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Fear And Loathing In The Land Of Smiles

June 24, 2011

Ah yes, adventures adventures…

“It’s a small world.” I hate that saying. It never made any sense to me. The world is gigantic. At times it almost seems infinite. When you travel by plane, you get a sense of the vast expanses of the planet. An ocean as far as your gaze in all directions. Hours of it as you travel at 700km/hr. Then a white wisp of foam in the distance. Then a shoreline that extends as far over the horizon as you can see. Huge cliffs tower and loom, yet still dwarfed from your airborne vantage – they seem hastily put together by an impatient child. As you descend, the first marks of man become visible. Roads cut farmland into easy rectangles. Then the city, skyscrapers clustering together in the middle as their sails of suburbia billow outwards on gentle hills. Now the industrial wastelands, the machine-scape, then finally the airport. As you come into land, you see the ground crew, ants that finally represent the human cog in these shifting scales of geography.

Of course, once you get out and walk to the terminal in the shadow of the giant bird, then everything shrinks and you are once again the most important thing on this planet, and the fact that yours is not the first luggage on the carousel becomes  a source of intense irritation and unseen persecution.

It’s a small world. Whatever. So imagine my surprise when I am sitting at an outdoor table in Thailand sipping a beer, which, annoyingly has been served with ice, a fact you soon don’t mind as the heat closes in around you, and a shadow falls across my table and doesn’t move on. I look up and see a friend from back in the day in New Zealand. He has been hesitatingly scrutinizing my face to make sure it’s me. We both exchange a simultaneous “Hey, bro!” He introduces me to a small mountain which turns out to be his not-so-little brother. I never would have recognized him. He wouldn’t look out of place in a black jersey with a silver fern on it. It’s weird to see his old childish ways still persist in this huge hulking frame.

I’m here with a friend who is back at the hotel looking up the best deals on transport for while we’re here. She’s organized. She’s got timetables. She knows our flight numbers back. Me, I’ve lost the keys to my room twice in three days. The staff at reception think I am a moron. She leaves her key at reception when she goes out. We had planned on a really cultural trip. (Well, to be truthful, she had actually done all the planning). But now, I could see my three remaining days being spent on a massive piss-up with my mate. This would take  a highly disciplined effort on my part. Focus. You can get pissed anywhere. Visiting Thailand is a great opportunity many people aren’t lucky enough to get. So I make plans with my friend to dedicate one day (and one day only) to exploring the city with him (in the full knowledge that this will inevitably end in an alcohol-induced coma in the most inconvenient place to have an alcohol-induced coma in).

On my return I pay my travelling companion a visit and show her two small wooden elephants I bought as a present for a friend back in Aussie. One is an adult and the smaller one fits under between its legs and under its protective trunk. Awww…I place them on her dresser and she smiles politely. I can tell she is thinking “God, can you get any more touristy?”

In the hour and a half it has taken me to drink four beers and pick up a tacky gift she has organized a morning trip to a Buddhist monastery (note, this is a trip for me – the monastery doesn’t allow girls inside some of the buildings) and a morning trip for her to a local music school where they use traditional instruments, then a joint afternoon for the both of us at a technology exhibition featuring all the latest gizmos. As she lays out our schedule, I wonder how I can casually broach the subject of whether or not it would be possible for her to organise the rest of my life for me.

The next day is cool and drizzly. Much colder than Brisbane. So much for a steaming Asian getaway. Standing in the courtyard of the monastery, I try to get into a Zen frame of mind. Two things wrong with that. Firstly, this is not a Zen Buddhist monastery. Secondly, the constant chatter of other tourists doesn’t make for the most meditation-friendly atmosphere. That’s the thing about travelling – you love visiting different places but are disappointed when others have the same idea, and you have to wait in line with them. Go away you silly fat Americans, whiny Poms and those morose looking Eurotrash plagued with a mid-life crisis that has been brewing for half their lifetimes. Can’t you see I am trying to enrich my cultural horizons and be at one with the universe? The fact that fat Americans, whiny Poms and Eurosnobs are part of that universe is something that I don’t want to think about. I feel like a bit of a phony. Some of these monks spend their entire lives according to sacrifice and discipline whereas I will just take a few photos, enjoy the peaceful surrounds and then back to a hectic materialistic world. Surely there’s  a way to achieve spiritual fulfillment and keep my iRiver?

