Category Archives: Thailand Life

Me & My Mac

Bangkok

Having been a gay bachelor for so many decades (and is that the proper phrase?), I had long since abandoned any notion of falling in love. Sure, there had been a few opportunities along the way, starting with my junior high girlfriend. Slow dancing to The Carpenter’s Close To You, it seemed we’d always be together and in fact we were, right up to the first week of high school at which point the upperclassmen (meaning guys with cars) muscled their way in. It was an early, painful lesson about my lack of sex appeal, a trait endemic to the people in the IT profession whose ranks I would one day join.

With women out of the picture, it became necessary to find new venues of entertainment. During the solitude of the early years of my career, it was the TV and local movie theaters. Then, with the advent of personal computers, my focus shifted when I got my shiny, new Gateway 2000. Many an hour was spent parked in front of it, playing games or surfing the ‘net. These activities became such a source of comfort that upon relocating to Thailand two years ago, I made sure I brought a laptop along. It was a wise choice; were it not for my Compaq PC (and the two dozen or so bar and go-go girls I’ve gotten to know), I’m unsure if I could have survived life in tropical Asia.

It was therefore a sad day two months ago when my Compaq, after a long period of steady decline, passed on. I had done all I could to nurse it back to health, but with no luck. Towards the end it had become so enfeebled, it could no longer write to any of my antique diskettes and when I shut it down for the final time, there were tears in my eyes.

Losing a PC is something we all go through at some stage of our lives and like most, I despaired of ever finding a new one that I could feel the same affection for. But then a friend recommended a special Apple-sponsored support group for people suffering from technical bereavement. It was there I found it was indeed possible to start anew with another PC. In fact, Apple just happened to have a few machines I might be interested in. Talk about coincidences.

Apple’s Online Store operates in a similar fashion to a dating website such as Match. Both feature intriguing offerings with the difference being that with Apple, you know exactly how much you are going to be shelling out up front. Having no interest in a one-night boot-up, I spent hours looking for a stable laptop that would understand me and not treat my outdated technical skills with disdain (like a particular Redmond, Washington-based operating system we all know).

I will never forget the afternoon of November 14 of this year. As I was lounging by the apartment pool with my Thai girlfriend, working through my grief, a red-and-gold jacketed DHL man delivered the MacBook Air I had ordered the prior week. Tossing aside both my towel and lady friend, I eagerly took the package and rushed up to my room. Carefully, I opened the maze of boxes the shipment came in until finally, I beheld my new companion! It was so slender and lightweight, I at first mistook it for a user’s manual.

Since that magical day, it is like a void in my life has been filled. My Mac is gentle and understanding with a pleasant learning curve. When I make mistakes, I don’t feel like I’m being scolded. And if I have esoteric questions, there’s an online support community. I have to confess, it is hard to put the thing down once I turn it on and begin playing around.

But maybe the allure is too great. It’s admittedly been a few days since I’ve showered or shaved and my girlfriend, whats-her-name, hasn’t been by in maybe a week. But that is alright. Her concern over my disheveled appearance and the Mt. Dew and Snicker’s Bars meals are entirely misplaced. Clearly the woman has never been in love.

Skirmish With a Ladyboy

Bangkok

First, some background. The term “ladyboy” refers to men in this country who dress up as women. This condition — if that is the proper word — is largely accepted by Thai society. Ladyboys can be found working in all kinds of jobs such as the cosmetics section in drugstores or even as bank tellers. Admittedly these occupations pale in comparison to the United States, where a cross-dressing man can become head of the FBI, but they suffice.

Like all things in life, there are both good and bad permutations of the species. The latter can be found in the area around the go-gos and bars of Nana Plaza in the post-midnight hours, aggressively soliciting unwary tourists. They must do good business as any given night will see well over a dozen lined up along Soi 4, checking their makeup and chatting with their friends.

