musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Motorcycle Beer Night

If I looked a bit haggard in my bookshop today, there was a good reason for it. I was up until 3:30 in the morning drinking beer with a group of motorcycle taxi drivers — motosai — from my neighborhood. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed up that late (must have been back in the early 1990s!) or drank that much beer, but it was a lot of fun.

I’m usually in the sack by midnight, so staying up that late caused my normal morning routine — I wake up at 7:30 and am out the door about 45 minutes later to go and open my shop — to, shall we say, drag a bit more than usual. Man, I’m getting too old for these late night sessions. But all things considered, I don’t regret it. I don’t get guests that often, but these guys were a friendly and polite bunch and I enjoyed having them over.

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One of the guys had phoned me earlier in the evening, around 9:30, and asked if I was free. I told him sure, come on over and bring your friends. He said that he’d come by after his shift ended, which was around 10:30 that night. But eleven came and went and I wondered if anybody was going to show up, so I called and he said that he was still working. Hey, if these guys have customers, they are going to keep working. Finally, a few minutes past midnight the crew arrived; four of the motorcycle taxi drivers from the stand near my apartment.

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One of them heard the music playing inside my apartment and grinned: “Pongsit Kampee.” And he was correct; I had a Pongsit Kampee CD playing, just as a hunch that these guys would like Kampee’s Thai “music for life” folk songs, and they did. I tell you, Pongsit Kampee never fails. Something about his down-to-earth songs, and that lovely voice, always connects with Thai people like these young motorcycle taxi drivers.

This was the first time that this particular group had been to my place, so to help get the conversation going I passed around some photo albums of my trips to Myanmar and Cambodia and told them more about my travels and my job. And they told me about their lives too. One of the guys comes from Surin, which is near the border with Cambodia, and he could speak a bit of Khmer, so we had fun with that.

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The cool thing was watching these guys start to relax and loosen after a few minutes. I was no longer their customer, but a friend. I think there is always some hesitation and uncertainty when these motorcycle guys come over for the first time to visit “the strange farang,” not knowing how well we will be able to communicate or how comfortable they’ll feel. But I can speak Thai reasonably well and enjoy the company of locals like these guys, so I think that helps to bridge the cultural divide and create some sort of common thread. So, between the good music, travel photos, and a steady flow of beer, we broke the ice and had conversations about a variety of subjects, ranging from sports and food to their work routine and the hazards of the job. These guys usually work from 8 am until late at night, such as the midnight shift they just finished. They’ve got to deal with traffic jams, careless car drivers, police shakedowns, and bad weather. They don’t get to work in an air-conditioned office or have days off. But they will get a break for the upcoming New Year holiday. They are all heading back to their home provinces this weekend to visit family and friends for a few days. Three of them are going to Nakhon Ratchasima and the other guy will return to Surin.

At one point — perhaps inspired by the Tiger Beer — someone got the idea to take photos, so they all pulled out their phones and took turns snapping shots of the group as we toasted one another. Good silly fun. It was after 2:00 and we had polished off the six large bottles of beer that I had in my fridge, along with a variety of crunchy chips and nuts. I figured at that point that they would call it a night and go home, but they were just getting started! One of them left to pick up some more beer at a nearby shop (obviously, they must know where they can get after-hours supplies) and returned with another four bottles. Good grief!

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Pongsit Kampee later segued into some vintage Carabao and eventually they exhausted the rest of the beer and chips. But before leaving, they insisted on cleaning up after themselves; picking up empty bottles, sweeping the floor, and washing all the glasses. I just stood and watched, marveling at their industriousness and politeness. A good crew. I hope to have them back again when they return from their New Year break, but next time maybe I’ll suggest an earlier night. Right now, I need sleep!

 

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