The tech exhibit was heaven. Or more appropriately, nirvana. Having a not-so-secret fetish for headphones, I immediately made for the audio section where the clarity of a pair of prototype Koss phones nearly reduce me to tears.  My favourite exhibit was a school bag which has an embedded chip in it which can be picked up by GPS satellites to let concerned (over-protective, paranoid?) parents know where their children are at any given time. Why the bag? Why not directly implant the chip into the kids’ brains, set up to deliver a paralysing electric shock if they ever have an independent thought? The rep (who seems to have been specially pressed and starched for the occasion) informs me that the purpose of the bags are not to control children but to safeguard them against kidnapping etc. But surely all you would have to do is leave the bag behind when you kidnap the kid? Or put it on a train as you speed off with the young tyke in the opposite direction? And aren’t kidnappings ludicrously rare? I’ve also heard (no-one must ever know that the source for this info was an Oprah show) that in the overwhelming majority of child abductions (when they do happen) it is usually someone close to the family, and so would probably know all about the bag anyway? The rep eyes me suspiciously – I know way too much about this sort of stuff. Damn, where the hell is my friend? Seriously, I like women, not little kiddies. See? I put my arm around the shoulders of my friend in a sexually well-adjusted sort of way and make my retreat.

Back at the hotel, I am crashed out on the bed. My friend comes in. A couple of Brits from the third floor she met in the lobby have invited us for drinks at the restaurant downstairs. Yes, I’m sure they’ll be real crushed if I don’t go. Ah, my doe-eyed friend – so innocent and naive. I suggest to her to casually mention her boyfriend in conversation and watch their faces drop three floors. She says I am too cynical. I am tempted to go down to witness the fun, but the day has taken a lot out of me and I have the feeling that I will need to be well rested for my day of mayhem tomorrow. But she doesn’t want to go down by herself, so I accompany her because I am a fantastic individual who is becoming more and more convinced that I was Gandhi in one of my previous lives.

One of the Brits has on a Man Utd. shirt so I dislike him intensely straight away. I admit my Chelsea allegiance from the outset and have to sit through a mind numbingly rambling diatribe about the negative effects of the newly cashed-up club. I bide my time and then inquire as to whether or not the Reds have by now accepted the american Malcom Glazer who took over their club. I never tire of how close to the bone this affects all the Mancs that I have met and at first I think he is about to burst out in tears, but he settles for a grimace of barely concealed distaste. Round one to me. The subject is quickly changed to alcohol and how they are going to drink me under the table.

Ha! Foolish little Poms –  blissfully unaware that my first institute of higher learning was Otago University where drinking is offered as a three year Bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that these two didn’t go to university, primarily  because they prefer to spend the entirety of their days  drinking continuously without the pesky interruptions of lectures. After a couple of hours I am not travelling well at all. When I next feel like going  to the bathroom, I plan several minutes ahead, mentally steeling myself to, in the correct order: get up, leave my chair, walk the nine or so metres without having to use the other tables/chairs/patrons as support, or more embarrassingly, just collapsing in a drunken heap. I put some weight onto my feet under the table as a test, and feel confident in pulling off the Great Bathroom Caper, which I do with aplomb.

Buoyed by this small victory, I am filled with confidence and entertain notions of pulling off an upset victory over these cocky Poms – surely by the law of averages, after winning the Ashes, no Englishman should expect to win anything for the next decade? The next day my friend informs me that during my absence one of the guys had asked if we were in a relationship. She had replied that no, and that she had a boyfriend back in Aussie, to which apparently they had had no reaction. O sweet cherub – but how could she, without a male mind, be able to pick up on the diabolical musings which take place there in its dark caverns? It would be like asking Little Red Riding Hood about the pack hunting strategies of wolves.

I wake up for my day of mayhem with a very, very bad hangover. My ability to avoid hangovers irrespective of the amounts of alcohol consumed the night before had always been a source of great personal pride to me, and the basis for my belief that I was genetically superior to those poor mortals the likes of whom would wander into breakfast at 1:00pm looking like dehydrated zombies. As I stumbled out of bed and took a few tentative steps, I was now having to deal with all sorts of new experiences. Like a mouthful of what felt like Ugboot lint and the disconcerting feeling that somehow one of my legs had been amputated at the knee (that being the only logical reason why the room was at such an unfamiliar angle). Alright Champ, get your game face on – it’s showtime. As I lurch toward the bathroom, I spy a decanter of water on the bedside table. Ah, It’s good to have a guardian angel looking out for you.I make a mental note to thank her, and forget it almost immediately.  The water hits the spot and in half and hour I’m in the lobby waiting for my NZ friend.

