My ears pop as the plane pokes a hole through the stagnant morning haze that blankets Bangkok at this time of year. It snaps me out of an indiscernible, troubling dream. I push my swollen feet into my runners and gaze dreamily out the small foggy window at the pinkish clouds whizzing past. I could throw up. I mean, if I was locked in a toilet right now, I would throw up. I think my stomach has had enough. It feels like it’s attempting to climb out through my mouth so it can go in search of a less abusive home. The dribble of water left in my bottle is warm and metallic, but it helps. I took two Vallum in the departure lounge of Doha airport and slept most of the way here. I navigated my way to the toilet in a blurry stupor somewhere over Iraq, or India or some other shit hole before necking a few sleeping tablets and passing out again. It made the hours fly by, but I’m paying for it now.
This is my second time in big, dull, smelly Bangkok airport. My first trip was a stopover on my way back from a year in Oz and although I only stayed for five days it proved long enough for me to fall in love with the place. This time though, it’s for keeps. Yep. This time I won’t be going home.
As I make my way down the semi-familiar cavernous hallway from the arrivals gate to passport control I notice a girl wearing blue overalls and a white dust mask mopping the floor outside a disabled toilet. Her eyes are beautiful but dulled; probably by the mundane task at hand. This is the most important day of my life but for that poor fucker, scrubbing away, it’s just Monday morning.
As I continue towards my date with a no-doubt beautiful but inevitably stern-faced custom official a female of some sort dons a weird robotic voice and uses it to wail flight numbers down the intercom system. She sounds like a fucking Dalek. I know I'm not carrying anything untoward but as always, I practically shit myself at the thought of a stint in the Hilton while a team of uniformed spastics scan me and my bags. Luckily, I negotiate what turns out to be a seriously un-beautiful but still stern-faced middle-aged Thai man at the immigration point without any hassle. I collect my bag, promise to pay over-the-odds for a taxi, and I'm the fuck out of there.
The Dublin to Heathrow, Heathrow to Doha, Doha to Bangkok journey has left me in pieces. I flop into the backseat and pass a map I printed off from my hotel's website to my hyperactive taxi driver.
"Sahara hotel? Sukhumvit Soi 5. Ha! This one easy," he chimes, pulling out of the rank and onto the motorway.
"Grand job," I say contentedly; not having to help him means I can goof off in the back seat while he locks horns with Bangkok's ferocious morning traffic.
The heat, the motion of the car and the sickly-sweet Thai love songs oozing from the taxi's radio conspire send me into semi-sleep. At some stage while I was dozing the driver obviously took the decision to poke me out of my fatigue-induced stupor.
"You like Thai lady. Ha! That's why you come Thailand!" he says, flashing his best LOS smile at the rear-view mirror.
For some reason, maybe because he's just woken me up or maybe because he's shouting, this sounds accusatory.
"Wha!? I'm only off the plane like! Give it a rest, will ya?" I whimper.
"Ha! I take you best lady for massage!" he says, eyes practically whirling in his chubby, middle-aged head.
"I can't keep my eyes open mate, I just want to go to my hotel. Thanks anyway though," I say, praying he'll leave me the fuck alone.
There's a danger that if you talk to a Thai person who is used to dealing with foreigners for too long they'll mooch in on your holiday and you'll never be rid of them. Luckily, this lad gets the message and leaves me alone to half-consciously take in aspects of my surroundings - Blue, white and red Thai national flags are lining the motorway meridian on flagpoles. They're interspersed by bright yellow Thai Royal flags. There's a brass Buddha blue-tacked to the taxi's dashboard. The driver's arms are bald. He has a fake Rolex on the right and a yellow rubber wristband stamped with, 'Long Live The King' on the left.
The sun seems to struggle to penetrate Bangkok's smog but today it's hot and unbelievably humid, on account of the now daily July downpours. I didn't really notice it on the few steps from air-conditioned arrivals gate to air-conditioned taxi, but it slams me straight in the face when I'm prompted back into it at the hotel entrance. I shrug off my taxi driver's look of mute horror at my failure to give him a tip and hop into my hotel. It's not bad, by the looks of it. Although, I had booked it on the web largely because it featured a photo of a Thai stunner standing behind the hotel reception desk with a 'fuck me' smile written across her face. Unfortunately, she's been replaced by a grumpy old bint with a hairy upper lip and yellow eyeballs. As we go through the motions she insists on taking my passport.
"Can you not just take a photocopy of it?"
"No have copy machine this place!"
