Chapter One: The Courier
In a land where the abnormal is normal, the unusual is ordinary, the exotic is blended with decadence, white is cow and black is dumb, and smiles hide deceit; the courier exited the Boeing 747 and began making his way toward immigration, the luggage carousel and the wary custom officers.
Seventeen hours earlier, he had left the City of Angeles in the West and now was in the City of Angeles in the East. Tired and dirty, his muscles ached and his mouth tasted as though the British Army had camped in it. He attempted to smooth his rumpled clothing as he presented himself to the Thai authorities. Although especially tiresome because he picked the slow line as usual, the bureaucratic entry procedures went smoothly. At one o’clock in the morning, he wearily stepped out of Bangkok’s Don Muang International Arrivals Building and was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air. He was stepping into an unknown and mysterious world; into a new adventure in a life already rich in adventures in other worlds.
Engulfed by the darkness of this hot October night he knew nothing of Patpong, Soi Cowboy, the full body massages, the corruption, which spread its giant wings over everything and everybody from the local police to the Halls of Parliament. Nor was he aware of the multi-million dollar sex industry with its thousands of young men and woman searching for older men who would pay 300 Baht, about ten dollars, for the pleasure of their youthful bodies. He was unaccustomed to the 32 degree Celsius temperature and 85 percent humidity which hung over the nine million souls that October night in Bangkok, but he would soon learn this was a typical – day or night, month after sweltering month. Often referred to as “Thighland” in recognition of the flourishing flesh trade, Bangkok is not particularly habitable. There is no doubt about it — Bangkok is a mess. Noisy, polluted, ugly, congested, chaotic and corrupted. But even with all this, the happy go lucky hit song “Don’t worry, be happy” seems as if it had been written for the Thais. They merrily go about their daily chores voicing the ever-popular saying, “Mai pen rai, mee kwam sook, sanook”. The Westerner might say, “Don’t fret the small thing, just be happy and have fun”.
Coming by the lust for travel was quite natural to him. His father was a wanderer and loved traveling. He was often heard quoting Hans Christian Anderson: “Traveling is the greatest education man can acquire.”
As an off spring raised in an abandoned boxcar by a nomadic family from the Midwest, his travels began in the late depression years.
Leaving the railroad car behind, his family joined the “Oakies” in their quest for a better life, which led them to Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley.
The ensuing years would be filled with many makeshift homes in as many locations. By the on-set of The Second World War, he found himself with his parents and five siblings, in Southern California.
The family had settled; the father hadn’t. Still possessed with itching feet he deserted the family, joined the merchant marines, and was off seeking Hans Christian Anderson’s education.
His father returned from the war, with his wanderlust in tact and the moves continued.
During one of the moves, his mother was killed in a motorcycle accident, which left his father crippled for life.
On his own at the age of 17, he joined the military searching for the elusive rainbow, which had eluded his father. His search would take him from the Arctic Circle to the Equator; through most of the South Sea Islands and further west into Korea and Japan. Here he would involuntarily serve as one of the “Sitting Ducks” during the invasion of Inchon. It was here he would meet a life long friend.
His memories often returned to his friend Dave. They had been like a set of bookends, spending four years aboard a destroyer in the Navy. Following the navy, they had gone to college together in a small Texas town, sharing disillusions in the teaching profession. Even when they drifted apart, their friendship never faltered. As though fate had tied them together, their paths continued to cross over the years.
Later in life, he would visit most of Europe. But now he found himself in Southeast Asia and for the first time felt the anxiety of a culture shock.
At the curb was the endless line of taxis, awaiting fares to go downtown Bangkok. As he went to enter the first taxi in line, a middle-aged fat man tried to push him aside and enter the cab. Annoyed and tired, he pushed the tub of lard aside saying, “Fuck off, fatso”. As he closed the door of the cab, he heard the fat man yelling something about an asshole.
In English he inquired of the driver, “How much to the Malaysian Hotel in Soi Nam Dupre?”
He didn’t notice the smile on the driver’s face, as he sharply said, “600 Baht and you pay toll!”
He would later pay 200 for the same ride after learning all prices in Thailand are negotiable and learning a few words of Thai. But this was his first trip to Thailand and he was already a half-hour late meeting his courier contact at the Malaysian Hotel.
He had been told it was almost a half hour ride to the hotel. Leaning back in the worn and faded seat, he attempted to rest.
