All That Glisters

Paul was down on his uppers. He'd started with a small fortune and had had it whittled down to a mere lump sum. It wasn't just the Thai girls who'd relieved him; fellow farangs all had get-rich quick schemes if only Paul would lend them the wherewithal. He had bought into bars with no customers; whose only regulars were the local Plod.

Even his regular monthly pension had shriveled to a pittance. The pound sterling had crashed by nearly forty per cent against the mighty baht. The British Government had thanked him for his honesty in declaring himself an ex-pat by freezing his pension and allowing no index linking to inflation. Paul was just about surviving but there was no spare cash. He had downsized his accommodation to a small condo off Soi Bukao. He drank only in moderation at one of the bars where he was nominally a partner. The other owner, a Thai, let him have beer at cost. It was Korn who drew his attention to the Gold-to-Go story in a local Thai newspaper.

It had started in Saudi, where else! With so much oil money sloshing about; with so many tourist dollars flooding in; some Saudis were looking for a place to put their spare cash. Many decided on gold. Demand outstripped supply and the price soared particularly in times of war. With currencies suffering in the hands of dodgy banks, the world was in recession. Gold was a safe haven.

Paul studied the figures on the internet. Ten years ago one gram of gold would have cost less than three hundred baht. Today the same weight would cost 1550; a five or six fold increase. The Gold-to-Go story was just a gimmick but it had had fifteen customers in a day and a half's trading. It resembled an ATM. You put your money or credit card in and out popped a gift-wrapped weight of gold. They'd just installed one in London. For the English equivalent of 2200 baht, you could get a one gram, twenty-four carat souvenir of the London skyline. Just short of five thousand baht bought a two and a half gram piece of the precious metal. Prices were automatically updated every ten minutes via an internet feed to the World's Gold market.

Thais were gold mad, thought Paul with rising excitement. They weighed their gold in bahts equivalent to just over fifteen grams. The gold itself was at least twenty three carat and over 96.5% pure. It was not uncommon for Thai ladies to wear their entire life savings round their necks. When times were hard, say in the low season, she would weigh it in at a jeweler cum pawnbroker to be redeemed when business picked up. The gold price may have gone up too in the interim.

Paul thought of all the angles and devised the plan. First he needed a nerd: these were ten-a-penny at Tuk-Com on Pattaya Thai. Through Korn they brought on board a pimply youth called Suwit who would manipulate the internet price feed. For a small fee their machine was situated by the main entrance to Tuk-Com and close to Suwit's store. Three major local newspapers in both Thai and English were contacted and invited to the unveiling. A local goldsmith had produced the mini-ingots. Paul kept unobtrusively on the outskirts of the crowd. Korn fronted the whole show. He stressed the alarming number of necklace snatches by motor bike thieves. He pointed out the Hi-tech benefits of up-to-date gold prices. He pledged that with no expensive shops to rent; no salesmen's wages to pay, they would permanently undercut all other goldsmiths in Pattaya.

against all oddsAgainst all the odds it worked. The money came pouring in. The Pattaya mini-ingots became collector's pieces. The farang customers appreciated not having to visit a shop with a thousand different choices to keep their tirac happy. The girls found it a quick stop en route to seeing off their boyfriend at the airport. The partners found their savings growing, even after paying off Suwit each month. But then Korn got greedy. In time they could have installed another machine at Central World on Second road; even opened one in Bangkok. All they had to do was wait.

Paul pieced it together over several nights of eavesdropping on conversations at the bar between Suwit and Korn. They spoke openly in front of Paul, secure in the knowledge that the stupid, drunken farang would not understand Thai. Paul smiled grimly to himself: the years studying for an Educational Visa were about to pay off.

The plan was classically simple. Suwit was to pretend to argue with Korn and take Paul into his confidence. He would tell him that the price of gold was set to fall alarmingly. A new mine had opened up and was about to flood the market. The gold bubble, like the High-Tech stock bubble and the housing market was about to plummet. Unless Paul sold his half of the gold partnership quick, he would be left holding a pile of over-valued gold. Paul appeared very worried and a business meeting was scheduled for the following day when Korn would make a ludicrously low offer for Paul's half of the business.

When Paul appeared at their newly acquired offices on Pattaya Tai, he carried with him a copy of 'Pattaya Today', the most authoritative of the local papers. It also had a section written in Thai. He bounced into the office seemingly twice his normal size and smiling broadly. Before Korn could launch into his doom-laden speech about gold prices, Paul flourished the front page. 'Congratulations, old friend. We've just become very rich men over night.' The headlines were enormous in big bold type. 'War is Declared.' The story went on to describe the deteriorating situation on the Thai/Cambodian border. Neither side was going to pull back. The Stock Exchange of Thailand had fallen 200 points before trading had been suspended perhaps for the rest of the week. The price of gold had rocketed. Korn read and re-read the story in Thai and English. He checked the date of the paper. His head was reeling at the enormous profits to be had: double if he held Paul's shares.

His chance came when Paul mentioned buying a house if he could convince a Thai bank to loan him the money. 'Why pay interest on a loan? Many Thai banks will not lend to foreigners, especially for the illegal purchase of a house.' Before Paul could reply, he ploughed on. 'Now we are both rich men, I can afford to buy you out of the business and pay you back the money you put into the bar.' He named a not inconsiderable sum which after a little haggling Paul accepted. As the papers had already been drawn up in advance, the whole deal was finalized within the hour.

Having deposited the cheque in his Bangkok bank account, Paul yawned contentedly. He had been up all night producing that bogus front page of 'Pattaya Today' and the getting his girl to write the Thai equivalent page inside. Whilst studying for his Educational Visa, he had also become proficient in Desktop Publishing.