Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Some of This is True

Tom, At His Friend's Restaurant
On our first morning in Bangkok Judy and I walked to Wat Hua Lumphong, the nearby temple I had seen the night before when I was out looking for food. As we entered the gate, we were greeted by a man who offered to show us around the temple. He shook our hands, told us his name was Tom, and importantly, since we had just put our wary feet on the ground here, that he was not looking for money. Tom is what I will just call a fixer, someone who connects people, usually tourists like us, to local people who are selling goods or services. For this, he gets a small tick of money for each prospect he brings in.

Over the course of the week, I joined Tom several more times. He would show up on the sidewalk unexpectedly, or see us eating in a restaurant, or I would go down to the Temple to find him when I wanted to ask him questions. I learned something that approaches the truth about fixers from Tom, and other things as well. He had just showed me where to buy beer so that I would not need to pay the hotel prices, and as we sat—in front of a tour booking office, which I was sure would be our next stop—drinking it, a tuk tuk pulled up in front of the office. Tom got up to greet a white-haired western man riding in the back of the tuk tuk just as the man got out, pulled out his phone, and moved away from the tuk tuk. As Tom returned he laughed and said something condescending to the driver, then came back and sat with me, shaking his head with a big smile on his face.

"That tuk tuk is in trouble now. He picked that man up and brought him here, but that is not where the man wanted to go. Now the man is angry and is calling the police. Of all the people in Bangkok, he should not have picked up that man!"

"Why?" I asked.

"That man works for the United States embassy! He is a friend of mine!"

When I finished my beer, I slipped the can into the plastic bag it came in, planning to throw it away when I found a trash can. "Don't do that, you will waste it!" Tom told me. He reached into the bag, grabbed the can, and tossed it at the base of the tree we were sitting under. "Now someone who needs it can find it," he informed me, revealing the workings of another layer of the Thai economy.

Street Lunch
Bangkok is filled with fixers. Some are good, and some are bad, but all, according to Tom, are liars. The story below this one, My Three Shirts, begins with a fixer, the off-duty police officer who steered me to the diamond cutters, and continues with the tuk tuk driver who steered me to the Royal Boss Tailors. Understanding how this works will prepare you for a relationship with a person like Tom, who I consider to be a good fixer. I still visited two tailors with Tom, but armed with my new shirts and the knowledge of what can happen, it was easier to come out of each with my wallet still full. (One salesman kept his sad puppy look as we went from one fabric-filled room to another. The other was resigned to my predicament, of having been "accidentally fixed", and offered me a drink of water as we sat and chatted about how we had each come to Thailand.) And there are no hard feelings on Tom's part when I din't buy clothing. I simply play my tourist role, and he makes a living. With Tom we found a great place to have lunch on the street and what he claimed was the best iced tea in Thailand, both from friends of his.

From Tom I learned that the King is beloved by the Thai people, and that the new government, overthrowing the previous government in a military coup in December, is much better than the old, noticeably improving a corrupt police and military presence that regularly shook down neighborhood shopkeepers. I learned that 30°C, or 86°F during the day is about as cool as it ever gets in Thailand, so that our 35°C was not really hot, though coming from Mongolia it did make it seem that way. I learned that working class Thai people make enough money to live on, that there is not such a large discrepancy between the perception of being financially solvent—having an apartment, being able to afford clothes—and how most people are doing in their own lives. While I did see plenty of people who appeared to be homeless, Bangkok seems like a much better place to be poor than, say, Missoula in the winter or Ulaanbaatar at practically any time of year.

Tom also showed us the correct way to approach the Buddha, how to take his holy water without offending, what to be thinking before ringing the large bell outside of the temple. Because of the Buddha, the sleeping one, whose box I had chosen to slip a few folded boht into, I learned that in three short years I will not need to worry about money. I'd rather believe Tom on this one.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Some of This is True

Click below to page through enlarged images or read the story.

Tom, Explaining My Buddhist Fortune

Wat Hua Lamphong

Tuk Tuk

Lunch Spot

Fresh Seafood


Tom, At Friend's Restaurant

Ready in Minutes

Crab, Fish, Tofu

Squid and Rice Noodles

Best Tea

Thai Lesson

Lama With Cow

Tom, Portrait with Buddha

Golden Buddha

Tom, With Big Bell

Police Station

Tom, Joking at Police Station