Tuesday, 19 July 2011

An idiot's guide to buying a house in Bangkok

I'm writing a book. Yes, that's right, actually writing one, as opposed to just talking about it. So I figured this blog would be the perfect forum to try out some bits from it. So be nice and don't crush my sensitive artist's soul. On the other hand, if it totally sucks, be a dear and let me know. Publishers waving six figure advances, please form an orderly queue to the left. I jest, I jest. Here is a short piece I did for Time that explains a tiny fraction of the madness the seized my life for two years. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,629437,00.html  The working title of the book is Village Idiot. And this is how it begins.

Descent into the maelstrom

It’s a baking blue-skied Bangkok day. Just past noon, and the heat has gripped me in its cloying embrace. It’s the serious kind of Bangkok scorcher the long time resident knows is a significant trip down the ladder to hell from the general quotidian sweat-fest. This is yaba fiend kills wife in argument over who gets the fan hot. Failure to apply prickly heat powder causes suppurating crotch rot hot. The kind of heat where the City of Angels dons honorary horns and grabs a pitchfork for a day.

Not even lunch time and I’ve been drinking. At home. Alone. Again. Hey, things haven’t been going so well. Cut a guy some slack. A wise medicine man once advised me of the restorative powers of beer, a horizontal position and ESPN. And as a thrusting, questing journalist, I’m duty bound to put this to the test. In the name of research, you understand. Cover the story.  But I’m shaken from my slack-jawed sofa torpor - agawp at sport, dregs akimbo - by the insistent buzz of the doorbell; angry, urgent, waspish. I gulp the last of my lukewarm brew and lurch outside to investigate. Jabbing at the buzzer with a violence jarringly at odds with the afternoon’s indolence is a very angry man. A man who, despite his middling height, has assumed mythic proportions in my mind; nemesis, scourge and telemarketer rolled into one. Perhaps it’s the heat shimmer or the beer goggles, but for a moment, it all makes perfect sense. Satan has come back to earth and I am his chosen vassal. Then I notice that he is clutching an unfeasibly large handgun in a weathered leather holster. I mean this is a serious Dirty Harry piece. Arnie armaments. But what would Satan be doing with a gun? Doesn’t he have, like, legions of fiends who could tear you enough new assholes to make you a shit fountain just by blinking their narrow yellow eyes?  So I’m standing there, thinking and swaying, OK, possibly more of the latter, but there’s definitely something very wrong with this picture.

The man’s back is ramrod straight. His booze-rouged cheeks are incandescent with ire and there's a sour whisky stink on his breath. His steel grey hair is cropped in a military manner and he sports army fatigues and a faded camouflage t-shirt. But what terrifies me almost as much as the gun is his eyes. They are cold and dead, yet red-rimmed and filled with an icy fury. To call them pissholes in the snow would be unfair to alfresco micturation. They are ruthless piggy nothing to lose eyes. End of tether eyes. I’m going to kill you motherfucker eyes.

I’m struck by the incongruity of the situation and feel a smile twitching about my lips. There is an armed, angry former Thai army colonel on my doorstep yet all around a typical village day is unfolding. I can hear the children playing across the street. A dog barks. The noisy chickens over the back are clucking. Someone, somewhere, is crooning through a boombox karaoke so unspeakably awful that they must be using auto de-tune. But the croaks and clucks go quiet, my vision tunnels and adrenaline burns off the beery thickness.  I’m wondering if I can run back inside faster than he can unsheath the pistol. We stare at each other for seconds that feel like hours.

   “This is my house,’’ he barks.
   “Umm, er, hem, haw,’’ I say, hoping I’ve made my position clear.
   “This is my house,’’ he screams this time, making sure I can see the gun. His face is scarlet and his screwed up eyes have disappeared under his screwed down hairdo. Random words pop and crackle in my brain but my synapses have suddenly gone on strike. Gun. Shit. Run. Wife. Kids. Dogs. Life. Death. Why?
   “Get out. The police are already on their way,’’ I lie. My wife, Ouam, is not home, but I shout back to the door, “aren’t they, honey!’’

His rusting pickup truck is parked outside, and I can see his corpulent wife smirking within. She looks like Jabba the Hut. No, Jabba the Condo. Grabba the House. Only with more slime. For all I know, she’s probably got Carrie Fisher crammed in the glove box. Feverish calculations are racing through my mind. Is he too old to climb the fence? What if he comes around to the front, where the fence is lower? If he gets in, should I run, or hide, or try to defend myself? Should I have bought myself a gun? Where’s the biggest kitchen knife?

 I summon up my courage and unleash all the terrifying might a trained wordsmith can muster:          “Urrghbluggoawaypleaseleavemealonewhatdidieverdotoyou.’’’
   He stiffens. Becomes still. Then calmly utters the words that shake me to my core and will disturb my dreams for years to come. “You get your coffin.’’ A pause, then he explodes. “YOU GET YOUR COFFIN!’’ He’s going for the gun, fumbling with the holster’s clip, and Jabba is oozing out of the car and slithering up the driveway. I turn and bolt inside as he takes aim and shrieks: “This is my house. I will stay here. I WILL STAY HERE!’’

My step-daughter has wandered downstairs to see what the commotion is all about and I bundle her back inside as I reach the front door. I peek outside and see Jabba wrestling the Colonel back towards the car, slathering him with slime, grabbing for the gun. They both bark angrily and my dogs join in. Christ, he wouldn’t shoot my dogs would he? I stab at my mobile phone, calling my father in Australia. I need reassurance, a lifeline to a calm, safe place, advice, anything. And as the phone rings, the one clear thought cutting like a laser through my panicked head is, how the hell did I end up in this mess?