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BOOM BOOM BANGKOK

Just two throw-away stories for now. More to come when the mood strikes me.

If you’re looking for sex you’ll be disappointed.

I see the search terms in my stats. Just stop now.

*

BRAAAP! BRAAP! WAA! WAA!

It’s 10.00 a.m. on the 46th floor of A Certain Hotel in Bangkok. Dogster is just out of the shower. He’s shaved, sparking and heading rapidly for breakfast.

BRAAAP! BRAAP! WAA! WAA! WEE-OO! WEE-OO!

There’s a recorded voice broadcasting in the corridor. Unfortunately my invisible friend is talking in Thai which doesn’t help at all. There’s an unnervingly calm Asian tone in her voice.  I think that’s why they chose a woman.

BRAAAP! BRAAP!

Then she says everything again in Japanese. I can’t hear what she’s saying anyway over the alarm.

WAA! WAA! WEE-OO! WEE-OO!

I’ve opened the door by now. The noise is deafening. The corridor is empty.

My sweet Thai voice of doom is now apparently talking in English. I still can’t understand anything she says. It’s early in my day. I don’t function well first thing in my morning. That and her sublime mangling of English pronunciation have combined to create a perfect storm of mystery. There’s just one word I understand.

‘Emergency’.

*

BRAAAP! BRAAP! WAA! WAA!

Two maintenance men hurry past my open door and disappear into the wall. They see me but don’t look at me. It’s clearly every maintenance man for himself. There’s a surreal quality about these two passing shadows. Perhaps I’m dead.

Then my friend the recorded announcement starts all over again. In Thai. Then in Japanese. Then in Thanglish.

‘This is an emergency. Go direcry to the something or other. Do not use the errevators.’

WEE-OO!

This sound is not the loudspeaker. This is Dogster screaming silently. WEE-OO!

Then, while I’m standing in terror, screaming my silent scream, she says it all again; in Thai, in Japanese, in Thanglish. This time I realize the ‘something or other’ is in fact the emergency stairwell. So that’s where the two men went. They were Maintenance Angels sent to show me the way.

BRAAAP! I’m standing in the corridor. BRAAAP! I have a moment of rational thought. Take the room key with you. Back into the room. WAA! Take your wallet. WAA! Go back into the corridor. WEE-OO! WEE-OO!

Another moment of stunning intelligence. Get your passport.

‘This is an emergency. Go direcry…

Back into the room. Grab the documents. Back into the corridor.

‘Do not use the errevator…’

There is not a soul anywhere. Just me and my blank, blank mind. I have one thought –  Emergency Stairwell. Go there now. Do as you are told.

No, I tell a lie. I have other thoughts: Towering Inferno. Twin Towers. 9/11. Why is there nobody else around? Can I smell smoke? This is surreal.

BRAAP! My adrenal gland squirts out a pint of terror. BRAAP! Squirt. BRAAP! Squirt.

BOOM BOOM, BOOM BOOM!

What’s that noise?

Oh, it’s my heart.

*

So, I’m standing in the stairwell heading down a grey concrete canyon towards I know not what. There is nobody on the stairs either, just a strange box on the wall. All the little red lights in this little white box on the blank grey wall are flashing like Patpong on a Saturday night.

Down, down the stairway of disaster. Down, down to doom. One flight. Two flights. In each deserted stairwell is another flashing white box. The alarm has faded. The voice is far away. Now I’m in a cone of concrete silence.

Remember those staircase pictures of 9/11? Where are my heroic firefighters? Where are the other people? Where, indeed, am I? Nowhere.

I wasn’t counting the steps. I wasn’t counting the floors. I was just a rat on a mission, scuttling off my sinking ship. Down, down, Patpong flashing over and over again.

For some reason my eyes saw only that tiny row of flashing lights. On. Off. On. Off. Down. Ten flights of stairs. Well, actually twenty. Forward and back, back and forward, zigging and zagging through my concrete canyon.

Nobody. Not a soul. Just Dogster and death on the stairs.

A distant ‘BRAAP!’ A distant recorded female voice, ‘Errevator… Emergency…’

BOOM BOOM.

Be still, my beating heart….

Zig, zag…

*

There, on the 34th Floor, looking up at me coming down, is a young lady in a pink pastel uniform. She motions to me and disappears into a doorway. I zag one last time, hurtle through the door, into the corridor. Boom boom. Squirt.

There’s three people outside the errevator. One is a fat farang, completely unconcerned, standing waiting for the lift. One is an Indian gentleman with a look of terror on his face. One is a small Japanese lady. She doesn’t look too thrilled either. All but one of us have run down rather a lot of stairs. Two house-keeping girls in those pink pastel uniforms are standing looking at all of us. They haven’t been running at all.

‘Hee hee hee,’ they giggled, ‘Hee hee hee.’

I know Thai girls giggle when they are embarrassed. Strangely, at that particular moment, this was not what I wanted to hear.

‘Fi Dlill’

What?

‘Fi Dlill. Hee hee hee.’ Both are smiling broadly.

The Indian, the Japanese and the Dog don’t see the joke.

‘Fi Dlill!’ One woman hands us a leaflet. I scan it briefly. My eyes are filled with blood, sweat and tears. I can’t focus on the fine print. I don’t remember what it said but I’d assume it went something like this:

‘The management will be holding an emergency fire-drill at 10.00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Please do not be alarmed. This is a regular blah blah blah…’

This would be the leaflet NOT delivered to Mr. Dogster’s room the previous evening.

‘Hee hee hee,’ the pink pastels went, ‘hee hee hee’.

That’s when the Dog began to bark.

So did the Japanese lady. In impeccable English she told them to stop laughing. And quite a lot more.

They smiled widely and shook with hilarity.

‘Hee hee hee hee hee.’