My issue with them is their boldness. When passing by on my way home, a few of the bolder ones will sometimes grasp my arm and when I say (in Thai) no thanks, they won’t let go, even going so far as to intensify the encounter. In the past month, I’ve had my left nipple twisted (ouch!) and my crotch grabbed. Though the standard advice is go out of your way to avoid these night creatures, I decided I wasn’t going to cede the street to them. If my wishes would not be respected, then I would escalate. It is not just my distaste at being touched; some of the ladyboys are pickpockets and use the close contact to try and lift a fellow’s wallet. This had happened to a tourist staying at my hotel/apartment complex few days earlier.

To dissuade my would-be muggers, I decided to employ my folded, compact umbrella. If they were going to ignore my protests, I could use it as a club to swat at their hands. This tactic got its first trial a few nights ago. While talking with a couple of streetwalkers (women), a ladyboy strolled up and took hold of my arm. When I declined the offer and he began to press in, I swung and knocked his hands away. Unfortunately, this had the exact opposite effect of what I’d intended. Before I knew it, he was screaming and swinging his purse at me. I responded with another swipe that connected solidly to the head, but this seemed only to further enrage him. Startled, I retreated across the street where I stumbled and fell. As I lay there, a lady’s high-heeled shoe landed next to me. It seemed my assailant was going to attack with his entire wardrobe.

Scrambling to my feet, I retrieved my weapon I had dropped and continued to back up. Reaching the other side of the street, we squared off again and I landed a third umbrella blow, this one around his ear which had to hurt, but didn’t slow him down one bit. Who would have thought an effeminate guy in makeup and a dress could absorb this kind of punishment?

That last blow had bent the shaft of my impromptu club, rendering it useless. So I initiated Plan B: run for it! The ladyboy followed in hot pursuit, throwing his high heels at me, then pausing to pick them up for another toss. This reloading allowed me to open up some distance between us. Finally, about a block from my apartment, a motorcycle taxi driver who had witnessed the scene drove up to inform me that my assailant had given up the chase. I was hugely relieved as I did not want him to discover where I lived. It was scary, how furious he had gotten.

Being a red-blooded American, my inclination is to now begin toting a baseball bat. But besides looking silly (and just asking for trouble), this kind of weapon could easily inflict serious damage; injuries that the Thai police might frown upon. Their sympathies in a conflict of this nature are always going to be with their fellow Thais, meaning that even if I (in my view) justifiably defend myself, I could wind up in jail.

There is absolutely no point in doing anything deliberately foolish in a foreign country. So, I am going to begin curtailing my explorations of the seamy Bangkok nightlife. I have nothing against ladyboys or the transgendered; I simply do not want another altercation. 

Iranian Terrorism 101

Somewhere in Tehran, Iran

Good morning class! It is a true pleasure to see your smiling faces, eager and willing to lay down your lives for the Supreme Leader of the Iranian People. As you know, our topic this morning is the recent aborted mission in Bangkok and the lessons we can learn from it.

Let us first be sure we understand our goals: our government has decided the best way of convincing a sceptical world of our peaceful nuclear intentions is through the murder of Israeli diplomats. Why Israelis, you may ask. Well, we have to kill someone, don’t we? Might as well be the Zionists.

On to today’s main topic. The terrorist cell we had implanted in Bangkok consisted of three of our finest agents: Shish, Kebob and Morondai. I think it is fair to say the first error they made was in accidentally blowing up the house where they were making the detonation devices. Even in a self-absorbed city like Bangkok, this can — and did — attract unwanted attention.

Inexplicably rattled by the event, the trio’s mission quickly dissolved into a wild exodus from the premises. It was here that the second mistake was made. When a taxi refused to pick him up, Morondai lobbed one of his homemade bombs at it, demolishing the vehicle. While this has not met with universal condemnation — I hear a group of Westerners living in Bangkok, fed up with cab drivers not willing to take them where they wish to go, are putting together an award for him — this lacks the kind of subtlety we expect from our operatives.

Morondai’s second target — a Thai police car — was also ill-considered. However this time his aim was slightly off. Rather than connecting with the blue and white, the device rebounded off another vehicle before rolling up to his feet where it finally exploded, taking off one of his legs. (The other was later amputated at a Bangkok hospital — all praise to the Supreme Leader!).

