We somehow felt like we were sitting in a shack at Goa. Even the Singha tasted like Kingfisher. Or maybe after 9 pints, a Singha is suppose to taste whatever you want it to taste like. Slowly it began to resemble someplace in India.
We felt like how tourists would feel in our country. After getting drunk. And getting duped. And getting drunk again for getting duped.
And we always thought such things only happen in India. But the word had probably spread. To a far off island in Thailand called Hua Hin.
We smelt something fishy in the air, and it was not just the Thai sauce.
It was late evening. The mood in the shack was merry for most of them. Except for Das and Me.
A local band was playing the Thai version of Hotel California specially dedicated to the two of us. After a few minutes we figured out that he was actually singing in English. We were sitting at a table right in front of the loudest conked speaker. The singer was trying his best to impress us. And we tried to pay full attention, since Das had invited upon us this torture.
For the entire evening Das had tried requesting for various numbers, starting with the most bizarre ones like ‘Countdown to extinction’ and gradually scaled down his expectations, finally settling for ‘Metallica’s Unforgiven’.
“What do you mean they don’t know Megadeth….ok..what about Metallica?” Das had screamed back at the innocent looking waiter. I don’t know if he was innocent, but to me all Thais look innocent.
It was now upto the band members to justify the difference between the cost price of the beer and the amount that the shack was charging for it.
The band consisted of some simple Thai folks who probably sang Thai folk. But unable to handle the pressure they faced from our table, the band attempted ‘Hotel California’.
The lead singer kept looking at Das to make it clear that this number was dedicated specially for him to ‘shut the fuck up’.
To them Hotel California or Unforgiven made no diff, it was all the same shit…they were both English songs, so one could easily substitute the other.
The band boys unforgivingly rendered their version of it. The guy on the guitars was the only one providing clues as to what they were actually playing.
But our minds were occupied. And our eyes roved to spot the bastard, LEON. It was 2am. We were leaving Hua Hin the next morning, back to Bangkok and back to Bangalore.
“I swear, that the bastard told me that he owns this damn place.” Das screamed over the music after 40 minutes of posing in pensive silence.
“You want mole singhaaaaa…..”a cute looking waiter whined beside us ready to uncap two more pints.
“No, we want Leon?” Das replied in as Mallu a manner, that could give any Thai chap a heart attack.
“What Leon…..I told you….no Leon…i dunno no Leon.’
“But he said that he owns this place.”
“No no…no Leon….only Singha and Tigel” the waiter made a face and left, deciding to stock up Leon beer the next time.
At that point, we couldn’t make out what was giving us that strange buzz in the head…was it the Singa, that chap on the mike, the stink of fish, the fact that this trip was coming to an end, or that Leon the bastard was absconding.
‘You can checklaa any thime you lie, buth you can nevel leeee’ The chap on the mike yowled, reassuring us that He was responsible for the buzz.
Das lifted his brow as much as he could, to prevent his headache from penetrating “Now what do we do? How do the hell do we settle this bill?” he tossed the bar bill for 4,000 baths on the table, that instantly bought down half the buzz in the head.
I waited for the drummer to finish banging his sticks, so that I could think of a solution in some peace.
We had been sitting in this shack for about 4 hours with every beer blurring our vision and adding clarity to the fact that we were nothing more than mere fools.
The shack was situated right outside The Hyatt, Hua Hin, a heavenly 5 star beach resort where Das and Me were sent on a mind expanding creative workshop.
Das is one of the best art directors I have ever worked with. His sense of design is absolutely twisted. His style is evil, that pays no regard to any copy that surrounds it. And most often rightfully so, because you later realize that his design needs more space and prominence than your two shitty bits of copy. His design is so overpoweringly stunning that any copywriter can get away with murder. And yes, he somehow manages to make any copy look good, in the odd chance when he decides to make it visible. Or sometimes if he really thinks you’ve done a good job, he’ll put your lines in the most artistic fonts that are only available on his Mac. And suddenly all those lines that looked like piss on your MS Word begin to look like they were written by Neil French.
