Volume 16
An Online Literary Magazine
March 31, 2022


Bangkok Days and Nights


Mark Scheel


Julian brought me up to speed on Bangkok's alluring nightlife.



can see him now in my mind’s eye—a young man in a khaki short-sleeved uniform with a Red Cross patch on the left shoulder, standing in the pink sun of early morning on a narrow bamboo-and-palm-lined street in Bangkok, waiting and watching for a taxi ride to work. To his right is an asphalt drive into a courtyard, at the far end of which are wooden steps leading up to a second story bungalow. The bungalow consists of two rooms and a bath, and lying in the double bed inside is a slender young Thai woman of delicate, dark-haired beauty in peaceful repose. That young woman’s name is Nit and she’s that young man’s “teerak.” Or “beloved sweetheart.” I was that young man many, many mornings in 1970 after being reassigned from Vietnam to the Red Cross office in Bangkok, Thailand.


I’d been blessedly fortunate to have accepted the offer from Red Cross headquarters to extend my Southeast Asia tour in exchange for an early transfer out of Vietnam to a year of duty in Thailand. Little more than a week after departing my Vietnam substation, my replacement wrote me that the Viet Cong had scored a direct rocket hit on the CG mess where I usually consumed my breakfast. I quite likely would have been dining there and met an untimely end!


The Red Cross personnel in Bangkok were billeted in the Chao Phya Hotel—the military transient officers’ facility—and our offices were ensconced in the Medical Missions building many blocks away. Our group had an old black Chevy staff vehicle to transport us to and from our duties, driven by a local named Bamrung who spoke no English but thoroughly and efficiently memorized the daily routines as translated to him by our bilingual Thai secretary. Compared to the other vehicles madly swarming about the thoroughfares, the Chevy mimicked a tank, having survived encounters with two other autos, a bus, and a samlor taxi.


Jack Blaker, a World War II vet, headed the operation as field director (FD), and a Southern belle named Jenny covered the suboffice in the military hospital. One of the assistant field directors (AFD) named Julian, another Southerner with a scathing wit, quickly befriended me and helped bring me up to speed on the unique aspects of the job there and the alluring night life to be explored during off-duty hours.


One Saturday night shortly after I’d gotten settled in, Julian suggested we avail ourselves of the diversion offered by a nearby nightclub, one of the dozens upon dozens scattered around Bangkok to entertain the huge influx of military R&R troops. Located in a basement, it consisted of soft colored lights, blaring recorded music, a bar and tables, and a bevy of young Thai girls eager to pair up with an American soldier.


In short order we’d acquired two mixed drinks, a table, and two young Thai ladies whom we’d danced with once and then invited to join us, navigating around as best we could the language barriers and noisy background bustle. The girl I’d paired up with introduced herself as Nit, a bit taller than most Asian women, slender arms and legs, shoulder-length dark hair. And a timid, but quick smile.


The get-acquainted conversation followed a typical pattern—where do you work, how long are you here, are you married, do you have a girlfriend? Nit, I soon discovered, was a young widow with four children living with her parents. Her husband had been an older man, a police colonel, tragically killed in an auto accident. She worked as a waitress to help support the family.


We danced well together. I liked her laugh and the fragrance of her perfume. We agreed to meet again, just we two.


Nit and I soon discovered we were happily simpatico and our relationship blossomed quickly and fondly and progressed full speed ahead. No more than a couple of weeks had passed when Nit broached the question of whether we should consider getting a small bungalow together. She was anxious to have a private place apart from the family. In those days the culture in which I’d been raised darkly frowned on “cohabitation,” but, as the expression goes, this was “in another country.” I raised the possibility with my FD, Jack, whether such an arrangement would be permissible, and he was open to that option so long as I kept the hotel room (with necessary phone connections) for maintaining my obligations of periodic after-hours on-call status. So I informed Nit that we had a green light and she began eagerly searching for a suitable rental.


