Back Home in Bangkok, Part I

After Florida

November 8-13, 2004

Monday, November 8, 2004

We are back home in Bangkok!

From door to door it took 36 hours. It would have taken a little longer but we had a good tailwind across the Atlantic and a moderate tailwind across Asia.

However, we had an 11 hour layover at London's Heathrow Terminal 4. This was actually a plus because the British Airways First Class Lounge (formerly the BA Concorde Lounge) at Terminal 4 is probably the best First Class lounge anywhere in the world; rivaled only perhaps by Singapore Airlines First Class lounge at its home port. It is like being in a very nice private club with every amenity.

Another plus in laying-over at Terminal 4 is the shopping. Watcharee can easily kill half a dozen hours browsing through the dozens of duty free shops. Parenthetically, on this pass through Heathrow I bought a 512 Megabyte (*) LEXAR "Jump Drive" (you know, those key chain size data banks for carrying stuff from computer to computer).

When we arrived in Bangkok a BMW 700 Series from The Oriental brought us back to River Garden. Nope, we did not leave our car in the long term parking lot.

All in all, it was a fairly comfortable 36 hours.


(*) Equal to 352 floppies, according to the blurb on the packaging. By the way, do you Radio Shack veterans remember when a 5 Megabyte hard drive for a TRS-3 sold for about a grand and was the size of a toaster oven?


Tuesday, November 9, 2004 (pre-journal)

Preparing to get back on the road ...


Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Sometime around the time of the Vietnam war ... or, maybe a little bit thereafter ... reader K. from Arizona owned a bar in Cowboy. When he was the owner of the place its name was the Old China Hand.

"Wait!", you ask, "what is Cowboy?"

Well, I am not going to say very much about it. But, if reader K. from Arizona wants to send me the history of Cowboy and of his particular bar (the O.C.H.) I would be much honored and I promise to post it right away ... and in bold print. Anyway, in the mean time, Cowboy is an area of Bangkok that was named after "Cowboy", the nick name of an American Vietnam War vet who opened a notorious bar on a small soi just off Sukhumvit. This area, along with Bangkok's Patpong and Nana is known the world over for its offerings of the pleasures of the flesh.

Reader K. told me that at one time he even had the chance to purchase the original Cowboy Bar from the original "Cowboy" owner but he passed on the opportunity as he was in love with a Thai woman and they planned to move to Arizona. (*)

Apparently, reader K. sold O.C.H. and over the years the place has passed through several hands. He knows that his old leasehold lays between what is now the Tilac Bar and the Black & White pub ... and it now goes by the name of Sam's 2000.

This afternoon I visited Cowboy. (**) Yes, Sam's 2000 is there: right between the Tilac and the Black & White. It was still pre-sunset when I entered the place so the customer base had not yet fully developed. But, a couple of girls were working the bar and when I explained my reason for wanting to take a few photographs of the morphed premises they seemed happy (though none of them were veterans from its O.C.H. days).

So, dear reader K. from Arizona, does this bring back any memories?


(*) Dear reader K ... if I am getting the facts wrong please take an eraser to what wrongs I have written and add what you like.

(**) Astute readers will remember my last visit.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004 (pre-journal)

Construction at the building site opposite the Skytrain's Siam interchange station is accelerating. THOCBDC also has some early pictures of this work for those readers who are fans of poured concrete and hanging girders.

The people staring off into the distance are not necessarily enamored with the comings and goings of the Thai Obayshai Construction Company. Most of them are just waiting for their train.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Reader K., the former owner of the Old China Hand, (a bar on Soi Cowboy which now is named Sam's 2000) has contributed these words about what it was like to be in that business in the '80's. The photographs that accompany the article are his ... they come with some brief captions (file names). Thanks!!!!!

Alf.

That's the old place. Just a few changes. They took down my disco ball!! Put in a new entrance too. The nice thing was that the place had the only kitchen on that end of the Soi. So we were able to open during the day to feed the locals. No. 5!! 1985Looks like they're still able to follow that business plan.

Looks like it was more of a fun place when I had it though... Did they take the stage out?

I had the place a bit after Vietnam though... Early to mid 80's. I first met Cowboy in 1981. The Cowboy Bar was in decline by that time... Cowboy 2 opened around 1983 amid some controversy. (Cowboy claimed that he hadn't given his ok for the name usage) A lot more flashy places had been opened by then too. His place was usually pretty quiet. Cowboy played a lot of jazz and old soul music and his girls tended to be older. (Only place on the Soi to find a girl in her 30's) A bunch of us bar owners would go in for the relative peace and quiet after 11p.m... Great place to have a quiet drink and talk business... And of course to hear all of the stories of the "old" days.

