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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thai Girls (Welcome to the Jungle!)

Ever get the feeling that you are missing out on life, and that somewhere far away people are having the fun which should, rightfully, be yours? This was the suspicion which tormented me one steamy day last month in the vicinity of Khao San Road, Bangkok (the City of Angels, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems), at the start of my latest Oriental adventure. I had just made it down to the Kingdom for the first time in six years, en route to episode three of tropical love in Vietnam. Tropical love with Thai girls wasn't even on my agenda for the three-day layover, I was more interested in finding a Drum'n'Bass club, and some cool places to hang out. The sky had been all torrid and theatrical as my Royal Thai Airways jetliner tore across Cambodia on the journey south, many of the clouds outside looking like elephants (some of them rearing). Underneath, rivers and rice paddies gave way to urban sprawl, then presently we were skidding into Suvarnabhumi Airport, me marveling at the futuristic terminals, the futuristic control tower, the El Al plane on the tarmac next to us a testament to the popularity of this place with Israeli tourists (French and Russians go to Vietnam, Israelis and Swedes go to Thailand -- that has been my observation these past 269 obsessive days.) I helped some English girls out in the queue for Immigration, then got hassled by a hustler as I looked for the public bus to Phra Nakhon (พระนคร) district, where I was hoping to stay. Eventually found the bus though it wasn't much cheaper than the taxi the tout was endorsing, and a lot slower. Up on board, the soundsystem was tuned into Thai radio: some kind of manic, repetitive percussive acoustic house music with a Rock edge, and the DJ's jibber-jabbering all over the top: jibber-jabber, jibber-jibber-jabber, jibber-jibber-jabber-jibber-jabber. Each song stretched for like 30 minutes. There were heaps of Australian girls convened up the back shrieking and talking loudly about their periods and other vulgar matters, dropping the "f" bomb liberally. They reminded me, poignantly, of why I fear moving home to Australia to live, despite all my recent bouts of loneliness in Japan. Aussies just have no class. Even though this was my first landing at Suvarnabhumi, cruising downtown was very much a trip down Memory Lane and I amazed myself with how much I actually knew the city, knew the landmarks -- for example the impressive Democracy Monument, the beautiful Grand Palace a vision from a dream. Elephant motifs and stupas were all over the place, this being Thailand of course! I couldn't wait to hit the pavement, find a hotel, and then dive headlong into the pub and club scene!

Elephant motifs adorn this stupa, near the MBK department store in Bangkok (Thailand, 2008) 
In my dream life I wouldn't be shackled to one place and job as I am now, but would be free to circulate the globe, circumnavigate the world endlessly, like a satellite following an eccentric orbit, forever cutting against the grain. It turns out I am not the only one with elite expat dreams (of delusion, of grandeur, or illusions of grandeur?). Global Nanpa out of Germany writes:

Think about it, I am convinced that my life is much better than that of the often cited Playboy Hugh Hefner for example. I didn't realize in the past years how important health and age is, but it does matter a lot, more even than money. US college girl blondines are not my taste anyway. Sounds arrogant but I can have more girls than him, paid AND for free. Nanpa makes it possible. I also don't have to pop any pills before the magic happens LOL. My honest ratio for paid/unpaid female companionship on my recent trips was around 75% paid, 25% for free. I plan to hold it like this for the next decade, turning now 30 years-old end of September. The freebies in retroperspective were actually often the more painful memories, that's why I try to keep a balanced ratio : I don't want to inflict too much emotional pain on others and on myself. Like regular readers know, I have the idea of finding the true girl-friend experience (GFE) during my trips.
This life is so much better than being a real celebrity, because you don't have to deal with the negative side effects like getting watched carefully by the public all the time and not being able to walk around freely in public places anymore. I would never trade my life with anyone. Once your skills, looks and budget reach a certain level, you can literally live the ultimate dream life in Asia. Trust me, it's good...
Along with Nanpa, Stickman and the guy they call Mango Sauce, I will always be beguiled by Bangkok because it hosts so many happening scenes here. As Nanpa attests, Bangkok is like a miniature version of the world with everything you might need crammed inside it. To take one example: Bangkok has to my mind become the London of the East with its own Drum'n'Bass nights, resident DJ's, bars, crazy clubs -- I dig all that and I am also into Thai music as well, all the macho Thai hard metal. That shit rocks! It is a cheap place to stay (I can find adequate lodgings for under $20 a night), the food is awesome, and there are tonnes of colorful temples to be enjoyed if that is your thing. Bangkok is centrally located -- there is easy access to Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Kathmandu, Guangzhou, Calcutta, Jakarta, Medan, all of these places exotic as f+ck and only an hour or two plane-ride away. On top of that it is a great place to pick up  budget tickets. While you are waiting for your visa to come through you can kick back with a cold Singha or Chang, watch some videos, and poke your fork into a plate of pad thai. And there are, of course, the girls. Millions, millions of beautiful, cute, sexy girls. All waiting for a piece of you! All waiting, perchance, for a piece of me!

