Category Archives: Thailand Life

A Close Encounter

Pattaya

My arrival in mid-October had predated the busy tourist season by a few weeks. With the “hot” women yet to arrive in numbers, the ones manning the neighborhood bars were not very high quality — raucous, bawdy and with intimidating tattoos. One night, after two Rum & Cokes with a lady who had an image of a dragon disemboweling a naked man on her right thigh, I decided to try the live music bar just down the street. In the past this had featured Thai waitresses attired in uniforms worn by high school girls. I have always been a supporter of education and decided to see how their, ah, classes were progressing.

To my disappointment, school was not in session. In place of the young “students” I fondly recalled was a somewhat dispirited collection of older (as in over twenty-five) ladies mulling about. No Westerner was in sight, so I had the bar entirely to myself. 

The gun-chewing waitress who came over to be my intellectual stimulation for the evening was named Lawt. To help break the ice, I got out the Thai language cheat sheet I use for basic communication. It has the usual greetings, names of Thai dishes, and useful questions that together allow me to function in this country. On the back are more sophisticated phrases to be employed when extending the hand of friendship towards the opposite sex. Some examples: “What is your name? How much for one night? Will you come home with me now?”

Lawt ponderously examined the first page (I was not going to let her see the other side until after she’d had a few drinks). There was none of the usual admiration Thai bar girls effortlessly fake upon meeting a foreigner trying to learn their language. No reaction at all in fact. It seemed a long evening was at hand.

But I am nothing if not ambitious. Adopting a slow, sustainable pace with red wine coolers, I encouraged Lawt to order any kind of concoction she wished. When she confessed that her miserly boss partially deducted any alcoholic drinks the girls had from their pay, I offered to make up the difference.

The hours passed and the band played on. Slowly I could sense a subtle change in Lawt as the alcohol began to work its magic. For one thing, it became harder to sip my coolers as she leaned into me, pinning one arm against the chair while she pawed at the other. Clearly the time had come to make my move, especially since I was losing feeling in my extemities. It was then, just as I had managed to re-extract my cheat sheet and was stumbling through my “please come home with me” line, that things took an unexpected turn. It began when Lawt, taking advantage of my liquor largess, had a huge bottle of beer brought to the table with two glasses of ice. Turns out this was not for us to share, but for her and one of the other waitresses.

Well all right! For a brief moment, I had the heady feeling of someone who has baited a mouse trap and returned to find it has ensnared not one, but two of the lovable little creatures. In this, the very bar where I’d once learned the importance of having a backup lady. But it bothered me that Lawt had not asked permission to get an extra glass for her friend. And the choice of beer did not sit well with my proud self-image as a Pacific Northwest wine taster. What unpleasantness would I have to endure next, I wondered.

When Lawt offered me a sip, I tried to pass, explaining I preferred wine. She responded by grabbing the back of my neck and forcing my head down towards the glass. It felt like I was pledging a fraternity. Desperately I tried to hold on to my Seattle haughtiness by frantically reciting names of famous varietals: “Chardonnay! Bordeaux! Boone’s Farm!” But my dominatrix remained unrelenting.

In the end I escaped by breaking from her grasp, stepping to one side and pretending to dance to the live music. The girls mistook my gyrations for an epileptic seizure, and I regret I’ve had to take advantage of this ruse so early in the season. But it was either that or a bottle of iced, San Miguel Light. My self-respect would never have recovered.

Victimized!

Pattaya

It was not supposed to turn out like this. I was simply walking home after a shopping trip, anticipating an evening of pool at a local bar I’d come to like. You know, the kind where everybody knows your name. Suddenly, I heard that name being called.

“Monte! Monte!” It seemed to be coming from somewhere…above me? Yes indeed. Waving from the top floor balcony of the hotel above the corner restaurant was my old drinking foe Lawt. I knew the girls from the bar where she worked had rooms there, but did not expect to run into any of them. Least of all her.

A quick glance around confirmed there was no place I could easily hide. The large tree next to the road did not afford enough cover. Same with the parked motorbike. There was a sewer grate that had partially slid off its foundation, but I did not like the symbolism. So I had to face the music. Turning up towards Lawt, I forced a smile, resisting the impulse to raise both arms in surrender. Yet she was happy to see me, a smile of her own breaking out on a dark face framed with that flowing black hair I like so much in women.

It is hard to make conversation with someone perched three floors above you. We swapped greetings, to which I added that I would stop by her bar that night. Just being friendly. It would be foolhardy to upset a woman whose balcony I have to walk under half a dozen times a day.

I showed up that evening later than usual, hoping that my admirer might already have a customer to keep her occupied. But of course not (and just where was the Viagra Brigade when I needed them?). Oh well, there are worse ways to spend an evening than having drinks with a Thai lady. In fact, when Lawt began complaining about the exhausting hours she was having to work (and the conditions are not that pleasant), I found myself actually feeling sorry for her. Almost impulsively, I made an offer.