Surprisingly he’s on time and is well up for it. First things first – food. On foot patrol, we head outside. The traffic is insane and people are everywhere. It’s definitely a shock to the system to be engulfed in such a human river. We lose each other a couple of times but are ambling along, I think much to the annoyance of the majority of people who actually have places to go. We find our way to the commercial district where the crowd now is made up of either locals in suits or tourists in singlets. We cruise down the seemingly endless food stalls/restaurants, spoilt for choice. One of the small food houses has a big rooftop board with a gigantic painted cowboy on it twirling a lasso, for no apparent reason. Bingo. Our kind of place. Inside is very busy and we set up camp in one of the corners. Ginger chilli beef and noodles starts us off and we are away. As we pack away the grub there is much catching up to do. It transpires that one of my schoolmates went to jail for drug possession. In jail, he met up with the real thing and once released, is now set up as a drug dealer. There’s rehabilitation for you.

Next up we look to shoot some pool to settle some old scores. We hail a taxi and the driver gets the gist of what we’re after. We agree on the price beforehand, but to be honest, as we have no clue where this place is, we have no idea if we’re getting ripped off. The traffic is ludicrously busy but not as death-defying as other countries I’ve been. We pull up beside some shops and the driver points to some guy standing on the pavement. Okay… The driver sees our confusion and yells something to the guy who smiles at us and waves us up. Now we see a recessed doorway. Thinking it’s a bar, we go through, to be confronted with a massive flight of stairs. We go up and up and up. At the top is another guy, much less friendly. He opens the door and we go in. My first impression is that the place is on fire. Then I realize that a heavy fog of cigarette smoke occupies the top third of this massive hall. It sounds like an auction house with all the voices. There are many tables with old guys playing cards. A waitress wearing not many clothes comes up to us and we carefully mime shooting pool which we hope won’t be taken the wrong way. She leads us to a little hallway, and we come into another big room, with the nicest king size pool tables we have ever seen.

Another girl wearing even less  leads us to a table. As these are not coin operated tables we try to ask about payment but she smiles and waves us off. Okay. So we figure it’s a time played type deal and get down to bidnez.. It doesn’t take us many frames to figure out that all is not well in paradise. People seem to be playing pool only as a means of passing time before they disappear into, or come out of, a short hallway. Intriguing…

My friend, who I shall call D, suggests we should take a mosey on down into one of the other rooms. If anyone asks, we can say that we are looking for the bathroom. Unfortunately, I am a little girly-man, and the sight of the sinister man at the top of the stairs is burnt into my memory. This does not strike me as the sort of place you would want to create a disturbance, especially if you don’t speak the language. As D is trying to convince me to grow a pair, a man walks up to our table. In English he asks us if we are enjoying ourselves. This guy looks like the asian version of Bert Newton. D comments on the nice tables. “Yes, the top” he agrees. He introduces himself as the president of something-or-rather. He explains that this is a business man’s social club but hastily adds “but we always welcome guests”. He asks if we would like to meet some of our countrymen and asks where in England we are from. My friend D says we are from New Zealand. “New Zealand?! I won fifty thousand dollars in the Auckland casino!” He seems very pleased with us and invites us to meet some of the members.

We walk down a corridor and into a room which seems completely filled with smoke. This is like the first hall, but the tables are absolutely cluttered with glasses and food which the players squeeze their cards in between. He introduces to a table as he pulls two chairs from a neighboring table and squeezes two more places. Before we know it we are seated and there is much friendly nodding at us. As I’m acknowledging the others, our host says something to them and they all smile. One turns to us and says “we have a good holiday in New Zealand”. Evidently. Our lucky host asks us to enjoy ourselves and to “take our leisure” and he leaves.