This entire mission was, frankly, an embarrassment to all involved. In the words of a Western commentator, it makes us look like a bunch of bomb-throwing Keystone Kops, whatever that means. But we will not be deterred! As I speak, Shish and Kebab are at work developing a way to cripple the Thai sex tourism industry via exploding silicon implants, while the wheelchair-bound Morondai is now employed as a Hazardous Materials Coordinator with DHL (a freight forwarding company). Even if he continues to accidently dismember himself, there’s at least a chance he will take a fellow employee or two with him.

The infidels will yet feel our righteous wrath (or at least aggravating misdeliveries)! Class dismissed.

Thank You for Smoking!

Bangkok

It’s time to admit to a perversion that goes beyond my affection for the Washington State Cougars football team: I have developed a fascination with Thai women who smoke. Not all of them; just the ones who do it in a slow, sensual manner.

Unfortunately, smoking is becoming less and less popular in Thailand. The government forces tobacco companies to adorn each pack with pictures of tumors, eaten-out throats and receding, blackened gums. (The people posing for these photos look almost as miserable as WSU football fans come early November.) However, this does not seem to deter certain segments of the population. For example, I’ve never witnessed a Thai bar girl, overcome by the gruesome photos, crush out her half-smoked Menthol L & M in revulsion.

My favorite smoker can be found just down the road from my apartment, a couple blocks from the go-gos of Nana Plaza. Her working name is “Kinky Girl Cat”, a Fetish Mistress who at age thirty is still “working her way through school”. She specializes in the kind of activities that most of us would not want to know the details about, but has nonetheless become my evening nicotine-watching fix.

“Hello Cat! How are you?”

“Oh, Monte! I OK, but no customers tonight. You want spanking?”

“Ah, no thanks. But I have a present for you!”

“L & M cigarettes? Why you give me?”

“It’s because I care.”

Baffled by my generosity, she nevertheless opens the pack, pries out the first pleasure stick and prepares to light up.

“Do people smoke in your country?”

“Not many. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit… Is your lighter working? Here, I brought one with me.”

“I not need…” A brief flash. The first, deep breath and slow exhale. “Tell me really, why people not smoke in America?”

Mesmerized by the wafting carcinogenic fumes, I’m slow to reply.

“Huh? What did you say? Oh, about smokers in America. Well, the government makes rules. For example, no smoking in public places.”

“What ‘public places’ mean?”

“Restaurants and bars. Customers must go outside and smoke twenty-five feet away.”

“How they know twenty-five feet?”

“It is where all the cigarette butts are lying on the ground. And in Seattle, if they are near running water, I think they also have to wear some kind of life jacket.”

“Life jacket?”

“Not important. Seattle wants smokers to feel bad.”

“If feel bad, tell them to come Bangkok. They can smoke no problem and I whip them good!”

And so my faith in human nature remains unshaken, knowing there are compassionate people like Mistress Cat; a kind of erotic Statue of Liberty beckoning to all nations for their poor, their perverted, their three-pack-a-day sufferers, all longing to be free.

Flooding Fantasies

Bangkok

The monsoon season has arrived late this year. Perhaps to atone for its tardiness, it dumped a record amount of rain up in the north part of the country — water that is now rampaging south, swamping towns and villages along the way and threatening Bangkok.

The impending deluge hasn’t caused me much concern, partly because I live on the second floor of my apartment building and have stocked up on non perishables. As for the plight of the locals, after a year of living here my attitude towards them has become ambivalent at best. Nowhere was this more in evidence than when my friend, Tod, tried to explain to me the potential devastation some of them are facing.

“Look, Monte, if the water breaches the levees protecting the business district, Sukhumvit Road will be completely submerged.”

“You mean those price-gouging tuk-tuk drivers will have to stay home? If that is the case, they should have floods here every weekend.”

“It’s worse than that; people might lose their businesses.”

“Meaning what, I am not going to be accosted anymore by those Indians trying to sell me suits? Something tells me I can live with that.”

“The water may even inundate the go-gos.”

