A day for mustard and relish, but no ketchup
Despite not being American I attended several July 4 celebrations in Bangkok back in the days when they were held at the old ISB campus on Sukhumvit Soi 15. A colleague's recommendation of "cheap beer and heavenly hot dogs" was enough to convince me it was possibly not the worst way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Bangkok.
The hot dogs did not disappoint and more importantly I was introduced to American Hot Dog Etiquette with mustard, relish and onions but definitely no ketchup. What the etiquette failed to mention was ending up with an unseemly dollop of yellow mustard dribbling down my shirt. Anyway the beer helped wash everything down. The proceeds went to assorted charities, including Kru Prateep' s famous Klong Toey school. It's amazing how much more smoothly beers slide down when you know it's for charity.
They were well-organised occasions and always fun. I recall taking part in the egg-tossing competition and failing miserably, while I wisely declined participating in the three-legged race. I also resisted an invitation to board the Ferris wheel, which was to take its revenge at this rebuff in an unorthodox way.
In those days I played football regularly at the ISB campus for a team called the Cosmopolitans. Shortly after a July 4 picnic, we turned up to find the Ferris wheel still stubbornly sitting in the middle of the football pitch. Two other teams were already playing their match, unconvincingly trying to pretend the Ferris wheel wasn't really there, with predictably farcical results.
Our team, which included 10 different nationalities, decided action must be taken and combined to shove the rogue Ferris wheel into a corner. It was the finest example of spontaneous international cooperation I have ever witnessed.
Sirens stop play
On another occasion in 1975, we were playing at the ISB campus when the referee's whistle was drowned out by wailing fire engines and the game was temporarily halted as we witnessed the smoke and flames billowing up from a little further down Sukhumvit. The source of the fire turned out to be the Sukhumvit theatre, which was completely gutted in the blaze. It transpired that the fire was sparked by a gentleman in a shop adjacent to the cinema cleverly smoking a cigarette while pouring petrol into a large container.
I wrote film reviews for the Post at that time, and only two days before had been sitting in that same cinema enjoying Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The film, known in Thai as "Knights of the Wobbly Table", was moved to the Petchrama cinema on Phetchaburi Road. Some months later the Petchrama also burnt down and Thai cinemas understandably became a little nervous about showing Monty Python films.
Caught on the hop
Sorry, but another ISB anecdote from those days. A teacher at the school told me that one day he had just started a biology lesson which involved dissecting grasshoppers (dacatan) when he discovered there were not enough for the whole class. Undaunted, he remembered there was a grasshopper vendor on Soi 15 and he promptly gave the lab technician 20 baht to go and buy a bag of live grasshoppers.
It saved the day. The lesson resumed after only a minor delay. Each student eventually had their own grasshopper to dissect and everyone was happy … apart from the unfortunate grasshoppers of course.
It is hard to imagine now, but before the arrival of the first McDonald's in Bangkok in 1985, American fast food was not that widely available in Thailand. A few restaurants had their own version of a hamburger and that was about it. That was one reason for the popularity of the July 4 hot dogs and burgers.
There are now more than 240 McDonald's restaurants in the kingdom and despite the international reputation of Thai food many Americans far from home are uncomfortable unless they are within munching distance of a Big Mac.
I recall walking on Silom one afternoon in the late 1980s when a young American approached, looking quite desperate and he asked where McDonald's was located. It was a rare occasion upon being asked directions that I actually knew the answer, which was a simple "just down there on the left". The fellow was overjoyed and thanked me effusively.
I've never seen anyone so happy.
I admit to not being a McDonald's regular but am quite partial to their pineapple pie now and again.
Have a nice day
I have only been to America once, for a week in 1995, which does not exactly qualify me for a Green Card. Much of the time was spent in the San Diego area and it was a most enjoyable experience. I was particularly impressed that nearly everyone I met found time to come up with a chirpy "have a nice day" even when it was pouring with rain.
It was the evocative names that really caught my eye, places I had only heard from in the movies, television and the like -- Chula Vista, Escondido, Mission Bay, Shelter Island, La Jolla, El Cajon and Point Loma, reflecting Spanish, Mexican and Old Californian influences. There are colourful stories behind every name.
Anyway, to all readers, whatever nationality you might be, all I can say is "have a nice day", but please steer clear of the ketchup.
Contact PostScript via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
Email : email@example.com