Of the six other men at the table, two are English and carry on small talk with us while playing cards at a frenetic rate. One of these asks us to call him Tommy and motions at one of the waitresses while asking us what we want to drink. Beer is the answer. He tells us that beer is not very popular amongst the club and is of inferior quality. Do we like spirits? I love my whiskey and D is up for some rum and coke. When the lovely lady returns, it is with two glasses and three bottles, one of Johnny Walker (Black Label – I am in heaven) and one of an unfamiliar rum which D assures me with a smile  is “the top”, and a bottle of cola, all of which she plonks down on the already fully crammed table. We start to explain that we don’t want the whole bottle, as we pull out our wallets but are again waved off. Tommy explains that the drinks are free. The club takes a percentage of the takings from each table and that in the other wing  “there is a charge” for “the company of the ladies.” We see.

It is no wonder they can afford to put up free drinks. It’s strange because while the gentleman at the tables are not dressed very expensively, they are playing with serious money. There must be at least $15,000 in Australian dollar terms in play at our table, and some other tables have a lot more. And judging by the traffic through the pool room, I’m guessing the “ladies” are making a pretty packet as well. We settle back and watch the energy of the game. There seems to be a lot of trash talk which we wish we could understand. People scream out in mock rage at each other, and in real rage at themselves when they lose. There are some tables where there are no cards being played. People drift in and out and it seems everyone knows everyone else. At intervals the waitress brings the tables  food in tin plates. Because we had just a meal, D and I weren’t hungry and so didn’t eat much. After a while though,  we got peckish and had some of these shrimp cutlets which were quite hot but ridiculously tasty. Seeing us wolf them down, Tommy motions to the waitress. We protest, but only half-heartedly – and sure enough more of the cutlets are brought out. This is the life.

It may seem totally strange and awkward to sit at a table with a bunch of people you’ve never met while they gamble, but it was actually really natural. We got caught up in the dynamics of the game, and Tommy was a legend, translating the talk of the table and their crazy stories, many of  which were classic.

One example: One of the men at our table had been in the Army. Stationed in the Philippines,  he and his barracks were in the Supplies Warehouse, organizing and dispatching the various weekly deliveries which included everything from food rations and bedding to cleaning products and mulch for the gardens. The Supplies Warehouse, being situated right at the compound gates was also a favourite place to entertain the local prostitutes, who could be snuck in easily. Which is exactly what our intrepid soldier was doing, when over the growl of the delivery trucks he heard the whine of a jeep. This was not good. It could be any one of the many officers, but there was one in particular who struck fear into everyone on the base due to his harsh punishments which included mopping the communal bathrooms.

Not exactly the Spanish Inquisition you might say, except that he made you fill up the buckets one cup at a time from a nearby river. So you can understand the panic which set in. Our Romeo sprints to lock the outer rolling door to buy himself a precious few seconds after asking his lovely Juliet to take the clothes and hide in one of the refrigerated containers on the second level of the warehouse. At top speed and putting his military fitness to good use, he slides and locks the door before he turns on his heels and makes double-time upstairs. Footsteps can be heard and the dreaded C.O. opens the door with his key and starts hollering for someone in particular. Romeo sneaks into the container, to find to his horror that his companion has only brought back her clothes.

In the silence that follows he can see in his mind’s eye the C.O standing perplexed over the full uniform, boots included, sprawled all over the floor. When the original soldier that was requested arrives, he finds the officer purple with hysteria inquiring in that polite army way what the meaning of all of this is. The soldier wisely professes his bewilderment as well. One way or another, this mystery is going to be solved. The officer orders the entire crew of the barracks to line up. He asks the leader who the missing soldier is. Knowing the game is up and realizing sadly that this surely spells the end of all such future types of rendezvous, he has no option but to name our Romeo.

But where there is a will there is a way. One plucky soldier volunteers that he has seen Romeo outside, dispatching the gravel bags. He is sent outside to see if he can find him. Leaving the officer screaming all sorts of graphic threats he makes his way outside. He knows that Romeo must be on the second level, so he stacks four pellets of flour up against the side of the building and does a fair imitation of spiderman up to the landing. Once inside, he cautiously makes his way, whispering “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?” He finds the pair, one very much colder than the other, and explains what a fine mess he is in. Romeo contemplates suicide. Our rescuer thinks there must be a better way.