Wat Chana Songkhram Rachawora Mahawiharn, near Khao San Road, Bangkok (Thailand, 2008)
Of course Bangkok has long had a reputation as a city of sin and on previous trips I have spotted plenty of frightening farang with the local lasses, sweaty overweight German dudes and tattooed British hooligans with their unlikely looking dates, eating noodles at MBK or climbing out of a tuk-tuk, or whatever. You watch these couples sauntering down the sois and think to yourself: Yeah right (to use the Australian vernacular)... as if! The Asian girlfriend experience is a big business, but it has never appealed to me, at least in its cruder forms. If you have to pay for it it is not a real conquest, in my opinion -- these girls you are purchasing are just like those hidden divers in Imperial China whose job it was to secretly latch fish on to the Emperor's hook, while the Emperor was out fishing. It is self delusional and a wank to think this is "real", and although some men might need the physical relief, I can go without it if necessary. For me, the idea that you could get it if the circumstances were more favorable is often more tantalizing than the actual getting of it, if you understand my reasoning. So, I am not interested in going to girly bars, hiring escorts, or getting a massage (even though my New Zealand bud Maniac High Dennis the Menace threatened to bitch slap me if I didn't get laid this trip.) I'm sorry Dennis -- I didn't get laid while I was in Thailand, but I wasn't in Thailand to get laid, I was more on a recon kind of mish, and in any case I am pretty well taken at the moment thank you very much, comfortably committed to my love in Vietnam! I was just biding my time this trip, and scoping the scene, more as an observer than an actual participant, to see the kind of potential this place offers me if I ever (touch wood) turn single again. And one of the first things I observed, after hitting the pavement on Khao San Road, was the number of hot young Thai girls with (wait for it)... normal young Western guys! The kind of guys who could get a girlfriend in their own country, if they so desired. I'd never noticed this phenomenon in the past, and it surprised me. What were these Western guys doing in Thailand? I wondered. Did they have a job here or something? The girls they were with were well fit, indeed... many of them looked like fashion models. It rubbed me somewhat, and it set me thinking: why do I slave my days away with a maniac landlord/boss in Tokyo, chanting to the gohonzon, singing on the telephone, saving my pennies for an occasional episode of tropical love in Vietnam? why am I doing all that when I could be here in the Land of Smiles, here in the City of Angels, living the dream on a daily basis, with a whole harem of hotties? Of course, there are plenty of model quality girls in Japan, but you don't often see the ultra-hot ones dating foreigners, and you certainly don't see them dating me. A full harem has always eluded me. Was I living in the wrong country, living the wrong life entirely? I asked myself. Envy arose in my soul like a poison, and impure thoughts clouded my mind. If I could have just talked to Nga on the phone, then my d(a)emons might have been kept at bay, for one night at least. But she never answers the phone, and she was also all quiet on the email front. Once again I was all on my own, to ride out the storm.

Khao San Road, Bangkok's original golden mile, in Banglamphu (Thailand, 2008)

Bangkok's original Golden Mile and backpacker Mecca, Khao San Road, has a happening party scene rammed with folk from all corners of the map. Whenever I stay here, I am pretty much guaranteed to have an adventure every time I step out of my hotel. The place swarms with freaks, of all colors and creeds. In recent years the street has also developed a seriously credible nightlife scene and last month, after a long absence, I had the chance to check it out in person, in the flesh. Within 10 minutes of leaving my hotel midway down the Golden Mile I was handed a flyer promising Drum'n'Bass and other pleasures at the Immortal Bar, just up the road. (The joint, located on the second floor of the Bayon Building (website: MySpace site here), apparently also does a pretty mean heavy metal show, although I never got the chance to witness that). You can play pool inside, or you can sit out on the balcony drinking Red Bull and vodka combinations, watching lightning lick the skies. Inside the bar, basslines thunder like a summer tempest. I sank my Red Bull and vodkas, and then a couple of Tiger beers. Apart from the music, there wasn't particularly much going on, so I eventually headed out for a while, ostensibly to explore the surrounding streets, or cross the river in the dark, I can't quite remember which. As it turns out, I didn't make it past the gates of Khao San Road. I stopped off down at the police station end, the site of my first landing in Bangkok in 1992, at an Israeli style falafel stand. Waiting for my turn, a black African man introduced himself to me. He said he was from The Sudan. He bought me a falafel, vegetarian as far as I recall, brimming with Middle Eastern textures and flavor. There were a couple of Israeli guys (former soldiers, no doubt) loitering nearby, enjoying the monsoon. I asked the black African guy what he was doing in Thailand. I didn't quite get his reply, but I think he said that business had forced him to stay in Bangkok a couple of weeks, and that he had spent every night of his stay at Khao San Road. Which kind of implied that he liked it here, but then he started confusing me, by denouncing the scene. "I don't agree with all this drinking," he said, nodding to the heaving, staggering masses, all the alcohol adverts hanging from the shophouse façades. "I don't agree with this materialism, this rudeness, all this sex. You see, the Prophet laid out guidelines of how to live, instructions for how to live. Since it was God who created us, it is only natural, that God should give us the instructions on how to use our physical vehicles. That is something you never got in the Bible, and that is something the Jews never understood either! The Qur'an is a user manual for the human being."