I think I’ll shut up now. He runs his own company. I still work for a meagre salary.
So Das was sent here because of everything that he’d done so far. He was easily the most promising art director they could pick at that time. And I was sent to stop doing everything that I was.
It was a seven day workshop. The workshop was packed with every conceivable technique to disprove that creativity cannot be taught. We had different sessions that covered everything from music to art to writing, followed by assignments.
They decided to teach us everything that we hadn’t learnt in 25 years, in 7 days. Like a super crash course in creativity, so that we could step out of the workshop straight onto the Cannes podium. Delegates with different skin tones and eye shapes from every part of Asia congregated for this HR experiment.
But the worst part was that the workshop was so packed that it felt like we were imprisoned. Even after 5 days, our cameras were only filled with pictures of the resort we never explored, the rooms we never slept in, the pool we never dived into, and a few fountains here and there, and ofcourse a ready portfolio for Benetton of assorted faces from various regions. It would have been a shame to return with only these memories. Well the agenda for the agency was to make us return with ‘New Improved’ star blurbs above our heads. But we still had our personal agendas. To explore around. To come back and boast that we had been abroad. It was also our first foreign trip. Spending all the time in a resort seemed like a criminal waste.
So, after a few more of those creative sessions, we expanded our minds and then slowly our boundaries and meandered away outside the resort, to this shack, the first available tourist spot within walkable distance.
Das being the more creative of us two, had stepped out two days earlier.
“I want you to meet his guy dah I met!!. He’s my friend. Very nice guy dah!! His name is Leon!!” Das built up some excitement as we walked towards the shack, bunking an assignment of our sessions.
“He owns this place dude, a shack right outside….it’s like Brittos in Goa,…and he’s a really chilled out chap. He’s our age dah…he’s like us machaan….very friendly and nice dah…”
However experimental you might want to be in life, you always love meeting people who are exactly like you.
So we reached the shack, and Das went inside and returned with the host of honour…Mr. Leon.
A young smart looking chap walked out staggering with a bottle of Singha and thrust it in my hand. “Hey…how la u doing?”
“Fine….thanks.” I received the bottle with not much gratitude. I was getting used to being served free expensive alcohol of different varieties for the past few days at the hotel, that this free beer had lost all its worth.
Das beamed with pride and emotion looking at this union, and added a few words of praise while introducing us to each other.
“You too flom India?” Leon asked me.
“I Love India.”
“You’ve been there?”
“No. But want to. Taj Mahal…..Indian women….beautiful.”
This was the sixth person who had the same (p)references when you mentioned India.
“I take you alound. And when I come to India….you take me alound…ok….deal”
“Ya…..deal” I replied imagining playing host to him. (….but what if he landed up for real. Probably he’d pile on to Das more than me. Anyway Das knew more women than me, and Taj Mahal…He really didn’t look like he was the sort who’d want to see Taj Mahal….it was probably the only trivia he knew about India…..)
“I just come.” he announced.
Leon reappeared with his 2 wheeler, a variation of Honda Street. And strapped on his helmet ready to take on the role of a tourist guide, and the 3 of us squeezed ourselves, and rattled away on his moped to town.
I was excited to meet Leon. Leon looked like a nice guy at first glance. Just like how you would picturise a Thai to be after reading up travel books….nice, hospitable, friendly, polite and other complementing adjectives. More importantly it felt good inside to have a friend in some other land, just to feel more popular.
I was feeling liberated (even though I had my nose jammed against Leon’s sweaty back) to be on this little sight seeing tour after a grueling session the whole day, rather the whole week.
The whole day I was stuck in a smoky room trying to generate some ideas with my team members. Anyway, they hated me. Ok, even I hated them. They hated me because I knew English, or they didn’t know enough of it to know that I didn’t know it too well. They all came from different countries. The organisers had teamed us in such a manner, that each member belonged to a different country. My group had a Chinese, a Japanese, a Vietnamese, a Thai, a Lankan and a Pakistani. And they expected us to do this global collaboration and come up with a campaign for Nike. Forget the campaign, we couldn’t manage to even crack communicating with each other. They had bombed 5 of my ideas, because I spoke in English. There was one Chinki Art Chick who kept saying “I don’t aglee” for anything I said. I kept arguing with her, trying every possible tone of voice. But she just went on ” I don’t aglee” and once she said “I don’t aglee” even before I said anything. That’s when I knew that she didn’t aglee with me, not my ideas. It was pointless, so I walked out.
