FROM BALI TO THAILAND
Prince Sandith Rangsit was one of Theo’s friends who came regularly to Bali. Over the years they became the best of friends, like brothers, and they had no secrets they kept from one another. Theo found Sandith a most interesting man, other than belonging to the royal family of Thailand. Sandith’s father was one of the sons of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. Sandith was said to be the first Thai professional anthropologist having done, in the 1930s, research work on the Ahka and Meau hill tribes in northern Thailand. His glowing accounts of the hill tribes stirred up Theo’s interest in Thailand.
- Photo caption on page 201 of the book: Theo in a discussion with Prince Sandith. They were the best of friends and the prince came often to visit Theo.
It was soon after Theo had returned from Switzerland that Sandith arrived in Bali for a two-week visit. It took him no time to see that Theo was in torment. He had lost Pergi, the love of his life; he was in trouble with the authorities for administering drugs to the Balinese; someone was supposedly attempting to poison him; and most of his friends had left Bali for one reason or another. Sandith listened to Theo with a sympathetic ear and then told Theo he needed a break, a change of scenery, and he suggested that Theo come to Thailand and remain until the climate had settled down on Bali. “I have a house in Bangkok where you can stay and a house on the coast in Hua Hin. You can paint there,” he said to Theo. After two weeks, Prince Sandith left with Theo promising he would think about it.
Theo attempted to hang on to what he had but in the end, when the police threatened to arrest him, he knew he had to take a stand. Fearing that he might be impugned by the authorities and be at their gainsay, he thought it best that he leave and take Prince Sandith’s offer. To remain was to portend disaster.
Theo decided he would take up Prince Sandith’s invitation and go to Thailand but, he reasoned, it would be only a short stay and when it was safe again he would return to Bali. He packed up his belongings and his paintings and left them with Han Snel in Ubud. He rolled up the remaining canvases and his paints in a canvas bag, went overland to Jakarta and from there he flew to Bangkok. He had no address for Prince Sandith but he knew the prince frequented the Oriental Hotel. Theo took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. It was January 1958.
Christine Rangsit, Prince Sandith’s wife-they had not long been married-was down at the Oriental Hotel sitting in the lobby when she saw, in her own words, this very strange looking fellow come in to the hotel. He wore homemade Balinese shorts, which were torn down the back, and a batik shirt. He went up to the desk and tried to phone the Swiss consul but the consul was out. Then he said to the receptionist he wanted to phone Prince Rangsit. Christine’s heart sank. Her heart sank even further when the receptionist pointed to her and said, “You are in luck. There is Prince Sandith’s wife over there.”
“He marched right up to me and introduced himself,” Christine recalled. “I couldn’t get to the phone quick enough to tell Sandith to come to the hotel as soon as possible. I was horrified when Theo said my husband invited him to stay with us.”
Christine was new to Thailand. She was Swiss, a very beautiful lady, but a very delicate lady. She was very prim and proper in her ways and she radiated the charm of European nobility. Prince Sandith had fallen in love with her the moment he first saw her. They married in Switzerland but when they arrived in Bangkok, to take up their new home, Christine had a difficult time reconciling to the fact that she was a second wife. She couldn’t quite accept that “second wives” was standard policy among the Thais. Prince Sandith wasn’t deceiving her; she knew he had a Thai wife and family of long standing. Her mistake was thinking she could change the system. She soon learned she couldn’t. She would have to accept she was a second wife.
It was an agonizing half hour for Christine until Prince Sandith arrived. She was shocked when the two men bear-hugged one another and her husband announced loudly for all to hear that this was his good friend, Theo Meier, from Bali, and that Theo was his guest. Christine made it known she would have to prepare a room for Theo before he could move in. Sandith had no objection, nor did Theo. Sandith said he would rent a room for Theo at the Trocadero hotel around the corner from the Oriental. He escorted Theo to the hotel with his luggage, his single canvas bag, and checked him in.
The very first night Theo arrived there was the opening of Nick’s No. One Restaurant, owned by Nick Zero. Everyone of importance, including the diplomatic corps from all the embassies, was invited for the black-tie affair. Sandith phoned Nick and asked if he could bring a friend along. Nick assured him it would be okay. Christine developed a headache and couldn’t make it when she learned Theo was coming.
Sandith sent his car to pick Theo up at the Trocadero Hotel, and when Theo stepped out of the car he was dressed exactly as he had been when he arrived at the Oriental. All heads turned as he entered the front door, and being good natured as he was, upon seeing everyone staring at him, he waved his hands above his head and shouted out-“Salute.” He then announced for all to hear that he just came from Bali where he lived and he didn’t have a chance to change. Then he added, in his gargantuan voice, “I don’t have anything to change into anyway.” He brought out laughs from everyone. Theo was just what the party needed-an eccentric artist. He was an immediate success and quickly made friends with everyone there.
Sandith put Theo up for a week at the Trocadero and then, after Christine left on a vacation to Switzerland, he moved Theo into his house on Rum Rudee. On the property was a small wooden house which became Theo’s pad. For the next month it was one party after another at the house. The lawn was constantly torn up with pits for cooking pigs. Theo had bought a new shirt and trousers, but his canvas bag with his easel and paints remained unopened.
When Christine returned from Switzerland it was time for Sandith to find Theo new accommodation. He moved him to his summer house in Hua Hin on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand, a half-day’s journey south of Bangkok. For a painter the choice couldn’t have been better.
Hua Hin was a resort, discovered in the early 1920s by King Rama VII as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. The tranquil fishing village was turned into the Royal resort and consequently became popular among Siam’s nobility and upper class. Many of Bangkok’s rich and famous built their own beachfront summer homes to the north and south along the curving sandy bay. And here too Prince Sandith built his home.
Theo was at home the moment he moved in. The empty beaches and the solitude were what he needed. He missed Bali, of course, but he kept busy enough to keep his mind on his work. Having a gift for languages, in no time he was making friends, speaking Thai with everyone he met. Among his many interests, he became fascinated in classical Thai music and dancing. He didn’t miss a dance or musical festival when they came to town.
- Photo caption on page 204 of the book: Prince Sandith helped Theo resettle in Thailand. Here is Prince Sandith with his niece.