marcel barang

What a gas!

In English on 28/05/2011 at 9:25 pm

I use bottled gas for cooking. A Picnic, 4kg-charge cylinder lasts me six to seven months. I know this because, having once been tricked with a half-empty bottle at the end of 2008, I’ve kept a record since.
On Thursday night, the potatoes fail to boil: no more gas.
I smell a rat. Check against the record: indeed, the current cylinder was swapped only three months and fifteen days ago.
Luckily, I have an emergency electric hotplate: the potatoes will be boiled; the fish, fried; the man, fed.
Next morning, I call Paris Gas, an ancient husband-and-wife outfit at the foot of Phra Ram 8 Bridge on the Thon Buri side, whose customer I’ve been for the past eight years or so, to order a new gas bottle and report on the discrepancy.
Back in 2008, the wife had been apologetic and had suggested I keep a record ‘to help us prevent fraud’.
This time, the husband picks up the phone. His reaction, verbatim: ‘I don’t want to know. I charge 4 kilos every time, that’s all I can tell you. If you don’t like it, report me to the police and they’ll come and talk to me.’
I hung up.
But then where to find a new purveyor?
The motocy’ taxi driver round the temple corner I’ve known for years says there’s one nearby but it’ll involve two trips: one to deposit the gas bottle, another the next day to get the new one. No thanks. Another shop further away will recharge or swap the cylinder right away. As I say ‘Let’s go!’ it starts raining. My motocy’ lady says: ‘I’ll pick you up at your place after the rain.’
I go back home, work on the first translation draft of Wuthisarn Janwiboon’s ‘Ma-lee’s second death’ while it rains bats and frogs.
Sometimes after the rain has stopped, I get impatient. I have a problem: today is ‘editorial day’ at Gavroche. I’m supposed to stay put to copy-edit the editorial as soon as it reaches me or even sooner – and, as a rule, its writing is such a pain in the wrist for its anguished author that it never comes on time. I’ve been waiting since noon…
I resort to calling said author, in effect asking for permission to leave my house for half an hour or so, and am airily informed that
(‘Mais y’a pas l’feu !’)
the copy will be wired at six.
(For the sake of historical accuracy, it’s worth noting here I received it at 6:25pm.)
Then takes place one of the hairiest field trips I’ve taken in my life
(and may I remind you that as a toddler I once tottered unscathed under a passing ten-wheeler, or so I’m told;
that I owe my life as a Mobylette rider in my teens to the fact that in those days some buses in Toulouse still had a bevelled rather than a square snout so I made it by a whisker between overtaken bus and incoming lorry under a narrow railway bridge;
and I twice faced death in my reporting days, once right here in Bangkok when drunken, trigger-happy cops ransacked a prime minister’s home and I happened to be around, and another time when I went into Khmer rouge territory and walked a day in dust without seeing any, thanks to a CIA misdirection, whereas the French reporter I was trying to locate – and rescue? – found them and never lived to report about them)
, astride a motorcycle, wearing no muak khan nok (helmet),
holding aslant in one arm a 7.2kg greasy baby (‘Mind it doesn’t smear my livery!’),
through a maze of very narrow and still wet lanes invaded that day and at that hour by a file of about a hundred monks besides sundry motorcycles and carts,
then on a main highway at about fifty miles per hour swerving between cars for something like an eternity,
and finally into a mercifully quiet street at the back of Pata Pinklao
– and the same ordeal on the way back, except that my greasy baby by then weighed 11.1kg.
Never again!
First thing I asked the dynamic, fortyish couple running Theera Gas Pinklao, was: ‘Do you do home delivery?’ They do.
Let’s see how long their gas bottle will last.

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