How To Avoid Prohibition In A Muslim Land And An Animal In My Shirt
Today I had a little mission. My Thai visa is due to expire and so I have to leave and re-enter the country in order to ensure that I do not overstay my welcome, a point that is dramatised by the authorities to the tune of £10 per day.
The nearest border with Malaysia is 40KMS down the road from here. It is a pleasant ride along a quiet winding road through lush green farm land backed by hills blanketed in thick jungle. I decided to make the visa run a day trip, a luggage free ride that I told myself would be at a leisurely pace. “an early start, lovely morning light and lots of photos” I told myself as I went to bed the night before.
It all went awry, I drank coffee till midmorning and once underway I was like a dog released into a big garden after a day in a kennel. The bike feels so different without any bags on board. I stand for the small climbs and my machine wobbles dramatically as I swing it from side to side. Riding like this feels good, really feeling my lungs open up.
Whoosh down a slope, through a left and then a right, up onto the pedals, swinging the machine left, right, left, right, argggg, something in my shirt! I panic, what is it? It beats its wings which I do not like as its wings are between my chest and my shirt, it stings me, arggg…I beat at my shirt, it is stinging more. What is it? All manner of horrible tropical beasts woosh through my mind. I recall a film that I recently watched. In this film the victim is injected with poison extracted from a tropical animal. The poison causes total paralyses and renders the poor fellow totally incapable of any resistance as he is tortured to death. His limbs are slowly removed with a variety of tools including surgical instruments, electrical DIY appliances, and a variety of gardening implements. I rack my brain to try to remember what tropical beast the venom comes from, I cannot think, but I come to the conclusion that I should stop filling my mind with nonsense and get on and remove this thing from my shirt. I beat at it some more and then I decided that perhaps beating it will only serve to antagonise it, although it seems rather stroppy already. I let go of the handle bars and unzip my shirt. The zip is full length which is fortunate. I curse the animal, I curse with strong and course language, the sort of language a gentleman would not use before ladies, children, the elderly or members of the clergy. As my bike slows I get the shirt off. My chest and side sting. I flap my shirt and take my water bottle in hand and spray myself down, rubbing my torso and sighing in relief. I look around, there to my left is a muslim family, ladies in long weekend dresses, bearded men in white robes. Before them is a white man naked save for a pair of indecently tight shorts sighing deeply as he sprays his sweaty body with water and rubs himself down. I smile and offer a greeting, they giggle, I leave.
The border, or at least the approach to the border was busier that I expected. Strangly it seems to be something of a weekend tourist attraction. Quite why I was unable to decipher. There must have been twenty coaches and many cars. Lots of Muslims wandered around buying coke and various other brightly coloured fizzy drinks from brightly coloured fizzy drink vendors. And so far as I could see this was the attraction. There was a small market, and with these people being Muslim I could have understood it if there was a typical and rather sordid border town atmosphere where people come to drink liquor and fraternise with friendly ladies offering massage at the bars. But the closest I saw to anything looking remotely elicit was a Champagne style bottle containing, according to the label, Fizzy Grape Juice, Coloured. Hum. So there you have it, a mystery to me. So far as I was concerned though all was splendid. Hardly a soul at the border meant a swift run. An exit stamp out of Thailand, roll fifty metres on my bicycle into Malaysia, hand over my passport for an entry stamp, ride round the back of the shed and up to the hatch the other side of the shed to where I received my entry stamp. The border guard and I looked into each others eyes and busrt out laughing. It was spontaneous as we shared a comic moment. He stamped me out of Malaysia a minute after stamping me in. He handed back my passport, I said “tere makasi” hoping that I had the correct phrase and we both bust out laughing again.
Back at Thai immigrations there seemed to be a quite splendid game show on television that involved spinning a big wheel attached to a wall and shouting a lot. It was clearly a fine program and the immigration officials were not going to allow trivialities such as immigration procedures to come between them and their program. Sixty seconds and I was back in Thailand with another two weeks in my passport. Exactly one day more than I need.
My ride home is a fast and hot forty kilometres. Upon my return I need my usual, a bottle of chocolate milk shake and a can of isotonic Sponsor drink. Ahead is the sign I long to see, the red white and green stripes of Seven 11. God bless America, for Seven 11 if nothing else. With Seven 11 you know where you stand. You know they will have what you want and in which fridge it will be.
I drink my milk, and I drink two bottles of Sponsor. Still the sweat pumps out of me. I have a little cramp in my side, a sure sign that I need salt. My minerals need replacing and isotonic drinks are just not working, only one sensible course of action to taken then. Back in Seven 11 and standing at check out I am reminded of the law of Thailand. In Thailand, as it used to be in the UK, it is an offence to sell beer between the hours of two and five in the afternoon. I defy anyone to explain the logic of this to me, for there is none, but that is the law of the land and Seven 11 are expected to stick rigidly to it. Indeed their tills will not allow the sale of beer between these hours. So far as I am aware it is only Seven 11 that keeps rigidly to this rule, but as this is a Muslim area it may be that the rule is more strictly enforced, and so, I seek out the establishment least likely to be effected by such silly laws, the one nearest to the police station.
Opposite the police station is a shop with a few tables outside that serves as a sort of cafe. The place is full of policemen. Well, full would be hyperbole but there were half a dozed or more. I gather up water and soap and beer and make my way to the till. The policemen smile and say hello. A sergeant engages me in conversation about my bicycle and my journey. Where have I come from, where am I going. I tell him that I have ridden from the far north, “keng keng, strong strong” he says squeezing my arm. I don’t know the reason for this but so very often when people are impressed with my cycling they tell me I am strong and squeeze my arm. Odd that. I give a modest smile and a shake of my head whilst subtly trying to encourage some more compliments about my strength courage and stamina. “Sit and drink beer with us” invites the sergeant, I decide that I would rather get back to my room on the farm and politely decline. I am still sweating profusely and figure that to drip on the sergeant whilst he is trying to enjoy his beer may be considered poor form.