Fear and pressure can bring outstanding things out of people, and the saviour suddenly smiles and genius strikes. The plan is hastily shared, and our plucky soldier strips and hands his clothes over to our shivering playboy. Newly kitted out, Romeo sneaks out to the landing and drops down on the pellets and heads on around to the opposite entrance, and ambles on in like he is on a Sunday stroll. He finds the officer still expounding on the various sadistic tortures he will bring down upon the whole group, each more sickeningly inventive than the last. Seeing Romeo, his fellow soldiers eye this apparition with great wonder. The officer eyes him suspiciously and asks him where he has been.

As innocent as a cherub, our man replies that he had been delivering the gravel bags when one must have burst open, spraying gravel on the road. On the return trip he sees this and realizing the grave safety concerns this loose gravel posed, he had been sweeping it all up. The officer, secretly disappointed at not putting into effect his headful of cruel and unusual punishment, demands to know which other barracks are on duty nearby and orders a list of those on recreational leave, and storms off eager to get his man, completely forgetting why he had come to the warehouse in the first place. Romeo breathes  a sigh of relief and is heartily congratulated for his efforts. With the world conquering stride of the victor, he climbs the stairs and returns to his beloved, only to find her and Spiderman in, shall we say, carnal embrace.

Perhaps the story is a lot funnier after countless whiskies / rum-and-cokes, but we were nearly in tears, and we cracked everyone up because they heard the sting in the tale and roared with laughter, then we cracked up ten seconds later when our translator caught up. Hilarity I tells ya. Other notable memories of that table (fuzzy though they may be) included an elderly Japanese guy pulling some ludicrous stunts with a ludicrously sharp knife and us sampling some homemade house moonshine to much acclaim and the merriment of the others who enjoyed our brave efforts splutters and all. Oh, how I wish those Poms could have been here. For these were the most amazing drinkers I had ever met. Thin spindly old guys who could drink a table under the table.

Realizing our increasing lack of coherency, we thanked our gracious hosts from the bottom of our tachycardic hearts and lurched on back to the pool room, me with the whole bottle of Johnny in hand, taking swigs. Pure class all the way. All I needed was the brown paper bag and to pester passerby for cigarettes. With the evening truly underway by now, the traffic through the pool room was on the increase, and we noticed many foreigners, a few with the unmistakeable Aussie drawl. D and I exit the poolhall, leaving behind us those travellers to get their horizons expanded…

The time is almost upon us when we’d planned to go and see some hardcore Thai kickboxing, and now that we were all liquored up, a good dose of senseless violence was seeming  a lot more attractive by the sip. We make our way shakily down the labyrinth of stairs and find ourselves outside. The guy on the street is a different guy. We ask where we can get a Taxi. He eyes our deplorable state and not wanting to cast shame on the veritable institution of the Something-Or-Rather Businessman’s Club, motions us to wait inside while he calls one. We can’t be arsed walking up all those stairs again, so once the door is closed, we just crash out, leaning with our backs on the wall under the side banisters. A pair of no good bums. The guy outside comes in to get us, and he almost hits us with the door.

Outside and breathing in the first non-cigarette-polluted air our lungs have had for the last  four hours, the problem of communicating with the driver who speaks absolutely no English, becomes apparent. If we thought miming pool was fun, our efforts to stage an impromptu kickboxing match against each other brings forth a gale of laughter from both the guy on the door and the driver, who we feel is toying with us the way certain malicious sobre types will, at the expense of their more tipsy colleagues.  And yet, success! We are on our way…

At the fight, all semblance of civilization leaves us and we realize that we are totally gone. Scientific words like ‘intoxicated’ sugest only a clinical dampening of our cognitive function. We were well and truly sozzled. May as well enjoy ourselves is the plan. I’m a fan of boxing, and don’t have much time for those who label it “brutal”. But even to a lover of the “Sweet Science” this looked to be some impressive savagery. The stinging ‘thwack’ sound that rung out each time  a barefooted kick made contact with skin made your eyes water. We gave the boxers names like Gentleman Jack and Hombre ‘The Hurricane’ Hernandez and yelled out our carefully thought out advice. “Kick him in the head! Finish him! His style is inferior – let him taste the wrath of the Flying Phoenix Buddhist Palms!” and so forth…  We feel like Roman Emperors, watching gladiators perform for us.