Soi Cowboy was pretty wide open in the pre-Aids days of the early '80's... But according to Cowboy... The 60's and 70's had to be seen to be believed. Cowboy was slowing down a bit when I knew him. He used to say that he could die anytime and would have no regrets about things left undone. Said he hadn't had a fantasy left since 1979... He also wouldn't comment on whether or not the rumors that he wasn't the "original" Cowboy were true or not. Rumor had it that he was the 2nd Cowboy. That he had bought out the original in the 70's. It didn't matter much anyway... Everybody knew that he'd been around for as long as anybody on the Soi could remember. There were actually some mamasans who were there from the beginning that were about evenly split in opinion. Hell... Most of the mamsans on the Soi had gotten started in Cowboy's.

The Old China Hand had been around for years by the time I showed up. When I got there, it was co-owned by a bunch of shipyard workers that were working out of Saudi Arabia. I came to BKK several times for R&R and got to be friends with Roy, the principal owner. Old China Hand 1985Later, I decided to find a job in Thailand and when I did; The option to buy in came up. Over time, I wound up as the principal. Kept my day job though.

Keeping the day job was tough. I'd work for the Thai navy during the day and rush down to Soi Cowboy in time for 6p.m... I loved being there right at 6... It was like when a carnival comes to life. The lights would come on in a wave and the girls would come out of the woodwork and the whole area hummed like a beehive. You always had to be full of energy and upbeat to keep the customers coming. It was amazing to see the people that would show up... And someplace was always having a celebration of some sort.

Tilac had just re-opened after a big remodel in '86. The owner planned to specialize in twins. It was a big hit! At one point... He had 9 sets of twins in the place... 4 of them identical. Black & White was an older place. One of the originals. Always had a big crowd there. Lots of Germans in Tilac and Black & White. With the OCH in the middle of those two places... We did ok. Sold a lot of Kloster beer and bratwurst.

The Old China Hand tended to attract a lot of expat workers from the middle east on R&R. Brits, Americans, French, Germans and the occasional Pakistani passing himself off as Mexican. There were lots of Saudis prowling Nana in those days. But they weren't very welcome on Soi Cowboy. The Westerners made it hard for them. The attitude was that as long as there was no drinking and carousing allowed in Saudi... They weren't going to be allowed to be hypocritical and party with the same guys that had to come all the way to Thailand to blow off steam. There were a few ugly incidents and the Saudis found it easier to just avoid the area. My opinion was always "Their money spends too, right?" The fact that they tended to spend U.S. dollars made a lot of the owners advocates of integration!

You could always tell who wasn't doing well financially because those were the places that would get raided. The owner couldn't pay all of his protection fees... We owners would sometimes get together and hold a "benefit" for a friend whose place wasn't doing so well. It wasn't until the groups and consortiums started buying up places that the real cutthroat competition arose... Not that we didn't compete... We just weren't trying to run one another out of business. Some forms of competition involved losing all of your girls to a rival bar for a month or two if you lost a bet or competition.

To this day.. people ask me why I left. Long story short... Fell for and married a Thai tour guide up north in Chaing Mai...Met her in the poppy fields... She wanted me to sell the bar.. I refused... She had an uncle high up in immigration "convince" me that it wasn't "respectable" to have his family associated with such a lifestyle... So... Get out of the business ... Or become "Persona Non Grata".

It was fun while it lasted.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Yesterday I drove to Ayutthaya (actually, the little village area of Sena) to pick up Watcharee where she had been visiting her mother.

In the immediate neighborhood there is a Buddhist temple that is adorned with pictures of Buddhist Hell. A couple of years ago I photographed this version of hell; a couple of weeks ago something much bigger than THOCBDC discovered my pictures and asked that I re-photograph them using the higher resolution knob on my Brownie.

Here they are:


Begging not to be sent to Hell:


Inside Hell:


More of Hell:


Still more Hell:


Hell's Hell:


Friday, November 12, 2004

Yikes! I almost forgot; yes, there is a Buddhist Heaven as well. (*) (**)


(*) To be honest, neither the concept of a Buddhist Hell or a Buddhist Heaven as perceived in these pictures has any real roots in Buddhism. Just because these pictures were hung in a Buddhist temple does not mean that they represent anything about the Buddhist 'faith'. To quote from Microsoft's new search engine (subsection: Encarta):

"Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing religion in Thailand, with about 95 percent of the Thai majority being Theravada Buddhist. Theravada is a school of Buddhist belief that spread to Thailand beginning in the 13th century, primarily via Sri Lanka. Thailandís most characteristic architectural feature is the wat, the Thai Buddhist temple, of which there are an estimated 18,000. Nearly all Thai men enter a Buddhist monastery for at least a few days or months."

"Despite the predominance of Buddhism, Thai religion is highly syncretic, meaning that it combines different systems of religious practice and belief. Many Buddhist ceremonies include elements of animism (worship of objects and phenomena of nature), Hinduism, and even Christianity. Small Muslim groups, comprising about 7 percent of the population, are found throughout the country, especially in the southern peninsula. Some hill peoples, including members of the Karen, are Roman Catholic, while missionaries from Europe and North America have converted others to Protestantism. Very few ethnic Thai have converted to Western religions."