And they continued talking to each other in sign language after I left.
So Leon rode us through the narrow streets of an unknown land getting us acquainted to his little town. And we keenly watched out for every little difference in the topography that separated it from our country. The people were different. The pigs looked different. The huts looked different. And yes even the chicken looked different.
“I take you to malket. You get good stuff, like cheap stuff…and also some good stleeet food.” Leon announced the itinerary for the evening.
Das was keen on eating frogs and beetles. Though I’m quite sure that they served it back in the hotel, but it was so sophisticatedly disguised that it stole away all the adventure associated with it. It’s not quite the same, like eating them on the road, served along with some risk.
So, we rode past everything. Everything looked interesting around. Even the Pepsi hoardings looked different endorsed by some Thai star. He had a funkier haircut, funkier clothes and a crazier pose. The art direction was supreme with barely any copy. So good that in India it could have only been possible in a scam ad. I thought to myself that the Chinki Chick was justified in not ‘agleeing’ to whatever I had said. Right now for some reason, everything around me seemed like it was art directed by her. Das got a mini orgasm with every hoarding that passed by and blamed copywriters for not letting him do designs like that, and burdening him with useless lines. I blamed him for not being able to think of copy as a part of design. And we ended the argument by jointly blaming our clients.
The other fascinating thing was that they sold beer everywhere. In all kinds of shops. Just so ordinarily. Ya, we had seen a lot of scenic things around, but this was above all those attractions…getting beer anywhere and at anytime. Like typical Indian tourists, we felt the need to be excited about anything we saw, and compared them to our own country and condemned ourselves for being so uncool.
But Leon zipped past all these subjects of no importance to the market that was the pride of the place.
A market that sold dicks. Ya, a market dedicated to dicks. Like a dick bazaar.
Apparently in Thailand they worship dicks. And as a tribute to this organ, the craftsmen adapted them to key chains, pendants, bracelets and other variations so that they could occupy more prominent positions in your body.
We went touring this bazaar that stocked replicas of this in various forms, shapes and intimidating sizes.
The entire bazaar was filled with it. It was amusing no doubt, but going stall after stall verifying the reproduction and comparing it to the original was sickening. Some seemed too unreal that it put you in doubt and contemplation for the next few minutes.
“What is this dah..it’s funny shit man!!” Das gasped looking at the range.
“400 baht” said the shopkeeper.
“No…No…bring it down”
“No cannot……this made of steel ok…”
I guess it was improper asking him to bring it down. The conversation was idiotic that you could not help but be amused.
“…you go fol wooden one…I give cheap. …You can put this on your neck….”
And he dangled a garland around Das’ neck. The shopkeeper beamed with pride, and gave Das an impressive look like as if he had just transformed him into Brad Pitt or Jackie Chan maybe, with this additional accessory.
“Vely nice..” the man sighed.
Das took it off and returned it.
“No..No…we cannot wear this in our country.”
“No..No…it looking good.” the man put the garland back on his neck. I don’t know what was he not understanding…the concept of our country or our English.
“How bout this…it got 100 of them ok…nice.” He removed another garland that had twice the number and put it around my neck.
I stuck my neck out reluctantly to be garlanded with this embarrassment.
Das laughed forgetting he had one on his neck too.
“They’re dicking around too much daaaah….” Das whispered and we cracked up silly.
We haggled around for sometime. Just to keep them happy Das and me bought ourselves a key chain each of these humiliating curios.
(Pic above: Leon, Das and shopkeeper)
Leon was disappointed with our lack of interest in this subject, object…whatever you can call it.
“You get mole ok….down this load” and pointed to a narrow street. “You want to go. I take you ok.”
“No. No. Is it the same like these?”
