A little coastal town south of Bangkok catered to a cozy bunch of expats. The town had its own monthly English newspaper and a glossy advertising magazine. Both competed for the advertising buck of the five star hotels and world class golf courses.
A Greek ran the paper. George did things differently. He had big ideas and through his paper, promoted the villas he was building.  He had his fingers in many pies. He had a factory that manufactured wooden furniture. His Dutch partner worked downstairs, while George ran the paper on the top floor. The building was a few kilometers out of town. George had about six people working for his paper. We all wanted to work in Paradise, so George could well afford to underpay us.
I accepted the terms and conditions of working for George. Never question his good judgment and do what he says. George was loved and loathed in this coastal town. It was a matter of finite resources, and if George was taking the lion’s share of the town’s advertising, then surely his competitor would take that as a challenge. 

The Resort was just glossy pages of resort advertisements. It was a gold mind.  It had two pages of local stories and the rest was just cream.
George’s paper was a hodge podge of stolen content from the net, and rambles by hack journalists. I was one of them. He had advertising, but it was a bit thin.  He was working with a paper in Pattaya who supplied editorial direction and printed up the paper. But George did things his way, and didn’t give a fuck about journalistic integrity.
George was in his early fifties, grey mop of hair and dressed like he had just come off the golf course. He had two Germans working for him. George would have preferred to have not paid for writers and just to steal everything from the internet. He never sourced articles. The journalists doubled up as advertisers and the German team would devise all kinds of methods to entice advertisers. A coupon with discounts did the trick. “You sell me coupon advertising,” said Joe. “Then write up nice piece on the business.”
Joe, mid thirties, and a former a GM of a hotel here, had the gift of the gab, and knew how to get results. 
His side kick Yana was a graphic designer. He wore geeky glasses and was Joe’s shadow.  They were thick as thieves and the powerhouse of the newspaper. Yana was less corporate, and more of a free spirit.
He and Joe were the fix it guys. They’d go around end of the month and pick up advertising dollars. They weren’t quite George’s henchmen, but they weren’t far from it. 

No one said George could make it in this town. George had other intentions. He had an accessory wife, and recently had a child. George was here for the long haul.  Working for the paper opened up many doors. The little bar scene was seen as revenue.
Jana and Joe spent most nights crawling the bars.   They were getting free piss on the promise of a write up. “If you don’t supply us with piss, you still get a free write up.” . Joe really had a way with words, and the German accent just added an edge to this threat. 

He could also be the most charming prick around. He usually came through with his promises. He knew how businesses ticked.
“I should know,” he said. ” I spent the last ten years managing the Sheraton group around the world.”  

Joe would send me out to the bars to interview the local expat owners in the hope of selling a page of advertising or a coupon space.
Jack had appeared in Lonely Planet. “It’s a colorful bar owned by a Jason, a gregarious Canadian who took Buddha to Hollywood, and was accosted by Mel Gibson who bought it off the back of his pick up truck…” Jack had a photocopy of his write up on the wall. He also did cave tours during the day. “I also sold a Buddha to Jack Nicholson. Mal was a real laugh. Jack was just a cuckoo.”
I’d go around and do the mop up writing. It was usually bakery or cafe reviews. I once did a review of a fishing farm where you catch your own fish. “The owner was really happy with that piece. Keep up the good work.” Joe knew what to say at the right time. I kept on reviewing and selling coupons. George was happy. His paper was slowly taking over the town. Jack had his full spread I wrote up for him on the bar wall next to the dart board. 

“I’m damn proud of that story you wrote. You said it as it was.”
With Jack, it was just a case of recording, transcribing it, and adding some pointers and transitions. Jack was use to getting what he wanted. He was just that easy to write about. He was larger than life and he knew it. And over the years has had a lot of free publicity.
One day, Jack was telling a gruesome story of running a gogo bar in Bangkok when a well dressed American, in his late fifties, walked into the bar.  “One day I tried flushing an aborted fetus down the toilet. It just wouldn’t flush.”
“So you think you are some kind of hot shot writer,” said the American, who sipped on his beer.  He had been eyeing me off for the last half hour before he began. He said I really must enjoy writing about the bar scene in a sleepy seaside town. He was jolly and really put his act on. I didn’t see it coming, until his third beer. Then he turned caustic.  “You cock sucker. Think you know some stuff about life.” He got up off his chair. “So lets see what kind of tough guy you are now.
Jack looked at me and walked out to the kitchen. . He wasn’t about to tell the guy to shut up. It was a quiet night and he needed the beer sales.
I blended back into the night.
Joe realized Jack was getting too much attention in the paper  but not paying for it in a full page advertising. The paper had already written two features on him.  Joe went around to see Jack and pin him down for advertising dollars.
“No worries,” said Jack. “I’m going to sell the place anyway.” 

