Two evenings ago, unable to sleep, I decided to take one of my strolls down Soi 4, then out along Sukhumvit, one of the main avenues of central Bangkok. After 2 a.m., when the bars and go-gos close for the night, dozens of tiny street-side bars mushroom along the quarter mile stretch of road running from the near side of the Asoke Skytrain Station to a few blocks beyond Nana Station. These impromptu establishments usually consist of a cart containing a surprising variety of hard liquor circled by a mini asteroid belt of plastic chairs and uncomfortably small tables. Most also feature a rudimentary sound system which provides a thumping soundtrack for the cacophony of shrill Thai voices interspersed with the occasional drunken mutterings from some slumped over Westerner.
It’s the kind of environment Caligula would feel right at home in.
I’m unsure why I try to navigate my way through this jungle of aggressive, bawling hostesses (“WELCUM!”) and intimidating gatherings of ladyboys, who can be stroking your arm with one hand while the other is slyly searching for your wallet. I guess I am still amazed, after over two years in this city, at such blatant depravity.
Yet all is not total despair. On occasion, I’ll pass a streetwalker standing or sitting by herself. Maybe we exchange a brief smile, or she gives me a shy hello. I continue on down the block when, suddenly, the urge hits. I turn around, go back, and give her one hundred baht ($3), saying the Thai word for “breakfast”. The woman is often confused at first, not being used to unconditional kindness. But I smile and maybe lightly touch her arm, trying to convey my sincerity. Usually the message gets across and I receive a look of genuine appreciation. Should the topic of my taking her home arise, I explain (in simple, moron-level Thai) that I’m just out for a walk.
The street jamboree continues until around five in the morning, when the first streaks of light appear behind the forest of high rises. The garbage workers, whom I have real sympathy for, begin sweeping up the refuse as the bar proprietors reluctantly fold up shop. Slowly, inexorably, the city puts on its day face with sleepy commuters and clogged traffic, becoming just another Southeast Asian Metropolis with no memories of the wild night.