This is Michai.
‘You can call me M,’ he says, ‘it will be easier for you.’ His English is fluent, spoken in a soft voice.
Three days after landing in Thailand, my vocabulary is sawatdee kha (hello) and khop khun kha (thank you). So M it is.
M sold lottery tickets on Sam San Road in Bangkok, aged 8. He sold fortune telling and cookery books to Bangkok office workers aged 12. He washed cars after school aged 15 – ‘I didn’t like that job,’ he laughs. I tell M my worst job was also at 15, scraping chewing gum off floors at the Cambridge Corn Exchange after the all night raves. ‘You really did that?’ M says. A question I have often asked myself, M.
Now aged 30, M works at a boutique hotel in Bangkok by day, as a tour guide at the weekend and in the evenings - he has created his own ‘Illuminated Tour of Bangkok’ which takes in where the locals meet after work at the markets near their homes, where they like to eat and party.
M’s tour doesn’t include Patpong. M says, ‘it’s a mean business down there, all about the dollars and the bar owners don’t welcome Thais because they don’t spend the money on girls.’ I tell M I won’t be going to Patpong – ‘it’s none of my business what goes on there,’ I say, ‘but if I’m honest, it makes me feel sad for the women.’
M also finds time to study English and Chinese at Bangkok University and he plays guitar in a rock band.
And M writes. He has just sent off a couple of articles to Tropical Magazine, applying for a position as a writer. He is the only Thai national through to the second stage – achieved with an article about JJ weekend market in Bangkok – M has promised to share this article with me if it gets published by Tropical Magazine.
M takes me today by boat to the weekend floating market where he buys panang curry
and rice for lunch. ‘Panang curry means queen curry,’ says M, ‘it’s a green curry with chilli and coconut milk and I believe they put some magic in it at the market because every time I taste it, it gets better.’ And he buys coconut pudding for dessert, slippery and sweet.
We eat lunch in a park beside Chao Praya River – ‘the King’s River’ – and M tells me about doing military service at 26 instead of monk training – M practises a mixture of Buddhism and Christianity, which he has ‘learnt outside the temple’.
In the afternoon, M takes me to the oldest temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho, to see the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok (46 metres long and 15 metres high).
In the courtyard at Wat Pho, we come across a school of monks taking an examination. M laughs at me taking pictures of the monks with all the other tourists. ‘Perhaps there is a question in the exam about patience that I’ve just helped them to answer?’ I say.
The last stop of my tour with M for the day is the flower market, selling flowers, fruit and vegetables. Not forgetting the large plastic sunglasses from a man on a bicycle. M says he only needs to look at the baskets of red chillis and his mouth warms up.
He buys us some iced tea sweetened with condensed milk and we watch some Burmese boys play football with a whicker ball.
‘The whole world loves football,’ I say.
‘Not me,’ M says. ‘I prefer basketball.'
But then M is not your average kind of guy.