Rolling Stone magazine staffer, Jim Morrison biographer, prolific writer, travel journalist, farm owner, maven of the Big Mango… all of this and more describe the legendary Jerry Hopkins
Sitting down for a chat with writer Jerry Hopkins is a golden opportunity for any writer, but this particular interview almost never came to fruition. Only a few short months ago this long-term Bangkok resident and man about town found himself in the cardiac care unit of Bumrungrad International Hospital, after collapsing at his Sukhumvit Soi 8 home. Luckily his Thai wife was with him and was able to quickly get him to the emergency room to deal with his heart problems. After a three-week stay the indomitable Jerry recovered, and my interview with him could go ahead.
When you first came to Bangkok, what was it about the city that made you want to stay—the people or the place itself?
Both. I arrived here from Hawaii, a place that many consider a paradise. But after many years I had become bored with it. Nothing surprised me anymore. Every day seemed to be the same. However, when I started to walk out onto the streets of Bangkok I was surprised by the sight of the world’s worst traffic jams but with no sounds of horns, as well as the smells of streetfood cooking on every corner. And after travelling around Southeast Asia extensively in the late 80s I found the expat community in Bangkok to be the most intriguing, and easy to hang out with. There were, and still are, so many interesting people to meet here. For me Bangkok won hands down, so here I stayed.
How did you occupy yourself after you arrived?
When I came here I had pretty much decided to give up writing about rock n’ roll and I thought that travel and food could take over, so I had to find somewhere to pitch my ideas. I thought that as there were about 40 airlines serving Bangkok at that time I would try airline magazines. My evenings, quite honestly, were spent in the bars. I was a bit of a barfly, and I admit it. My favourite hangout bar was Lucky Luke’s, at the entrance to Nana Plaza. It’s still there today, although it’s now been renamed.
When you are able to get out nowadays, where do you like to go?
Due to my failing health issues my go-go bar days are to a large extent behind me. I get tired easily and rely on my “team” to wheel me around in my chair. In Hawaii I had lived with a ladyboy and I still retain an interest in transsexualism. In my 25 years here I have frequently gone to ladyboy bars, and the one I still occasionally get out to is the Check In Bar on Soi 10. It’s a bit like Cheers… everybody knows your name. It also has a slightly different clientele to Cheers, but with added extras.
What is your advice for someone coming to live in Bangkok for the first time?
Leave all your preconceptions, that is to say “misconceptions”, at the airport. Come in with an open mind. You’re gonna encounter belief systems that are totally alien to you. Make room for them and enjoy the journey!
Living in Bangkok is great, but is it important to get out of the city once in a while too?
The quotation I like best—not sure who said it—is: “The best thing about Bangkok is that it’s so close to Thailand”. I’m lucky in that I can experience the upcountry life myself while I’m on my monthly trip to Surin, where my wife Lamyai looks after our farm.
And what about for those who don’t have a place in the country?
If you don’t want to go on a long trip outside the city to travel upcountry, my suggestion is to head for the river. You can sit down at a funky little noodle stall, and eat for 40 to 50 baht while watching the boats go by. Or, take a tour along one of the many khlongs off the river, in Nonthaburi for example, where you are almost immediately transported back in time by 50 or 60 years. Life goes on there as it always has.
Are you still writing?
Well, at 81 years of age my prolific writing days are pretty much behind me, I guess. But I do write at least 1,000 words per day in my journal, and have done so for the last 25 years. Do the math and that’s about 8 million words. The things I have forgotten are all there. It’s my memory bank; my record for when I start to write my memoirs.
Interview by Robin W. Martin
Photo by Meg Hewitt