He took out a full page advertisement in the paper. “I’ll wait another month before I sell. There’s always idiots who will come out of the woodwork prepared to pay an outrageous price.”

 What he didn’t say tell the potential new owners, was that he’d take his staff to his new bar.  Jack had made a small fortune buying and selling bars.
He also hinted that in his early days he was a hash runner. “Now you know what I put in those Buddha’s.” Jack use to smuggle Buddha’s from Thailand and sell them in the west. 

 His hash running days were long over and he liked to cultivate that he was a big part of the Hippy Trail in the 70s. “I discovered Bali long before the surfers did.”

Jack’s success was due to being sober. He only drank coke, and his Thai wife kept him on a tight leash.
The features I wrote on Jack were cut in half by Yana and Joe. “You butchered my story.” They merged my profile on him and the story on Buddha goes to Hollywood. It was a good editorial decision, which had me fuming. “You can’t fuck with my content.” Joe took me outside to talk some sense. I wasn’t listening. I felt they were sabotaging my integrity. 

Joe gave me another assignment. I was the only one at the paper who could write up advertorials.
His friend ran a cave tour. Joe was supportive and complimented me on the feature. He got down the cave with me, and helped with the interview. He was great to work with and really wasn’t a bad bloke. His heart was in the right place. It’s just that he was now working for Joe. His credibility had dropped a few rungs.
George had his desk on the other side of the office. I didn’t see much of him unless I had bagged a big advertising sale. The jazz festival was in town and Heineken emailed me. They wanted a full page spread. 

George and the Kiwi owner really hit it off. George was also keen for legitimacy and now that I had brokered a deal between the paper and the magazine, maybe finally I had secured my position. “No one ever secures a position with George,” said Joe. “He’s the biggest user. So always make sure you are getting what you want out of the partnership.” Joe was practical like that.
The magazine in Bangkok ran a three page spread on my feature on the Canadian bar owner, Buddha goes to Hollywood. Joe, the GM of the paper, had really warmed to me now. “We really need people like you. I’ve been speaking to George, and we feel that you need to be rewarded with your contribution to the paper.”  George wined and dined the owner of the Bangkok magazine. And I never received a wage increase.  But recognition and a wink from George went a long way.
Wayne said he’d do a write up on George’s villas for the next issue. Wayne, who had been institution in the expat magazine scene, was now dying a slow death. The fat salaries he had paid for experienced journalists had eventually eaten into the core of the magazine. 
Wayne needed to invent himself fast or sink.
George was charming and really enjoyed playing the media magnate. He put Wayne up in a five star hotel for two nights – most likely free rooms he got from advertising deals.  And it was agreed that the sleepy tourist village would be allocated a section in the Bangkok magazine.
The fact that George wouldn’t have to pay anything up front had really appealed to him. He was also getting a free advertorial. He was open to the partnership. 

But his partner in Pattaya wasn’t so pleased. She felt that the franchise was being undermined by a partnership that she wasn’t informed about. 

George sold five units on the back of the Bangkok write up. Though he hadn’t even laid out the foundation yet, the down payment really pleased George. 

George didn’t care. He was using her and she was using him.
There were other real estate developers in town. Everyone was finding a quick buck. What they didn’t realize was those who had money would build their own town houses. Jason was a former body builder from Western Australia. He was an accountant and made his money from tax evasion for the rich. But where the big man didn’t get caught, the taxation office hounded him to self imposed exile. Jason was still advising the rich from his seaside mansion. 

I met Jason though the British owner of The Resort.
I was at the Hyatt doing a puff piece on their all day buffet. Bart was eating with a very skinny, tanned and well groomed Australian. Jason was vegetarian. Bart voiced his concern about George’s paper.  He rubbed his fat belly, and wiped off sweat off his pudgy face with the starched white napkin. “I want you to report his methods for soliciting advertising, and who his clients are, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
 I wasn’t interested.
Though George was an outright Cheap Charlie; he was still paying my salary.
Jason had pumped nearly one million Australian dollars into his fortress he was building just behind George’s villas. Jason was nearly ready to move in. He was god in this town. George’s villas were still at foundation stage. The advertisement in his paper showed the villas in their complete stage.  Jason had money to burn.
George was struggling to buy material every day just to cement the floor. 

