Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sawatdi Khap. Welcome to Bangkok (by Peter Chan)

It is always every school boy dream to travel overseas especially when even a short overseas holiday to nearby Kuala Lumpur was considered a luxury for many Singapore families of the late 1960s. Even as we speak of “Bangkok”, the city still conjures images of Cleopatra, Emmanuelle or Nana-Nana; what more back then in the 1970s.

Photo 1: From my hotel window watching the two trains meet on the BTS line. Times Square is on the left of the photo.

When I looked down from my hotel window at the two trains “passing each other” at the Asoke Station, it brought me back to the past. The school boy dream did indeed come true in August 1971. Twenty rugby players between ages 17 and 18, two male teachers from Raffles Institution made their way into Bangkok for this 12-day trip. The old boys association came up with S$5,000 to sponsor this trip. Each student took with him between S$50 and $150 of his parent’s money to spend.

We boarded the Malayan Railway morning train at Tanjung Pagar Station, arriving in the late afternoon in Kuala Lumpur with just enough time for the only proper bath (for the next 40 hours) before departing on the 9 pm train to Butterworth. Next morning at 10, we transferred to the State Railway of Thailand international train service to Bangkok. Initially the ride was pleasant with plenty of beautiful landscapes to see; e.g. rice fields, villages and mountains. This was also the Thai summer season for longans and rambutans. At each train stop, children with baskets on their heads sold Thai fried chicken and banana fritters. We were greedy or put it another way, there was absolutely nothing else to do besides pacing up and down the coaches, playing pranks, sleep and wake up, and singing “dirty songs”.

Photo 2: Left Photo; A Vajiravudh player holding the ball on his way to a touch down. No Raffles players in sight. Right Photo; I am the last man at the line out against Pre-Military Academy. Flat-top hairstyle had already become fashionable in Bangkok in the early 1970s.

Forty-eight hours later after we left Singapore, we entered the Bangkok area. We freshened-up and put on our school uniforms again with very little hygiene standard to show because we managed a face-wash, brushed our teeth, quick shave and “brylcream” the hair. How we wished we could shower but the train did not have shower facilities and water droplets came out of the faulty basin tap.

As the train pulled into the Hum Lampung Central Station on the dot at 8am, the Vajiravudh College welcome party was waiting and the brass band played our school anthem. There was the customary Thai greeting of clasped hands and “Sawadi Kap”. Before long we were packed into two bus coaches and escorted by out-riders from the Bangkok Metropolitan Police. During the bus ride, I noticed each of us was assigned a male student “GRO” and soon the conversation jokingly drifted to “How come got no girls in this school?”

As the triple-crown champions of Singapore for the Kiwi Cup, 15s and 7s, we took part in this inaugural game against Vajiravudh. It was hoped that this game could eventually develop into an annual series involving Raffles, Malaysia’s Malay College and Vajiravudh. Vajiravudh was considered the Eton of Thailand ( Two curtain-raiser matches were arranged before our actual game against the Thai school national champions. We beat King’s College but lost by a single point to Thai Pre-Military Academy on the 90th minute. The game against Vajiravudh College was held at the National Stadium. We played before His Highest, King Bhumipol and the game was televised “live” on Thai national TV. We lost the match 46-6. Not only was Vajiravudh playing at a very fast pace, they were very fit and every Thai player had a 6-pack anatomy.

Photo 3: Left Photo; Raffles group photo session at Tanjung Pagar Station before boarding the morning train to Kuala Lumpur. Right Photo; The farewell function for Vajiravudh, King’s College, Thai Pre-Military Academy and Raffles players. Notice there are no girls in sight **gulp**

Unlike athletes today, we were not boarded in a special games village or in a hotel. We stayed at one of the residential colleges within Vajiravudh’ school compound. After many decades, I took the opportunity on one of my business trips into Bangkok to revisit Vajiravudh just to check out how much has changed. I was greeted by Major Apirat, the sports convener who showed me around the place. I told Major Apirat about the wonderful Thai hospitality where we were fed on daily basis for lunch - Thai pineapple rice with huge portions of Thai Chicken Gai Yang, Kaeng Keiw Warn curry, Kai-lan and Thai Otak.

Photo 4: Left Photo; Group photo session with Vajiravudh. Vajiravudh students wear the blue bermuda and white shirt school uniform. Right Photo; The same building where the group photo session took place. It is now the Vajiravudh Assembly Hall.

Our Thai host took us for sight-seeing of Bangkok. We visited the Grand Palace, the Benchama Temple, Bangkok Zoo (just across the school), river boat ride down the Chao Praya River, Crocodile Farm at Samut Prakan and Rose Garden. We went to a Thai Army-owned TV station to watch Thai Boxing and were interviewed over the sports channel – little did we realize that there was a confluence of military and private business interests in Thai society. At official dinners, we were entertained by Thailand’s top cultural troupes. I must add that all the places we went were strictly educational and cultural except probably for the only time when we were allowed to shop at Jim Thomson’s Silk Store. Fortunately or unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Bangkok’s pulsating night life; many thanks to Mr. Natahar Bava and Mr. Graham Pierce (teachers and guardians).

