In my more youthful days, ducking and diving from bar to restaurant to pool hall along Sukhumvit Road, skipping merrily over the beggars under my flip flops, I’d bump into many an old expat Wizard who knew how things went down in the Land of Smiles.
These old dudes would break things down nice and simple so I’d be able to follow their advice and, with a little luck, find myself propping up the bar at fifty years of age.
I learnt those lessons well.
These were the glory days when a pub or a coffee shop, far from being simply a refueling station for smartphones, were places for social interaction, conversation, drama, and investment scandals.
Patrons, now sat eyes glued to the screen of their anti-social-devices, were, back in the day, playing chess, arm wrestling for the next round of drinks and practicing amateur acrobatics. And most of them, during an arm wrestling break, would give and exchange their wizardly advice.
The Sukhumvit Wizards varied from your two-week vacation warrior to the twenty-five year expat veterans that had your best interests at heart. Most of these Wizards shared the gospel but some had other agendas.
You know the guy. Sits in the corner with a copy of the Bangkok Post. Carefully watching everyone; never talking, just watching. He may just be ‘attached to the embassy’ and have all kinds of wisdom to share with the uninitiated. But he’s not letting on, baby; he’s covert.
Those were the glory days, and we still see the odd Wizard around town, merrily spreading the words of the gospel.
And, let’s face it, the types who hang around in bars, retired, pensioned-up, are the true sages of Sukhumvit: a town where there’s more ex-SAS than a selfie-stick can be shook at. Don’t be seeking advice from the employed or the student or this correspondent; nah, go find yourself a Wizard.
If you can find one.
Although it takes many forms, most of the Sukhumvit Wizards’ advice can be whittled down to a few nuggets of bar room gold.
But before we start, however, let’s set the scene.
You’re on Sukhumvit Soi 33/1, waiting to be served in one of the British style public houses. The man opposite you is wearing a Singha Beer wife-beater shirt, and every time you look up, you know he’s staring at you. But, if you can just concentrate and stay polite without making eye-contact, things will probably be okay.
No! It’s too late; he’s actually standing up and walking towards you.
No please, not me, no no no.
He’s tugging on your shirt, smiling, there’s no place you can run. ‘Please Lord in heaven save me,’ and then he winks at you and asks,
“How long have you been here, then, mate?”
You have to think fast.
Don’t say ten years if you’re in your twenties or you’ll have to start inventing all sorts of international school exchange programs and college courses. Too tricky and quite frankly, there’s not enough time. Stick with a time frame that you can prove.
But, beware: should the time you claim to have been in Thailand be less than the time your Sukhumvit Wizard has claimed to have been here, then Sukhumvitors, the game is on.
The conversation may take many forms, and will dip and spin with periods of high drama and tales of woe, and he will always be the hero of the story.
Friends have fallen by the wayside, some have committed suicide, some have fallen a victim to drink; some of his fellow Wizards have even returned back home.
But not he, because your Wizard has learned from the failings of his allies and has risen triumphantly – into a British style pub at 2pm for a pint of Chang.
Four typical Sukhumvit Wizard spells are as follows.
Spell One: “Never invest more than you intend to lose.”
While this may sound clever, I personally prefer ‘Invest wisely’. It’s more snappy, gets to the point and, while it may deprive you of losing your life savings in that rollercoaster ride with something or someone you will never own, it takes my preference.
Mention Bill Heinecke and expect to be rewarded with a blank stare.
Spell Two: “You can take the girl out of the bar but not the bar out of the girl.”
No arguments there although I prefer Dr Dre’s take on that ethical ditty.
Spell Three: “Never come between a Thai and money.”
So, how do you handle that first taxi trip from the airport? Do a runner? And how can you work without coming between a Thai and money?
Oh, hang on, you mean don’t steal from the locals. Now that makes sense.
Spell Four: “Never live above the second floor.”
My very personal favorite.
So, all these rules seem to be about not losing all your money and prematurely kicking the bucket, whether it be by foul means or otherwise.
I wish my Sukhumvit Wizards could give me tips on the stock market, suggest a brand of soy milk, or advise me on current tech trends in genre fiction.
But no, I get a random stranger telling me not to kill myself.
Things could be worse though – the Wizards seem to be thin on the ground nowadays. Perhaps they’ve replaced their tried and tested spells for smartphones instead…
Featured image is of the Robin Hood pub on Soi 33/1 and Gandalf the Grey (Lord Of The Rings). We know the photoshopping is terrible. We’re going to try harder next time.