Bangkok, the Saudis, and the Jism Balls

Sunset over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

“I’m hungry,” said Randy, as we set up a sunset shot from the overpass near the end of our first day on the ground. “We need something to eat.”

“Okay,” Larry agreed. “I’ll get street food. There’s lots of it around.”

“Is that safe?”

“This is at least my fifth trip to Thailand. I’ve never gotten sick on street food here.”

“Unlike Mexico,” I put in, “or India, or Uganda.”

“Or other places. I think everything’s very fresh here. When you buy something, it’s usually been made just minutes before.”

Larry crossed to the other side of the pedestrian bridge, past a mutilated street beggar, to one of several food carts there. We resumed setting the camera for a shot of traffic below on Sukhumvit Avenue near our Bangkok hotel.

Two men walked up and caught Randy’s eye. “Are you people Americans?” asked the larger, more prosperous-looking guy.

I looked up from the camera as Rod adjusted the focus for our shot and Conrad set up his mic. The strangers didn’t look Thai. “Why?” Randy asked.

He regarded us with a big smile and open arms. “We are from Saudi Arabia. We L-O-V-E you people!” The smaller guy behind him said nothing, but beamed a beatific smile.

Larry returned with a bag of stuff from the food cart. We looked inside. It was filled with golden fried spheres of something piping hot.

“Tell me, my friend,” asked the larger Saudi man. “Do you have any of the new $100 bills?”

Randy looked at him with a quizzical expression, then reached into the bag. He incautiously picked out a piping hot golden fried sphere and popped it whole into his mouth.

“Why do you want to know?” Larry asked our newest friend. “I think that’s our private business.”

Randy bit down onto the piping hot golden fried sphere, then huffed and puffed like a steam engine as the crusty ball exploded with flavor and nuclear heat.

“Owwwww, way too hot!” he gasped, gulping down water from a bottle.

“I just love American currency,” said the Saudi, “and I have seen only small photos of the new hundreds. They appear to be quite beautiful.”

“Way too hot!” Randy repeated. “And sticky, filled with a sweet white paste. What are these?”

“I dunno, just whatever the guy there was selling.”

“They’re jism balls,” Randy said. “Hot jism balls.”

We laughed. The larger Saudi saw an opening.

“So can I see one of your hundreds? We do L-O-V-E you Americans.”

“Larry,” Randy continued. “You got us hot jism balls!”

“You were hungry, I got the nearest food. Should I look for something else?”

“No, they’re good. For jism balls. Want one? Let them cool off a little. And you, mister, we don’t have any hundred dollar bills. Good luck finding them.”

The Saudi guys left, and we passed around the hot jism balls. They were good. We wrapped our shot at dusk and headed back to the hotel.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Shooting from a fold-up camera crane in Lumpini Park, Bangkok, c.1995.


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