Stealing Coffee in Thailand

2016-08-14 16:30 - Anje Rautenbach
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It was hot but getting coffee was priority so I waved the paper thin moldy air-conditioned walls of my budget hotel room adieu and leaped into the arms of Thailand’s humidity.

On the side of the busy Phra Athit Road, where scooters and tuk-tuks zoomed by, a pushcart coffee stall beckoned at my caffeine addiction and its green signboard grabbed my attention.

There was something distinctively familiar about the signboard which read “O.K Starbung” with a green long-armed man lookalike logo.

O.K Starbung. 

The name rang a very loud bell as the humidity formed trickling streams on my forehead and waterfalls on my back.

O.K Starbung.

On the side of the busy Phra Athit Road stood the coffee cart of Mr. Damrong Maslae - O.K Starbung, formerly just known as Starbung; the street vendor who has been selling coffee from a cart for 18 years who got sued by Starbucks for £6,000 for a logo and a name that infringed on their intellectual property rights.

I approached the strong aromas of O.K Starbung’s caffeine in a dumbstruck almost-fan-girl moment.

In 2013 I’ve read, in disbelief, Starbucks’ argument of how they were of opinion that the likeness of the two logos could make customers believe they were buying Starbucks coffee when in fact they were buying Starbung coffee.

With a million questions in my head for Mr. Damrong Maslae – or Mr. Bung as the locals refer to him - I took my coffee and walked to a nearby park. 

I sipped my coffee peacefully and as I allowed the caffeine to penetrate my veins, I wondered, what happened to the lawsuit? Did he pay? Did Starbucks let him off the hook?

I was down to my last sip of dark black goodness when another dumbstruck moment rang a very loud bell, a moment that turned the almost-fan-girl into a very guilty girl.

I suddenly remembered that I did not pay for my coffee.

I ordered my coffee, picked it up and walked away.

I stole a cup of coffee from a street vendor with a pushcart who got sued by Starbucks for £6,000.

I broke out in floods of sweat as I rushed back to pay my debt. 

How on earth did this happen? Did he call after me when I walked away? Am I senile? Should I just get things over with and book my space in a retirement home?

 From a distance I could see the surly face behind the coffee cart which was accompanied by an even surlier face of a security guard which, at that time, looked a lot like police officer in my moment of panic.

I pointed to my grey hair, mentioned that I’m getting old and apologised about 27 times before I paid for my coffee. I gave Mr. Bung a huge tip, ordered another coffee and eventually got a big old smile while he worked his magic to pump up my caffeine intoxication to a whole new level of the shakes.

I took my coffee and sat down at one of the two chairs next to Mr. Bung’s cart just in case I forgot something again and watched as he perfected his coffee from one container to another; back and forth, back and forth. 

As I sipped my second coffee I asked Mr. Bung what happened to the lawsuit and whether or not he had to pay back the money. 

He pointed proudly to a logo which read “Superstar Bung Coffee”, another one which was “O.K Starbung” and the third original name which said, “Starbung” and between a language barrier and the zoom of scooters and tuk-tuks, I got a thumbs up, another smile and the idea that everything that has happened during the coffee feud was now just a-O.K.

Mr. Bung became my daily caffeine fix in Bangkok and one of the best experiences I’ve had in Thailand and you ask me what to do or see in land of smiles this coffee vendor will always make the list.

 Maybe it’s out of guilt, maybe it’s out of senile shame, but maybe it is just O.K. 

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