"Well, why don't you just write down the passport number?"
"No! I need keep passport! In case you do something!"
"Ah here now..."
"Need keep. You don't like you don't leep in here!"
Right! Keep it for fucksakes. Can I go to bed now please Ma?"
The cunt gestures to someone over my shoulder and I'm half expecting to be dragged out by the scruff. Instead, a cheery but somewhat feminine young guy dressed in a really camp red bellboy outfit hoists my backpack onto a shoulder, snatches my key off the reception desk and gestured towards the elevator. The counter cunt shouts something after him in Thai and he responds by fixing me with his big lamps and an almost manic smile.
"I am Ting", he announces gleefully, as if expecting some form of congratulations.
The way he says it makes it fairly obvious that he knows how to say fuck all else in English. I'm not normally big on taking the piss out of the natives when I travel but I'm tired. Bleary-eyed tired. And the expression that cunt of a taxi driver pulled just because I didn't tip him even though he hung me out to dry on the fare price has pissed me off. Not to mention the stinking attitude emanating from that festering bitch wedged behind the front desk. Actually, I've a good mind not to go back to the gross cunt and put in a complaint about false advertisement. I mean, who the fuck is she? And more importantly what did she do with that cracker I was almost prompted to whack one out over when I was checking their website in my office back in Dublin? I was expecting a sexy smile and a spine-tingling wai from a buttoned-down closet-nympho stunner every time I passed that desk for the entire duration of my stay. That's what I fucking well paid for. Yeah. Those characters dented my good humour and this grinning idiot isn't going to get to do likewise. I'm going to get my retaliation in first on this lad.
"'Ting'? Really? Well, I'm not going to sully my palate by letting that effluent you call a moniker squelch its way out of my voice box again. I'm sorry, but your parents have served to demean us both by inflicting such an injurious injustice upon you. So from now on, I shall call you 'Manuel'.
Manuel's improbably broad grin somehow widened further. He obviously hadn't got a clue what I was on about but he appeared to have taken the decision to construe it as a compliment. Or worse. My spine shudders as the little shit minces the rest of the short walk to the elevator with a new zeal.
The lift is all mirrors. This means that although I really don't want to catch the eye of this eager young homosexual there's little I can do to prevent it; short of closing my eyes and keeping them closed until the third floor arrives. A reflection of a reflection of his grinning rent boy face keeps firing flirtatious glances at me. He's clearly itching for us to have a conversation but he's waiting for a queue. Christ this is awkward. Time always flies for Farangs in the 'Land of Smiles' but this thirty-second lift trip is never fucking ending. Finally, it dings.
Young Manuel throws himself under my pack with an exaggerated moan. Visibly squirming under its weight he shows me up the short corridor to the door of my room. I hope, without any real expectation, that he'll read the visible discomfort his continued presence is leaving me in and simply hand me my key and fuck off, but it's not likely. Thai people aren't like that. While there's something to be gained, they're going nowhere. Inevitably, and with his countenance still set in flirtatious-face-chasm mode, Manuel jiggles the lock and steps inside. I take a deep, tired breath and plod inside after him.
"This your loom Sir. Nice."
"Cheers, thanks," I say, holding the door open so he'll leave.
As he latches onto me with his big kid-like peepers again I suddenly notice that I'm petrified of this smiling nine stone 17-year-old. I rummage in my wallet and produce a nice blue fifty Baht note and thrust it towards him. Unfortunately the cunt seems to be only getting started with his little spiel and he doesn't even notice.
"This the mini-bar, one water free evy day for you..."
"Grand, yeah. Eh, bye now!"
"…This the air-con. For cold turn here…"
"Yeah. Here ya go, thanks for that," I say, but the fucker totally ignores me.
"And TV. The remote. Press this, blue! TV on for you. Ha!" he chirps.
"It's a tip like!" I wail, feeling the situation slip from my control.
"And bed. It is big bed! I think no good you sleep alone Sir!" he says, lowering the corners of his mouth a fraction.
"Now listen you!" I say, making my dissatisfaction at where this conversation is heading as obvious as I can manage.
Unfortunately, the little shit totally fails to read me and presses ahead: "You want me sleep with you Sir?"
"Get the fuck!" I roar, with a volume that makes him wince, and emit some sort of agonised squeal.
He makes for the door sharpish, but not before snatching the note from my still extended hand. The nastiness of the exchange numbs me into stillness, but I soon snap out of it and quickly bolt the door behind him. Christsakes.
(To be continued)