How I Set My Client On Fire
It was 1997 and Malaysia was the new Asian Tiger. The place was booming and everyone was going there. The market was at 1200, preparing to dive to 300. The Malaysians had built Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest building (always a bad sign) and Mahatir was getting ready to construct the “Multimedia Super Corridor” and many other white elephants. Anything was possible. Looking back, it was all a bad joke. Why was all this stuff going up in the jungle in the middle of nowhere? Anyway, at the time, Malaysia was the place to be and I had to take three clients there to look at companies. This was a little unusual as all were from the same firm in London; three guys and a woman. I knew them fairly well as I had been responsible for the account for a while and had taken them around Hong Kong separately before. The plan was to hit Malaysia first and then Thailand, all in four quick days. Hopefully, there would be a weekend in there at the end to get away to Koh Samui, as well.
We arrived in KL in the morning from Hong Kong and our last meeting that day was with Petronas in the newly constructed Petronas Towers, of course. The national oil company was flush with cash and at the end told us,
“We have built the tallest building in the world. Right here in Malaysia.”
Yep, I thought, no kidding.
“Now, we will build the longest!”
“The longest what?”
“The longest building, of course. We will call it ‘Lateral City.’”
He said this with a flourish, opening his arms wide while wearing a big cheesy smile. We sat there quietly for a moment really not knowing whether to burst out laughing at the stupid idea or at the stupid name. I changed the subject and hastily ended the farcical meeting.
It was late afternoon when we left and returned to our hotel nearby to dump our stuff before heading out to dinner and drinks. With the four of us we had a pretty good vibe going and were happy to be on the road and out of the office. Later that evening we wound up at a trendy broker bar called “Bull and Bear” or something, right under those towers again. I remember there was a gimmick on the screens above the bar that would show prices of drinks rising depending on how many were bought. The place was packed and jamming and you had to get the drinks early and fast. I don’t know if we were early but we were fast.
We were downing “Flaming Assholes,” which are shots of 151 proof rum and crème de menthe that only assholes light on fire. The female client wisely declined lighting hers. However, that didn’t slow down us stupid guys though and it was at this moment I lit my first client on fire. Some drunken idiot, maybe not one of our drunken idiots, crashed hard into me causing me to bump into the client who spilled her, fortunately unlighted shot of high octane rum all down her sleeve. Unfortunately, I was a smoker then and as I leaned over to help her wipe it off, my ciggie ignited her arm. She burst into flames with blue fire rocketing up from her wrist to her elbow in an instant. With my cigarette in one hand and my drink in the other, I was not sure what to do since they both cost money. I froze for a second but a quick thinking – and probably sober – bystander grabbed a jacket hanging off the barstool and smothered her arm with it. She wasn’t burned but her shirt was ruined and women are sensitive about that kind of thing so it was time to call it a night.
Flooding the Gents
Recovering from the previous night’s debacle we dutifully had our string of meetings the following day accident-free until we flooded the bathrooms. We were at UMW, the national car maker in which the clients had lost a lot of money due to some particularly smelly accounting fraud. And the company wasn’t going to comment on it which was pretty disappointing. Going to the gents after the meeting on the way out, us gents decided, right, let’s fix them. It was a big new facility with about 12 gleaming sinks – all of which we hastily plugged up with paper towels and then turned the water on full blast. We quickly departed once water began cascading onto the floor in size.
My Fight with Jimmy
Eager to recover from my bar accident the day before, we took the flight to Bangkok in time for some more bars and a fistfight. I hadn’t been in a fight since high school (I lost) and this was rather unexpected. We found ourselves at another watering hole full of expats. Here there were more than just well-heeled financial types, as Bangkok attracts all kinds, whereas why would you be in KL if you didn’t have to? This place was jammed with manufacturing guys, oil engineers, waiters, Russian hookers, etc, all nationalities. I don’t remember how or why but I wound up in a shoving match with a particularly obnoxious Scott, “Jimmy!” – with the upshot that we were asked to leave, clients and all.
Robbed at Knifepoint
The next and last day of our trip and now batting a thousand, I hoped it would pass peacefully. Well, it did, except for getting us robbed at knifepoint. After our long hot day of meetings in Bangkok we were ready to hit the town and it was Friday. The four of us met up in the hotel lobby, got into a taxi and went to Patpong, the seedy, pumping bar district. At one of the bars we went into there was a cover charge but we didn’t know that until the door closed behind us. We looked around and since no one was there we turned to leave. The big Thai bouncer at the door wouldn’t open it.
“You pay first.”
“We’re not staying, mate and we’re not paying,” I told him.
“You don’t get it, do you? We ARE NOT PAYING.”
He pulled out a very long knife and pointed it right at me. “You pay. Now.”
Paid up and left, we did!
The night ended with us running into another group of brokers and clients whom we knew and finally with me being accused by another female client of groping. I swear I was innocent but she wouldn’t talk to me afterward for years! What a trip. And at the end I never made it to Koh Samui.