Exploring Thailand back in 1974 with my college classmate Mike, I didnâ€™t get much of a chance to elaborate on his travel exploits into Bangkokâ€™s night life. I had a Thai girlfriend so the only taste I got of its charms was from the stories he told. And he told a lot of them. Never mind that he was cast in a Thai movie â€“ my girlfriendâ€™s mom financed it â€“ his off-screen antics were the real show. The trouble is, there is only one that, in good taste, I dare shareâ€¦
Back then foreigners were a rare commodity, especially English speaking ones that Thais could relate to with the odd remembered word from some forgotten GI. Theyâ€™d follow you around, wanting to paw at your clothes or your high top sneakers. Kids followed you around like you were the Pied Piper. Strangers tugged at you on the streets to sit and eat with them. In a coffee shop, everyone stared. Add to that, Mikeâ€™s unprecedented status, and it wouldnâ€™t be hard to imagine how he was eating it all up.
Then there was that morning he woke up on some deserted beach, miles from the set. He didnâ€™t remember how he got there. His pockets were empty. It was only because he had his actorâ€™s pass around his neck written in Thai that a motorcycle jockey offered to waive his usual fare and give him a ride. Ragged with his hair tousled, he still got a round of applause when he finally showed up on the set. To the Thais, he was definitely a curiosity. His pantomime explanations alone would have rated him five star reviews.
But now, for the first time, he was stuck. Payday wasnâ€™t for another week, and he was broke. Not wanting to let on to anyone what had happened, he made excuses about being tired and wanting to get to bed early. Then the walls started to close in. The TV might as well have been static. Were all the channels in Thai? Did Thais do anything but cry for five minutes on these soap operas? And these lizards running across the ceiling, do they bite? And that damn music playing outside, who can sleep through such a racket? Finally, he gave up and went to walk around downstairs. Any place had to be better than this.
Sitting just outside the hotel, he got an offer from a taxi driver that was too good to pass up. There were a lot of jewelry stores in town, offering commissions for brought in potential customers. Since Mike was already an actor maybe this would be right up his alley. He didnâ€™t have to buy anything; just look around and act interested.
Needless to say, that was what he did for the rest of the week. Every alley shop was another bottle of beer. Every avenue store was a glass of wine. By the end of the night, a midnight snack was the taxi driverâ€™s treat. Come payday, with just one stop on the way, the ride was free.