Journeys in the afterMAPH: Poker scams in Bangkok

October 25th, 2007 § 3 comments

The next travel installation from MAPH Alum Adrian Hall….

Hi guys!

Since last I wrote you all:

I was happy to leave Bangkok behind because after a week the incredible pollution and stink wore away some of the City’s initial charm, such as it is. But first I had to have my lunch with my Philipino friend from the weekend market. She picked me up in a taxi near my hotel and we drove to her family’s house, which was a nice-ish bungalow kind of place. I met her brother, Alex and her cousin. I thought it was strange that her sister wasn’t there though, the whole reason behind this lunch date. The story was that their grandmother had had a heart attack or something that morning and that the sister and their mother were at the hospital with her. Of course I thought it was bizarre to still have me over with their mother on the verge of a triple bypass operation or whatever, but hey, foreign hospitality and all. Alex and I drank tea while Ana and her cousin made lunch. He’s a croupier who deals cards on cruise ships, in the VIP rooms he claimed, and in the occasional under-the-table private game in Bangkok hotels. In any case, he told me about his line of work and what not and that he had some players from the night before coming over later in the afternoon for a private game of “Poker Blackjack 21,” which is essentially Blackjack but with betting like poker. As a favor to me, after lunch he’d show me how to cheat in this game, as I was doing his family a good turn educating this absent sister about Chicago.

Lunch, as I feared, was centered around this scary looking fish. Not Fear Factor gross, but pretty unappetizing looking all the same. I ate as much as I could and then made up a story about a bout with a past stomach illness that limited how much I could eat in one sitting. So then Alex sets about showing me how to cheat at this game he deals. His system basically consisted of watching signals from him since he could control the cards. This way I was guaranteed not to lose and in some hypothetical future in which he dealt cards in American casinos we would defraud the house, the other players at the table, and split everything 50/50. His system worked, but was incredibly obvious cheating to anyone with half a brain, but I played along until he told me that he wanted me to help him cheat this Indonesian woman out of her winnings from the night before. Well, I’ve fallen for this you and I cheat an unwitting third party scam before on the subway in St. Louis and although the terms were different this basically looked like the same thing to me. What his angle was I have no idea, assuming I really was somehow the target and not this woman, but with visions of a life sentence in a Thai prison for God knows what transgression flashing before my eyes I was not about to find out. I declined as politely as I could and made my exit shortly after the Indonesian woman arrived. So whether or not there ever was any Red Lobster bound sister I have no idea. They were extremely nice to me at any rate, gave me all their contact info, extended family info around the country in case I was ever in a jam, and offered their house as a room next time I was in Bangkok.

The train to Kanchanaburi the next morning was ricketty and old and absolutely perfect. You could slide the windows all the way down and there were rotating fans on the ceiling and just wooden benches inside. It seems that you often see parts of a city from train tracks that you otherwise wouldn’t and this trip was no different. On either side of the tracks there lived people who were clearly extremely poor, living under bridges, etc., and often in shacks that looked like little more than piles of garbage. Some of them were farming little plots fed by the runoff from the train tracks. From conversations I later had I gather that much of Thailand’s very poor have been where they are for a long time. Thailand is growing wealthier very quickly, but these entrenched poor are not seeing any of that and just sort of stay put where they are while the country grows around them.

My guesthouse was really cool. It floated on the river Kwai. My little front porch looked out over the river onto the mountains and at the bend just downstream there was a temple. It was quite idyllic. I met some cool people there and made a travelling pal, Sanna, from Sweden. Sanna and I both wanted to go to Chang Mai so we took the bus back to Bangkok on Tuesday to catch transportation up to Chang Mai. This time I checked out China town in Bangkok which was amazing. Each little street sort of specializes in something. My favorites were the streets selling fish and other sea creatures that were frightening looking things: lobsters that looked like they were pumped up with steroids and high on crystal meth, things that looked like giant oceanic insects, etc. . . actual Fear Factor animals. Also amazing was the shoe street. There must have been millions of shoes for sale on this street. You shoe-aholics out there would have been in heaven. Some of the stores sold shoes by their individual pieces, basically letting you pick them out one by one, designing your own shoe. So you could really make yourself a pair that literally nobody else in the world would have. I thought that was pretty cool.\n\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>\n”,0] ); D(["ce"]); //–>It was about three hours to Kanchanabui. About 50 kilometers outside the city the landscape stopped being flat and those iconic, forrested Southeast Asian mountains started appearing. They were really beautiful. Kanchanaburi itself was somehwat uninspiring since it is more or less just a stop for backpackers because of its history as a Japanese POW camp from which they built the Thai-Burma railway to connect the newly conquered Singapore to Burma. I met some interesting people though. This used book store was a sort of impromptu bar for American expats. So I hung out with those guys for a few hours drinking 40 oz Thai beers for the equivalent of like a dollar each. It was pretty chill. Most of them were midwesterners, though the guy who owned the store was from San Francisco. One of the guys was an Iraqi vet from the third infantry working at an orphanage on the Thai-Burma border to “ease his soul” as he put it from what he’d seen in Iraq. He was one of these guys who loves the United States above anything else. He signed up after watching Colin Powell’s speech in front of the UN, convinced that Iraq was a threat to us. But now he just feels lied to and that the whole reason he joined was a fraud.

My guesthouse was really cool. It floated on the river Kwai. My little front porch looked out over the river onto the mountains and at the bend just downstream there was a temple. It was quite idyllic. I met some cool people there and made a traveling pal, Sanna, from Sweden. Sanna and I both wanted to go to Chang Mai so we took the bus back to Bangkok on Tuesday to catch transportation up to Chang Mai. This time I checked out Chinatown in Bangkok which was amazing. Each little street sort of specializes in something. My favorites were the streets selling fish and other sea creatures that were frightening looking things: lobsters that looked like they were pumped up with steroids and high on crystal meth, things that looked like giant oceanic insects, etc. . . actual Fear Factor animals. Also amazing was the shoe street. There must have been millions of shoes for sale on this street. You shoe-aholics out there would have been in heaven. Some of the stores sold shoes by their individual pieces, basically letting you pick them out one by one, designing your own shoe. So you could really make yourself a pair that literally nobody else in the world would have. I thought that was pretty cool.

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