I had a major snafu on Christmas Day - my computer started playing up. My three-month old Sony laptop simply refused to type the number 2, or the letters r, y and u. I cleaned the keys, booted and rebooted, but the keys wouldn't work. And to add insult to injury, Windows Vista continued to tell me that my keyboard was functioning perfectly. I hate Microsoft, I can't think of a company that provides a worse level of customer service and which treats its customers with more contempt! My keyboard clearly wasn't functioning perfectly and yet Vista insisted on telling me that it was. I am now looking at computers using the Linux operating system and will switch at the first opportunity. I don't know why Sony doesn't offer Linux as an option, I really do hate having to give Microsoft money for a product which falls down on so many levels.
I was lucky in that I was in Bangkok when it happened. Why? Because if I had been in the UK there is no way I could have got the problem dealt with on Boxing Day. Everywhere is shut (expect for the shops) and I doubt that customer service would be answering their phones. And I have no doubt I'd be told to take it back to the retailer (the Sony shop in London's Tottenham Court Road) and they would have taken it off me and sent it somewhere else to be fixed. I probably would have been without the computer for a week or so, and that's just not possible. I would have probably have had to buy another machine. I'm also not a big fan of leaving my computer with strangers - these days they are all looking for the next Gary Glitter so will happily root through your hard drive. Okay, I don't have any naughty pictures on my laptop but I do have an awful lot of confidential material, including a lot of terrorism information that would I have no doubt cause me all sorts of problems. Anyway, I went to the Sony service centre in Bangkok, on the Phetchaburi Road, and was immediately seen by a really nice guy who spoke perfect English. He took it to an engineer and within ten minutes they had fixed my problem - a loose wire behind the keyboard. Despite the fact that I had bought the computer in the UK and didn't have the warranty or receipt with me, there was no charge and the guy gave me two Sony clocks as a New Year present! Well done, Sony, and thank you!
Every day without my computer is a day lost.... and it's impossibe to write without the letters r, y and u. I did try but gave up after an hour, it was far too tiring!
Anyway, I'm just about to hit 70,000 words on the Nightingale book. I'm going to send it out to a couple of friends of mine soon, before I've finished it, to see what they think, because it is very different from my normal sort of thrillers and I could so with some feedback.
And I'm still thinking about Bangkok Bob.... here's chapter three of Bangkok Bob and the Missing Morman... A good friend of mine used to run the Bangkok Bob website - http://www.bangkokbob.net/ - offering all sorts of advice on life in Thailand. He's now taken the site down, which is a pity. He wanted to buy http://www.bangkokbob.com/ but lost out to an Indian chappie who doesn't seem to be doing much with it. I did used to think about buying http://www.bangkokbob.com/ for my character, but now I might just ask Bob to let me have his old website! Anyway, here's the third chapter:
So, all I had to do was to find one lost American in the Village of Olives. That’s how Bangkok translates, I kid you not. Bang means ‘village’ and kok is an olive-like fruit. Doesn’t have much of a ring to it, so the Thais prefer to call their capital Krung Thep, or City of Angels. Actually, the full Thai name gets a place in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world’s longest place name. Krungthep, Maha Nakorn, Amorn Ratanakosindra, Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajdhani, Burirom, Udom Rajnivet Mahastan, Amorn Pimarm Avatarn Satit, Sakkatuttiya, Vishnukarm Prasit.
Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
It translates as ‘The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with the nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in enormous royal palaces which resemble the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated God, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarm.’
Bangkok is shorter. But it is still one hell of a big city. Officially it’s home to twelve thousand people but at any one time there could be up to twenty million trying to make a living there. Twelve million people, but the vast majority are Thais so finding John Junior would be difficult, but not impossible.
First, the basics.
The Clares had been told that the American embassy had contacted the police and the hospitals, but I’ve learned from experience that embassies aren’t the most efficient of institutions. I sat down at my desk, picked up the phone and worked my way through a list of local hospitals, patiently spelling out John Junior’s name and his passport number. He hadn’t been admitted to any, and there were no unidentified farangs.
Farangs. That’s what the Thais call foreigners. It’s derived from the word for Frenchman but now it’s applied to all white foreigners.
Okay, so John Junior wasn’t lying in a hospital bed with a broken leg or a ruptured appendix.
So far so good.
I phoned my best police contact, Somsak. Somsak’s a police colonel in the Soi Thonglor station, just down the road from my house. He’s a good guy, his wife’s a friend of my wife but our real connection is poker. We play every Friday along with four other guys, taking it in turns to host the game. Somsak’s a ferocious player with a tendency to blink rapidly whenever he draws anything better than a pair of kings. He never bluffs, either, just plays the percentages. He’s a tough player to beat; he either blinks or folds.
Somsak’s assistant put me through straight away.
‘Kuhn Bob, how are you this pleasant morning,’ said Somsak.
Somsak always called me Kuhn Bob. I could never work out whether he was being sarcastic or not, but he always said it with a smile. He always spoke in English, too. My Thai was better than his English but he was close to perfect so it was no strain.
‘I’m trying to find a missing American,’ I said. ‘A teacher. He hasn’t been in touch with his parents for a while and they’re starting to worry.’
‘And you’re wondering if he’s been caught trying to smuggle a kilo of white powder out of the country?’
It happens a lot. Despite the penalties – and Thailand still executes drugs smugglers – there are still hundreds, maybe thousands, of backpackers and tourists who try to cover their costs of their trip to the Land of Smiles by taking drugs out of the country.
Heroin is cheap in Thailand.
A couple of hundred dollars a kilo. For heroin that would sell for a hundred times as much in New York or London.
‘I will make some enquiries,’ said Somsak. ‘You have checked the hospitals?’
‘Just before I called you.’
‘Why are you contacting the police and not his parents?’
‘His parents spoke to the embassy and they said they’d talk to the police. I’m just covering all bases, that’s all.’
‘He is a good boy, this John Junior?’
‘He’s from a good family. ‘
‘I hope he is okay.’
‘Me, too,’ I said.
Somsak promised to call me back later that day. I didn’t hold out much hope that John Junior was in police custody. A farang being arrested was always big news. A more likely possibility was that he’d been the victim of a crime but if he’d been badly injured he’d have been in hospital and if he wasn’t then why hadn’t he contacted his parents?
I was starting to get a bad feeling about John Junior’s disappearance.
A very bad feeling.