Before long she came up with the bungalow on Soi Long Suan and insisted I negotiate the price with the landlady—in my rudimentary command of Thai numbers—because “that’s what man does.” With the tiled bathroom accommodation off the bedroom, a ceiling fan, a small fridge in the dining area, and below on ground level a shared cooking facility, it made an exceptionally comfortable little abode. Next she insisted we go shopping together for housekeeping items: tableware, kitchen utensils, new bed linen, a few decorative pieces for the walls and table. I could see pretty quickly I’d gotten myself in deeper than I’d anticipated, but I was enjoying to the fullest every minute of this new domestic “togethering.”


Admittedly, the initial days of that domesticity required some getting used to. Nit worked usually until late in the evening, so my sleep schedule sometimes got crimped. Eating together was hit and miss. And I had to remain at the hotel nights when I pulled duty. But the days that we shared were times to treasure, helping Nit expand her acquisition of English, taking in a movie or shopping at the floating markets. Later on, we invited a couple of the AFDs over after work for drinks and to savor some of Nit’s culinary specialties (Thai green curry, seared beef salad, Chinese fried rice). And always the steamy nights in the secluded bungalow burned with a sweet and tender passion. An AFD named Andy—another World War II vet who was also a recent transfer from Vietnam—had heard about what was supposedly a top-notch floor show at another of the area nightclubs and suggested Nit and I join him when we all three had free time to take it in. We did so one Saturday night and discovered it to present a much “classier” appearing layout with cocktail waitresses and a live band. We were shown to a table bordering the dance floor and close to the band platform. At the top of the hour, a stripper appeared and began her act accompanied by traditional Thai music. She was indeed a handsome, shapely Asian and her movements were initially alluring, but as her routine progressed, her gestures became more and more erotically suggestive and somewhat vulgar and shockingly concluded with her removing her panties and thrusting them over Andy’s head! 


Nit’s reaction was immediate. She stood up and asserted, “This very bad. Not for taking lady to see. I go now. You stay you want.” And I had to embarrassedly agree. More suitable for a crowd of inebriated G.I.s. I respected Nit’s pride and sense of decorum. And dignity. It certainly wasn’t what we’d anticipated as “top-notch” entertainment. So, I stood up and said to both Andy, who was still untangling the girl’s panties from over his ears, and Nit, “I’ll hail us a taxi.” 


The days streamed into weeks and months. At one point, the military, as was often their custom, engaged in “musical chairs,” and moved the Red Cross office to a different location. Some AFDs completed their tour and rotated back to the States, other fresh ones came in replacing them. On one occasion I was sent on temporary duty to the air base at Nakhon Phanom where some difficulties had arisen within the Red Cross office there. It resembled being back in Vietnam actionwise with the nightly bombing runs pounding the Ho Chi Minh trail.  


One evening Nit informed me that the next Sunday she and some friends were going to help her sister move back into her parents’ residence. The apartment she’d been sharing with nursing students had become unaffordable for her after they’d departed. I quite willingly agreed to lend my muscle.  


On moving day, Nit and I joined the crew departing her sister’s apartment with her belongings and furnishings loaded onto a decoratively painted truck. It was the rainy season and the dirt streets leading up to Nit’s family’s modest dwelling had deteriorated to a sea of brown mud. Upon arrival, the young men assisting with the move shed their shoes and proceeded with their task barefoot, so I followed suit. Entering the living area, I had the opportunity to meet Nit’s elderly father and her four sons and daughters, none of whom spoke English. Her father had lit incense sticks to ward off the mosquitoes and had cool soda drinks on ice for the helpers.  


Misfortune, however, was to be my lot. As I was toting a small table from the truck through the mud, I felt something jab my toe. When I got seated inside, Nit’s father washed my foot and discovered a bleeding cut. He dabbed the blood, then applied some sort of antiseptic and a gauze wrap. And that prematurely ended my contribution to the day’s endeavor. I couldn’t help but wonder what his lasting impression was of this tender-footed “farang” who had captured the affections of his daughter. Likely not positive.  


