Fear, Loathing and Losing The Ashes in Bangkok

Twenty-two professional sportsmen battle it out for over a month hoping to win one of sport’s least impressive looking trophies. It’s the sort of competition that could have only been invented by an Englishman.

It was a Wednesday morning and I was enjoying my vacation. I was lounging around in my underpants, trying to read one of Poe’s onerous, preponderous and turgid short stories in they style that only Poe could write them,  thank god, because if all writing was like Poe’s then being illiterate wouldn’t be considered such a bad thing.

My phone rang, my ear was quickly bombarded by the staccato speech that produced words like a Gatling gun produces bullets. It was a call from my Filipino attorney, he had landed in Bangkok and he was urgently in need of a visa for Viet Nam, five kilos of northern Thai coffee, and a good place to watch cricket. He knew that all I was good for was only the coffee, although I was determined to offer my expertise on the visa front as well. The cricket match started tomorrow at five in the evening, we were to meet at a bar in downtown Bangkok where  we could watch men play an esoteric sport, and where we could formulate and discuss the sorts of ideas that flew in the face of convention and common decency.

It had all gotten too much for me, my attorney had reenacted scenes from a host of West End shows while the Ambassador appeared to be intensely negotiating the release of hostages that had been captured rebel Guatemalan communists. Reality had long ago been subsumed by a reckless acceptance of the twisted and the perverse. We had gone too far now, too much had been said to turn back, only one thing was certain, the evening could only get worse from here on in.

Although having lived in Thailand for over a decade I could never be described as one who appreciates the benefits of travel.  In this time I have been to Bangkok only a handful of times, and have only been to the beach twice. Instead I’m much more comfortable making cups of tea and reading books, but here I was, being presented with an opportunity for mindless, reckless and irresponsible behaviour in one of the most sin ridden cities in the world. I knew my attorney had lived quite a life for the ten years he had spent in Bangkok, and that he would have the geographical sagacity and social connections to facilitate a unique happening. I was also well aware that my attorney had never caught on to the notion espoused by some former drug users that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them. And neither have I, for that matter.

Mitchell Johnson loping up to bowl, a head full of bad intentions, resembling something like Herman Munster the morning after a meth binge, snarling, hostile, a complete bastard if you happened to be standing at the other end of the wicket.

We arrived at a bar just off Sukhumvit Road, the attorney was immediately halloed enthusiastically by a number of weary, middle aged looking men sat around a table. Salutations, hugs, swearing, and insults  were suitably exchanged, followed by more swearing and insults. Once these formalities had been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, the Filipino introduced me to his associates which initiated another volley of insults and swearing.

It had always been our objective to watch the cricket, but from the moment we arrived people seemed seemed to be shuttling themselves with a nervy sense of alacrity back and forth to the toilet. Not that the cricket required much concentration, the Australian batsmen were disposing the English bowlers to the four corners of the ground (no mean task given that they play on an oval).

Over time an inverse relationship was developing between the number of runs being scored by the Australian batsmen and the number of people remaining round the table. With the Australian batsmen accumulating the sort of score that would cause a theoretical mathematician to have a wet dream, only three of us remained around the table. The Filipino myself and a Joe Pesci type of character who made frequent references to the activities and workings of the Australian Embassy. I had no idea of the role Mr. Pesci played for the embassy or if indeed he even worked there, but after a while my fascination with his employment status was replaced by the entertainment being afforded to me by my attorney and Mr. Pesci. They were involved in an intense discussion bout movies, and plays, going from one to another using a sequence of weak, sometimes spurious connections. Mr. Pesci would call out the the title of a play or a movie and this would inspire the Filipino to act out scenes from that said entertainment. In a twenty minute spell, I had been treated to the Filipino acting out a scene from some Australian play about an election, followed more ambitiously by playing the part of Brian Denehy playing the part of Willie Lomax in Death of a Salesman, but this was nothing as for his finale he finished with an inspiring scene from Gandhi. It was at this moment that I realized that those two were riding the crest of a wave I hadn’t quite caught, the wave quickly took them shorewards and I knew that I would have to go quickly looking for my surf board in the toilet if I was going to have any hope of staying in touch with them. There we sat for the rest of the night, staring out to sea, looking to catch our waves. Suddenly someone would catch a wave and begin to rant incoherently, with no reason or rationale, then fall off and sit back down on his surf board waiting for his next thought to sweep him along and hopefully wash him up upon the shores of sanity.