“Oh my god, not the go-gos! Tod, I don’t know how you feel, but we’ve got to help these poor girls, err, people! Let’s get down there pronto and see if we can lend a hand. (A quick glance at my watch.) It should still be Happy Hour.”

When we arrived, the scene in front of Tilac Go-Go — my favorite hangout — was not at all encouraging. Half a dozen grim-faced workers were busy erecting a barricade out front using whatever materials they could find, in this case boxes containing bottles of San Miguel Beer. Lite beer, for crying out loud. The girls wouldn’t stand a chance.

To determine what the evacuation plans — if anything — might be, Tod used his proficient Thai to interrogate one of the men. The talk between them grew somber, which only increased my anxiety. When it finished, I practically tore my friend’s t-shirt off.

“What’d he say? What’d he say?”

“He says that if too much water comes, many of the dancers will not be able to make it back home.”

“You mean that if this go-go gets flooded, there could be over twenty sexy women stranded here with no place to spend the night?”

“That’s right. I wonder where they could stay?”

“Hmm, let me think…”

Then an inspiration hit. Just a couple blocks from the go-go is the Playful Prince Hotel, which offers cheap, short-term accomodations for Western men and streetwalkers who have suddenly found love. Better yet, the hotel’s Business Center (also called the Romper Room) could be reserved on short notice, with over a dozen beds supplied by management.

My room will be right next door. It’s important for the girls to know that someone is there for them.

Let it rain!

Mornings & Lunches

In My Bangkok Apartment

The first, and arguably the most important, task of each day takes place immediately upon awakening. Shaking off any clinging sleepiness, I cautiously peek over to the other side of the bed to determine if someone has spent the night with me. If so, can I recall her name? Over the past two  weeks I have had dates with three Thai women named Noy, so if I momentarily draw a blank, I can at least made a high percentage guess.

If there is a holdover from the prior evening (either a bargirl, or maybe a go-go dancer), the goal becomes persuading her to depart. Mornings are the best time of the day for me to write and I do not want any distractions. So, I threaten to make breakfast for her. But wouldn’t that entice the girl to stay, you might wonder. Not if it consists of Frosted Pop Tarts and sweet pickles covered with chocolate ice cream. And if they do show a hankering for the pickles, then I’ll know I might not have taken the proper precautions the night before.

Free at last, I sit down at my prehistoric Compaq PC and get to work. For this particular day, I have a special task involving resetting the system date. The problem is when the machine is unplugged for any extended period, Windows 98 reboots to January 1, 1999. Whatever system date and time were being used is deleted. Bill’s boys apparently think power interruptions create a temporal vortex, sucking everything back into the late 20th century. Having to restore the current date every morning is a real nuisance; it almost feels like I am arguing with the software.

It takes over two hours to dredge up the proper DOS commands to create and auto copy a date file, then execute an edit program so I can set the proper day while Windows 98 (much like Frankenstein’s monster) slowly comes to life. How things have changed for me! For so many long years, I sat in front of an IBM 3270 terminal programming in COBOL. Along the way, I saved money and invested well so that I could someday retire early and….sit in front of a Compaq Presario and program in DOS. An inspiration for everyone, I hope, to someday move beyond the drudgery of their jobs and realize their dreams.

My favorite place for my Thai lunch (what else?) is a family-run, hole-in-the-wall restaurant just down the block. (Come to think of it, almost all the family-owned shops in this area are holes in the wall.) I prefer modest places like these: the prices are very cheap, and the cuisine has not been fancied up. There are also colorful menus in English. This is much preferable to, say, the Indian establishment down towards busy Sukhumvit Road, which usually has someone standing out front enticing Westerners to come in and experience a soak-the-stupid-tourist fifteen dollar meal.

For today, I stay with my usual lunch: a sweet green curry ladened with vegetables and chicken, served with a side of rice. (Total cost including the tip and a bottle of water: four dollars.) I have learned to tell the waitress in Thai that I only want one star worth of spiciness. Besides earning my stomach’s appreciation, the lack of fire allows the real flavor to come through. I eat slowly, facing the street in order to admire the lunchtime flocks of working Thai girls passing by.

