The Flying Kites of Chiang Mai No country for old smokers
Much as a mother may favour the least- freckled of her red-headed children, so the residents of Chiang Mai hold a certain affection for the month of March. They love it for what it is not, and what it is not is April. April, the cruelest of months that masquerades as the most affable, when tourists flock to enjoy the sun and the Songkhran festival, yet wilt in the heat and become grumpy with the drenching. April, the the freckled son. March, the less-freckled son.
“Well,” barked Collins. “You didn’t last long. Bangkok too clean for you?”
Californian Pete was back in Chiang Mai, his relocation to the capital having lasted less than a week.
“Oh, man,” said Pete. “That city has gone to die dogs. You know you can’t even smoke in bars there now?”
After three long days, the Flying Kites of Chiang Mai were reunited. Sitting once again at the Last Rites Café, the friends — Collins, Californian Pete, Amrik and Menzies — sipped Chang and reflected on the latest law from the latest government. “Same here, old boy,” sighed Collins. “Bars, restaurants, you name it.” “You mean they’re enforcing it here? In Chiang Mai?” Peter drew heavily on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, the smoke wafting gently into the faces of some stern looking diners at the next table. “That’s crazy. They never enforce anything here.”
“It’s true,” said Amrik, his beard net glinting in the early evening light and his pipe smoke swirling into dinner plates of the neighbouring party. “Thank goodness for the Last Rites, an oasis of good sense in a desert of… not good sense.”
“No smoking.” It was Pong, the owner of the Last Rites Cafe. “You want to smoke, go to the smoking garden.” She pointed to the road, where an aged farang — 70 if he was a day — was dodging
cars and desperately sucking on a cigarette.
“That’s not a garden,” said Pete. “That’s a road. We’ll die!”
“No smoking!” said Pong. “People have complained.”
The Kites turned and caught the unyielding gaze of the diners at the next tables. Amid mutterings “Nanny state!” and “Whatever happened to this country?” the Kites shuffled off to find somewhere they might be able to enjoy their beer with tobacco.
After meeting the same response in each of the nearby bars, the Kites decided that their only option was Loi Kroh Road. If anywhere in this country could be relied on to welcome social pariahs, surely it was Loi Kroh.
Steak’s! Burger’s! Thai food!, read the sign of the first place they were turned away from; Noi’s Place — where east meet’s east London! the second. But no matter how wanton the abuse of apostrophes, nor how profligate the exclamation marks, the Kites could not find one bar willing to let them puff while they supped.
“That’s it,” said Menzies after being turned away from yet another bar. “I’ve had enough. I’m tired, I need a cigarette and my bag’s full.” The Kites automatically looked down to Ming’s ankle and screwed up their noses.
“Well, there is one place,” said Collins. “There is one place I would stake my life on US being able to smoke.”
And so the Kites found themselves clambering up a dark stairwell and knocking on an unmarked wooden door.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Amrik, his beard net trembling as he realised where they were. “I can’t go into Sun Seven. What if my wife finds out?”
“For God’s sake, man,” barked Collins. “She won’t find out. Anyway, we’re not here for slapand tickle, we’re here to smoke and drink.”
And so they paid on the door and went in. Pushing their way through the dark room, past scantily clad dancers and nervous looking men, they found a table with a view of the stage and ordered a round of beers. As one, the gents reached for their cigarettes and lighters and were on the verge of sparking up when a waitress bounded up to them.
“No smoking,” she shouted. “You cannot smoke in here!”
The Kites groaned.
“Oh for the love of God, you have to be joking!” barked Collins. “This is Sun Seven! You have to be able to smoke here. Tell me you’re joking.”
“Not joking,” said the waitress. “New law. No smoking.”
“But the show,” said Californian Pete, nodding towards the stage. “What about the show? You can’t have a show without the smoking, erm, you know, the girl who smokes with her, erm, thing.”
“No smoking,” said the waitress again. The Kites put their cigarettes back in their pockets and sank back in their chairs.
“Well, I’m going home,” said Menzies. “My ankle weighs a tonne.”
“You’re not going to watch the show?” said Amrik. “I mean, we’re here now.”
“No, I’m not going to watch the show,” said Menzies. “I’ve had enough. Looks like we’ve either got to give up smoking or give up drinking. Good night.”
The Kites watched as Ming limped towards the door. Then, the house lights dimmed and a voice came out over the PA.
“And now, put your hands together for Ying with her famous chewing gum show.”