We missed pole dancing and cabaret shows although we did see from our coach the neon lights and attractions of the Soi Cowboys from Sukhumit Road and the ladyboys of Patpong. Even if we were allowed to go on our own in a “tuk tuk”, we had to have one of Vajiravudh College’s seniors; looking as if we could lose our direction in this city. We understood all 3 Thai schools were an all-boys school in every sense of the word - in and out of the school environment - but it was the Thai Pre-Military Academy boys who were more willing to educate us about “the other side of Bangkok”. Perhaps this might explain the difference between civil servants and the military in Thailand. Vajiravudh produced top men for the civil service and Thai Pre-Military Academy produced top generals for the “Brown Shirts” and “Green Shirts”.

Photo 5: Left Photo; The rugby field where we trained on alternate days when we didn’t have a game. Our training commenced at 4pm and ended at 6pm. Then it was time for dinner and curfew. Right Photo; The residential house was our home for the next 10 days. There is a road on the bottom left of the photo which leads to the back gate. This back gate was a “secret door” to leave the school for the bright lights of the city. I was told it is “still operational”.

Now back to 2007. This time I was able to meet an old friend Suchai from King’s College for a social drink. We chat of the good old days and talked “who is where”, each minute serenaded by a live all-girl Filipino band at the Westin Grande Sukhumvit Hotel and serviced from attentive high-slit dressed waitresses. Too bad for you, I don’t have any female companions in my photo album to show you because it was 1971.


Victor said...

>Too bad for you, I don’t have any female companions in my photo album to show you because it was 1971.

Peter, how about in 2007? Surely you can show us some photos taken more from a human angle (like "attentive high-slit dressed waitresses") than just trains and old buildings?

yg said...

peter, how about 'sawadee kaa'? i am sure there are many female readers out there.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually it is such an honour for Peter to represent Spore at this prestigious event. Did the press cover it?

In school, I always thot that Rugby was such a 'thugs' sport. I always wondered if it is was a deliberate irony to label it a gentleman's sport which was played by elite schools like Eton in England. However, in later years my views changed somewhat. In OCS, our CO Jimmy Yap (ex ACS boy) made us attend a rugby match and I actually found it very exciting.

But recently, my views reverted back to the negative one. Partly it was due to reading Peter's articles in this blog. I also found out about how some of my fellow ACS friends who left with me to join NJC in 1969 were singled out for "special treatment" when they played against ACS. Apparently, we were all labeled 'traitors'. Likewise, Peter and his friends had also targeted the ex-RI 'traitors' in the NJC team.

Good thing I never knew about this ugly label until a couple of years ago. Sometimes, it is good to be a bit 'blur'.

Icemoon said...

peter, how about 'sawadee kaa'?

eh, I think kaa or khap is depending on the speaker's gender right?

peter said...

The Kra or Krap refers to gender. One of the things I find interesting about the Thais is the salutation given to women. If the woman is of some high standing, they use the word "Khun" preceding her name.

Chun See:
Actually when I took up rugby, I thought it was a gentleman's game. Then I learned that there were 2 reasons why people like this sport. It is because one loves body contact sport. On the other hand, there are people who take up this game because it offers the opportunity to physically hurt an opponent. In the case of the latter, I have seen a few cases where one or two "ring leaders" love to pick a fight for the slightest dumbest reason, e.g. "why u stare at me?". Instead of playing the game, they use their fist to punch and feel "shiok" because it is a fight of unequal numbers; a few fellows beating up one player. or they wait until the game is over and then resort with the aid of the supporting crowd to beat up certain players. Luckily for our schools, such acts have gradually disappeared and so today it is a "beautiful game" worth watching.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Peter you must have been rough and tough to play rugby ?,I like watching it, the English Rugby Team is a very good side, they are very hard to beat may be this season Scotland may beat them , but I would not bet on it, ruby is good to watch Eh.

Anonymous said...

Hi, do you by any chance still remember the boys who went to BKK with you in 1971?

I tried to enlarge the photos but there was some kind of error.

May know someone who was in the Rugby team during that time.

Would be interesting to see him in his younger days. :P

peter said...

Juggie, I hope my memory of names could still be drop chun see an email and I try my best to recall the names. Was that someone you had in mind your father or your boss?

Anonymous said...

My boss LOL :P
Malaysian man,surname "Yap".
Keeps boasting of his colourful days as a rugby player during his Raffles "hey days" haha