One thing we’ve come to appreciate about our Southeast Asian friends is their ability to coerce us into doing unusual activities that we would never otherwise do. This subtle trickery is achieved through nonchalance and a sprinkling of urgency, such as the time that TengTsen Khoo made us appear on The Apprentice, unclean, unshaven, and in my case, in desperate need of a haircut.
We should have recognized the signs when our Thai friend Pat called us one Saturday morning as we lounged around our Bangkok apartment.
“Hi Brad, are you guys busy today?” (Testing the waters.)
“I’m wearing my underwear, and planned to do so until dinner time. Why, what’s up?” (Naïveté.)
“There’s a classic car show today. Do you guys want to go with me?” (Trickery, coercion.)
“Sure, we’ll go. Sounds like fun! ” (Fell for it.)
“All right, meet me at the National Museum. You might see a couple of people in Volkswagens.” (Lies, all lies.)
After winding our way through Bangkok traffic, we find our way to the National museum. The casual manner in which Pat mentioned this opportunity has given us a false sense of calm. We turn into the National Museum and slam on the brakes. Something smells fishy.
There aren’t many Volkswagens around, though there are dozens of shiny classic cars; Bentleys, Rolls Royces, MGs, Porsches. A small boy walks by wearing some kind of 1920’s pantaloon shorts with suspenders and a driving cap. This, incidentally, is a perfect match to the 1920’s roadster that he’s arrived in.
Seeing our confusion, a young man—one of Pat’s accomplices—approaches.
“Hi Brad and Sheena! You can park over there. My name is Kaeg. No Sheena, that’s not how you say it. No, it’s not Keg either. Look, just call me Samurai, I think it’s easier for Americans to pronounce. Follow me, I’ll show you where to register and get your number plate.”
Samurai points to a parking space in between a classic Austin Healey and a Rolls Royce, and he’s dead serious. The cars are so shiny that as I pass by I can see my reflection in the paint, and I look like a total sucker. A sucker driving a mud-coated van with a rusty steel box hanging on the bumper.
Since arriving in back in Thailand, we haven’t found the time to wash Nacho. This means that our white paint is invisible under various layers of brown Cambodian mud, applied as if to a Jackson Pollock canvas over weeks of driving sloppy roads of brown Cambodian mud.
Sheena wants to hide. She pleads for me to take her home where she can crawl under the covers of our fluffy white bed, but It’s too late. Everybody stands around a flagpole and we listen to the King’s Anthem, and then official photographs are taken of the drivers of the classic cars, ourselves included. People take pictures of the cars, and Nacho succeeds in ruining all of the photos. We’re ushered back to our cars and we’re on the street, a big classic car train winding through Bangkok traffic—a classic car train with a fat, brown, 1984 caboose with a rusty box bolted on the back.
We drive out of the city and find our way to a temple in the countryside. Pat innocently joins the rally driving his VW Syncro Doka as if nothing were amiss. As if he weren’t taking the mickey out of poor, muddy, slightly ugly Nacho.
“Hi Brad and Sheena, you made it!”
“Yeah, here we are. Now, when you said that we were going to a car show, you might have forgotten to mention that we were in the car show.”
“What? Hey, do you know how to grease a CV joint? ” An underhanded subject change, no doubt. He knows that I have a soft spot for working on CV joints in parking lots. While I get under way, Sheena is snatched away by Samurai.
“Hello Sheena! Come with me, I’ll give you a tour.”
And with this, Sheena is whisked away for a tour of the temple, where she will spend the next ten minutes looking at sacred stuff, eating coconut ice cream, and buying little Buddha idols. Pat hands me paper towels to wipe the foul-smelling grease from my arms, and he correctly guesses that I prefer this to looking at temples.
Nacho ruins several more photographs and then it’s time to move on to the next stop. I still feel uneasy about sullying the clean image of this show.
“Pat, so, this is a classic car rally, right?”
“Yes! Are you having a good time?”
“Yes, it’s wonderful, but do you think that we really belong here? I mean, Nacho is from 1984.”
“Oh look, everyone’s leaving!”
Before we know it we’ve parked at another location and are climbing into a double decker London bus, which is to take us to lunch. Our new friend Dcim (Sim) is snapping photos and I’m minding my own business when all of a sudden an electrical wire shoots out of nowhere and its trajectory promises to decapitate Dcim from behind. My head-ducking reflex is faster than my verbal warning reflex, and I only manage to warn Dcim about the wire after he’s been clothes-lined by it. Oopsies!