Mobile food court moves through the heaving masses (Thailand, 2008)
The scene around us was a hubbub -- a constant coming and going of backpackers, taxis and delivery trucks snaking their way through the scrum, locals looking for an international experience, ladies pushing carts stacked with fried chicken and noodles and corn on the cob. There were peddlers from the highlands hawking hammocks strung together from synthetic fibers, or stroking wooden frogs with small batons to make compellingly froglike croaks. One of the Israeli guys at the stand glared at us, having overheard the reference to the Qur'an. "People in the west are so materialistic now," the African was saying. "They have lost touch with the important things in life, such as following God's commandments."

"Have you ever drunk alcohol?" I asked him.

"Never, not once. Liquor has never so much as even passed my lips."

Sometime later the subject of September 11 came up, and the Muslim boldly proclaimed: "That was an inside job carried out by Jews and Americans." It should be remembered we were standing at an Israeli falafel stand at the time, and there were former Israeli soldiers turned backpackers loitering nearby, doubtless some of them with combat experience. I was in no mood to make enemies or get into a fight, so I decided it was time to ditch this extremist. Which was kind of good timing, because he wanted to go back to his hotel anyway. He escorted me as far as the Bayon Building, where I resumed my sinful indulgences. I never got to take my night walk along the river, past the old embankments, out of the Old City. Nonetheless, it is always nice to meet someone from a farflung corner of the world... that happens a lot when I am Khao San Road. It is one neat place to hang out.

God willing, there is always something going on at the Immortal Bar (Thailand, 2008)
The next night I was back at the Immortal Bar drinking and enjoying a chaotic set when I met this Thai girl who called herself Far 2 Juicy (her real name being Phar I believe.) She was sitting on a couch with this young, blond English guy. "It is not as if he is my boyfriend or anything," she claimed at one point, but judging by the way they went home together, he most probably was. At least until something better came along, I suspected. She seemed to have eyes for me though, and once again it made me think that if I hung out more often in Bangkok in the future, I could get plenty of action here. Just a pity that I am already taken! I consoled myself. When I woke up in the morning (which was a Sunday), I was amazed to find her email address (far2_Juicy@hotmail) in my jeans' pocket, scribbled on a used paper plate. I was so drunk, I must have totally forgot that she gave me that!

I showered, shaved, gulped a quick coffee at the restaurant downstairs, and then raced over to an Internet cafe on Soi Rambuttri, just past the Wat Chana Songkhram Rachawora Mahawiharn. Excitement gripped me, and devious fantasies played themselves out in my mind: imagine having two girlfriends in south-east Asia, a girl in every port! That's how we Immortals play it, the south-East Asian style! I seated myself at a terminal, ordered a Coke or possibly a fruit juice, and opened GMail on the browser. There was a short message from N. waiting in my inbox, promising to pick me up at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City the following day after I arrived there (my flight was scheduled for Monday.) It made me feel a little hesitant about the stunt I was about to pull off, just a wee bit guilty. But I had to have something to take home to Dennis the Menace: if not the actual booty, at least the promise of booty soon to come! There was nothing wrong with just sending Phar an email, after all (even though it was "just an email" that led to my whole long distance relationship with N.!) So, I punched out an epistle to her on the keyboard, not exactly Mystery magnitude, but as seductive as I could manage with a hangover on a hot day: 
Hello this is Rob I met you at the bar at the Bayon Center on Khao San Road last night.
Thanks for giving me your email address.
I was drunk last night and forgot that you had given me your address until this morning.
Then when I saw it I remembered what happened.
Did you have a good time last night?
I will be going to Khao San Road again tonight, probably to the same places I went to last night.
I am leaving Thailand tomorrow morning but I hope to be back many times in the future.
So, I hope to see you again someday.
I pushed send, and the mail flew off to meet its destiny. GMail defaulted back to its inbox folder, and I noticed right at the top, an item newly minted, manifested from the ether, titled: "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)". My heart skipped a beat as I absorbed this news. Failure? That didn't sound good, that didn't sound good at all! I clicked on the item to open it, just to make sure, and the message which appeared on my sceen made grim reading indeed:
This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification
Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
Technical details of permanent failure:
Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 Requested action not taken: mailbox unavailable (state 14).
I slumped back and took a long sip of my Coke, perplexed. Had Phar given me the wrong email? I wondered. Had she written it down incorrectly? Was it all just a game? was she merely messing with my mind? (Actually, I was later to find out that Hotmail sometimes block emails from GMail for security reasons, so it was probably just a technical problem.) I studied her scrawl anew on the paper plate she had given me, which was still encrusted with pizza remains we evidently must have scoffed together at the pub. Her address sure looked like "far2_juicy" to me, and I had to concede it was a cool handle. If that wasn't her email address, then it most certainly should have been. So what else was up? Maybe it's just my connection that's bad? I reasoned. Maybe it's just a little hiccup with this decrepit computer! I cut and paste my original message, which was now scrambled with all the junk at the bottom of the delivery failure notification, and crafted a brand new email, free of clutter. And then I pressed send. GMail defaulted back to its inbox folder, and I noticed a new item sitting at the top, freshly minted, titled: "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)". Right on top of the previous rebuff that I had received, from the System.

