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Selling Hashish in VIETNAM. Chapter 1 - Bangkok

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It was mid 1973. The golden age of the HiPPiEs. I was itching to drift. I wanted to sail across the pacific 0cean. That was my dream. But for that I had to get to somewhere on the pacific coast so that the sail could begin. Times were hard. I was in India and one could get just US$100/- (yes just one hundred) to spend abroad once in three years. Today’s kids just cannot understand what those times were. What the system was. What was Nehru’s socialism? What a disaster it was! 

I had an IIT engineering degree from Roorkee, the oldest Engineering kolej in the Hole World, started in 1843. I had three year’s work-experience as Service Engineer with Kirloskar Oil Engines Limited of Pune, India (India’s largest manufacturer of diesel engines at that time, and probably still is) and knew a thing or two about diesel engines. I had quit this Rs.1200/- per month job in June 1971 (when petrol was 55 paise a litre & I had a Jawa motorcycle ==250 cc Yezdi) to join XLRI, India’s 0ldest & highest ranked MBA institute. I finished my MBA from XLRI in May 1973. I was fifth in class: behind Arun Diaz, Kris Doyle, Jug Dore & P.K.Jain. During October 1972 (when I was still an XLRI student) I had appeared for the I.A.S. written exam (during Durga Puja holidays) and had cleared it. I also cleared the personal interviews in Bombay (Mumbai) in June 1973. News travels fast. My father was at that time Senior Deputy General Manager of Western Railway in Bombay. Within no time top IAS officers, Industrialists, Rich Businessmen & etcetras were coming to our house in H24 Badhwar Park, Cuffe Parade, Colaba, Bombay, to show me their dotters for marriage. I panicked, and without marrying anyone, fled to Malaysia, where my doctor sister was married to a doctor Sardar and settled in Malaysia since 1967=six years earlier. 

My father could not say NO to my proposed trip to Malaysia. I had fulfilled his every condition & expectation. So he agreed to fund my Malaysia trip. Since my father was a GM in the railways, train travel was free for me. So to save expenses, we went to Calcutta (==Kolkata) by train, FREE. Then a flight from Calcutta to Bangkok (which those days was Rs.750/-) and from Bangkok, a train to Kuala Lumpur (free for me because Indian Railways and Thailand Railways have an agreement – which still exists). From Kuala Lumpur, train (free) to Kota Bharu (both in Malaya=Malaysia). Kota Bharu is in the northeast corner of Malaysia (=Malaya), many hundred miles from Kuala Lumpur. That was the schedule. I was supposed to stay with my sister for two months and get back to India to join the IAS Academy in Mussorie (near Dehradun in UttaraKhand) where the session begins every year from 1st Oktobre. If I had come back and joined the IAS, today I might have got a top flat in Adarsh Society in Colaba, Bombay and my name would have been in the papers! 

In the event, back in July 1973, I reached Bangkok by air & decided to stay on in Bangkok. Back in those days there was no concept of visa. Visa did not exist. People just traveled. I had US$100/- in my pocket. I could survive a week. I got outta Bangkok airport (now known as SUVARNA-BHOOMi Airport==Golden Land Airport) and took a bus to town. The main street of Bangkok is known as Sukhumvit. I walked along Sukhumvit and passed a hotel named Express Hotel. I walked in. 

The place was filled with apparently available Thai females, some Thai males and many Anglo Saxon males. [Anglo Saxon==White-Caucasian]. I got a cheap room for US$7/-. I went up to the room, kept my sack and came down to the bar where the action was. I had US$100/- in my pocket but wasn’t sure how far it could take me. 

There were no empty tables. I looked around. I saw a table with one white man sitting. Big size fellow. About six-foot-four to my five-foot-eight, and big built. Tattoos on forearms which were double the size of my forearms. I asked if I could sit at his table and he said OK. I ordered the cheapest beer Singha, a local brand. I normally don’t drink beer, but Singha beer was the cheapest thing which would allow me to sit there. We talked. He was working on one of the off-shore oil rigs in the South China Sea. These people used to make excellent munny (in 1973) and worked on a “two-weeks-0n-two-weeks-0ff schedule”. We hit off pretty well. I don’t remember much of what we talked (38 years ago), but I had much scotch whiskey and dinner after my Singha beer and he paid for it all. I went to my room and slept. 

The next day I spent walking along Sukhumvit and its various Sois with their multiple delights and returned to the hotel after dark. Went to the bar and saw yesterday’s guy sitting with three others, all Anglo-Saxons. He saw me and motioned to me to join his table. I joined them. 

It so happened that this guys’ “two-weeks-0ff” was getting over T0M0R0 and he was to be helicoptered back to his 0il Rig ToMOR0, and the three guys with him were from his rig who had just got their “two-weeks-0ff” and would be in Bangkok for two weeks from then. The evening went well and my drinks and dinner were paid for by them. 