Moments later, while observing the young boy in pantaloon shorts, my world temporarily goes black when a stationary tree branch collides with my temple. Double decker busing in Thailand is not for faint-hearted or the elderly. We wise up and put more emphasis on safety. We pass under several more low power lines, but this time we have an appointed powerline carrier to walk the length of the bus carrying the dangerous wires in his bare hands. Safety first!
At lunch, a troop of highly decorated dancing Thai children entertains us over tea and an elaborate Thai buffet. As is becoming a theme, we round out our meal with even more coconut ice cream. Before we know it we’re back on the bus, back in our cars, and jetting off to Jesada: an auto museum containing the collection of one eccentric collector.
The final stop of the day is at a university back in the city. We all park in a long line and go inside. Another buffet has been erected, which is divided into separate sections to represent the food from each region of Thailand. We gorge ourselves on more food, demarcating each course with coconut ice cream served inside of actual coconuts. Students from the university’s fine arts department take the stage and perform a traditional Thai dance.
And then it’s time for the awards ceremony.
The awards ceremony?
The awards ceremony. I listen to a barrage, many minutes long, of incomprehensible Thai language, listening for my name. Each person goes to the stage, and then I hear it.
“Ching who bing chang dee doh—Brad Van Orden—dingo chan—semi-ugly Volkswagen.”
I accept my award for ruining all of the classic car club’s photos, I forget to bow to my gracious host, and walk off the stage, where I proceed to the coconut ice cream stand to lose myself in more substance abuse.
A moment later, as I whip my tongue across my chin trying to mop up a few stray drops of liquidy coconut, Pat approaches.
“Hi Brad! I see you really like the coconut ice cream.” He pauses for a moment, and then continues. “You’re going on TV in four minutes.” And with that, he turns and begins walking away.
“Pat! Huh!?” By now I’ve forgotten about the ice cream on my chin and I fire off a barrage of questions as I trail behind Pat.
“On TV? But why? Do you know what kind of show? Is it, like, local or national?” I don’t even know where to start. Three minutes.
“Do you see that guy over there who looks like Elvis Presley? Every person in Thailand knows who he is. You’re going on his show. It’s the most famous car show in Thailand.” I shoot a worried look over to Sheena, my unfailing moral supporter—the woman who stands by my side through thick and thin.
“Leave me out of this!” she wails, and then turns her back on me.
Before I know what’s happening, I’m standing next to Elvis Presley, who goes by the name Sheeva, answering questions about our world trip. I can still smell the coconut ice cream on my own breath and out of the corner of my eye I see Sheena with a smug look on her face, and she’s eating—can it be? A fresh coconut full of ice cream! The scheming weasel!
“Problems? Oh yes, we’ve had many problems on our trip…”—I hope the coconut ice cream lady is still operational when this interview is over—“in Colombia our transmission failed…”—if she got the last coconut, I swear to God—“our brakes failed, our wheel bearings failed…”—Is that? No! The coconut lady! Where are you going?!
Here’s the interview; our section starts at 9:20.
When the interview wraps up, we stand around talking to Sheeva as dusk settles in. He’s passionate about classic cars with larger-than-life style, and he flips through photos on his iPhone, showing us the cars he’s designed and built himself. The Chevy he’s driving today is of his own design. As he talks, he thinks of something and his eyes light up. He opens the back door to his truck and rummages around for a minute, finally emerging with a bottle of his namesake rum, Sheeva WOP—WOP being an acronym for World of Peace, not a derogatory war-time slur for an Italian person. We happily add the Sheeva WOP to Nacho’s onboard mini bar.
As night settles on the parking lot, the rest of the car club has gone home. Now it’s only Sheeva and his camera guys; Pat, his wife and son; Dcim; the curator of the Jesada car museum; Sheena and me. As we begin parting ways, Sheeva tells us to wait. He runs to his Chevy, opens the door, and grabs the dreamcatcher that hangs from his rearview mirror; we later learn that this dreamcatcher is a part of his brand persona, appearing in several of his TV intro clips for his show. He presents the dreamcatcher to us and wishes us luck on our trip.
Just before we all head our part ways, the curator of the Jesada museum has exciting news to share with us.
“We are so happy to have you in Bangkok,” he begins “and as you know, next week is the Queen’s birthday.” True, true, we did know this. Go on. “So the Jesada Museum would like to invite you and Sheena to drive a historic miniature car from the museum in the Queen’s birthday parade.” My first instinct is to shoot a glance at Pat to see if he has anything to do with this. No, I think to myself, Pat’s brand of trickery is far more subtle.