Robert “Bob” French ~ Class of 1966
Departed ~ 11/1/2022
Lovingly submitted by Bob’s sister Peggy French ISB 1971
Bob loved life and would do anything he could to please, or help others. He was living in the state (Vermont) that he loved and wanted to buy a farm and have lots of dogs, a fabulous garden, raise Alpacas, and hike the mountain trails.
He loved to write and wrote some really fabulous stories about his his time in Thailand, especially his senior class trip riding a raft with his classmates down the river Kwai! If I can find his story I will repost it! He was an avid reader who would take out 20 books at a time at the library . He had a really good memory… he knew directors, actors and what they directed or acted in. He loved Song trivia and always tried to get me to guess something by saying “you will, know this”. Of course I didn’t and usually had to Google it. He loved The NY Times crossword puzzles, classical music, FOOD, and cooking. He loved good dancers… all kinds. He would send me YouTube videos of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers of old and the new ones like the Mayas who won Americas Got Talent this year.
R.I.P. Robert Mansfield French 1948 – 2022. Survived by his sister Peggy, daughter Alex and Alex’s husband Heath and two ex-wives, Linda (ISB Class of 71) and Cindy!
A Steamy Night in Bangkok
by Bob French
One night in the summer of 1968, I interviewed a Thai whore. Back then, if you were to say the three-syllable phrase, “so-penny,” to the driver of the ubiquitous three wheel open-air samlor (taxi,) on a hot and humid Bangkok night, you would find yourself at a Thai brothel in 15 minutes. For whatever reason, I did this one night while on home leave after my sophomore year at Syracuse. This was something privileged, 19-year-old white college boys did; maybe part of “the Ugly American,” syndrome. But this time was different—I went back to the same place the next night and requested the same young lady and suggested that maybe we could go somewhere else for more privacy and to talk. Somehow, through broken Thai and English a deal was reached with the proprietor, and we taxied out into the night. I could tell from her body language that the young Thai lady must have vouched for me. Instead of going to a hotel as I had initially planned, it occurred to me that my father was stationed in Nam and Mom was upcountry, so I directed the driver to our house on Soy Sipsam.(13) Here we could use my room until my brother and sister, who were sleeping upstairs, would awaken.
Even looking back 53 years later, I am not sure why I did this, except that I wanted to get to know her as a person,and not just as a prostitute: what made her tick, why a sex worker, who she was apart from the brothel. So I got us a couple of drinks, we got cozy in my bed, and in spite of barely speaking the other’s language, we joked, giggled and talked for about 5 hours, almost like hanging out with one’s friends, except of course the part about being naked. One language that we did share in common was the universal ranking of #1 through #10. So-penny we agreed was #1, good Singha (Thai,) beer was #2, and so on.
“G.I. #10,” she said emphatically.
“Why, I asked?”
“They mean and no pay.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, thinking that the constant pool of servicemen on R’n’R from Viet Nam probably amounted to 90% of her income. Tough life. Probably where the standard retort of “no sweat, G.I.” came from. She told me that one reason she did what she did was that she had no education and was trying to help her family, especially a younger sister, who wanted to go to college.
“You #1,” she said.
“Oh, how come?”
She told me her name, that she was 25 and lived with her parents and two siblings and that her father worked as a janitor at university. Her grandmother who was 70, lived with them and spent most of her waking hours chewing betel nut, a mild narcotic, that leaves your teeth and mouth dark red, and is suspected of being very carcinogenic. Hundreds, if not thousands of food vendors line the streets and sidewalks all over the city, squatting down for hours with angry red mouths and yet, happy as clams.
“You go to college,” she asked?
“What you study?”
“Girls and beer,” I quipped, and we both laughed heartily.
“You funny,” she said.
And I said, “you’re sweet, to say so.”
She told me her brother was older and was off in Cambodia fighting the Khmer Rouge. I asked her why and she said the pay was good and some Thais were concerned, that if the Khmers, funded by the Viet Cong and the Communist Party of China, were victorious in Cambodia, they might try to annex Thailand. The Thais are fiercely independent, having been the only country in Southeast Asia to never be colonized, and not for lack of trying.
“Are you scared for your brother,” I asked?
“Yes, shot in leg, home 2 months.”
“What did he say about it.”
“Mai pen rai, and went right back to war.”
I had to laugh as “Mai pen rai,” is the universal Thai expression for “no biggie, or “no worries.” It used to drive my mother nuts when the little Thai butterflies, as she called them, would be waving their hands out their car windows, drying their fingernail polish, then giving you a big smile as they cut you off, and exclaim in beautiful singsong, “Mai pen rai, Mai pen rai, madam!”
This banter continued till about 5 AM, and I asked her if she wanted to sleep for a couple of hours and then I would get her a samlor home. So we did, just as if we were a normal couple.
At 7:30, I instructed our gardener to run down to the Main Street, to fetch her a cab, I gave her a generous tip and sent her on her way. When I came back in, the maid was looking at me with a knowing smile. I pointed upstairs, and said, “Madam,” and shook my head. She nodded and that was the end of it.
I had a rinky-dink little portable reel to reel recorder, on which I had taped some of our evening. Great fun to listen to afterwards. I even played it for a couple of my college buddies when we were in Frankfurt, on our way back stateside. They thought it was outlandish and hilarious—unfortunately that player is long gone.
I don’t remember if we had sex that night, and I never went back to another Thai brothel, but I will always remember that night with my new-found friend, a Thai whore. I still don’t know why I did it. Maybe there is a latent sociologist lurking inside me somewhere. I do know I wanted to get to know her beyond the confines of a brothel. Sometimes I wonder what she thought of this still wet-behind-the-ears college kid paying for a night of her service and taking her back to his own home and bedroom, and spending the night just socializing and treating her like a human being. I have also fantasized about going back to Bangkok and trying to find her, but that idea is probably a non-starter.
I have only shared this with one other living soul, and now you guys, so this book, Thai Whores and Loony Bins, will definitely be my coming out party.
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