“How about coming back to my apartment, and I’ll give you a massage?” Just a massage. I was a bit tired myself and in no mood for any special gymnastics.

“OK, but no boom-boom.” Meaning no sex. Looked like we were on the same page.

“No boom-boom,” I agreed, making it official.

It figured to be a normal evening featuring my trademark smoothness. I’d make sure she had a relatively clean towel — sans perfume from my last date — for her shower. Then maybe a slow dance or two before I put her out for the night with my magic hands. If all went well, I’d be fast asleep myself by 11:30.

But this woman confounded me. The shower, the music, and the rubdown all went like clockwork. Lawt seemed to be well on the way to slumberland. I got into my side of the bed, laid back, and congratulated myself on being such a fine person. But when I glanced over, Lawt was lifting the covers, beckoning me closer. One thing led to another and before I knew it, sleep was the last thing on either of our minds.

Afterwards, however, I was annoyed. I had paid this lady to not have sex with me and dammit, should have gotten my money’s worth. The women over here do not appear to understand that when a horny, middle-aged man gets into bed with them and says “no”, he means it. Well, sort of.

At least I am not going to take this abuse lying down. From this day onward I will draw a line in the sheets, beyond which they will never again pass. And I highly resolve that my bruised self-image shall see new birth of confidence, and that this fine Thai city, of the dirty old men, by the dirty old men and for the dirty old men, shall not perish from the earth.

English, Thai Style

Pattaya

These entertaining usages (and misspellings) of the English language are being presented with the confession that I, in my infinite wisdom, cannot even begin to formulate a proper sentence in Thai.

T-shirts the Bar Girls Wear: No Money No Honey

Eating and Drinking
Bunwich
Nick the Pizza
Roadsted Nuts
We Are The World Beer Bar

Etiquette
Please remove your shoe
Please closed the door
Driving Should Be Generous — People Acroos The Street

Apologies
Sorry for the inconvenience. We are under the renovation period.

Corporations & Slogans
Auto Assurance
I Am International Clinic (Skin & Relax)
Dental Paradize
Let’s Grown Together!

Rules
The advertisements without the registration will not be allowed to put on the board.
Should not abandon the garbage — cigarette buttocks in this area.

“Wat” A Day!

Pattaya

When my girlfriend Lawt proposed my visiting a Buddhist temple with her, I could not hide a snort of derision. What place do religious beliefs have in here in Pattaya, the Sodom and Gomorrah of Thailand? But when I realized the temple was far closer to my apartment than hers and might end up with her spending the night with me, I decided I was being a tad too judgmental.

The monks in Thailand have taken a vow of poverty, relying on public generosity. (Much like the homeless in Seattle, but without the public urination.) For that reason, Lawt brought along two bags of fresh fruit and vegetables. I suggested we also include some chips and salsa for the guys to enjoy as they followed the NFL playoffs on ESPN2, but Lawt felt this thoughtful gesture might be misinterpreted.

We rode to the temple on a pair of motorbike taxis handled by drivers with a rather flexible interpretation of the traffic laws. Any double yellow lines, for example, are ignored if there are no oncoming vehicles. Traffic lights are mere advisories and crossing pedestrians dive for cover. As a helpless passenger, all I could do was hold onto the driver’s shoulders and pray his body would absorb most of the impact of a collision.

The grounds of the wat contain a series of residential dwellings circling the central temple with its white pillars and gold-trimmed windows. Narrow, dark red rooftops radiated out from a blue and gold spire. (It made me wish I had brought a camera.) Our destination was one of the small houses on the far left-hand side of the compound. The stroll there was uneventful until we came across a small dog that let Lawt pass unmolested, but for some reason began barking at me. Snarling a bit myself, I nevertheless backed away. As it began edging closer, I pulled out one of the mangos we were taking to the wise man and made throwing motions. Apparently fruit assaults are a common form of canine discipline as the mutt retreated.

When we arrived at the house, I elected to stay outside, fearful that the monk would ask about the mangled mango. A few minutes later I found myself wishing I’d kept it when a second dog began barking at me. But this one was too lazy to get up and advance upon the heathen intruder. At this point I began to wonder why supposedly gentile and peace-loving men kept such mean animals for pets. The only kind of enlightenment I could see coming from a dog bite would be an intimate knowledge of the rabies vaccination series.

Lawt’s session with the monk took about fifteen minutes. When she re-emerged from the house, she went to a small tree growing in the front yard and sprinkled water at its base. This act seemed to bring her a measure of inner contentment. I did not have the heart to tell her that while she was inside, one of Buddha’s Fidos had already watered the sapling. For all I know, that could have been part of the ritual.

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.

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. 

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!