“Ya. but mole valiety…ok. you like it….ok…mole good looking….”
We were just not interested in seeing anymore innovative forms of these, trying to picturise how could they ever make it look any better.
“No…isn’t there anything else?’
Leon hung his head down feeling ashamed that the people of his town only specialized in this craft.
“No…it’s nice. It’s just that we don’t have much time left.” we tried consoling him.
“No…I know…you no liking it. ok…no ploblem..I now take you for some good food.”
“Ya…that would be good.”
We returned to the parking lot. And we were shocked to see that Leon’s vehicle had a flat tire.
I immediately sucked in my stomach to balance the blame.
“Oh no!!” Leon panicked.
“Oh shit!! We’re sorry Leon”
“No. No….that’s ok.”
“No…it happened because of us.”
“No. No…so what? Anyway the tyle too old.”
‘No …we’ll pay for this.”
“No. You my guests…. I cannot make you pay.”
“No. We’ll pay. Please.”
Me and Das took turns in pleading guilty.
We pushed the vehicle to a nearby mechanic.
And Leon conversed with the mechanic in Thai and he got on to repair the bike.
“Anyway, the bike need lot of lepailing, the blakees no wolk, the chain no wolk…all gone” Leon comforted us.
We sat there on a bench, sipping a local beer and seeing Leon’s bike slowly take a new shape. Leon kept us distracted by ensuring a supply of strange dishes from a nearby cart. We had no clue of what we were biting into, or what was going to bite us.
First came a new tube.
Then new tyres.
Then a new chain.
Then new brake pads.
And then a new seat cover.
We patiently watched Leon’s bike getting a makeover. Das and me gulped our beers and burped together. We looked at each other in horror wondering what the total of this bill is going to be.
The bike mechanic answered it for us.
Leon dug his wallet before we could reach out for ours. And gave us an innocent look.
“Oh no. I am not callying so much money. You give me ok . I give you back when we leach the shack. ok. ”
“No problem dude. I mean we’ll pay for all of this.’
“No. No. please dont. I get angleeee…….. NO”
“No ploblem? Is it ok?”
“No. No. No problem.”
“I give you in shack.”
“Ya cool. No problem.”
We paid up. Das and I split the damage and we rode back on his machine with new improved pick up. Back to the shack.
Leon disappeared inside and returned in a few minutes.
“Oh Shit!! The cashiel not thel. You come back in one houl or …or you can sit hele and have a beeel. no ploblem no….ok?”
“No. thanks but I think we’ll come back after dinner. We have to go. Today is the last day, so they have this special dinner…..”
“Oh! Ok. Today is last day. Ill miss you guys…”
And Leon hugged us tight, and we parted…and returned in a few seconds and hugged again emotionally bonding over all the ‘Bs’ he’d introduced us to….the Booze, the Bazaar, the Bugs and Beetles, and his Bike, leaving behind one ‘B’ for us to discover later. The ‘Bastard’ that he was.
We were probably the only two customers left in the shack. It was closing time. Even the band started surprising us with numbers that could actually be worse than their previous ones.
“I’m a bigger ass than you.” Das confessed after a final swig.
“I lent Leon 4,000 bahts on the first day I met him.”
“What the fuck are you saying?”
“Ya, the bastard said that he was running short of money. He said that he had no change to pay back a customer.”
“4,000 bahts is not change. It’s close to 5,000 bucks you fuck…..”
“Ya…I know Dah. But what to do? I just gave it to him. I was drunk dah.”
“Ya, so what do we do now?”
We had spent the entire evening scanning every face around to see if it looked like Leon’s. Even though most of them looked like Leon, none of them owned up.
The guy on the mike sang the worst composition of the evening in Thai that could only translate as “Pay the bill and get the fuck out, you jerks”.
We were too drunk and we still needed to save up a little bit of our senses to walk back to the resort.
The bill on the table was staring at us waiting to be settled.
Das put his hand in the pocket to pull out the cash. And I dug into mine.
But all that came out was a couple of keychains….a cheap wooden one and another in steel, that was downsized.
We chucked them on the table and Das mumbled under his breath.