All relationships, it would seem, have the inevitable patches of rocky road, and Nit’s and mine was no exception. One of the greater challenges occurred when an old girlfriend from my Kansas State University days, Linda, who was then teaching school on Okinawa, wrote that she was going to vacation in Thailand and inquired if I’d escort her around Bangkok. I certainly didn’t want to decline her request, but it did pose an awkward situation with the bungalow arrangement and Nit. Nevertheless, I pushed ahead and shared her letter and her wishes with Nit. “It would only be for four days,” I explained. Nit silently mulled it all over. Then she came to a decision and firmly declared, “You know her long time. Before me. Old friends. Okay. But you no bring her bungalow!”  


“Absolutely not,” I wholeheartedly agreed. And that was settled with less upset than I’d anticipated. Not pleasantly but without rancor. And Nit opted to spend that time visiting a cousin in an outlying village.  


Linda’s time in Bangkok was brief and fleeting, but did provide a joyful opportunity to reminisce about old times and common friends and bring us up to speed on where our respective lives had taken us. We toured some temples and booked an overnight excursion to the Nipa Lodge at Pattaya Beach to swim and snorkel among the gorgeous coral there; however, her last day in Bangkok unfortunately coincided with my abrupt and unexpected departure for Nakhon Phanom. Luckily, my good Thai friend Swang enthusiastically stepped in to entertain her and chauffeur her to her return flight. And my duty away from Bangkok for those ensuing days provided a space to dissipate any lingering ruffled feelings between Nit and me.  


When fall set in, experiencing one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring events pertaining to Thai culture came about for me. Coincidentally, I’d been introduced to the Thai celebration of Loi Krathong when in Vietnam serving with the Thai forces. Some troops had filled a metal trailer with water and floated candlelit baskets on it. But that in no way prepared me for the dazzling magnificence and scale of Thailand’s annual festival at the Chao Phraya river. Loi Krathong, with its roots in both Hinduism and Buddhism, takes place on the evening of the full moon in the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar. Incense sticks, coins, flowers and a lit candle are placed in a buoyant basket and set afloat in the river to honor the river goddess and symbolize letting go of past transgressions and negative thinking. Making a fresh start, as it were.  


Nit prepared a gorgeous basket, and with the arrival of evening, we took a taxi down to the river’s edge and met with her cousins who had chartered a small boat. Along with thousands of others crowding the shoreline, we knelt together by the water’s edge, lit our candle, and launched our little “krathong.” Then we boarded the boat and drifted into the stream. Fireworks were bursting all across the heavens and the many floating candles transformed the Chao Phraya into a river of fire. I held Nit close and kissed her softly, utterly and emotionally overwhelmed by the stunning spectacle of it all.  


The month of January brought my tour of duty in Thailand near its close, and I was excited to be offered the opportunity for a lateral transfer to Germany. Exciting, yes, yet confounded with a bittersweet admixture. What about the bond that had been formed between Nit and me? She was crestfallen when I informed her, although we both had known there inevitably would come a time of great change with our relationship. Perhaps that knowledge was what had furthered abandoning any emotional reservations for living in the moment. And, yes, the subject of marriage had been weighed in the balance. But Nit had no desire to immigrate to the United States with her four children, and I felt most dubious of resigning my Red Cross position and attempting to secure other gainful employment permanently in Thailand. And there was no other recourse available to us.  


The day of “severance” and departure arrived. My fellow AFD, Andy, drove Nit and me in the staff car to my night flight. Standing on the tarmac in the evening cool, I held Nit in my arms for the last time. She was weeping and my own eyes were blurred with tears. I looked into her face and uttered those words I’d never spoken to any other woman before. “Phm rak khun,” I said—then in English, “I love you, Nit.”  


“Yes. Me too,” she sobbed in reply.  


Then I turned and made my way toward the flight area, her mascara-laced tears wet on my collar and forever imprinted on my heart.


Mark Scheel's memoir-in-progress, Blossoms on the Vine, from which this is excerpted, pertains to his time overseas during the Vietnam War. He's a retired library information specialist with six books published, the most recent being the poetry collection, Star Chaser, from Anamcara Press.







Home | Search | About Us | Submissions | Mailing List | Links | The Writer's Workshop