Thursday, 21 March 2013

Shit optimistic Khao San Road salesmen expect tourists to say

The Philippines' non-generous 21-day visa and the impending austerity festival of Passover taking Jackie out of action meant I was back to living the bachelor lifestyle for a couple of weeks and trying desperately to find something new to keep me occupied in this well-travelled part of the planet. As ever, that meant a flight connection in Bangkok with a few days of regeneration and hibernation in its irritatingly convenient tourist district.

Bangkok's Khao San Road area deserves all the criticism it gets, but I have to admit it's a bloody convenient place to spend a night or two before booking a bus to anywhere the hell else in Thailand. Walking around these packed streets and getting hassled by suit salesman and taxi drivers every five seconds is surprisingly non-stressful though, and my theory is that it's so annoying, it stretches annoyance beyond its elastic limit until it snaps and becomes funny instead.

Here are the scenarios I imagine these overly optimistic salesmen are imagining in their heads when they make their cold sales pitches to clearly uninterested passersby.

Optimistic suit salesman

These faded signs and posters are updated by the minute to reflect changes in the Forex markets, I expect

Scene: A group of tourists is departing their guest house on Soi Ram Buttri, off Khao San Road. An optimistic SUIT SALESMAN approaches the TOURIST at the back of the group with his brochure of white people wearing suits.

SUIT SALESMAN: Hello, suit?

TOURIST: (Stops in his tracks) Excuse me?


TOURIST: Well... actually, my friends and I were going to get on this van to Koh Chang, that's why I've got these big bags and they're holding the door open for me. But sure, I'll buy a suit from you instead.

OTHER TOURIST: (Yelling from van) Are you coming?

TOURIST: (Yells back) You guys go ahead, this man asked if I want to buy a suit, even though I was clearly getting in a van and going somewhere, so obviously I'm going to buy a suit.

SUIT SALESMAN: Sir, for you, special price.

TOURIST: Really, a special price? Like a discount?

SUIT SALESMAN: Yes sir, 60 US dollar, good price.

TOURIST: No kidding, that sounds even better than the 49 euro on your billboard, though admittedly it's hard to keep track with all these different currencies. Hold on, what about this offer? (Reads) It says I can buy one suit and pant for 49 euro or two suits and two pants for 98 euro. It seems like something's awry, but I'm on holiday so I guess I shouldn't worry about things like maths.

SUIT SALESMAN: For you, two suits, 100 dollar.

TOURIST: Again, can't say for certain whether that's actually an improvement on the sign without some vague idea of the exchange rate, but hell, let's take my measurements!

The van leaves.

TOURIST: (Waves) Bye guys, enjoy the rest of our trip. See you back in England.

I was debating whether to buy a suit from this guy,
but this irrelevant photo of him standing next to a minor celebrity sealed the deal

Optimistic tattoo artist

Scene: A TOURIST is walking along Khao San Road, eating pad thai from a Styrofoam plate with a plastic fork missing the left-most prong. His eyes are vaguely wandering over the clothes and fake ID stalls when he is approached by an optimistic TATTOO ARTIST.

TATTOO ARTIST: Yes, tattoo?

TOURIST: (Stops in his tracks) Tattoo?

TATTOO ARTIST: Yes, tattoo today?

TOURIST: (Looks up at the midday sky, left at the crowds passing by and down at his half-full plate. He puts the plate on the ground) Sure, why not?

TATTOO ARTIST: This way, sir. (Leads the way)

TOURIST: Oh, so you don't just do it in the middle of the street?

TATTOO ARTIST: (Opens the back of a van parked at the side of the street) No.

TOURIST: I see, you operate out of the back of this van. I just want to check one point before we proceed - this will be on my skin all my life forever, right?


TOURIST: Great, just checking. I wouldn't want to end up getting one of those rubbish temporary tattoos on the spur of the moment when I was just trying to eat my lunch.

The TATTOO ARTIST offers a brochure of tattoo designs to the TOURIST, who waves it away.

TOURIST: Nah, don't waste time with that. Just do what you like, my pad thai's getting cold.

The TATTOO ARTIST proceeds to tattoo the word 'EVIL' on the man's throat.

It could be you! Have you ever seen a more aspirational image? It's considerate of the tattoo artist to leave the visible skin untouched, so as not to put the suit salesmen out of business

Optimistic tuk tuk driver

Scene: A fluorescent taxi drives up to the pavement close to a hotel. A TOURIST steps out and pays the driver, then walks the short distance to the hotel entrance where he is approached by a TUK TUK DRIVER.


TOURIST: Yes, actually. I know that seems surprising, considering you just saw me get out of a taxi just there, implying I've reached my destination, but actually I'd like to go somewhere else in a less comfortable, louder and smellier vehicle for no discernible reason.

TUK TUK DRIVER: Alright, no need to be sarcastic.

TOURIST: Who's being sarcastic? Let's go. (Climbs inside tuk tuk, followed by the DRIVER. The ramshackle vehicle pulls away)

TUK TUK DRIVER: Ping-pong show?

TOURIST: How does he do it? You've read my mind again. I was just thinking, I'd like to go to a place where I can watch middle-aged women ejecting ping pong balls and other projectiles from their vaginal cavities for the titillation of apathetic perverts.

TUK TUK DRIVER: Well, unlike your other examples where the salesman is clearly being overly optimistic, a lot of people do take me up on that offer. Every night.

TOURIST: I know, I don't like to think about it.

TUK TUK DRIVER: Neither do I. Do you think I like propagating my country's image as a sleazy sex tourism destination? But these people are helping me pay for my house and for expensive government education fees for my children. Do you know how much I earn?


TUK TUK DRIVER: About 12 US dollars a day, if I'm lucky. So next time you bark insults at a taxi driver for trying to earn his living in a tourist area, take a clandestine photo of a prostitute to put on Facebook or demand that a Filipino being paid peanuts in a call centre puts you on to an American, try to remember these are actually people you're dealing with.

TOURIST: I'm sorry.

TUK TUK DRIVER: That's okay. So do you actually want to go somewhere?

TOURIST: Not really. I have a reservation at that place back there. But you could take me on an elaborate and disorienting loop around these identical streets and come back so it feels like I've gone somewhere. How much will that be?

TUK TUK DRIVER: 200 baht, but I'll knock a bit off if we can stop off at a couple of suit and perfume stores, you go inside and look around for 30 seconds with no intention of buying anything and just waste everyone's time, then come back out and resume the journey.

TOURIST: Sounds reasonable.

Optimistic hat woman

Scene: A WOMAN wearing one of those stupid jester-style hats and a tray heaving with other assorted tat for sale walks over to a table where a group of TOURISTS are chatting with drinks.

HAT WOMAN: (Rubs a stick along the back of a wooden frog ornament, making a sound reminiscent of frogs or crickets. This is her entire sales pitch).

TOURISTS: (Ignore her until she goes away).