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Hunting in Thailand-Living on the Edge

May 08, 2020

Recently, a fellow director in our London office said that the guy shown in the image below seemed to enjoy "living on the edge" when the director was told of a recent experience in Thailand that required contentious testimony in native Thai language against a Thai general in a guardianship trial. Whereas, it may seem that way, it has always been by accident and not by design. An old friend, Bob Wollam, recently sent a handful of ancient photos that were taken on some of our hunting trips in Thailand in the late sixties and early seventies. I was there working for Esso to lend a hand in the misguided and illegal war effort in Laos. Therefore, guns and hunting just followed along. Bob and I began shooting birds in 1968 in rice paddies in what was then the suburbs of Bangkok. We would always take the birds home for dinner but they were absolutely disgusting.
On another hunt, Bob is shown second from the right as we make our way through the mud while stupidly wearing boots. Note the village guide is going barefoot which eventually caused this Texan to shed his boots. We had taken a wood-burning train from Bangkok for many hours north along the Thai/Burma border. The highlight of the train trip was when a woman gave birth to a child in the back of the "hard seat" train car. When we reached the final train stop, elephants had been arranged to take us into the "jungle" which in reality is a rain forest. As evidenced below, the elephants did not show which was likely caused by the massive rainfall and the unwillingness of their mahouts to get wet.
On our return trip back to the river, we were fortunate enough to locate a bullock cart to avoid a several mile hike through the rain forest. On the right side is our Thai friend, Khun Toy, with whom a particularly edgy trip did occur years later, though sadly, Bob could not join us as he had a proper day job in another country.  
Khun Toy also had a similar line of work in Esso but was blessed in that his father was a Cabinet Minister in the Thai Government. Therefore, we had great access to qualified associates, equipment and whatever else provided a measure of security, if not comfort. Our greatest resource, although at times dangerous, was Colonel Chang, a Colonel in the Thai Communist Suppression Organization. The three of us formed our own team led by Colonel Chang with his ever-ready M-16 assault rifle, Khun Toy with a "Dirty Harry" Smith and Wesson 45 Magnum pistol, and yours truly, with his customary 12-gauge shotgun. Beyond the security of additional armament, we had a Land Rover which was certainly more comfortable that an ox cart.
On one occasion, we left Bangkok in the evening to proceed on a 10-day trip up the Thai/Burma border to a remote Karen Hill Tribe village just south of Three Pagoda Pass. Chang drove our Land Rover and the Texan literally "rode shotgun." The small Karen village was, in fact, a little-known smuggling spot for antimony ore from Burma as well as opium. It was clear that Khun Toy's father, and perhaps the Thai government, were involved in one or both of these enterprises. After all, opium funded the illegal war in Laos. The U.S. government failed to notice that the shipment destination for the refined heroin was Saigon. More G.I.'s likely died from related drug addiction, which began there, than the 50,000 plus who were lost in the war.

It also became evident that the shotgun Texan guy was the "enforcer" in awkward moments. The situations included an instruction from Chang to shoot out the windshield of an oncoming truck outside Kanchanaburi that seemed to want to run us off the road to being instructed to introduce a villager to the next life following a racial insult to the first "white guy" he had ever seen. Fortunately, parading the shotgun around generally eliminated the need for further violence. You should also know that all of our conversations were in Thai as Colonel Chang spoke no English- a great personal thanks to all of my many Thai teachers in the past.

Nonetheless, a considerable number of shotgun shells were expended over the course of the trip while Colonel Chang's M-16 provided evening entertainment to the handful of Karen children by firing tracer rounds into the bush-a veritable sound and light show.

Although the image below requires an explanation, it is vividly imprinted in my mind. We would smoke venison during the day on the bamboo tripod shown in the center of the camp. One afternoon, I was seated on the right side of the tripod and Khun Toy was to the left. Colonel Chang and our local contact had gone across the border to Burma. Chang instructed Toy and me to stay behind as the counter parties on the other side would not understand our presence. Incidentally, the guy who went with Chang was murdered the next week.

Well, our little world on the "safe side" of the border was interrupted when a Thai guy with an M-16, followed by three Karen women carrying bales of opium on their heads entered our clearing. The guy with the gun asked in Thai if anyone wanted to buy opium and, as he looked around, he was startled to see a white interloper in his part of the world which was evident by his M-16 being quickly fixed on me. Toy told him I was cool while I focused my eyes on the shotgun near me and then glanced at the pistol on Toy's waist. In a few seconds, with head and eye contact, we had established that our visitor would have difficulty taking both of us out. Toy told him we had no need for opium and he backed out of the clearing. It was one of those things that could have quickly gone south.
Colonel Chang returned and concluded that Khun Toy and I had become liabilities in his particular enterprise, so we hopped a long tail boat for an eight-hour boat ride back south to Bangkok. Over the course of seven years in Southeast Asia, the youthful image of the young guy shown in the bird hunting photo, changed.
You should know that the shotgun shown in the first image was recently used by my grandson, Duke, to shoot skeet in Texas during our Covid-19 quarantine.  To quote Indiana Jones - "the hat still fits" as you notice on the table above and in the photo below.  However, the memories of our adventures live on and remain quite vivid to me. Would you rather be living on the edge or watching action movies - you either lead the parade or watch it go by.

These traditional paper-thin flags are crafted with frayed edges and loose threads meant to blow in the wind.
Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception. Rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the goodwill and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.
10 Flag String

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