After being awake for almost thirty-six hours, it was difficult to keep his mind centered on what he was here to do and whom he was here to see.
As sleep began to over take him, his mind began to wonder over the past four years. He thought of the events, which led him to be sitting in the back seat of the vintage taxi, nine thousand miles from home.
As his mind slipped into the twilight zone, between sleep and consciousness, the driver made his way towards downtown.
Half asleep, he was unaware of the madness, which is referred to as Bangkok Traffic. With its sam lotes, thousands of motorbikes and the famous tuk tuks dashing in and out of traffic — all pressing firmly on their horns. The driver turned on the cheap radio and the lulling sound of Asian music filled the cab as his mind went back in time.
An early retirement from the motion picture industry was going to enable him the freedom to travel.
Europe was not an option as most of that had been visited with this wife over the preceding fifteen years.
With a new motor home in the driveway, they set out to tour the back roads of America. A vacation for her - a research trip for him. He had always wanted to write a book on the cult movement in the United States. With the free time and the uprising of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas it was the perfect excuse for such a trip.
The trip was a success as far as the book was concerned, but a disaster for the marriage; a marriage, which has begun twelve years earlier, based on deceit and greed. She had wanted a movie career, which she thought he could help her with. He wanted the wealth and happiness, which her “Nob Hill” family in San Francisco could provide.
With his present marriage collapsing and his children raised, he moved from a tract home in middle class Americas and into a Beverly Hills Society.
In the following twelve years there would be fast boats, luxury cars, fancy motorcycles and expensive motor homes. There would be homes in Newport Beach, Palm Springs, and a chalet in Lake Arrowhead. There would be no movie career for her and very little happiness for him.
The marriage could not withstand the stress found in a twenty-two foot motor home. After three months on the back roads of America, they made a joint decision to separate.
He made his home in the mountain cabin; she stayed in Palm Springs. They would come together on neutral ground in New Port Beach.
For the next three years he would write a column for a small newspaper in conservative Orange Country, California. He would become involved in the martial art of Wha Rang Do, which he had been ignoring for the past ten years, he would try to find some semblance of happiness in his later years.
Living alone he found serenity, in writing and training.
Seldom seeing anyone, he endeavored through meditation, to discover his identity.
Once he found a publisher for his cult manuscript, he again became restless. Wanderlust still gnawed in his mind. His dreams were of unknown exotic lands, and lands, which he only knew of in his fantasies.
Spending Xmas and New Years alone, he slowly became a “couch potato”. His big adventure for the New Year was sitting in front of his television watching the Super Bowl. It was shortly after half time when he received the phone call. A phone call, which would eventually lead him to the back seat of this cab in Southeast Asia.
The devastating phone call was from a hospital in the Northwest. His wife while vacationing with her daughter had a stroke and was in the emergency room. He was informed she was dying of a massive brain tumor.
He immediately traveled to the Northwest and for the following four months, seldom left her side. As was originally diagnosed, she died four months later.
For the first time in his life, he felt free!
As he scattered her ashes off New Port Beach, he felt the need to seek refuge in travel.
“HEY MISTER” the words from the cabby shock him from his sleep and back into reality. As he pulled himself together he exited the cab. As he looked around he was shocked at his surroundings. The hotel was anything besides a five star accommodation. It was more like a three star dive.
He noticed the girls in the parking lot, unaware that half of them were “Ga theuy” (In other words, transvestites.)
There are those in Thailand who would argue they are better looking and make better lovers than their counterparts.
Being assured by the driver that indeed this was the right hotel, he paid the fare. The driver called him “kee nio” (cheapskate for not tipping) and “Farang mai jai dee” (Foreigner with no heart) just on general principles.
It had been two months earlier that his motion picture friend, Tim, had told him about courier work. His friend had told him it was an inexpensive way of traveling.
Not putting too much stock in the words of a practicing alcoholic, the thought nevertheless still intrigued him. On a lark, he decided to check it out. To his amazement, it was true!
Now here he was three weeks later, nine thousand miles from Hollywood and the craziness of the motion picture industry.
Taking his one suitcase and the small attaché case, he walked away from the taxi. With excitement in his steps, he thought here I am about to meet Tim, the local contact for World Wide Courier services.
(End of Chapter 1.)
© Jim Cornick. All rights reserved by the author.
Category: Fiction Asia
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