Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Sad news from my Soi (Thai for Street). About a month ago a party from across the street woke me up at three in the morning. I went to my balcony and looked down at the typical party scene, young people ranging from 15 to 25 were hanging out in someone’s front yard drinking and singing and enjoying the evening. On several occasions I heard them singing happy birthday (Thai style but in English) so I thought hey, I’ve got to work tomorrow but it is someone birthday so let them enjoy their night. The worst part of the party were the screeching and revving of motorcycle engines, rice burning street racers, which dominate the night once the party began to break up. I can sleep through a drunken version of Happy Birthday, but these modified screaming bikes could wake the dead.
I joked with the security guards about it in the morning and they confirmed that it was the boy across the street that had enjoyed his birthday yesterday. They shyly said it wouldn’t happen again and I responded, well probably not until next year, but they didn’t get the lame joke. When they misunderstood me they seemed to think I was saying I didn’t want it to happen again and then went on to say that we should understand about him, his father was murdered just a few weeks ago. I was shocked. Bangkok is a city of over 10 million people, but unlike western cities the violent crime rate is staggeringly low. There are of course murders, but the one or two that you read about in the papers every week are so few that one can begin to feel as if you live in a violence free nirvana or something. His father had been gunned down not far from my Soi on Lat Prakao.
Now the next day I got my first real look at the kid. He was big for a Thai with bull like shoulders, a square jaw, and long hair with sort of a mullet look. He was straddling a black modified motorcycle; the handlebars were chopped giving him maneuverability of an almost video game dexterity. I like guys like this. A bit tough, rough around the edges, and yet when I looked into his face to kind of size him up, he didn’t look away from me – he looked me in the eyes like a man and I recall I gave him a little nod and he returned the gesture.
The following night he had planned to continue the party and motorcycles were arriving just before the sunset, but neighbors or people in my apartment building on lower floors must have complained because before it could even get wound up the police were there in a gaggle of motorcycles and Isuzu trucks and they defused it. The guards told me in the morning that I didn’t have to worry about him making noise again, the police had taken care of it.
A few weeks passed and I began to see this kid hanging around at his house more and more. Now he should have been in school of that I was certain. He was probably about 20 but I guess maybe school wasn’t working for him. Usually I just saw him working on his bike or zooming through gaps in the often gridlocked Lat Prakao.
I thought to myself that kid needs a man who cares about him to knock him on his ass or the world is going to do it and when the world does it you don’t always recover. I know it was a strange thought, but I remember once when I was just a few years younger than him and I was just getting too big for my britches as my father’s generation would have said it. I thought I knew everything, that I was stronger than anyone, that I was the authority on everything. One night I said some rude things to my mother, probably more because I’d been out drinking with my friends than any real malice toward my mother (she has always meant the world to me) but these things slipped out. My father took one step and this man who had never laid a hand on me past about my 5th birthday, dropped me like a sack of wheat from the back of a loading truck. My jaw was out of place and my big britches were shrunk fit as I came to my senses before standing up. I apologized to my mother and him, because what I’d said had been rude enough to make him hurt his only son and in that moment I realized how big of an idiot I had been.
This kid needed someone, a teacher or uncle or coach or maybe it could have been some Farang who lived across the street, but someone to care enough to knock him on his ass. Not just knock him there, but then to lift him up by his hand and let him know someone cares enough to hurt their fist. No one did and yesterday when I came home I saw his little gang of motorcycle kids all hanging around the front of his house, but there were no birthday songs, no clinking drink glasses, they were speaking soft words and all clad in black. The guards (who are the news of my Soi as you can tell) confirmed the obvious. I don’t even know what his name was, but he road that black chopped bike too fast and too furious and sure enough the world knocked him back a notch. A kid like him shouldn’t have died so young. I’ve been teaching nearly 13 years now and sadly I’ve seen this too many times before.
We can’t save ‘em all, but guys we need to try and save a few of these young bloods when we can. I sure wish I would have done something, even with my lousy Thai, to talk with him.