This was no state for a respectable man to find himself in, and what had exactly happened to us during the previous three hours is hard to say, I remember noticing that it was two in the morning and saying “I feel light headed, I could do with a walk.” After having probably settled the bills the Filipino and I walked off into the night, the lights of Bangkok reflected in or vapid, dilated eyes, and enhancing our distant, vacant grins.

By the time we had realigned our perspective of things  it was approaching three in the morning. I had to be at the airport for seven, and my expensive hotel room had become little more than a luxury locker within which my bag was stored. At some point during our bacchanalian rampage along the fetid and depraved streets of Bangkok ill luck and poor decision making led me to act on an ill advised impulse, I took the opportunity to go shopping for ladies underwear. It may have been as a result of us being constantly harassed by the gnarled, wizened harpies that were perched on bar stools, casting the dice of fate one last time for the night, hoping for one more customer that would help them to pay their electric bill, or their meth dealer. In an unspoken flash of benevolence I decided the only moral thing to do was to help these ladies. With both of us being married purchasing the professional services they were used to offering was clearly out of the question, and I couldn’t just give them cash that would be demeaning, these girls after all had their dignity.  So it was obvious that a fair and above board transaction needed to take place between us if I was to help these girls. It was then, in a moment of blinding inspiration that I declared my intent to buy the underpants of any girl willing to sell them. For a moment there was quiet, the bar girls clearly didn’t understand the terms of business I was trying to conduct, whilst my attorney struck dumb, was now struggling to understand anything. In my poorest drunken Thai I made myself understood to the harpies who quickly became excited and scuttled back into the dark recesses of the bars from which they had originally crawled out of. The Filipino was still very unsure as to what had just happened, whilst standing there dazed and slack jawed a barely dressed bar girl closely showed to him a pair of very cheap, trampy, string like underpants, and started shouting that she would take 500 baht for them. She was quickly joined by four, five, six other bar girls proudly brandishing underwear aloft in the air, as if it were their national flag. It quickly became apparent to me that due to the over supply of the desired product this had quickly become a buyers market. “So you’ll take 500” turning to another pant wielding freak “would you sell for 400?”, the girl nodded enthusiastically, ” so she’s selling for 400, put up your pants if you’ll sell for 300″. A sea of hands, arms and underpants crashed over us. In only a couple of minutes we’d purchased several pairs of underwear at an average cost per unit of around 100 baht, but more importantly we’d helped these people out and managed to retain our dignity.

Cartoon Character with Underwear on Head --- Image by © Sabet Brands/Corbis
Having purchased pieces of clothing the Filipino would be damned if he wasn’t going to wear them.

With our new found sense of self respect we decided that we were hungry and didn’t give a rat’s ass about what we should eat. This is a particularly cavalier   philosophy to adopt towards food at 3 a.m. in Bangkok, one that could well result in the aforementioned rat’s ass being the main ingredient in what we were about to consume. We found some street vendor that agreed to sell us something that might be protein on a layer of rice, covered in a shiny, gelatinous sauce.

By now the Filipino had decided that it was the right time and place to wear the procured g-string about his person, more precisely on his head. In the grand scheme of what else was going on about us this didn’t appear to me to be too ridiculous.  The Filipino and I sat ourselves down on plastic stools amidst an ocean of Johns and their hookers for the night. Indeed, it was at moments like this that it can be difficult to have faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Obviously Bangkok isn’t the white man’s culture, but by the looks of it he was definitely acclimating himself successfully into this environment. If there was anywhere on Earth that I was expecting people to be liberal minded, it was here. This would surely be the last place for those with pious, conservative values to frequent. Why should any of these swine care about a man wearing panties on his head?