It seems gambling is the national sport in Thailand, because to one side are the bookies are doing a roaring trade. Confident in our newly acquired knowledge, we put some money on a lean looking fighter with heart. We have no idea about all the hand signals and other protocol, but bring our finely honed acting skills to the fore and make ourselves understood. Seven rounds of splendid pugilism later, our man wins, (was there ever any doubt?) with a rib shattering flurry of punches. We stagger back to the bookies but in the crowd of others making bets, can’t get anywhere near them. One of the guys motions us to wait and points to his watch. We wait, but he motions us back to our chairs.

Apparently this will take time. We start thinking that we have been had, but two fights later, the bookies turn from taking money to handing out the winnings. The guy now motions us to go over. I have no idea how the four bookies possibly could have memorized the bets of the thirty or so punters, but it seems they have. Everyone is in a loose semi-circle and they walk along, handing out your winnings. As we had no idea on the odds, we didn’t know if we got the right amount, but these guys looked like they knew what they were doing, as opposed to us, who looked like we had gone a couple of rounds with Hombre ‘The Hurricane’ Hernandez.

The small gym is almost unbearably hot and as we leave and are standing outside I notice D is sweating all over, with his hair plastered across his forehead. Not having the logical capacity to surmise that I probably look the same, I crack up. Man, we must look like a pair of junkies in withdrawal. No cabbie in Australia would go within a mile of us. Thankfully the first one we see stops for us and we pile in. He calls us “gentlemen” which is exceedingly generous of him. We head back to the tourist centre and hit the club, in our minds making an entrance like Will I Am in the ‘Weekend’ video. We are meeting D’s little (BIG) brother here. Back to familiar beer, we are distraught at actually having to pay for drinks. That’s just not cricket.

This club is just like any back in Brisbane. Ninety per cent of the people are tourists and about half of them are Aussie. There are no empty tables so we are at the bar carrying on our shenanigans. One of the barmen puts down a drink in between us, and we look at each other confused. A hand reaches across D and takes it. As D wipes a bit of the spillage from his forearm, he says to me, smiling “yeah, you’re excused”. The guy who the arm belongs to is less than impressed and says “well stop leaning all over the fucking bar”. He disappears before our foggy brains can feel insulted. D’s little brother picks this moment to join us and we tell him what happened, as we motion over to the guy, who must have been telling his mates the same story. They took a look at D’s brother and must have quickly advised their mate to drop it whilst his bones were in the universally much-preferred unbroken state. Leave those crazy kiwis alone mate, after all, haven’t you ever seen Once Were Warriors?

Now. Till this point we are certain of events. From here on in things are at best a hazy reconstruction. D’s little bro hooked up with a Canadian redhead who had an amazingly loud voice. There is a top secret conference and it is decided (I have no recollection of this) that D will sleep in my room to allow lil bro to further NZ-Canadian relations. We are now in a deplorable state, and utterly unable to maintain sitting equilibrium on a bar stool, so we search for some nice low comfy  seats, which we find a few bars over. Finally, some great music. Latin beats from a live band ensures that almost everyone is on the floor. We get into conversation with some uber chic party people in all the right threads and the inevitable sunglasses indoors.

For some reason we get into a debate over whether or not MacGyver should be accorded All Time T.V. Legend status. Just your average good-natured playful drunk conversation, but apparently I took it all rather personally and delivered a lengthy address, elucidating how in many respects MacGyver’s lack of standing amongst the current youth was symptomatic of society’s descent into moral depravity and the loss of faith in Good over Evil, and that in generations to come MacGyver will be regarded as the last true champion of virtue, before Hollywood stars needed a substance-abuse problem and an endless supply of cynical one-liners to be heroes. I brought my closing arguments to an end by hurling ridicule at my well-dressed opponents centering on their reluctance to try spicy food, which in retrospect perhaps did not quite logically follow  from the chain of arguments I had so meticulously constructed.

The small hours of the morning finds us sitting in the same chairs, in that excruciating state where you’re too tired to sleep. We both haven’t said a word for ages. The bar staff keep throwing us concerned looks, so we decide to call it a night. Like the undead, we lurch outside and for the first time we simply can’t find a taxi. It slowly dawns on us that maybe 10 metres before a set of lights at a major intersection might be a tad optimistic. We track back and find others also waiting for cabs. We insist  on yelling heartfelt farewells to each of the parties in front of us as they leave.

