By Andrew Biggs
This week’s tale of pretentiousness and warped social mores begins in the sleepy seaside town of Hua Hin.
Sleepy seaside town? Such was the description of Hua Hin when I first made a stop there a quarter of a century ago, but now?
There’s nothing “sleepy” or even “seaside” about the place.
It’s a beach town where you can’t see the beach. The main road doesn’t run parallel to it; I have no idea where a family who decides “I say! Let’s go to the seaside!” would park their car and unpack their pails and spades. That last sentence sounds like I’m living in an Enid Blyton alternative universe, but you get what I mean.
For many years the two major seaside towns were Pattaya and Hua Hin. The former was the racy older sister who flirted with all the boys as she sat on the beach in a thong listening to EDM.
Hua Hin was the pudgy little sister with pigtails and coke-bottle glasses who sat, in her sensible floral one-piece with the bright orange and brown frills, reading Nancy Drew and Black Beauty.
That all changed. Pattaya is still the same, though at her age she should be thinking about settling down, while Hua Hin? She has turned positively metrosexual, giving up the semi-rural beach atmosphere for colossal condo projects, five-star resorts and high-class malls.
My sister arrived for New Year with her family, including two children who are going through their angst-ridden teen years. I thought perhaps that having a hipster uncle in Bangkok, Thailand, might score points for me on the cool scale. Nope. Bottomless computer screen more preferable.
My sister berated me for taking her to Hua Hin because I sold it to her as a “nice quiet holiday”. It didn’t help that my niece had just returned from Florida, USA. “This place looks like Miami,” she said as I took them for a leisurely drive.
“Hardly a seaside town,” replied my nephew, 14, in a tone so dry I reached for my water bottle containing liquid far more spirited than my nephew and niece would ever be.
On that cloudy day we ended up in a brand new upmarket shopping center, just down from Market Village, another shopping center. Yes, Hua Hin requires two mega-malls, otherwise what is one to do in a beach city without access to a beach?
Driving into the car park, the first thing I came across was a partitioned area, with an absence of cars, and a sign: SUPERCAR PARKING.
Supercars … in Hua Hin?
“Does Superman shop here?” my sister asked, sitting with me in the front.
I came to a stop right in front of the sign. A security guard saw me slow down and immediately rushed over, blowing his whistle and pointing off stage somewhere. The message was clear; move on, riff-raff.
I drive a Teana, dear reader. Yes, that’s right, a luxury car … sort of. It’s a Teana from 2008 so yes, there are a few scratches and nicks, the tyres are bald, and that strange rattle in the engine refuses to go away.
Nevertheless it is still a Teana. It’s good enough for the security guards at the entrance to my housing village to salute it. Upon entering and leaving they stand to attention, click their heels and salute. This became a bone of contention a while back when my car was being serviced and I happened to walk out of the housing village, past those security guards. Both young men looked up at me as I passed. Not a salute. Not a stand to attention. Not a click of heels. It gave me the uneasy revelation that they are not saluting me on any given day — they are saluting my car.
But there we were, my family in my banged-up Teana, with a security guard blowing a whistle at me.
This provoked the worst reaction of all — my nephew and niece looked up from their smart phones.
“He doesn’t want you to park there,” said my niece.
“Not necessarily,” I snapped back.
“Then why is he blowing that whistle and pointing?” asked my nephew.
The truth is, I was never intent on parking in the SUPERCAR zone. I merely wanted to take a picture of the sign. Foolish me. Now I had people, both inside and out, clutching whistles and smart phones, assuming I wanted to park there.
“I thought you said you were famous here,” my nephew muttered, in droll teenaged tone.
“I never said anything of the sort. And what’s that got to do with anything?”
“A famous person would be allowed to park there.”
“Not if he was in a Vios. Isn’t there a Candy Crush or Angry Bird you have to get back to?”
Then I realized; the security guard wasn’t blowing his whistle and pointing me away. He was pointing me into a vacant car space, directly opposite the SUPERCAR PARKING sign. Of all the embarrassment; not only am I not allowed to park there … I have the humiliating vista of looking at the empty spaces, like some beggar standing outside a palace!
What has happened to Thailand? One of the big news stories doing the rounds at present is about our deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan. Now remember this government is not in power via an election. It stormed its way in, screaming about the rampant corruption of the prior administration and swearing to eradicate all corruption in a zero-tolerance campaign.
Therefore it doesn’t look good when General Prawit is the owner of 24 extremely expensive watches, all of which he claims were given to him by friends. Where on earth can I find friends like that?
You just know that, somewhere in his dressing parlour, General Prawit has a small sign attached to a gilt-handled drawer that reads SUPERWATCHES.
It’s not just the anti-corruption crusaders who are basking in luxury. It was revealed, in 2016, that one of the strongest contenders for the position of Supreme Patriarch in this country was an avid collector of high-end cars. He had a Mercedes W186, one of 6,757 cars investigated by DSI police that year on suspicion of tax evasion.
Monks in Supercars — sounds like a Russ Meyer movie. If ever the monk has a sermon to deliver in Hua Hin, I know just the place where he can park.
Our values are all upside down. When I build my first strip mall, I’m going to make a sign that says SUPERINTELLIGENT PARKING. Don’t laugh, dear reader. Surely a mall full of smart people discussing things rationally and scientifically is a more desirable shopping experience than one full of rich luddites in fancy cars.
And wannabes. This week I was at the Emporium when, as I entered the place, I noticed that they, too, have a stretch of car park devoted to SUPERCAR PARKING. There was not a single space available, and as I walked past I counted two Bentleys in a row, two top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz cars, then finally one Lexus.
One … what?
I swear to god. There was a Lexus parked right there in the SUPERCAR parking amidst the Bentleys and Mercedes Benz.
I was filled with uncontrollable rage. A Lexus?! And some security guard with a whistle in his mouth was telling me in my Teana to move on?
My beloved Thailand … where corruption hunters sport one of two-dozen million-baht watches. Where ethereal abbots hord the finest of material possessions. Where supercar slots are filled with Lexus cars, if filled at all.
I absolutely love it.