BANGKOK, 2007: JOHN KIM

In 2005, I became resident pianist at the Westin Grand Hotel in Bangkok. It was there where I would meet John Kim. He was a Korean expat who had lived in Bangkok for more than 20 years. He was a regular guest at the hotel, and would visit for drinks and a bite to eat after work most evenings. Our friendship started with John making a request for a song. It would be more than a year of knowing each other before the following escapade occurred.

John had asked me if I was able to spend an entire weekend away with him, together with my then girlfriend, Joy, and his – I’ll say acquaintance – Yam. My day off was every Sunday, so at John’s request, I booked a Saturday off. He hadn’t informed me of his plans.

The weekend in question arrived, and on the Saturday morning at around 07:00 John & Yam picked Joy and myself up from our apartment on Pahonyothin Road. We got into his Camry with me sitting in the front, our two ladies in the back.

He then told us where we were going – Pattaya – the party city of Thailand, just a couple of hours drive from Bangkok.

At around 11:00 - having stopped for breakfast en route – Pattaya came into view. We checked into our hotel which was a very nice boutique property situated just a few minutes’ walk from Jomtien Beach.

We had a quick shower to freshen ourselves up and took the obligatory mid-day nap to which one becomes accustomed when living in Asia and doesn’t do much work. The four of us then met by the hotel pool and spent the afternoon sipping ice cold beer while enjoying good conversation.

At around 18:00 it was time to repeat the shower and nap process, and an hour later we headed off to a Korean restaurant which came highly recommended by John. We stayed there until around 22:00, consuming lots of Korean BBQ and Kimchi, copious amounts of Soju, all of which was washed down with Singha Beer.

The four of us agreed that a little bar hopping would be just the ticket, and this continued until around midnight, by which time Joy and myself were becoming tired. We could hear our empty beds calling, but John had not yet finished with us.

He took us to the Hard Rock Café on Pattaya’s main beach road, where we drank more beer until 02:30. Finally released, we arrived back at our hotel at just a shade before 03:00.

We were saying our goodnights when John surprised us by requesting our company for breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant at no later than 06:00, which meant that taking into consideration time needed to shower and dress etc., we had less than three hours sleep to look forward to.

As instructed, Joy and I hit the breakfast buffet on time, stuffing as much bacon into our bellies as we possibly could, praying that it would soak up the previous day’s activities. It didn’t. A few moments past 06:00 saw the arrival of our hosts. Yam was in the same mental and physical state as Joy and myself while John was, as usual, fresh, chatty and full of the joys of spring.

At 07:00 we once again climbed into John’s car, and drove to the port. We walked along the pier and as we neared the end he gestured towards a huge fishing trawler, telling us that he’d chartered it for the day. This boat, I’d later learn from the captain, was usually hired by groups of 20+ passengers, but John had rented it for just the four of us.

We climbed aboard, the lines were cast off, and we gently chugged off towards the Gulf of Thailand. Not long after we’d left the harbour limits, the inevitable cooler appeared. We started our second breakfast of the day; more cold beer, man’s only known effective cure for hangovers.

People infected with HIV can now live a normal life due to the advancements in medical science; we can cure cancer; in 1994, Mrs Bobbitt of Virginia, United States of America, hacked of Mr Bobbitt’s penis with a kitchen knife after Mr Bobbitt had abused her and cheated on her. Surgeons spent nine and a half hours sewing Mr Bobbitt’s appendage back on and due to the knowledge we now embrace, Mr Bobbitt’s crown jewels were not only once again fully functioning, but he went on to take the lead role in several adult themed blockbusters; in 2005, Professor Bernard Duvauchelle performed the world’s first face transplant on Isabelle Dinoire after she had been savaged by a dog. Nevertheless, regardless of these medical triumphs – and a hell of a lot more – we still feel like crap after a few beers, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it, except to drink more booze.

After a couple of hours, the captain pulled back the throttles, cut the engine and weighed anchor. Out came the fishing equipment and we sat there, beer in one hand, fishing rod in the other, waiting for a bite. It soon became apparent that we’d have more chance of finding ourselves being stuck in a traffic jam in Pyongyang than we’d have of catching anything where we were sat at that time. The captain decided to move on to try and find a better spot. By this time, our hangovers were all but a distant memory.

After another hour or so, our boat once again stopped, and a new wave of tiredness overwhelmed me; we’d now been awake and drinking for more than 24 hours, with the exception of a three hour sleep and a couple of short power naps.

The boat had a cabin with a hammock, and I crashed out. I woke up after a couple of hours and noticed that Joy and Yam were now resting too, but there was no sign of John.

I went out onto the deck and asked the captain as to John’s whereabouts. He pointed to the sea below and there was John, snorkelling, cutting through the water like a sailfish on steroids. We had a light lunch, and did a little more fishing. By mid-afternoon it was time to head back to Pattaya, and we came alongside at around 17:00.

Exhaustion was now getting the better of us. As much as we were enjoying the company of John and Yam – as we always did – we were looking forward to arriving home and collapsing into our beds.

John had other ideas.

‘Let’s have an early dinner,’ he suggested with his usual beaming smile and enthusiasm.

Have an early dinner we did, and by the time we’d finished eating, the sun had almost set.

Joy and I assumed that we’d then be heading back to Bangkok – where we could spend the next three weeks sleeping – but John decided that he wanted to drop by a Korean sauna to freshen up. We spent an hour between the sauna and the steam room; the heat almost knocked me out, but I managed to soldier on.

Finishing at around 20:00, we crawled into John’s car – again – and headed north back towards the City of Angels. I asked John if we were heading home, just to make sure it wasn’t some kind of cruel joke; that he wasn’t merely luring us into a false sense of security.

Arriving at our apartment at roughly 22:00, we got out of the car. Joy and Yam were saying their goodbyes, when John suddenly gave Joy a peck on the cheek and told her, ‘Don’t worry, Joy, I’ll have Stuart back before 03:00.’

I asked John, “W-w-w-where are we going?”

‘Pegasus’, he replied.

Pegasus is a ridiculously expensive private members’ club where John was a regular patron. I had been there before with him several times, and he’d never spend less than US$2,000 on one night out.

We pulled away from my apartment building – John excited, me numb – and upon arriving, we drank until 02:00. John could see that I really had had enough by this time but he wasn’t yet done. Handing me his car keys, he told me to take his car, gave me a man-hug, and wished me good night.

Six hours later at 08:00 I would still be in a self-induced coma, John would be in his office attacking the beginning of his week with gusto.

John had a rule which he stuck to religiously: never go to work and arrive home on the same day, for it’s much more fulfilling – and fun – to arrive home and then go to work on the same day.

Before and since knowing John, I have never met a man with as much energy as he had. The remarkable thing is though, at that time I was 33, John was 59.

While he showed no obvious signs of substance abuse, I did often wonder if he was on something, as I found it impossible for any man, regardless of age or level of physical fitness, to maintain that lifestyle on a regular basis. Whether I was right or wrong, I loved John dearly as a friend. It didn’t matter if we were having a quiet dinner and chat together, or a full balls-out raucous weekend away, such as the one I have shared with you.

I still think about John from time to time: what he’s up to; where he is; how he is, or if, indeed, he still is at all.

 

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