After being turned away from the magnificent 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, for not being appropriately dressed, we decided to find another restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya River for supper, so we piled into a taxi, with our friends Chris and Maureen, and headed for Asiatique.
Stefan, being the largest, sat in the front passenger seat. The taxi driver was a small, friendly old man with thick-rimmed spectacles and a very loud voice.
“WHERE YOU FROM?” he asked. Stefan was so excited by the opportunity of answering in Thai, as we had been practicing for this particular question for two days, that he forgot his words.
“What do I say again?” he asked turning to me.
“You start with ‘pom’,” I helped.
“Pom …” Stefan looked back at me again.
“Maa-jaak,” I promted.
“Pom maa-jaak pra-thet aef-ri-gaa dtai.” Stefan completed proudly. (I’m from the country South Africa)
“OOOH … AEFRIGAA!” repeated the taxi driver. “YOU NO …” he rubbed the skin on his arm.
“Yes, me Aef-ri-gaa dtai, South Africa,” repeated Stefan. “We need to learn the words for ‘white tribe’,” he added to me in the back.
At the next robot the taxi driver turned to Stefan and said, “YOU VERY …” he gestured towards Stefan’s broad shoulders. “VERY … POPEYE!”
“Popeye? Me Popeye!” repeated Stefan, liking this idea. He flexed his muscles. “I eat spinach, I’m strong,” he said to the taxi driver showing him his bicep.
“STRONG?” said the taxi driver pinching Stefan’s bicep, “NO-NO, YOU PLUTO … I POPEYE!” laughed the taxi driver. Then he turned up his music which was playing a church-like rendition of Amazing Grace and started singing along. “AMMMAZZING GRACE …”
As the song came to an end the Taxi Driver took out his nifty little remote control and held it 2cm from the dash-mounted player. “YOU LIKE ELVIS PRESLEY?” he asked.
“Yes, Elvis the King,” said Stefan.
“Graceland,” said Chris.
So the taxi driver switched to Elvis who sang Amazing Grace with his audience.
“HOW SWEEEEET THE SOOOUND …” sang the taxi driver.
“So here we are from Africa, sitting in the back of a Bangkok taxi, with Pluto and Popeye up front, listening to Elvis sing Amazing Grace,” remarked Chris from the back.
At the next stop the taxi driver turned down the music and said excitedly, “JOHN WAYNE AEFRIGAA! ELEPHANTS, LIONS, TIGERS … AEFRIGAA! DUM DEE DUM TEE DEE DEE DUM TEE DUM.” He sang out a little tune. “HATARI! … DUM DEE DUM TEE DEE DEE DUM TEE DUM.” He repeated the tune.
“John Wayne, old movie?” asked Stefan.
“OLD … THIRTY YEAR!” said the taxi driver holding up three crooked fingers.
Stefan took out his phone to Google it. Then he read to us;
“Hatari (1962) John Wayne: A group of men trap wild animals in Africa and sell them to zoos. Will the arrival of a female wildlife photographer make them change their ways?”
Elvis finished singing Amazing Grace with his audience but, without pause, was followed by Elvis singing Amazing Grace solo.
“Aaaggh!” I heard Chris’s agonised voice next to me, “I can’t take any more Amazing Grace.”
“I ONCE WAS LOSSST …” sang the taxi driver.
“But now I’m found …” Maureen sang next to me. I think Stefan was humming along in the front seat. Finally Elvis sang his last note, but we were not quite done with Amazing Grace yet, oh-no, for what followed was a country version of Amazing Grace by Tammy Wynette.
“No more!” shouted Chris ready to throw himself from the moving taxi.
“Very good!” said Stefan encouraging the taxi driver. “He likes your music, Amazing Grace!” he added pointing to Chris in the back. The taxi driver promptly turned up the music.
“AAAMAZZING GRACE …” sang the taxi driver.
“How sweet the sound …“ sang Maureen. Chris squirmed in his seat and asked for his head phones. When the song ended we all held our breath.
“Don’t let it be Amazing Grace,” said Chris looking quite worn down.
“I WAS DANCIN’ WITH MY DARLIN’ TO THE TENNESSEE WALTZ …” sang the taxi driver.
“I remember the night …” sang Maureen.
Yes, it certainly will be a night to remember.
BANGKOK, THAILAND: 23-01-15