Deck class (part 1). Gulf of Siam 1974

This is part 1 of a 2 part story.

The picture below is of a Belgian ( or perhaps he was Swiss, I can’t really remember) guy I met called Beet. 

Beet on a ship we travelled on in the Gulf of Siam

I first met Beet in the southern Thai town of Hatyai near the Malaysian border.  I was only 17 years old then, and I was bumming around Southeast Asia with my girlfriend.  Back in 1974, Hatyai was a very nasty, horrible little town, and I wouldn’t have a clue what it’s like nowadays, as I consider it to be the second worst place (the worst was Belize City) I’ve ever visited and I have no intention of ever going back.

On the first day in Hatyai we were in the centre of town when my girlfriend (at the time) bought some cold coconut juice from one of the street hawkers without first asking the price.  We had already been in Asia for a couple of months and we knew what things cost so when the woman who sold us the drink asked for five times more than usual we tried to give it back to her. She wasn’t having any of that and she started raising a ruckus that attracted a large angry mob. It was scaring the hell out of us as a group of well over a hundred yelling and aggressive fist waving locals started pressing in on us, threatening us. My girlfriend and I just didn’t know what to do.

Just as things were starting to look the most dangerous and blackest Beet lunged forward and pushed a couple of guys to the ground. Beet’s behaviour was so aggressive and forceful the crowd immediately shrunk away from him with a collective gasp. The guys he pushed over scrambled to their feet and ran to the back of the crowd.  Beet then advanced further into the crowd with his eyes bulging and fists up, while screaming at the crowd “O.K. who’s going to be the first?!” Beet must have been channelling the spirit of some long dead Gaul warrior, because he scared the shit out of everybody. Like a modern day berserk version of Moses, Beet parted the ocean of Thais and set his people free.  My girlfriend and I followed in his wake, whilst neglecting to even pay for the drink.  Nobody dared to come near us and not a soul bothered us as we walked away.

I was impressed. I had learnt a lesson right then and there, that I was to use a few times later on in my life when I have been faced with similar situations.

As we were walking from the centre of town, where we had just avoided getting our collective arses kicked, we headed down a side alley just in time to see a mugging in process.  A gang of about five teenagers had just punched another young kid in the face and then threw him against the wall.  The kid just stuck in his hands in his pocket and threw his money on the ground.  As a few of the muggers scrambled for the loose change, one of the guys pulled a knife out and was about to stab their victim as the rest of the gang held him with their hands around his throat, pushing him against the wall. 

Before I could even register what was actually happening, Beet, who I guess we still pumped up from a few minutes ago yelled out at HEY!! And went running forward towards the small gang.  The guys just dropped their victim, and ran for their lives.  The poor kid who had been mugged, was already starting to develop a black eye, and he was rubbing his jaw.  He looked absolutely terrified so we indicated to him as best as we could, without being able to speak the language, that he could walk with us for protection for a while.  We walked with the Thai kid for about 15 minutes until he was close to his home and he waved us good bye.  Unfortunately, we had got ourselves a little bit disorientated, and we couldn’t figure out which way our hotel was, but we knew it was near the train station.  So we asked a passing group of three Thai guys for directions to the train station (a word of warning to those of you who are reading this, who haven’t travelled very much.  don’t ever tell strangers where you are actually staying). 

One of the guys spoke a little bit of English, and seem to be enjoying the chance to practise his English, so he insisted on actually showing us where the station was rather than just telling us where it was.  Both Beet and I didn’t like the idea that these three strangers were going to find out where we were staying. We just couldn’t shake them.  Eventually, they took us to the station, and we thanked as we said our goodbyes.  Trouble is, they just hung around and waited for us to make our next move. 

Eventually, we just got sick of the game and went back to our hotel, only to be followed by the three guys.  As we walked into the hotel, they tried to enter the lobby with us, but we explained to them that they couldn’t come in.  But they still wouldn’t leave, so we just walked upstairs leaving them downstairs.  As we walked by the fellow running the hotel, we told him not to let the three guys in.

We went back to our rooms, and I was so exhausted by the tribulations that I’d just been through, that I immediately got into bed and went to sleep for a short nap.  I was woken up by the need to go to the can.  When I went outside of our room, who should be sticking his head up like a ferret over the top of the stairs? It was one of the three Thais who had shown us the way back to the station with the other two guys, just behind him.  As soon as they saw me, they bolted off down the stairs.  I went downstairs and raised to hell with the guy running the hotel and told him in no uncertain terms that those guys were not to be allowed in the hotel again, as they were obviously up to no good.

I guess I’d been pretty shaken up by the whole day and I didn’t sleep too well that night.  I had a recurring dream that I was trying to stop a letter I was writing, from falling down a crack between the floor and the wall.  The cycle of me dropping the letter and searching for it over and over again was finally broken by a piercing scream that entered my consciousness.  I awoke, standing on the top of the stairs rocking backwards and forwards as the hotel owner’s wife was screeching hysterically. I guess a red haired, semi-naked, pasty white somnambulist teetering at the top of a steep set of stairs is a scary thing to see.  It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever done any sleepwalking.

Click here for part 2

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