Ruben called at about 10 am the next morning. I was stilling lying in bed, and he was calling from the hotel room next door.
"Ruben!" I said, "Como estas, amigo?"
"Not good. Can I come over?"
After Ruben arrived in Bangkok from India, a few days after I did, we met up near Koa San Road. He came on the spur of a moment and only had a few days in Thailand before needing to return to his job as an economic advisor for the European Union in Brussels, and wanted to hit the closest beach. That left us with pretty much one option: Pattaya. I had no desire to go to Pattaya, but since he didn't have much time, I agreed to go along. It was only two hors away, so sure, why the hell not.
Pattaya came to fame during the Vietnam War as the R&R spot for the American soldiers. Since then, it has slowly gained a reputation as a sunny, seedy beach town full of go-go bars, strolling middle aged men, resorts and busloads of pale tourists. Despite it's seedy reputation, a lot of families come, including lately a ton of Russians (including the gorgeous ones).
Most of these people at one point end up on "Walking Street," a pedestrian thoroughfare chocked full of restaurants, bars, pubs, clothing stores, tattoo parlors, strip clubs, massage parlors, and discos. Vegas condensed, but with lesser morals.
One night we sat at one of the pubs enjoying the live music and doing a good dose of people watching. I was coming off a sickness, but Ruben was wanting to party. I summoned up all the energy I could, drank a Red Bull, and at midnight told Ruben I just couldn't do it. I headed for the hotel and Ruben headed for a disco. "So many Russian girls!" He said. "I am ready to dance!"
"Buen suerte, amigo, y buenas noches."
And next was the phone call. He came over and I opened the door. He was clutching a cold pack to one eye and his forehead was scraped badly. Oh lord, I thought. He pulled the ice pack away and his eye was a deathly black mess with his red eye barely peaking through, and above his eye was a huge bandage covering a dozen new stitches.
After leaving me, Ruben headed to Lucifer's Discotheque. He pulled up to the bar and was chatting with one of the waitresses as she was getting drinks. One of the bouncers came up and asked him to move away. The girl told him it was no problem, but he scooted down a bit. After a few more minutes Mr. Thai Bouncer returned and said "Thought I told you to move?" Ruben said "no problem, no problem," and moved a bit more. This wasn't good enough for him and he grabbed Ruben's beer and asked him to leave. "Okay no problems," said Ruben, not thinking to much of it but a little suprised. Two more bouncers appeared and they grabbed Ruben by the shoulders and escorted him to the door.
As they were shoving him out the entrance one punched Ruben in the pack of the head. He turned around to say "what the hell?" as about six bouncers appeared, pushing him to the ground right in the middle of Walking Street and proceeding to kick the shit out of him, in front of all the passerby tourists.
After a few minutes he was able to escape as they pulled off his shirt. A few other tourists helped him find the nearest tourist police. They didn't do much more than take a picture and send him to the hospital, while telling him to file a police report the next morning.
We went to the police station the next morning. We found an old Brit policeman in the station, probably a volunteer or part-timer expat. Ruben told his story and he sent us to the desk next to him, the Thai police sargeant. Ruben told his story again.
"Ohhh, Luciferrrrr's. Luciferrrrr's. Okay I take lunch and come back to type report." Nothing will get in the way of a Thai and food, they say, and this gives a good idea of the the waste of time that this endeavor turned out to be. Once we filed "the report," we retreated to the hotel for a meal.
For as safe and friendly and hospitable this country this is, it's ugly underbelly is sometimes exposed. I wasn't the first, neither was Ruben, and we won't be the last.
Which is why after sending Ruben off, I retreated quickly to the islands, to the familiar beach Haad Yuan, full of peaceful, lazy people. There will be no harm done here, unless I strain a hamstring doing yoga, or get a papercut opening a new novel. Sunburn is another hazard. Maybe a rash from the reef. And you always have to watch out for falling coconuts.
All part of the hazards of traveling.