But the old eating habits from a quarter century of white collar employment die hard. As I finish up my lunch, I find myself repeatedly glancing at my watch, as if I had a one o’clock meeting to make. This is nonsense, I tell myself; I can do as I damn well please. Yet when I arrive back at the apartment a few minutes after the hour, there’s a vague feeling of guilt. Next time I am going to let my morning companion sleep into the early afternoon, providing me with something to take my mind off my tardiness. 

Another Try in the Land of Smiles

Bangkok

I am a bit surprised to find myself in this country again. The six months I’d endured down in Pattaya had me at times certain I’d never return. I had grown weary of the nonexistent sidewalks, near-constant traffic, and marauding dogs. Nor did I appreciate the personal computers at the local internet cafe whose CPUs would go to their knees attempting to bring up Internet Explorer. And those damn public phones, which would either take your money and not work, or spray your money out onto the street and not work. At times it seemed to me that a monster tsunami like the one that hit Japan back in March would actually improve things in that city.

I also began to have troubles with the people, becoming visibly angry on a couple of occasions. One time was when I was exiting the Bangkok-to-Pattaya bus. I was politely standing in front of my aisle seat, waiting for a break in the line large enough to accommodate me and my backpack. My seat-mate, an elderly man who had been calm and relaxed the entire two hour trip, suddenly began acting as if the exodus was some kind of fire drill and began prodding me in the back. Not being someone who appreciates physical contact outside of the bedroom, I turned and growled at him. My annoyance easily transcended the language barrier as he took a cautious step back.

The bus nudging was simply a more egregious example of the impatience Thais sometimes exhibit when queuing up. Occasionally they will look for ways to butt in, especially in front of polite foreigners. Such places as a crowded 7-Eleven checkout line become mini-scrums; one cannot allow a gap of more than six inches to develop between themselves and the person in front or else they risk losing their place. One of my fantasies is for a Thai to try squeezing in front of me back in the U.S., whereupon I’d grab him (or her) by the shirt and shove them into the candy display.

Entertaining visions of violence against the natives is a sign one should consider at least a token getaway to avoid becoming an unwilling expert on the local penal system. In most second-tier countries — and especially Thailand — any altercations between a local and a foreigner will not go well for the latter. An American shouting at ladyboy who had tried to pickpocket him, for example, would likely end up getting scolded by the Thai police for causing an unpleasant scene.

It was therefore a given that, as the date for my return ticket approached, I’d be heading back to the U.S. The real question was whether I wanted another tour of duty in Thailand, or whether it was time to find a place back home to settle down in.

Seattle provided some blessed guidance in re-discovering my priorities. Within fifteen minutes after arriving downtown I got panhandled by one of the career homeless, whom I felt obliged to be polite to. While riding a Metro bus, I was forced to endure a loudmouth jerk in the back seat. (I suspect because he was black, everyone was too cowed to ask him to shut up.) To be sure, the Thais are not what one would call a docile and quiet race, but I never witnessed one making a spectacle of himself in public, possibly because it would be considered a loss of face. And yes, there are Thai street people haunting the Bangkok walkways begging for money. However, the locals seem able to completely ignore those unfortunates and not be wracked with guilt over it.

Another decisive factor in my eventual decision was the Pacific North-west late-April weather. One of the pleasures of being away from Seattle the entire winter is avoiding the damp dreariness. Yet after only a couple of allegedly springtime days back in the city, I found myself digging out my heavy coat as the raw wind prevented the temperature from breaking fifty degrees (10 C). If it wasn’t for the late sunsets, I’d have sworn it was February. 

These experiences helped put things into perspective. Which could I better tolerate: the cute Thai girl inserting her slender body in front of me at the convenience store, or having to listen to the rants of a scruffy Metro passenger? For the first week of May, do I want to be bundled up in a scarf and stocking cap, seeing my breath, or wearing a light t-shirt and shorts? With my Thai Retirement Visa still having some mileage on it, giving Thailand another shot didn’t sound like a bad proposition.

Two and a half weeks after greeting the Seattle springtime chill, I was on the plane back to Bangkok. New adventures now await.