Bangkok and Dom Perignon
By: Garland Davis
I was talking with a friend a few days ago. He was bitching about the price of beer. He was upset that it is almost a dollar a can retail. I told him that I considered that cheap. In a bar, it will cost five bucks and at the airport, you’ll have to take a second mortgage on your house to purchase a small draft in a fucking plastic cup.
That got me to thinking about the most expensive booze I ever drank. I think it was 1979 or 1980. Francis Hammond was following Midway around the South China Sea, screwing with the Soviets at their base at Cam Ranh Bay, Viet Nam. The Soviets leased the old US base for a number of years after the fall of the South.
The Soviet Union requested that the Thai government permit one of their warships visit Bangkok. The Thais were reluctant and asked the U.S. State Department to schedule a U.S. ship visit so they would have a reason to decline the Soviet request.
The Battle Group Commander had each of the escort ships make a close aboard pass by the carrier. I guess Francis Hammond looked the best and we were given the honor of an unexpected seven-day port visit to Bangkok. We only had three days to make the ship as presentable as possible before the transit up the river to Bangkok. The XO took advantage of every waking minute of each sailor’s day to make sure there wasn’t a corner, ladder back, urinal, or mess deck cup that wasn’t scrubbed and then scrubbed again.
The trip up river was harrowing because there were electric lines across the river and the navigators had differing measures of their height above the water. There was concern that we couldn’t make it under one particular span. Actually, there wasn’t anything to worry about. We made it by a good two feet. I think the navigator and the CO both probably had to change skivvies after that transit.
We tied up in an area of Bangkok called Klong Toey. Home to Bangkok’s major port and largest wet market.
NOTE (From Wikipedia-.Khlong Toei (also Klong Toey, Thai: คลองเตย) is a district in central Bangkok, long known for its slum). END NOTE
A slum, a place where a sailor could feel at home. Arrival was taken up by the greeting of dignitaries, embassy reps, and the money changers. I was busy with the victualler, getting stores ordered and deliveries scheduled. The Chief Engineer and Supply Officer were arranging, through representatives from the U.S. Naval Attaché’s, office for water, fuel, and garbage services. Members of the crew not involved in these evolutions were, at the behest of the XO, searching for errant unclean areas and objects.
We had been in the port couple of days. All necessary stores were loaded and the XO’s last minute cleaning tasks completed. The amateurs were showing the effects of Bangkok liberty and some were happy to have a duty day to recover. The only evolution left for me was serious liberty.
A group of we Chiefs booked rooms at a very nice hotel, threw our AWOL bags into the rooms changed into shorts, and repaired to the pool area for some cool, soothing libations in the form of Kloster and Singha beer while waiting for dark and Soi Cowboy and Patpong Road to come alive. As the afternoon progressed we were joined by some other Chiefs, the A-Gang Warrant, and the Mustang Main Propulsion Assistant. A couple of the cooler junior officers were also accepted into the group.
Now you can imagine; with the combination of sailors, beer, and a swimming pool somebody is going to get fucking wet. That’s right! Everyone got thrown into the pool at least once. The Chief Radioman comes strolling into the pool area wearing pants, shirt, shoes and escorting a young woman. Now you know that boy is going swimming! We were manhandling him toward the pool and he was fighting yelling, “No, No! I can’t fucking swim.” I remember saying, “All sailors can swim,” as we tossed him, clothes and all into the pool.
He couldn’t fucking swim! The asshole is out there drowning and we are laughing, thinking that he is clowning around. I realized that it was for real and went in to help. A couple of others came in and we got him to the edge of the pool. I was telling him to breathe, “I’m not giving you mouth to mouth, I don’t want to kiss your ugly ass.” Fortunately, he was okay.
Shortly after the drowning incident, a group of bellmen and hotel employees started setting up a buffet line near us. There was a huge ice bucket with a towel wrapped bottle in it. One of the bellmen indicated that this was for us. What the Fuck?
A Saudi Prince and his entourage were staying at the hotel. There was a party of men in traditional Arab dress across the pool. One of them rose and walked around the pool, came to us and said in a British accent straight from the playing fields of Eton, “The Prince was highly amused by your antics and offers these refreshments. Bon Appetit.”
We thanked him and told him to tell the Prince thank you. I went to survey the buffet. Caviar, shrimps, cold ham, cold beef, cold chicken, pate, breads, and stuff I didn’t recognize. I folded the towel back on the bottle in the ice cooler; Dom Perignon, vintage 1976. It was, as the champagne vintners say, a magnum. As Asian Sailors say it was a “Fucking War Club.” There was also a cooler of beer for anyone who didn’t like the bubbly.
There were young men and women to pour the drinks and serve the food. I noticed as the bottle of Dom was emptied, another replaced it. There were a total of five or six magnums, or war clubs, consumed that afternoon and well into the night.
As darkness fell the hotel concierge escorted a large group of pretty young ladies in to keep us company and the buffet and champagne were once again replenished. (Evidently the Prince sent them. He must have been very fucking amused!) To avoid making this story any longer, I’ll just tell you that a good time was had by all. A great party and a hell of a liberty I will long remember.
The next day, out of curiosity, I checked the wine list. Dom Perignon wasn’t on it. I asked the Concierge about Dom Perignon. He showed me a separate wine list that was reserved for “Special Guests.” A magnum of Dom Perignon 76 was US $1,400. I figure that between the Dom, the food, and the girls the cost of that afternoon was between US $20,000 and $25,000.
After thinking about it, I realized that amount of money to that Saudi Prince was less significant than these few coins I have in my pocket.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.