DROWNING PRACTICE: Each day at 7am, I am woken by what sounds like a helicopter crashing into my condo’s swimming pool. Looking out of my bedroom window, I see eight brown limbs thrashing about in the water while achieving virtually no forward motion. Two of my Thai neighbours are taking a morning swim. Any Bangkok visitor will be aware of the problem of zombie-walking Thais blocking the pavements, which has been addressed elsewhere in this series, but the locals’ swimming deficiencies have to be seen to be believed. While they expend little energy while walking, Thais strain every sinew in the pool. Sadly, the result is the same – forward movement so tiny that it is barely perceptible. I don’t know if Thailand has a national swimming team, but I am prepared to bet it never wins any medals. Experts predict that Bangkok will be underwater within about 20 years. There should be quite a market for rowing boats.
THROWING MONEY AWAY: Life was a lot simpler when One-2-Call prepaid mobile top-up cards were all the size of credit cards and came in a cellophane wrapper. Nowadays those issued by some 7-Eleven stores look exactly the same as till receipts. This means that I often throw them in the waste bin outside the store within seconds of spending 300 baht on their purchase. This is a particular problem after a night on the piss. I am sometimes seen scavenging through discarded somtam bags and chicken legs trying to salvage my voucher from the bin, but I have yet to succeed.
MY FILTHY APARTMENT: You know your place is dirty when even bargirls point it out. Have you seen the ratholes they inhabit? One good-hearted guest even took it upon herself to sweep up before we got down to business. My problem is that I always put off cleaning my apartment until next week. Next week becomes next month. Next month becomes next year. The final straw came when I saw tumbleweed gathering next to my bed. I did not want to recruit one of the cleaners employed by my condo because past experience told me they would simply mop the floor and then hold out their hand for 300 baht. I wanted a professional. Salvation came in the form of my friend’s Burmese maid. On her first visit I introduced her to all my unused cleaning tools and materials before telling her that I would leave her to get on with the job and return in two hours. When I returned, she simply exclaimed “Oh my god!” as she attempted to remove months of grime. A deal was quickly done to double her rate for that first session. She also gave me a list of state-of-the-art cleaning utensils to buy from Villa supermarket. This even included a small brush for her to clean between the bathroom tiles. What a woman. She has a job for life.
THE WORLD’S MOST REDUNDANT QUESTION: While Nana Plaza is not to everyone’s taste, it cannot be disputed that the Soi 4 entertainment area has no shortage of young ladies of negotiable virtue. It is basically a three-storey brothel. So I cannot see the point tuk-tuk drivers are trying to make when they approach me at the plaza’s entrance and ask “You want lady?” before offering to drive me many miles to a place with far fewer ladies. Perhaps they would be better employed standing outside McDonald’s and offering to take people to a hamburger joint.
THE BATH: Thailand’s currency is the baht. A bath is something filled with hot water that you lie in. So why does almost every sign in the kingdom refer to the currency as the bath? A grammatical clean-up is long overdue.
‘HAVE VERY BIG SIZE’: I know I could do with losing a few pounds. Probably more than a few, to be honest. That doesn’t mean I appreciate clothes vendors shouting that they have garments even able to fit my gargantuan frame as I walk past their stalls. They may as well shout “You’re a fat bastard” or “Try this for size, lardarse” as they reach under their counters for their XXXL range. The insult is compounded when they try to charge a premium because “big shirt use big material”. These negotiators have less tact than Andy Gray and Richard Keys exhibit when debating women’s rights.
THE FROG SOUND: If another Akha tribeswoman interrupts a conversation by standing in front of me with a gormless expression while making that noise by strumming some poxy wooden contraption, I swear I will not be responsible for my actions. Please, piss off back to Chiang Rai and never come back.
BARGIRLS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN BORN YET: In these difficult economic times, more Isaan parents are sending their daughters to Bangkok bars at an indecently early age. Not wanting to end up in the monkey house, I like to ensure that all my guests are of a legal age to practise their profession. So when a friend and I were joined by two comely but youthful bar hostesses who wanted to accompany us to our premises, I demanded to see my companion’s ID card. She pointed to her year of birth: 2532. “Jesus, this one’s so young she hasn’t been born yet,” I told my friend. “She won’t be born for another 500 years.” It was late and I could be forgiven for forgetting that Thailand, as in so many other ways, is different from the rest of the world. In the Thai calendar, this year is 2554, meaning that my hostess was 22.
ARAB HAGGLERS: As the number of farang visitors to Thailand has fallen in the past year or so because of financial problems in the West, the number of Arab and Indian tourists has gone off the charts. You would think that they would fit easily into Thailand’s bargaining culture. Not so. Arabs drive such a hard bargain that the locals view them with the sort of disdain they usually reserve for Cambodians. Even so, I was shocked to be behind an Arab at the counter in my local 7-Eleven who was trying to negotiate a discount on a tube of toothpaste that the assistant had already swiped. “42 baht, please,” she said. “I give you 30 baht … good price,” the Middle Eastern shopper replied, obviously believing he was in a souk. “Cannot. The price is 42 baht,” she pleaded. He shook his head at such a refusal to negotiate and walked out without his toothpaste.
PAVEMENT BARFINES: The entirely illegal and unlicensed street bars that pop up along The Miracle Mile after the legal ones are forced to close are increasingly trying a new ruse – charging customers 500-baht barfines for hostesses who receive no payment from the bars other than commissions on lady-drinks. It is patently absurd but all part of Thailand’s eccentric charm. Yes, I have grudgingly paid up on the occasions when my dick has overruled my brain. I am consoled by the memory of a farang sitting next to me on one of those plastic stools. He was eating a hamburger and told the bar’s “owner” that he didn’t want a drink and just wanted a few minutes to finish his burger. “I am afraid I will have to ask you to leave my bar,” said the stern-faced woman. In that instance he became the first human being ever to be asked to leave a public pavement for the crime of not buying illegally sold alcohol.