We both sat there, wiped out from the excesses of the past ten hours, both of us questioning why we had ordered food, why we were here? A stocky, meat head of a man walked past my shoulder and stopped opposite the Filipino. All I could see was the back of what appeared to be an unusually muscled man. There was something in the tone of his voice and the fact that he’d walked with purpose up to the Filipino that alerted my  suspicions. I looked up and the man was speaking with an air of hostility, very closely to my attorneys face. He then pulled something out from behind his back and held it very close to the right eye of the bewildered Filipino. The man put what ever it was behind his back again, mumbled some more incomprehensible words and once again held something very closely to the Filipino’s right eye. The poor bastard didn’t have any idea what was happening, for starters the object was being held far to close for they eye of any man who had been drinking for the last ten hours to focus on, and secondly the gusset of the g string he wore on his head obstructed his view.  The implement was once again hidden behind his back. Hidden is not altogether an accurate word owing to the fact that the stranger had his back to me, I could therefore clearly see that he had been holding a fork to the Filipino’s face. Without thinking and with very undramatic ease I disarmed the stranger, who seemed equally astonished by my powers. The meat head now focused his attention on me, but strangely I appeared to have earned his respect when confiscating his fork. English appeared not to be his first language and he was even drunker than we were, but after listening to him for a couple of minutes it appeared that the Filipino wearing ladies underwear on his head was a cause of great moral discomfort to the man. Still holding onto the fork I tried to remonstrate that his sensitivities seemed a little out of place given his surroundings, and that inserting a fork into the eye of the Filipino was the wrong way to go about expressing his feelings. Now this man was huge, I could have been armed with all the forks in Bangkok, but it would have made no difference should this ape had decided to get nasty. Surprisingly since losing his fork he became relatively personable and entered into something of a debate about whether the wearing of a g-string on a persons head was acceptable behaviour. I pursued my angle that most of the behaviour of anyone after dark in this city was questionable, and conceded that in an ideal world my attorney wouldn’t be wearing a pair of lady’s underwear about his head . We chatted for perhaps quarter of an hour, in which time he told us he was a mixed martial artist from Brazil, why he lost all his aggression after being dispossessed of his spoon shall remain one of life’s great mysteries. One thing was clear to both the Filipino and I, and that us having procured so many pairs of lady’s underwear had somehow caused great cognitive and moral dissonance in the mind of the Brazilian. With us all still in possession of the desired number of eye balls, the Filipino agreed to be more discreet with the array of panties he had about his person, and took them from his head. The Brazilian now seemed happy that our behaviour was more respectful and he slunk his way back to the prostitute we was with for the night.

We had obviously sparked something off in the sensibilities of the Brazilian. Whether it had all started for him long ago as a boy in some ill advised rummaging through his grandmother’s underwear draw, we would never know.

We decided that we had done our best for the night, we were sure that we had touched the lives of those around us, and that those people would now be able to see the world a little differently.

My phone rang only a few hours later, it seemed like my attorney saw no sense in delaying the inevitable and that the common sense dictated that we were to pick up where we had barely left off a few hours ago. I had to admit that there was some form of logic to what he was proposing, perhaps more importantly I was in no state to argue reason with this man. He wasn’t waiting for me to reply to his suggestion, instead he’d seamlessly moved the conversation onto Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. All I could do was agree to meet the fool in thirty minutes at the bar beside the hotel’s swimming pool.

We were refused alcohol on the basis that it was still only 9 in the morning. The set back was simply too much for the to endure, at first the Filipino didn’t take the news with good grace and as he stood on the bar stool he ranted incoherently about fascism, liberty and the licensing laws. With the nuances of his argument going largely unheeded, he climbed down asked where the nearest toilet was, then he went to straighten himself out. For the next ten minutes I lived in fear, I had no idea what would be coming back out to meet me. One thing was clear though, we were both nearing the frontier where reason and decency gave way to sustained periods of introspection and inevitable self loathing. This thing needed to be turned around quickly or it would end up as one of those stories you read about in the Bangkok Post, “Dead Expats Found in Bangkok Hotel Room – choked to death by under a mountain of cheap lingerie.”

I waited, and after half an hour I became worried, then paranoid, and then I felt the fear. What was that sick bastard doing in there? More Bangkok Post headlines ran through my paralyzed mind. I broke out in a conspicuous sweat, and without realizing it I was speaking out loud to myself. The next five minutes passed like hours, slowly I began to accept that I would have to go and investigate.

