JJ says his Thai name is too difficult for foreigners to pronounce so he asks all farangs to call him JJ. He’s a short, sweet-smiling, middle-aged businessman with several irons in several fires – export and import, financial advice and insurance, haulage and antiques – and he has a declared passion for ‘beautiful people’.
‘They must be elegant and good-looking or i can’t become motivated,’ he states.
‘Men and women?’
‘Oh yes, men and women, both; elegant and good-looking and presentable.’
I’m not sure what he means by ‘motivated’ because as far as i can tell he doesn’t do anything with them or to them, he’s not interested in physical contact of any sort, he just likes having them around. Perhaps he’s in denial, maybe he’s frigid or afraid, i’m no expert, but he seems to enjoy their company. Whatever the score is, now that he’s befriended me i must have another look in the mirror.
JJ has studied in Bangkok, Hong Kong and New York and speaks Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, English and passable Dutch. He and his wife, Tilly, ran an antique shop for two years in Amsterdam before returning home to take over the family businesses, businesses Tilly and her mother, Urai, spend more time running than JJ does – he’s too busy seeking out the company of ‘beautiful people’.
On Saturday morning he telephoned early and invited me to go to Pattaya. I accepted and we set off at ten on the two-hour drive. I asked why Tilly wasn’t along and he said she was up to her eyes ‘filling orders’. I didn’t pursue that further, not my business.
We checked into a top hotel, separate rooms, he insisted on paying for both, we ate an excellent lunch downstairs and then he said he wanted to take me somewhere interesting.
‘Lay on, Macduff,’ i said.
We motored south of Pattaya to a town called Satthaheep where Thailand’s largest naval base is located.
‘I love uniform,’ JJ said, ‘and i want to show you the very best uniform in Thailand.’
We drove up to the main gate of the base and got out of the car. JJ went straight up to the three marines guarding the entrance and said to one of them, ‘Go in there and bring out your two best-looking marines, i’d like to talk to them.’ The young guard was taken aback.
‘Are you deaf?’ JJ said sharply but smiling ever so sweetly all the while. ‘Move it! We haven’t got all day and i can’t keep this gentleman waiting.’
The guard consulted with the others and the three laughed. JJ said something else which i couldn’t make out – slang most probably – and the guard went inside. Five minutes later, out came not two but eight marines, one more ‘presentable’ than the next and all in crisp uniforms.
‘These are the best we have,’ the guard said with a broad smile.
‘What do you think?’ JJ asked me.
I was too astonished to answer.
‘He admires you,’ JJ said to them on my behalf, ‘and i admire you, too, you’re so smartly turned out and good-looking.’
I was expecting JJ to produce a camera but he wasn’t there for a photo oppportunity, he was content to be in the presence of those men. We chatted with the eight for a few minutes and then we said our goodbyes and returned to the car.
‘Isn’t there something about uniform that motivates?’ JJ said.
‘They did look smart,’ i said, and wasn’t prepared to say much more as i was sure
he had more to say.
‘If i had a son,’ he said, ‘i’d insist he joined the forces or took a job that required uniform,
any uniform really, they’re all so attractive. And women in uniform are equally beautiful,
i love flight attendants. But Tilly and i aren’t lucky, we have no children.’
He went quiet for a long while and i was wondering what was really going on in his head.
I decided to ask, ‘When did you start taking an interest in uniform?’
‘I’ve always been interested, from as far back as i can remember but i became really motivated when i visited West Point and saw how smart the cadets looked and then when we lived in Amsterdam, Tilly and i met this couple who were members of a group of costume lovers and they invited us to one of their gatherings. It was such an occasion, highly motivating! There were women dressed as queens, princesses, famous actresses, Roman goddesses and men as oil sheikhs, maharajahs, vikings, pirates and-‘
‘Sounds like a fancy dress ball,’ i ventured.
‘More serious than that,’ he returned, ‘much more, and much more pure. It was a gathering of people with real passion for uniform and dress, intelligent, beautiful people. I miss them very much.’
‘Isn’t there a similar group in Bangkok you could join?’
‘Sort of, but they’re different, they gather to have orgies and that spoils everything, they’re not pure, they are not beautiful people.’
I was saying to myself at least they have a bit of fun but i was more lost than ever to find a key to this man’s thinking; perhaps he was making a pitch and had yet to come to the point.
After another period of quiet he said, ‘When Tilly and i aren’t busy we dress up and my mother-in-law, Urai, dresses up, too. We have a large collection of clothes, all kinds of uniform and formal dress, it’s wonderful.’
‘You do this at home?’
‘Yes, only at home. Sometimes we invite a friend or two to join us, people who are really interested. Maybe you would like to come to one of our gatherings, i’m sure we have clothes to fit you and i think you’d look very presentable in certain costumes.’
‘I’ll have to think about it,’ i replied and didn’t like myself for saying that since i have no intention of being ‘motivated’ by dressing up. Should JJ propose it again – and it’s likely he will – i’ll be straightforward and answer with an honest ‘no’.
When we got back to the city on Sunday evening i sat alone in my studio in my plain shorts and my plain t-shirt and had an orgy of Mozart piano sonatas.
Suchai is a young Thai i met when i was here last summer and with whom i’ve kept up a correspondence over the past twelve months. He said he was eager to improve himself and asked me to help him with his (already good) English. I first met him in one of the Patpong bars, he was working as a waiter serving overpriced drinks to overweight johns and their slim beauties.
When i got here on June 20th he was in a monastery for a month doing a retreat; he needed ‘cleaning up spiritually’ as he put it in his last letter to me. At the end of May, he went to Wat SaphanBuri, a temple two hours’ bus-ride north of Bangkok and returned to the city on July 1st. He telephoned me at the Rose and we met on Silom Road a few evenings later.
The moment i saw him again after a year i knew he had changed. Considering he’d just returned from a temple where he’d spent a month in prayer and contemplation, his appearance was odd. He’d changed from saffron robes to gold earring in left ear, grubby white jeans, a cheap bomber jacket and a red scarf tied around the neck. If appearances are anything to go by he looked, well, different. We’d hardly exchanged civilities when he said he had no money and asked me to help him out. When i asked him how his stay at the temple had been he said it was great and proceeded to order beer. Nothing, i fear, went into that head of his. Last year, he vowed to find a better job than the one he had at the time but not only has he not found a better job he’s managed to lose the one he had and is now relying on gifts. If that’s what he wants to do by all means let him, i have no right to judge, but i won’t be party to it.
Now when i meet people i check if they have jobs and if they aren’t working i don’t want to know them. That sounds priggish and uncharitable but i’m not prepared to carry passengers and i won’t be imposed upon, financial parasites i can do without. There’s plenty of work available, it’s boom time, and unemployment is less than one per cent, one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, but many of the young are disinclined to work and prefer to live off tourists and resident farangs. It’s an easier life with substantially higher earnings than a nine to five job.