(**) Almost all Thais believe in ghosts. And Spirit Houses in Thailand are as common mango trees. Fortune Tellers outnumber lawyers; but, that is a good thing.


PS:

A Day in the Life of Driving in Bangkok

This afternoon I had to drive to the west side of Bangkok to pick up some stuff that we had ordered. When I left our home, River Garden (which is right across the road from the Shangri-La Hotel), I noticed that a police led motorcade was just coming down the VIP ramp from the Shangri-La Hotel ... carrying the Prime Minister of Singapore. There were four cars in the procession, including the leading police car with its flashing dome lights.

"WOW! Why not join them and avoid the traffic!", I figured.

So, I immediately fell in behind this vehicular caterpillar and disguised myself as part of the entourage. It was not difficult as I was a 'farang' (*) driving a new Mercedes S-Class.

It was as if traffic sweepers had been on the road just ahead of us: tuk-tuks and motorcycles had been derailed to the curb, taxis and 'lesser' cars shunted up side streets, our traffic lights were switched to green and the pedestrians were told to defer to our cars.

I wish I could have followed them the whole way to wherever they went ... what with the police stopping nuisance traffic everywhere our parade chose to go ... but, I had to turn off near the Silom Road Holiday Inn and pursue my own more pedestrian chores. But it was fun while it lasted.


(*) Very few 'farangs' (western foreigners) drive automobiles in Bangkok.


PPS:

Reader L. P. from London, Ontario writes: "Oh, My God! I can't believe there is no Hell or Heaven! Why am I alive?"


Saturday, November 13, 2004 (pre-journal)

I guess that the reputation of THOCBDC prompted this letter to me:

Dear Friend,

This mail may not be surprising to you if you have been following current events in the international media with reference to the Middle East and Palestine in particular.

I am Mrs. SUHA ARAFAT, the wife of YASSER ARAFAT, the Palestinian leader who died recently in Paris. Since his death and even prior to the announcement, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the new Prime Minister. I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture. As a widow that is so traumatized, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment.

You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet on the discovery of some fund in my husband secret bank account and companies and the allegations of some huge sums of money deposited by my husband in my name of which I have refuses to disclose or give up to the corrupt Palestine Government. In fact the total sum allegedly discovered by the Government so far is in the tune of about $6.5 Billion Dollars. And they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life. As you know, the Moslem community has no regards for woman, hence my desire for a foreign assistance.

I have deposited the sum of 20 million dollars with a security firm abroad whose name is withheld for now until we open communication. I shall be grateful if you could receive this fund into your bank account for safe keeping and any Investment opportunity. This arrangement is known to you and my personal Attorney. He might be dealing with you directly for security reasons as the case may be.

In view of the above, if you are willing to assist for our mutual benefits, we will have to negotiate on your Percentage share of the $20,000,000 that will be kept in your position for a while and invested in your name for my trust pending when my Daughter, Zahwa, will come off age and take full responsibility of her Family Estate/inheritance.

Please note that this is a golden opportunity that comes once in life time and more so, if you are hornet, I am going to entrust more funds in your care as this is one of the legacy we keep for our children.

In case you don't accept please do not let me out to the security and international media as I am giving you this information in total trust and confidence I will greatly appreciate if you accept my proposal in good faith. Please expedite action.

Yours sincerely,

Suha Arafat


PS to the pre-journal

Great women think alike.

Dear Friend,

This mail may not be surprising to you if you have been following current events in the international media with reference to the American elections and Ohio in particular.

I am Mrs. John Kerry, the wife of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who lost the election recently in America. Since his defeat and even prior to the announcement that Ohio went red, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the Democratic Party and the new President. I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture. As a not-to-be First Lady that is so traumatized, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment.

You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet on the discovery of some fund in my husband secret bank account and companies and the allegations of some huge sums of money deposited by my husband in my name of which I have refuses to disclose or give up to the corrupt U. S. Government. In fact the total sum allegedly discovered by the Government so far is in the tune of about $6.5 Billion Dollars. And they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life. As you know, the Evangelical Christian community has no regards for woman, hence my desire for a foreign assistance.

I have deposited the sum of 20 million dollars with a security firm abroad whose name is withheld for now until we open communication. I shall be grateful if you could receive this fund into your bank account for safe keeping and any Investment opportunity. This arrangement is known to you and my personal Attorney. He might be dealing with you directly for security reasons as the case may be.

In view of the above, if you are willing to assist for our mutual benefits, we will have to negotiate on your Percentage share of the $20,000,000 that will be kept in your position for a while and invested in your name for my trust pending when my grand children, will come off age and take full responsibility of their Family Estate/inheritance.

Please note that this is a golden opportunity that comes once in life time and more so, if you are hornet, I am going to entrust more funds in your care as this is one of the legacy we keep for our children.

In case you don't accept please do not let me out to the security and international media as I am giving you this information in total trust and confidence I will greatly appreciate if you accept my proposal in good faith. Please expedite action.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs. John Kerry

Next: Part II

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