I let myself slip off the edge of the bar stool. The combination of toxins from last night, mixed with the heat, and now this situation, resulted in sweat cascading down my face. It was hard not to look suspicious under such circumstances, people looked at me in disgust and with contempt, this is how people normally look at me but I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with it this morning. I quickened my pace, almost running by the time I got to the toilet.

I pushed the door open and entered. It was quiet, I looked in all the stalls preparing myself to find him with his trousers round his ankles clutching his chest, but nothing. I was elated not to be dealing with a corpse right now, but then started to worry where he was, “he’s somebody else’s problem now” I thought. As I was about to leave the toilet I saw on a cubicle door, a sign that had been defaced. I will never know for sure if it was the Filipino (o.k that’s a little too dramatic I could just ask him), but it had the air of paranoia about it to suggest it was.toilet-writing-toilet-graffiti-people-following-paranoid


There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant that the Lord never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.





Gonzo symbol

Jay Gatsby, Robin Williams and Holden Caulfield in the Search of a Lost People

My latest fancy is to go and indulge in the ridiculously expensive buffet breakfast in the town’s most exclusive hotel. An environment where privileged tourists just continue their privileged lives in a foreign country, whilst under the illusion they are travelling.

An eclectic mix  of early morning, international Jay Gatsbys experiencing Thailand through a pair of Benjamin Franklin tinted Ray Bans.

A man who bares a haunting resemblance to Robin Williams, just younger and less dead, merrily makes his way towards a mound of bacon, affectionately tapping people from all corners of the earth, on their shoulders and elbows; like some modern day messiah trying to heal a collection of cosmopolitan ass holes. Encouraging them to remove their blinkers of cash that restrict their world view to an endless cycle of infinity pools, manicures, pearl necklaces, opera, fine wines and fancy hats, leading to their inevitable discontent, disillusionment and ultimately their grateful death.

It’s Holden Caulfield’s idea of hell, as Japanese, Korean, European Caucasian phonies in sandals, flip flops and clogs look amongst a pile of sausages for the real Thailand.

Dressed in fishing pants, cut off jeans and Lacoste polo shirts they try to project the image of a backpacker whilst lathered in La Prairie skin cream. As they make their way back to their tables in their minds they’re roughing it in the verdant jungle, or steaming mangrove swamps. Their plates piled high with more calories than are consumed by an average sized hill tribe. But this isn’t the time to compare and contrast the calorific intakes of the rich and poor, because to be honest I couldn’t give a fuck. For too long now I have been frustrated by the division of wealth, the inequality of opportunity and the exploitation of poverty in thailandthe vulnerable, but I’m too old and too tired to care anymore. Instead I have chosen to become the grandest phoney of them all; eating my breakfast in a place I can ill afford, aspiring to become one of the rich , privileged, elitist assholes I pretend to hate. At least I’ve achieved the asshole part.

I’ve just finished my fifth cup of coffee and it’s not even 8.30, it’s time to ride the crest of this caffeine wave to the shores of my next hypocritical discontent.


Confessions of a Jetlagged Manic Depressive


Degenerative Personality Disorder, Regressive Emotional Development Syndrome, or simply, irresponsible selfish wanker, are all terms that can equally be applied to me. The medical profession however prefer a more tactful approach, they try to keep me sweet in order to make more money out of me, so to them I am Bipolar, Manic-depressive. It’s a title that costs me a couple of hundred dollars a month in drugs to retain, think of a hook and get the interest of the reader god dam it; like I said I’m a selfish wanker who couldn’t care less whether you read this or not, in fact I only write it in the hope that it will provide me with some ultimately defining cathartic experience, a moment of clarity, an epiphany that will enable me to walk away from myself .

“It had already begun by the time I was so unsure as to how I got to be sitting in the Thai Airways Executive departure lounge. I quickly put a stop to asking myself such questions and just accepted it for what it was. When your in the throes of a manic episode the temptation is to give in to it, let it take control, to ride it out and see where it ends.

