My dear Pattaya; I don’t know whether to feel sympathy for you, or applaud your growing older gracefully, just like ourselves. The days before our hair turned grey and standing room only at the bar was still both a necessity and a physical possibility.
"At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them"
Smile as we remember the characters of yesteryear. ‘Old Buffalo’, a jovial alcoholic fallen on hard times whom we tried to persuade to paddle over the Mekong on a raft we offered to build for him and be the first farang in history to claim political asylum in Laos. If it wasn’t for his wife who sent him a return air ticket, our endeavours would surely have gone viral on Twitter.
Or what about ‘Dave’ whose memory was so poor he wrote his pin number on his bank cards in inedible marker pen; "lest we forget" as was his want to remark. Stuck between biting his lip and perpetual head scratching mode, Dave was unable to work out why his bank balance declined in proportion to his length of stay in Thailand with his bar girlfriends. Dave probably still holds the record for having the most expensive holidays in Thailand, despite travelling economy class.
All things come to an end and one by one our yesteryear heroes retired to rehab’ clinics or welfare back in their respective homelands as the credit card boom ended.
"The King is dead, long live the King"
And then the Russians came! The skies above Suvarnabhumi airport turned dark with Aeroflot Boeing 767s, bringing the same stony faced looking individuals reminiscent of the cold war era and familiar to those of us who faced them on the opposite side of the iron curtain back in the 70s.
Discernible by white skin covered in red lobster like blotches of sunburn, they were usually found haggling over the price of a box of Chang in the local 7/11. Then the rouble lost its value and just like after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Russians went home.
There followed a period of quiet change. Who can forget the days of the delicious green curry served in that little restaurant that you went back to the following week and in its place was Anurak and friends’ motorcycle taxis, which a month later became a pharmacy.
For the first time in history foreigners could also now own a bar on the world-famous Walking Street as they went bankrupt. Still, some optimists must have bought them, who in turn went bankrupt themselves in a continuing game of pass the parcel.
Meanwhile, Beach road became a shadow of its former self, yet with a few hardy mini-skirted individuals of both sexes braving the economic change as rumours of a walking western ATM being seen persisted.
"I came, I saw, I conquered" and went home
Times change and whether intentionally or by design, someone disturbed an ant’s nest and the Chinese swarmed out, or in depending which way you look at it. The first signs became apparent in the tourist spots which began to look like the departure lounge at Beijing airport as the tourist coaches disgorged their human cargo of inclusive package deals. A now familiar sight as guides took lead with small coloured pennants and the ants followed dutifully behind in double abreast formation, with camera’s clicking.
Although good for tourism, Mr Thai pineapple seller never reaped the rewards as the sixty seat air condition boxes sped past in a haze of diesel fumes, while the occupants with noses pressed against the glass peered down at him en-route to another must see scheduled itinerary.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop"
And like Alice in Wonderland, there we come to the end of our own tale. Old Pattaya became part of expat folk lore, a legend born in the mists of time, whose characters no longer exist in today’s modern world. Old Pattaya from its R&R rise during the Vietnam War and Bob Dylan singing, ‘The times they are a-changin’, to its ‘Rebel without a cause’ decline after the 2008 recession was a place on the fringes of society. Hedonistic and fun, yet best viewed from a distance.
It is whispered that on a dark night if you stand outside a 7/11 on Beach Road, you may still see the ghostly figures of alcoholic former secret agents, millionaires who always seem to have left their wallets at home and famous racing jockeys no one has ever heard of pass you by, to disappear at the entrance to Walking street.
An ode to old Pattaya
And heed me well for age doth make me the tutor that I am;
I, the seeker of spice in life not palate, which touches the wisdom of my tongue;
I’ll suffer thee to sit silently and speak for naught, for upon my oath I declare;
Twas never a memory as oft trodden as the road to Pattaya’s Beach road.
John V, despite his age, is currently looking for an employment position in high school/university. If you know of any vacancies, please drop them my online resume link, or contact me directly.