Finally, we crawl into the back a cab and I am out like a light about ten seconds later. Now and then, I catch a glimpse of D staring out of the window before I drift in and out of sleep.Gradually a feeling of unease tries to make itself heard through the haze. The next time I’m awake it hits: this is taking too long. I mumble to D if he negotiated the price before we started. He doesn’t answer me. I give him a nudge and he turns from the window, looks at me, slouches down to my level, and very quietly whispers to me “Can you see the pattern?” My poor brain can’t handle this. My blank face prompts him to point out the window. I take a look to see the cityscape. What am I looking for?

He begins a long and rambling speech which, as it progresses, inspires in me no small amount of terror. It is somewhere near the middle of his tale of how the circulation of the traffic is intimately connected with the circulation of his bloodstream and that both are controlled by his heartbeat, that it dawns on me that D is chemically altered to Hollywood levels of narcotic psychedelisis.

My mind races (by which I mean it sluggishly turns over a few unrelated concepts in no particular order) as I try and figure out just when and how this happened. I’m getting no sense out of D. A post-event analysis conducted by our good selves have to date narrowed it down to that dodgy Style Patrol in the last bar we were at, and the leggy brunette who repaid D’s clumsy advances with the communal sharing of a tab of acid. Or was it a mint? He doesn’t remember and I believe further investigation to be of little value. With D otherwise occupied, I ask the driver if we are heading to my hotel. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. In broken English he apologetically informs me that D had told him to “go for a drive”. Thankfully the fare is not yet ludicrous so I ask him to take us back to D’s hotel.

It is only after we arrive there,  that D tells me that he’s staying with me in my room. I have no idea what the hell he is talking about but he tells me about his brother so now we head out to the entrance of the hotel to look for our one thousandth taxi for the evening. We should be getting frequent driver points. We know the two hotels are very close together, so decide that the best course of action to take would be walk in the direction of those hotel-looking buildings over there, until we either find out whether it’s walkable,  or can wave down a taxi. A flawless stratagem. For some reason the thought of Scott’s last expedition pops into my head like a sudden Arctic blast, then is gone into the ether.

There are three guys talking at the end of the street under a lamppost, lounging on their scooters. As we approach, one of them makes a motion of lighting a cigarette. Sorry mate, we don’t have a light. D then asks them  in turn if they know where my hotel is. They (not surprisingly) don’t understand his spaced out sentences when I suddenly realize I have my hotel room key-card on me, covered in a sleeve which has the hotel’s name on it. I am too pleased with my brilliance to listen to their reply. Taking this in their stride, they resort to non-verbal communication, and make three sharp gestures with their hands. Looking back, it probably meant “Oh, that’s just over there. Take a left, a right and a left and you can’t miss it.”

But the hotel key inspiration has used up the last of my mental metabolism and I’m now running on empty. They look at the way we are swaying almost in time together and murmur amongst themselves. Probably something along the lines of “Damn druggie Aussies. Where do they think this is, Indonesia?” Well we’re Kiwis, dammit. Finally one of them points at us then at his scooter as he starts it up. It becomes apparent two of them (probably for our safety) are going to ride us over there. The two of us? On scooters? And the scooters will be moving? I begin to decline his offer politely when D grabs my arm (this is my favourite part of our whole adventure) and says (I swear to god I am not making this up) “Don’t worry. I knew this would happen.”

But, not surprisingly, I did worry. I was worrying a great deal, when D hopped behind one of the guys on his trusted steed, gave me a smile and they rode off into the distance. I had no choice but to follow. The hotel was ridiculously close. My guess was that it took just over two minutes. The next day D estimated our travel time at “around forty minutes.” Either way, with D controlling the traffic around us telepathically, we had no troubles reaching our destination.

Finally, I thought it would be a good idea to wake up my travel buddy because what sane person would choose to sleep when they could be regaled by chronicles of our heroic travels? So, because I am always thinking of others, we paid her a 4.00 am visit so she could say that she had played a small part in one of the greatest adventure epics in modern history. She was enthralled of course, but because she didn’t want to further embarrass us two modest exploring pioneers, for whom the journey is its own reward, she graciously managed to downplay her excitement to such a level that the next day D would say she looked “kinda pissed off”.


viva minutiae,


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