It’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m in a room at the holiday inn Bangkok, I’m wired. I’m 700 miles from where I should be, where I’m expected to be, where people think I am. I haven’t slept for more than two hours out of the last 72 and my mind gathers momentum as it careers at breakneck speeds contemplating nothing, on the face of it not dissimilar to the mindset of your average tuk-tuk driver. But the sheer exhilaration is consuming me. People pay good money for illegal drugs that can’t get themselves half as high as this. I’m out beyond the edge, and I know that coming back from this one is going to hurt, people will have to pay for this. For as Thompson said “For every moment of triumph for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled”. O.k so this moment is devoid of both triumph and beauty, it’s really only the trampling of souls that applies. It’s a white knuckle ride I never remember getting on and I have no idea where to get off, when or how it stops. All I do know is that I’m not the one sitting at the controls. Out of interest I ask my best friend if there’s any link between mania and jet lag. I only ask because yesterday I feel certain that I was on a long haul flight back to Thailand recently. I’m wondering if there is a causal nature between jetlag and how I’m currently feeling and behaving, why I can’t sleep and why I keep succumbing to base impulses. Rather eloquently it informs me that disruption to the circadian rhythm can have a negative impact on people with psychiatric diseases, including manic depression. For a moment I am pleased with this, it placates me, I have found an excuse, suddenly it’s not my fault, like how the death of a friend gives an alcoholic an excuse for the day.


In a soulless hotel room nothing that surrounds me offers any comfort. Not even the prostitute who appeared and sits on the end of my bed, whose job it must be to surely fill this void, but only achieves in adding to the soullessness of the room, the situation. What is just another in a long line of improbable situations I have manufactured out of a nebulous circumstance.

One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. When you don’t sleep for several days it’s hard to keep track. Sleep is an effective way of demarcating the end of one day and the start of another, without it, you’re just experiencing an endless, meaningless procession of non sequitur events. Still I have been responsible enough to book a return flight early enough to get back for an appointment with the psychiatrist.

I’m in a new room now, one that’s decorated with even less imagination than the Holiday Inn. I’m sat at a table, crude strip lighting illuminates two angry men in skin tight brown uniforms sitting opposite me. The Thai police uniform has forever reminded me of what it used to be like to pass solid stools, something I have been unable to do since living in Thailand. The one that’s been playing the “good cop” suddenly stands up and walks out, slamming the heavy door behind him. His partner moves his corpulent body around to my side of the table which he sits on, looking down at me, adipose flesh stretching the seams of his uniform. He leans towards me his nose a couple of inches from my face.

“Farang have big problem, dead prostitute in farang bedroom. Bad, bad farang.” I can smell cheap cigarettes and even cheaper Thai whiskey on his breath, and as he speaks  to me some of his spittle lands on my lower lip.

He runs his hand through my hair and places his other hand in the crotch of my pants.

“Is that all?” Quizzed the psychiatrist.

I actually like my psychiatrist, he’s the one person I know is probably madder than I am. He’s a big man, thirty odd years old and with green hair. To me he always looks like a man who has insisted upon only drinking the tap water from a nuclear power plant.

“Isn’t that enough?” I answered. ”Then he rapes me. And I’ve also caught myself using two computers at a time, which upon reflection it seems a little unnecessary.”

“And why do you feel the need to do that? I mean It’s not a crime, there’s no need to feel guilty about doing this?” The psychiatrist retorted, surprising me by completely ignoring the policeman rape story.

“Well on one there’s porn obviously, what would be the point of running two computers if one wasn’t being used for porn?”

“Indeed” he interjected.

“And on the other one I like to keep a note of what I have been doing, seeing if I can spot patterns in my cycles of mania.”

“It sounds like a very practical idea, have you noticed anything?” The psychiatrist questioned.

“Nothing definitive as yet. I like to write down things before I visit you. Try to get straight the important things that have happened. Try to put things in order and forget that this is my life, and it’s ending one moment at a time.”

“Maybe you could bring these you next time, so we could look over them?”

“Hell no! What I do during a manic binge stays strictly between me and my mania, I would die from embarrassment if anyone knew. To be honest with you who would anyway, if that’s all I’ll pick my lithium up and get out of here?”