Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oddbods & Misfits

Next day we trundled to the bus station and located the Satun-bound bus. The conductor indicated on his watch that the bus would leave at 9:45 (it was 9:30). As we ate our breakfast I idly eavesdropped on an English bloke, about 40 years old, talking to a Thai he appeared to have cornered. He spoke stilted, basic Thai, using volume to compensate for fluency in the way of people who have only a passing acquaintance with the language they're speaking but wish to be seen to be Down With The Natives. I speculated on his story. He'd obviously been in Thailand a while: he had the squint and slight sway of long-term alcoholism; he'd managed to pick up a few words of Thai, but certainly didn't have the attitude of an enthusiastic backpacker. He must be an expat.

He kept glancing over. Eventually he spoke, “You guys been travelling long?” Definitely an expat: he's itching to tell us how long he's been in the country. We tell him we left Bangkok a few days ago. “Ah right.” He paused. “I've lived here 17 years.” Seventeen years?! I spoke more Thai than him by the time I'd lived here a month! He used to teach diving on Ko Phi Phi when he first arrived, and like everyone who saw Thailand back in the early days of the tourist industry laments its development. “Haven't been back since. Lived there for a year, but haven't been back.” Now he runs a resort on Ko Lanta.

“You go Ko Lipe?” He spoke pidgin English with an affected Thai accent, both as a means of emphasising his expat status and by way of substitute for actually learning the language. We said that yes, we were going to Lipe. He was on his way there for the first time, to open a resort with his Thai companion, to whom he would occasionally turn and with exaggerated casualness confirm in Thai something he'd just said. As long as what he'd just said involved numbers from 1-100, since that seemed to be about the extent of his vocabulary.

Because Thailand is such an accepting place, it becomes a haven for oddbods and misfits like this, who find refuge here from the harsh judgement of the western world. They tend to congregate around the southern islands and Pattaya, places where the booze and girls are cheap and plentiful. Samet, too, has seen its share of these men (it's usually men) who came, and just stayed. Like Geoff, a Hulk Hogan lookalike who played the harmonica and called himself a mercenary. He was an ex-squaddie (fought in the first Gulf War, he said), and he had “Soldier of Fortune” tattooed on his arm, alongside a faded mermaid. He used to leap about the dancefloor in kung-fu poses. In between playing the harmonica. And Garry, a scrawny, concave-chested man with a severely sloping shoulder and a jerky limp, the results of some dreadful childhood disease. Pointy faced, with a prominent Adam's apple and a high pitched voice, he'd obviously gone through life completely mystified by women, and found the eager attentions of Thai ladies no less bewildering.

These two came to Samet, found a kindred spirit in one another, and became inseparable. And it seemed that everywhere they went, misfortune found them. They were a walking tale of woe – they got robbed, they crashed their motorbike into a fence (Geoff's wounds became infected and for weeks he went around with a swollen foot, hobbling about with a walking stick until he finally laid off the alcohol and let the antibiotics work), and they had constant trouble with women. When they went to Bangkok and got parts as extras in the same movie as I did, a stunt man fell on them. You'd ask Garry how things were going, and his reply would always start with “it's been a nightmare”. They just weren't life's winners.

They were fixtures on Samet for maybe six months, perhaps longer. And then one time I went they weren't there any more. Their departure, pretty much like their presence, went unremarked.


Post a Comment

<< Home