The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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My letter of September 27th, 1968 continued:

Since the border is officially closed, there isn’t much for the customs people there to do, & they had to spend nearly 1/2 hr looking for the tax stamps (about 3¢US) required on the paper-work for the motor! But, at length, I proceeded. From Aranya Pradet to the intersection with Hiway 33, there is no pavement, & what with recent rains, the road was pretty bad in spots—slippery and muddy. When I got to pavement (about 60 km) the machine was covered with red laterite mud; but I ran into another storm almost at once which washed the worst of that off very quickly. I sat this one [storm] out [in a bus shelter] with a family whose son spoke  fair English, & so passed a pleasant half hour or so. Pressing on, dodging a couple more storms, I reached Chachoengsao just at dusk, and checked into a brand-new hotel, where I had a very comfortable room for US$1.75. Not much edible food, though (had a bowl of Chok, the Thai version of Chinese Soup; it has every imaginable [& some unimaginable] thing in it) but it is not bad. The next AM Ieft about 7:30 & was just nicely under way, with nice warm sun & cool breeze, when I had the first flat tire of the trip. The stem pulled out of the “chambre d’air”—inner tube—and it went flat instantly. That took about 3/4 hr to fix by the road-side (I had a spare tube), & I then proceeded as before.

First Flat Tire

First Flat Tire

BACKSTORY: Chachoengsao was a very frontier-ish sort of place. I met up with a group of pretty rough-looking guys who wanted me to take them to a movie: having nothing else to do, I did. The “theater” was a tent with some old wooden bleachers; the projector was an old 16mm, and the movie was an ancient US “western”. The boys—six of them with me—obligingly sat up on the rear-most seat, where it quickly became apparent some of them at least were horny: lots of clutching at their own crotches, a universal signal! With some trepidation I groped the boy nearest to me and found him hard. One thing led to another, as the old saying goes: in the end, we all jacked off together and left quite a mess behind. They all wanted to come to my hotel, but this I felt unwise, so when the movie was over I sent them on their way. It was cheap fun: the cost for the seven of us to watch the movie was less than a dollar!

The Thai’s drive on the left—which is a bit harrowing in itself, as I’m unfamiliar with that approach of course. They also drive like madmen, just as the Cambodians, but of course traffic is much heavier. One reaches the outskirts of Bangkok about 40 km out, and from there on traffic gets very heavy. I arrived about noon, wandered around till I found a reasonable hotel, took a nice lunch & flaked out for the afternoon!

I’ve decided to proceed to Singapore. This will take me down the Kra Isthmus, along the west coast of Malaysia, through Penang to Kuala Lumpur & eventually to Singapore. Depending on how my money lasts, I might go from there to Darwin, Australia, & by train from there to Melbourne (friends there, C&E people), but that is speculation. Accordingly, I put the Honda into the Agency Shop today for a check-up & engine overhaul: it has 7000 miles that I know of on it, maybe more, and this is the first place I’ve hit with a Honda-accredited repair team. Although the machine has run well, I want it to be in first-class shape for the next leg of the journey: it is 1000 miles, just to the Thai border, almost as far as Kuala Lumpur, and about half that to S-pore! So I shall have a week or two here in BK—about all I want, I think—it has all the modern conveniences, and all the modern ills, such as smog!

BACKSTORY: When I departed VN, my vague plan was to go north from Bangkok, across Burma, and across India. My brother, Todd, had done this ten years earlier, traveling by air and train, and had found Burma particularly agreeable. However, ten years later, Burma was (then as now) firmly closed. Southward lay Singapore…

Am having photos developed & printed; they should be ready (if the camera worked) to enclose with this letter in a few days.

BK has marvelous old (French) street-cars! Not many, but they must constitute some of the oldest rolling-stock in the world apart from the cable-cars in San Francisco!!

More later,


BACKSTORY: Fond of streetcars anywhere, I rode the old cars in BK several times. The tracks ran along the sides of the streets, a few feet from the edge of the sidewalk: people parked their cars right on the tracks, which brought the old trams to a halt with much clanging and shouting. We often had to wait for some time before parked cars were moved. It was apparent these trams served only a few folks and were utterly out-of-place in Bangkok, trying its best to modernize. Little did I know!