Jason’s secretary was a Bangkok girl. She looked at me cautiously. She was very attractive and looked great in the dresses that Jason would buy for her on their trips to Singapore. She doted over Jason and hung off his every word. “I’ll get onto it immediately,” she’d reply sweetly, when Jason gave her something to follow up. She had good reason to be suspicious of me. I could speak Thai and Jason couldn’t. She didn’t like me speaking Thai and only replied in English.
Jason’s Filipino girlfriend was slowly being alienated from his world too. The secretary was whispering into Jason’s ears, and she had access to him 24 hours a day. She had a Thai husband but really relished her role as personal assistant to Jason. Why had I visited his house? I was here to write a profile. Jason had five villas branching off the main living quarters. A swimming pool with a fountain created the lost in Paradise ambiance.
The furniture of the living quarters was the hard Chinese and jade. Each room felt more like a tomb for the dead. Jason had large televisions placed in each room. He was a formidable player in this seaside resort. 
 But one of the builders fell through the roof and died. And none of Jason’s Thai friends wanted to visit. They were afraid of pee, or Thai ghosts.
The bar scene had its usual punters. A smaller version of Patpong with beer bars and restaurants. Everyone got around on motorbikes. And I was using Joe’s. George would never supply a motorbike to his staff.
George was getting more mileage from sister magazine in Bangkok and more advertisers were putting in full pages of advertising. He always had the last say on what ran in the paper. “Visas, laws and regulations.” That way he could get advertising from companies that catered towards expats who were doing visa runs down to the Burmese border.      
Joe was a conman, but I liked him. And Yana was a yes man and produced some great quality advertising graphics. There was some change in the wind, and George had a plan he wanted implemented.
The paper was turning heads. The expat community actually enjoyed something to read. And The Resort was on the way out. That’s what George kept saying. He was about to embark on an all out war. 
  “If we do it right,” briefed Joe, “we’ll knock his little kindergarten publication out of the water, and hopefully all the advertisers will come to our paper.” Bart was a dirty word in George’s circle.
Joe continued. ” George wants a similar publication. He calls it a glossy pull out of the paper magazine.” 
For next month’s issue, Joe put out a full front page in his paper. “Who is being run out of town now?” And he had his own glossy magazine. He put in dummy advertisements to make it look busy.
The next day the paper was distributed to all the hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants. George basked in his own glory. His partner from Pattaya was on the phone. She had concerns. “Please watch your back.”

“Why should I watch my back?” asked George. “That piece of shit is only getting some of his medicine.”
George summoned me Joe and Yana to the office. “Right boys, you know what’s being circulated around this town. And you know who is spinning it.” We all nodded. “I’ve been approaching some advertisers, and they said they’d jump ship if I can cut advertising costs by half.”

He said start getting all the advertising lined up and he handed the cost sheet. He was going to give every advertiser a free page, if they agreed to take out an add the following month. 

Wayne came back another weekend. 

George wined and dined him. Then his magazine collapsed.
It was a brief partnership. Wayne had pumped all his money into an online version of his magazine that wasn’t sustainable. His golden years of publishing was over just like that. 
The last interview I did for the paper was of a land developer from the UK. “You have no right being in Thailand if you haven’t got a business here.” It was noted, and George got me to write up a damaging piece on his project. But he wasn’t half wrong.
George just didn’t like competitors. It made him uncomfortable. The curtain on Thailand was about to close for me. The gravy train had been milked. I had a few free meals and did lots of writing. I rarely got the freebies and was happy to write good copy. 

After a month or two of producing a near replica of The Resort, George and his henchmen were raced out of town. The George -Yane – Joe partnership ended shortly after I left. I heard that gun men tried to knock off George on his way home.  

The bullet past his head was a warning shot. The equilibrium restored, George moved to Pattaya amongst his own. Yane and Joe joined him.
Bart was now an owner of a furniture factory and a newspaper. And Jason became his accountant.  It was just a game for Bart. “It kept George on his toes.” Bart didn’t want anyone in this town to know that he owned half the expat businesses nor the method how he acquired them.  

This is a ramped up version of the real thing. The greed and greed was actually downplayed. These characters really did exist.
We all had parts to play. Of course I never wrote up a hatchet piece on the UK property developer. And The Resort never existed and George never put out a front page advertisement challenging it. 
This was a facsimile of real events. 

It was time to move on. 
I was happy being the little man. Little men might struggle more but they didn’t get bullets fired at their head. 
It was a nice break in the sleepy seaside town.
I was sad to leave. Bangkok was calling again.
This is a sample chapter. For more, download Confessions of a Travel Junkie: A Prequel to Garuda’s Travels at Amazon. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s