In impeccable Australian I shouted at them. It’s probably just as well they spoke neither language.

The Indian man just looked like he was going to cry. This only made the pink house-keepers smile and giggle even more. The farang stepped into the lift with a look of obese disdain and sped down to Reception.

There was a very long wait before the next elevator arrived. Enough time for an articulate Japanese, an incoherent Indian and a very dangerous Dog to wipe the smile off the house-keeper’s faces – in our calm, multi-cultural way.

Next stop was Reception.

‘Duty Manager. NOW,’ said Mr. Dogster, in his calm, Australian way.

They knew not to argue. Neither did the Duty Manager. Neither, a little while later, did the General Manager, an elegant French gentleman of impeccable composure. We had a calm, cross-cultural discussion in the Club Lounge. Matters were smoothly settled to Mr. Dogster’s satisfaction – but, I suspect not to the General Manager’s.

This is why The Certain Hotel in Bangkok will remain anonymous.

*

I suppose the tag to this story SHOULD be that, when I got back to my room, there, lying on the floor, was the leaflet. It would be more of a Dogster story that way. Alas, for the Head of Housekeeping, responsible for delivery of said document, this was not the case.

I looked. I looked again. No leaflet. I believe she was executed at lunchtime.

Boom boom, Boom boom.

Adrenalin swirled through my body for the rest of the day.

Boom boom, Boom boom.

Finally, twelve hours later – and about two sentences ago, my beating heart was finally stilled. It’s thudding away at a normal pace now.

Boom  boom.

Bangkok.

*

THIS STORY HAS A SAD POSTSCRIPT

SIX MONTHS LATER THE HOTEL JUST ESCAPED DESTRUCTION AS THE SHOPPING CENTRE IT IS BUILT ON WAS RAZED IN THE RED SHIRT RIOTS OF MAY 2010

‘Wake Up! Wake up, wake up, wake UP!’

The taxi driver’s eyes snapped open, rolled then sank slowly back into the closed position.

‘Wake UP!’

He snorted, waved his head from side to side, opened both eyes way too wide as if he’d seen Satan in his rear-view mirror and reached for a small brown bottle at his side. He swigged the contents in a single gulp. Chemical fumes filled the cab.

He had seen Satan. It was Dogster at 6.00 a.m. We were both hurtling along the freeway towards Bangkok’s Souvarnabhumi Airport at five hundred miles an hour and, no matter how keen he was to meet his maker, he sure wasn’t gonna take the Dog with him – not if the mongrel had his way.

One of us was en route to Vietnam; the other was on his way to certain death. Unfortunately, his certain death was likely to be mine. His eyes rolled, he turned his head to face the future and mumbled something in Thai.

‘I’m going to talk to you non-stop till we get to the airport,’ I hissed,’ I’m going to talk and sing and tell jokes and talk some more to keep you awake, I’m going to keep talking till we get to the airport and you are going to drive us there without sleeping and blah and blah and blah and WAKE UP!’

His eyes sank to half-mast again.

‘Me tired…’ he slurred.

The cab was filthy, festooned with dangling offerings to Lord Buddha, none of which were going to help this heathen Dog. Slung around the back of the front seats were laminated billboards offering sightseeing tours to the floating market, lady-boy shows, snake exhibitions and a lengthy paeon to ping-pong. Quite what ping-pong had to do with those beautiful ladies accompanying the advertisement escapes me. I guess it must be the national sport.

I adopted the Asian approach to imminent catastrophe. I knew that terrifying him would only result in some fearful loss of face, a Bangkok implosion that would propel me into oblivion even quicker.

‘Ohhh, my friend, I know, it velly early, I know,’ I crooned,’ but if you tired maybe you make a crash and we die – so we have to work together here, if you die I die…’

I strapped myself in and took out my camera. I took pictures of the driver, his I.D. plate and the number of the taxi, knowing that someone would eventually recover them from the crash-site. It was own little Black Box.

‘Velly ti…’ he said as his head dropped forward.

‘WAKE UP!’ I shrieked, forgetting my Asian manners. His mouth dropped open in the beginnings of a snore. I bashed the back of his seat. His eyes flew open and rolled alarmingly. I think that little brown bottle was kicking in.

The speedometer had not dropped below 100k since we began this conversation. The grey expressway to Lord Buddha rolled on. He seemed quite calm about our combined fate. He knew he would come back a better man. I had no such illusions – Dog would be reborn as a cockroach.

‘Wake up! Wake up! Wake UP, my friend. You are a good man,’ I said as he clambered back into consciousness, ‘you work very hard, I know, I know…

‘I working twenty hours,’ he slurred, ‘I poor man, velly busy, no sleep, twenty hours, no money, no time…’

Did I give a rat’s arse? This loon was going to kill me.

‘I have five childlen, three boy, two gerrr..’

I don’t care. Wake up!

‘Every day I working. No wife, I send boys to school, to univlesity, no money. Mafia. Taxi mafia. They take my maaaneee,..’

Quite soon, I thought, I would take his testicles and squeeze until he delivered me to the airport..

But the more we talked the safer I was. At least he was conscious. After a while I felt some sympathy for the poor guy; working twenty hours without a break, slaving hard for his family, paying off the taxi Mafia, willing to kill his passengers for a greater cause…

So I hope you won’t be too sad Mr. SOPHON SUTIN if I just put out a little word of warning to those stupid falang unwilling to go meet Lord Buddha in the mangled wreck of a taxi somewhere on the airport freeway. You’re a menace and a danger and should be put off the road.

Never get in a dirty taxi in Bangkok. If you see piles of rubble and the prospect of ping-pong – above all, if you see the mystical taxi numbers 7821, leap out at the nearest red light and save your soul. There are enough cockroaches in Buddha’s heaven. One less won’t make any difference at all.

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