The letter was continued on the 29th:

Why-why-why? do tourists insist on traveling with little children? I’ve met a number of travelers  poking around with under-2 year-olds with them. Not to mention the expense, there is an awful burden on themselves and others, and all it does for the child is to enable him to say in the future, “I was in wherever when I was a year and a half old and I don’t remember anything about it.”

I watched, fascinated sort of by the contrast, as a Dutch couple eating in a nearby restaurant spent all their attention on their little boy, harnessed into a chair; special food, heated in the kitchen just for them, special spoon, etc., etc., etc. (And mama & papa had to order for themselves something not on the menu).  Two tables away was a Thai family, with a littler little boy, who sat unassisted & fed himself from portions of the same food his parents were eating. No fuss.

Children grow up rapidly in the orient and they learn much more in the process—at least as much about living—than american children. Parents start their children walking as soon as they are weaned or before; toilet training the same time: I can’t see that either hurts the kids any. It is frequently astonishing to see the things small children do here—even hard work—without complaint.

Caught a small cold (air-conditioning territory again!) so have been rather sluggish. Besides, the Moto being in the shop means walking, which is OK except that BK is a big place. Took in Dusit Zoo (nearby) today; quite a good zoo, & very popular (on Sunday) place to go. Tomorrow I have to go to the airport, pick up and re-pack my bag there are and ship it on—I think now I’ll just send it on to Robb, since I can’t imagine having any use for the stuff in it for quite a while.

BACKSTORY: There really was a time when one could pack a suitcase and send it anywhere in the world as “unaccompanied baggage”. This was very handy, and you could arrange to have your baggage at your destination even before you got there! In my case, I had sent a bag from Vietnam to Bangkok, thinking at the time I might settle in, or get work in, Bangkok. I quickly decided this was not to be, so shipped the bag on home via by Brother, Robb. Getting the bag out of customs at the airport involved a little money under the table, of course, but I had become so used to this in VN that I thought nothing of it.

Bangkok is expensive. I want to take one of the bus tours in the next day or two, & then press on fairly soon. One sees in Bangkok a preview of what Saigon will be like ten years from now, and frankly it isn’t all that pretty. Grinding poverty in the very shadow of splendor; gawdawful traffic, & smog at times; very little of Thai culture—and much of the bastardized american-thai substitute.

The Thais do have what must be the most lavishly decorated trucks and busses, though. Most start life as a Mercedes or Toyota 1½ or 2½ T chassis. The bodies (except cab) seem to be built locally, mostly out of wood, all carefully finished and polished. The whole is decorated with vast amounts of chrome trim, with hammered designs, and (fake) rivet-heads running in rows everywhere; also popular are painted scenes in little chrome frames tacked on here and there. To all this is added rows of colored lights all over the place, so at night it all looks like a moving giant Xmas tree. (And I do mean Xmas!)

Curiously, one’s surroundings change quickly after crossing into Thailand. Of course, this is emphasized by the border being closed, hence the Thai and Khmer cultures do not mix. Thai homes are built of wood, on or very near, the ground & not raised up 10-12 feet as are Khmer homes. Bangkok is largely built of wood, & there are large fires at times (I see the remains of one in some shops just down the street from this hotel). One leaves French behind quite rapidly, too, at the border; not nearly as many people speak English as the booklets say, though. Street signs are frequently nonexistent &  it is a hard city to get around in. The layout is odd, & compounded by one-way streets, traffic-circles & such. Driving on the left still seems odd—I suppose it will for quite a while—but I’ll have that from here on, so I’d better catch on. Making a right turn against oncoming traffic becomes precisely the problem that making a left is in the states.

Enclosed photos better than I’d expected!

Much love to all,


Buddhist Temple, 1968

Buddhist temples like this are everywhere in Thailand. This was one of the first I encountered, so I snapped a photo because the weather was fine. Of Bangkok itself, I got no pictures: the reason will become apparent in future letters.

Stay tuned!



Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Thailand

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