The next day as I came down I was accosted in the lobby by an older Thai man (I was 26 at that time) who spoke broken English, something very rare in Thailand in those days. He asked me who I was etc. I told him I would soon go to Malaysia but I wanted to stay for some time but had not much munny. He had seen that in the last two days I had sat with strangers who had paid my bills. The first day I had sat with one white man, while on the second day I sat with four white guys. He said “You are good for my customers since you speak English. You can stay here free as long as you want. I will not pay you but you can eat what you want. You will have to work as the bartender. I was happy. So was he. I stayed on and worked in the bar. Business was good. 

The Vietnam War was on. The Americans were fighting against Ho Chi Minh’s Regular Forces in North Vietnam and Viet Cong insurgents in South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was the ruler of Communist North Vietnam. South Vietnam was with Americans. There were various symbolic, come-and-go leaders in South Vietnam like Ngo Dinh Diem, Madam Nhu and udders I cannot remember. There was an oil boom and the South China Sea was full of American offshore rigs drilling for oil under the se. For the American soldiers serving in Vietnam as well as the American 0il riggers, Bangkok was the nearest peaceful place to spend their munny. I was in the right place at the right time. 

There was only one English newspaper in Bangkok at that time – The Bangkok Post. (It still exists). I used to read it. One day, in the classifieds section, I saw an advertisement: “Expense Sharing Crew Required. Contact Jim Taylor, on boat AXARA, Bangkok Sailing Club” 

In 1973 there were no mobile phones, no satellite navigation, no GPS / GPRS or any other mobile communication device. Landlines were not possible on boats. One had to physically get in touch. So I went to Bangkok Sailing Club. Jumping from boat to boat, I made it to the Axara. 

A short white man (much shorter than me) probably American, was squatting on the deck, cutting some wood with a Rambo knife. 

“Hi”, I said, “I saw your ad in the papers and wish to sail with you”. 

Without looking at me, he looked at the mast and said, “Climb up”. There were some ropes hanging from the mast. I grabbed them and climbed up to the top of the mast, about 15 feet above the deck. 

He watched me climb up, and when I reached the top, he said, “Jump”. 

“Jump on to the deck or into the water?” I asked. 

“OK, you’ll do” he said. I climbed down with the ropes. 

We got talking. “Who are you? Where are you going and what is your route?” I asked him. He told me that he was a GI (G.I.==General Issue==American soldier) in Vietnam who got shot in the leg, and so was “honorably discharged” from the US Army (physically unfit) with a pension. He said he was running a paint business in Bangkok. He said he met a rich Arab man in Bangkok who wanted a boat built with CHENGAi WooD. This Chengai tree grows only on Borneo island of Indonesia. So the rich Arab commissioned Jim Taylor to supervise the building of this boat in Balikpapan (Borneo) Indonesia. And then sail it (How else do you deliver a boat halfway across the world?) to Tangier (in Morocco – North Africa), ten or fifteen thousand miles away. He would have to sail south from Bangkok up to Singapore (more than 1000 miles). Then thru the Straits of Malacca (Melaka), across the Bay of Bengal, around the bottom of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the Indian Ocean, then across the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, then lengthwise across the Red Sea, (which parted for Moses in 1353 BC). Then cross the Suez Canal. Sail totally across the Mediterranean Sea from east to west, and moor the boat at Tangier, just south of Gibraltar and collect his munny from the rich Arab. 

I told him I wanted to go east across the Pacific 0cean, to Tahiti and Pitcairn, but he was going west. He said, “I need a crew of four to sail this boat. You sail with me up to Singapore. Then sign off at Singapore and look for another boat headed east across the pacific. This sounded reasonable to a drifter like me. I said OK. He gave me a sheet of paper and a pencil, and said write down what I needed to buy for survival on the boat journey up to Singapore, a thousand miles away, which would take anything between a week to ten days. 

I wrote down what he said: Mostly canned food, vegetables, sardines, luncheon meat, baby-corn, etc. etc. He said to buy food for 12 days bcoz we would surely reach Singapore in less than 12 days. I said OK. I gave him the Express Hotel phone number (there were no mobile phones at that time) and left. We were on phone every day and his ad was running in the Bangkok Post every day. He informed that two girls had signed up. Both were White American Anglo Saxon. WASP, as they are called. W.A.S.P.==White Anglo Saxon Protestant. And he was ready to set sail in a week. I went to the boat after a week. Jim was there, so were two white females==Janice and Janet. Jim said we were to sail within three days. I had to wrap up my arrangement with the owner of Express Hotel. He wasn’t very happy that I was leaving bcoz my English speaking was adding customers to his BAR. But I had to go. 

Though the Express Hotel was not paying me any salary or munny, I was making guud munny in tips from the American Oil Riggers and GIs. So I bought all the canned stuff that Jim had made me write. And on the appointed day I quit Express Hotel and moved to the boat Axara. We were to set sail for Singapore the next day. We did. 

I had never sailed before. I knew nothing about sailing. Apparently even Janice and Janet knew nothing about sailing. Jim was a guud teacher. I learnt about sailing from Jim. Janice and Janet were also zero in sailing, and they also learnt. It wasn’t difficult. The weather was good. And if the winds held, we could make Singapore in less than a week. For four days the weather was excellent. We were making good speed and time, and were on schedule for Singapore. 

On the fourth night out from Bangkok, the storm hit us.

 

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