I decided I needed a foreign correspondent’s shirt to go with my new press credentials.
So before heading up to Chiangmai, I ducked into a small tailor shop at Saphan Kwai. Nobody bought ready-made, off the rack in Thailand. Everything was custom made. The shop was filled with bolts of cloth in every fabric, pattern, weight and color imaginable. The eager-to-please owner invited me to choose the fabric I wanted. I chose brown cotton khaki.
Mr. Ashok was puzzled. There was no accounting for the taste of farangs.
He started measuring everything measurable, determined to fit me perfectly and ensure repeat business. When he was done, he pulled out a pad and pencil and sketched my shirt with dimensions penciled in and a single pocket shown over the left breast.
“Would Mister like anything more?” he asked me.
“Maybe a few more pockets.” I was a journalist, I explained, and had to carry a lot of stuff.
A smile lit up his face. He drew in a second top pocket, then sketched in two additional, large pockets below them.
“Does Mister want them vented, with buttons?”
What the hell, I thought, why not. While I was imagining what I might put in the four pockets, he held up his pencil. Would Mister like a pocket for pencils? He could stitch in two little slots on the left sleeve to hold pencils or pens.
"Great," I replied.
Ashok pointed to the sunglasses perched on my head. Would Mister like a pocket for his sunglasses, and maybe a hidden one inside to hold a passport? How about epaulets to keep my camera strap on my shoulder?
“Sure.” This was going to be one hell of a shirt.
He sketched furiously, added up some numbers then held up his finished drawing. “For you, special price,” he beamed. “Only eighty baht.”
Four bucks. Jeez, how could I not do it?
Two days later, I picked up my custom-made, tropical weight, multi-pocket, cotton khaki foreign correspondent’s shirt. I loaded it up with lenses and filters, rolls of film, notebooks, pens, sunglasses, a pack of cigarettes, and slipped my passport into the secret pocket. I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked like something out of Doonesbury.
I tossed it into the closet, where it remained the rest of my time in Thailand, and headed for Hualampong station to catch the five PM overnight sleeper to Chiangmai.