They talked and talked – and I think they thought it was English – but I couldn’t understand a word. I could only smile, take my gifts, sample what was given, and hope for the best. The vendors of the Ao Nang night stall had a smart way of offering enough free gifts to guilt me into buying excessive amounts of exotic fruit. By day two, I was considered a regular. Leaving the stall unmanned, a purple plastic chair was propped up next to the fruits and the firestorm of babble began. The two men periodically plucked fistfuls of lychee varietals and sliced up jackfruit, watching wide-eyed as I bit into the fleshy skin. Soon, the younger one produced a baby-pink bottle with a toothy grin. Its girlish appearance hid a potent potion.
For the novice, over-proof rice whiskey induced instant hick-ups and a pucker-lipped daze. It also conjured a hardy laugh and an immediate round of seconds.
From what I could gather (or what was inherently clear) they were already drunk and kept this routine as a daily ritual. Names were never clearly established, but the older one (presumably in his late ‘40s) kept a firm grip on my knee as he relayed tales of flamboyant gibberish. Puffs of clove cigarettes added an aire of mystery to a cracked hand full of family photos. What began with a smile parlayed into tears. Yet, no sooner had his eyes watered he slapped my knee, shaking his head in laughter.
It started sprinkling so I excused myself with an expressive smile, collected my bags of curious fruits, and scurried home. On the dark side of the street, stiletto-stomping girls screamed, “hello, welcome” from red-lit bars. I hurried onwards to my guesthouse where I met the owner’s daughter sitting cross-legged in a beige swivel chair. She cupped her hands around the karaoke microphone as she wailed Thai pop anthems to an empty street. Like a comic book come to life, Ao Nang’s characters emerged with each turn. The garish town was full of storytellers muttering lavish songs to a confused world.