It seemed like I was caught in a loop going round and round, with no way out. Time for a different approach, I figured. I cast another critical look at the address on my paper plate, just to make sure I had typed it in right. I've learnt that in Thai script the character which looks like an "s" (ร), for example, is actually an "r", so you have to be careful around here with false similarities. Phar's email address was written in English, of course, but it was entirely possible that the "r" in "far" was actually an "n", according to the logic of her penmanship. That meant her email address wasn't far2_Juicy@hotmail at all, it was fan2_Juicy@hotmail! Hooray! I'd read it wrong! I reloaded a new email scavenged from the detritus of the old, and fired it away, optimistically, at fan2_Juicy@hotmail. And then I defaulted back to the inbox screen, to see if the email had gone through. It hadn't, in fact, and now I had three rejection letters in a row, sitting at the top of my folder. Return to sender.

I spent the next hour at the Internet cafe, trying every variation on the email address Phar had given me, on that folded-up paper plate. I tried them all:,,,,, Even, even though the address on the plate clearly started with an "f". Every single time, the email bounced back at me, leaving a failure notification in my inbox. Before too long, my folder was full of failure notifications. It began to make me feel, well, something of a failure. I just thought that this lead was so promising, that I couldn't just give it up. But there is only so long you can beat a dead horse, before the flailed, mutilated carcass starts to gross you out. At some point, I reached my gross out point. I looked at all those fail notifications, and decided that I had done enough. It was time to admit defeat, and move on. I had a fish on the line, but now that fish was gone. In any case it didn't really matter, because I already had a girlfriend. So I started walking, right out the door, and I didn't stop walking for a couple of hours at least.

I even managed to cross that bridge over the Phadung Krung Kasem (คลองผดุงกรุงเกษม), which actually has a kind of sentimental importance to me. It was on this bridge, leaving the Old City in the year 2000, that I shook off the bout of homesickness and ennui which had plagued me since I uprooted myself from my workaday life in Australia, and commenced my ceaseless wanderings. Crossing the bridge a second time, I felt like I was completing a cosmic loop. Out of nowhere my resolution rose, and I decided, defiantly: There's no way I am going back to Australia to live, no way at all. This Asian Affair has only just begun! The endless journey will go on. I kept on walking, right up to the National Library, near the banks of the Chao Phraya River. There was a computer room in there with free Internet, and I made use of it, but I refrained from sending another email to Phar. That obsession was history, I just had to let it die. I sent a message to N. instead, letting her know how much I missed her. And then went out again, one last time, to all the pubs and clubs of Khao San Road that I could find. I only got four hours sleep, before it was time to rush out to Suvarnabhumi, and board my bird for Vietnam.

The next afternoon I was lying in bed at the City Star in Ho Chi Minh City, trying to shake off a wicked hangover. There was glorious sunshine outside, and Nga was pottering round the room in some regal white number, it might even have been an áo dài. We were due to return to the airport in a few hours to pick up my parents, and she was apparently getting nervous. Lying back in bed with the cool air-con blowing, Vietnamese soap operas on TV, I felt the cares of my life starting to drop away. The entire Far 2 Juicy malarkey suddenly seemed desperate and tawdry. What could have possessed me at act that way? I wondered. How could I have contemplated cheating on my girl?

Let's blame it on Bangkok, I thought to myself, and nodded off to sleep.

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