stick to the original plan.  As it happened, my route was both simpler + faster; in addition, Val’s took her both higher + thro’ the heart of a charred section that I had been able to skirt.  By the time she got down to me she was in a dreadful state.  Crossing the burnt stubble she had kicked up a load of dust, + that, in combination with the fierce heat, forced her quite literally to choke.  Luckily, we had a mouthful or two of water left in our bottle  – after drinking that, she was a bit better.  So we had made it across, but it had been a foolish, unnecessary, + desperately uncomfortable venture.

In contrast, the rest of our trip home was an anti-climax.  Five mins brought us to a stream, where we stopped to wash off some of the muck we had collected, + then into the village.  It was Lahu, I think, but if not overtly hostile, certainly not friendly.  We passed thro’ without a word, a wave, or a smile… not that there were many people about.  From the road, it was a weary trudge, + we were well-pleased to arrive back at Panga’s.  He was just off to his property in the hills behind the village, where he had promised to smoke some opium with us, but we were in no state to accompany him straight away, so he told us to come up later – there was no trouble to find the place, he said.  So we showered, + rested for a short while, drank prodigious quantities of water + a couple of warm Sprites, then strolled out to join him.

Except that it didn’t turn out to be anything like as simple as that.  We had been told we wouldn’t be able to miss him because he’d taken the truck up, + we couldn’t help but spot that.  But somehow, we reached the top of the hill, from where there was no more road, with no trace of him.  So, immensely frustrated, all we could do was walk all the way back down again.  Siva wasn’t able to help, + obviously as far as she was concerned, finding Panga was too simple for explanation.  2 other guests had arrived while we were away, a couple of Dutchmen.  One of them I took a bit of an instant dislike to (tho’ that was more a symptom of my mood than any defect on his part.)  The other was taller, had been to Panga’s before, + suffered from a stutter.

I almost gave up on seeing Panga at all, but decided to give it another crack so, feeling immensely weary, we set off up the hill.  Shortly afterwards, we were overtaken by the Dutch pair, who roared past us on the motor-bike they had come up on.  I felt unreasonably jealous, worried, I suppose, that they might disturb our promised opium session.  In fact, however, their presence had one immediate benefit – hearing the noise of the motor-bike, Panga emerged from the undergrowth, luckily just as we were walking past.  And the mystery of his disappearance was explained.  Normally, the truck would have been parked on the main track, but today he had attempted to forge a new road to his property by driving it up the tiny path leading that way.  In the process, he had got himself into a hell of a pickle – the path had been far too narrow + the truck had slipped over the edge; it was  now stuck.  Annoyingly, we had seen the truck the first time we had come up, but had dismissed it as a wreck – Val had somehow instilled the idea in both our heads that Panga’s truck was yellow, whereas, on the bits that weren’t patched or scraped, it was white.  The 2 Dutch guys came down on their bike – Panga was m ore than pleased to see Hans, + we all set to to see if we couldn’t pull, push, or lever the truck out of its position.  However, even with the help of a couple of other locals, + trying all 3 methods, sometimes singly, sometimes in combination, we got nowhere.  Indeed, at one stage it looked as tho’ we were actually making the situation worse,  but by the end, when bad light stopped play, it was  more or less back where it had been when we started – a reasonably honourable draw.

Bas, the other Dutchman, amazed everyone with his command of the Thai language, but he has been married to a Thai girl for six years, + has spent the last of those living permanently here.  Perhaps that’s what I’ll have to do – find a willing Thai maid.

Dinner tonight was an absolute mountain of fried rice + vegetables, topped off with the twin peaks of a couple of eggs.  Luckily, I was ravenous, so able to do mine full justice.  The evening was quiet + subdued, largely because we had a Thai visitor sitting in the living-room.  I was disappointed, realising that with Panga’s caution, he was likely to call the evening off… + this was our last opportunity!  Surer enough, Panga eventually announced he was off to bed.  Seeing our hopes disappear in this way, Val + I followed suit.  If our friend had been waiting for any drug action, this must have convinced him that nothing would be going on tonight, for he soon left as well, + Hans locked the gate.

We were still hovering the doorway of our room, still hoping that some action would be forthcoming.  Sure enough, they broached the subject with us immediately, in hushed tones, + Hans went off to see if Panga was really sleeping.  As we had hoped + half-expected, he wasn’t.  So much for the Dutch wrecking our dope chances!

At this point, we were introduced to the shadowy + secret world of opium.  From here on, the whole proceedings were more like religious ceremony than the studiously careless taking of the other drugs we have experienced.  We went by torchlight to Panga’s room, + had to wait while he meticulously folded two blankets + placed them close together at one end of the room.  I assumed these were meant as cushions, but apparently not – we were beckoned to sit on the 2 mattresses which, one lying along each wall, virtually filled the entire room.  Candles were lit, + we spoke in whispers, half conspiratorial, half sanctimonious.  We had all the ingredients of the Holy Sacrament, complete with High Priest to administer it.  Panga fitted together the pipe, a bamboo tube fitting tightly into a closed bowl, + unwrapped the drug, a block about the size of a large bar of soap, of a dark brown sticky substance.  Hand was the first to try a pipe – he was the only one of the four of us who had done so before.  Unlike ganja, with opium a pipe is prepared for one person at a time – Panga got to work.  Using a small stick, he scraped a small ball off the main block, + then began twirling this over the candle-flame, occasionally smoothing it on a round tin, presumably to raise the temperature evenly throughout.  Then, when he decided it was ready, Hans was called into position.  Here the 2 blankets revealed their purpose – Panga lay with his head on one, Hans on the other, facing each other.  Panga thrust the small stick into a tiny hole in the bowl of the pipe, held over the candle, so that it bubbled + vapourised, while Hans drew in the smoke.  As he did so, Panga would keep the hole filled, until it was all gone.  And that was one pipe.

Val went next, then me, then Bas, (who, because of various noises outside,   had been acting as self-appointed guard.)  I must say I found the whole thing most memorable.  I enjoyed the ritual;, was fascinated by the technical skill, + enjoyed the intimacy of the actual smoking.  In additio0n, the physical act of drawing the smoke down was not nearly as un pleasant as it is with ganja, since the smoke is not at all harsh.  As for the effect, that is difficult to say.  Not because there is no effect,  but because, as with one’s first experience of any new drug, it is difficult to separate what one actually feels from what one knows one should feel.  I felt enormously relaxed + comfortable – after a couple of pipes found it difficult to stay awake, in fact.  None of us became incoherent, but rather were able to communicate extraordinarily well.  We all got on very well – in particular, I enjoyed Hans.  He is such a nice bloke, + insisted on paying for our pipes as well.

It was interesting that our mental coherence didn’t go along with physical co-ordination, which was, when the time came to move, totally wrecked.  This wasn’t quite the end of the evening – we were all getting on so well that Val + I were happy to accept B + H’s invitation to go to their room for some ganja.  It may, however, have been a mistake.  One of the side-effects of opium is to induce vomiting – this certainly affected Bas, who had probably overdone things on his first spin at the pipe.   But no regrets, none whatever – it was all very, very pleasant.

It really was quite an extraordinary day, packed with incident, and topped with a pretty unique experience… for us, at any rate. And like I said at the time, no regrets whatever about trying it. It didn’t turn the p[air of us into opium addicts, or even to be particularly interrested in sampling it again, but the experience itself, as well as the effect of the drug, was something I asm glad we had the chance to experience.

And of course our earlier experience with Thai drug enforcement only served as an exciting appetiser. Plus there was our experiencr with the villazges, the hike, the ash… Not all of it was pleasant at the time, but all of it was memorable.