The Flying Kites of Chiang Mai in In farangs we trust
As 2008 slipped past the halfway point, July brings more rain, more heat and more snakes. The reptiles are everywhere in July: slipping through your garden, sliding across the street, curling up inside shoes left on the patio. And just when you think you’ve spotted a friendly specimen, it can leap out of the grass and bite you where it hurts. Aah, July – a month to be treated with caution.
“So what exactly is it that you do?”
Our four old friends, the Flying Kites of Chiang Mai, were hunched around a table at the Last Rites Cafe, and Ming was trying to work out Amrik’s line of work. They had been friends for many years, but there remained a certain air of mystery about his Indian friend’s profession.
“I’m a businessman,” said Amrik simply.
“Yes, but what kind of businessman,” asked Ming. “You always say this, but what does it mean, ‘I’m a businessman’. What kind of business?”
Amrik shrugged and took another sip of his beer, “Many kinds, many kinds”
“What,” asked Ming, persevering. “You sell stuff? Buy things?”
“Buying and selling, yes,” said Amrik, his beard net glistening in the glow of fading daylight. “General business-type stuff. I’m a businessman.”
The fascinating conversation was interrupted by a middle-aged farang gentlemen in khaki trousers and a neatly-pressed white shirt. He approached the Kites’ table brandishing a business card and a smile as wide as the Ping River.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “Sorry to interrupt, but the lady at the bar,” here he indicated Noi, the hare-lipped kitchen hand from Lamphun who was presently picking her nose and studying its contents. “The lady at the bar said you were Chiang Mai old hands, and I wanted to introduce myself.”
The Kites stared at Neatly Pressed in silence. He grinned back. After a few moments of the kind of silence that might best be described as awkward, Collins barked, “Well?”
“Oh, right, yes,” said Neatly Pressed. “My name’s Bradley Strait of Strait Solutions.” And here he handed business cards to each of the Kites.
“Strait Solutions,” read Ming. “IT solutions from a qualified farang specialist.”
“What the hell is IT,” barked Collins, squinting as he read the card. “And what the hell is that smell?”
“Oh, it’s the card,” said Strait. “They’re printed on scented paper. Pretty neat huh?”
Collins scowled at Strait. To the Captain, only two things should smell of perfume: women and Frenchmen — much the same thing in Collins’ book.
“Information Technology,” said Peter Teater, as he finished off his plate of phad khrapow on toast (he was into fusion). “It’s like, computers and stuff.”
“Computers and stuff, eh?” said Ming, reappearing from beneath the table, where he had been loosening the tap on his catheter. “What about the farang hit.”
“Well,” said Strait, stepping out of the foamy run-off, “I lived in Bangkok for a number of years and had nightmares with Thai IT guys. You know, they’d turn up late, reset all the LANs and proxies, then wipe out the cookies without checking your AVG settings. Then you’d get the bill and…”
The Kites stared at Strait, completely baffled.
“Like I said, nightmare! So, what I do is provide a service in a language you can understand. And I don’t rip you off. Sometimes, I think it’s just best if you have a farang deal with important stuff like computers.”
The Kites may have been lost with all the technical jargon, but the farang bit they understood.
“Well, I need someone to look at my computer,” said Ming. “I bought the thing a couple of months ago, and I’ll be darned if I know what’s wrong with it. It just doesn’t work! I had a Thai chappy come over and look at it but all he did was delete some of my, er, pictures and tell me not to look at my websites. But now it’s gone wrong again.”
“Well,” said Strait. “Let me have a look at it. I charge a straight 500 baht an hour, and if I can’t fix it there’s no fee.”
“You do have a work permit, I suppose,” barked Collins. “I mean, this is all above board is it?”
“Oh sure,” said Strait. “Well, I don’t have an actual work permit. Not yet. But I’m in the process of applying for one, so it’s all good.”
A couple of days later, the Kites had reassembled at the Cafe.
“So what about that Strait guy?” asked Peter. “Did he sort out your machine?”
“Well, kind of,” said Ming. “I left him to it while I went off to pick up my Amazon deliveries from the post office, and when I came back he said that all I needed to do was turn it off, wait a minute, then turn it on again.”
“What?” barked Collins. “Well, I hope you held him to his no payment promise.”
“Oh, no,” said Ming. “I mean, the chap had worked quite a while on it, and I wouldn’t have thought to restart it myself. So I gave him a couple of thousand baht for his trouble. I mean, you’ve got to support farang businesses, haven’t you.”
“Absolutely,” said Peter. “At least you know you can trust a farang.”
“Quite,” said Ming. “Unless they work for Amazon or Lloyds bank! 1 was trying to do a little shopping online this morning, you know, a few books from Amazon, a few magazines from . . . well a few specialist magazines. Anyway, they said my credit cards were no good. Said, my accounts had run dry and I’d have to contact my bank. So, I rang Lloyds and they said I’d withdrawn all my savings. Sixty thousand pounds!”
“Well, what the hell have you been buying,” barked Collins.
“Nothing,” said Ming. “I’m sure it’s something to do with that computer, though. It’s been nothing but trouble.”
“Well, at least that Strait guy has sorted it out,” said Peter.
“Quite,” said Ming. “At least there are some people you can trust.”
The Kites finished their beers and made to leave. “I say, Amrik” said Ming. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in buying a computer, would you?”
“Absolutely,” said Amrik. “After all, I am a businessman.”