Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ping Pong

I finally got up the courage to go and see it for myself. I had spent days hearing about it and had countless offers as I walked along Patpong and so one day in Bangkok, I decided that “today is the day”. It was time for me to step out of my conservative shell and live on the wild side. I was up for some ping pong.

However, I had a strong feeling that one should not ping pong alone, one should have company. I decided to go out for a drink and see if I could meet any other tourists who might be up for a visual extravaganza. As happens in touristy places, it is quite easy to meet people and soon I had temporarily befriended a flight attendant from the airline Pam Ann refers to as British fuckin’ Airways and another completely forgettable guy who I have forgotten everything about except that he had brown hair.

The three of us decided we were up for some ping pong, which was just two streets over from there we were and off we went. We were so naïve. Ping pong is not the only thing on the menu. There are a number of shows. The chopstick show. The lipstick show. The bottle show. And the list goes on and on. We confirmed there was no cover and a decent price for drinks. Those places have a reputation for luring people in and then slamming them with outrageous drink prices, sometimes more than ten times the normal price. We were assured everything was on the up and up and in we went.

Although there were no other people in the bar, the show was in full swing and at that moment featured a nude woman “clutching” a straw through which, using the simple power of suction, she picked up small rings off the floor and place them over the neck of a bottle. Our three mouths fell open at pretty much the same moment and we sat back on the bench to see some more. That was when the other 20 or so girls who were not performing came over to talk, try and get drinks from us and feel us all up. Suddenly we were being groped and rubbed and brushed. There were breasts in our faces, legs over our laps and firm hands squeezing our dangly bits.

That was enough for us. We put down our beers and made a beeline for the door. Of course, we were pulled back by the girls, stopped by the doorman and confronted by the manager all trying to get us to stay. We finally got outside, checked our pockets for wallets, phones, and anything else we had on us and made a mad dash back to the first bar we were at to put the whole episode behind us.

Boys, Boys, Boys

Just a short walk from my hotel lies Soi Duangthawee, the short street crammed full of sex clubs and show bars for boys. Curiosity got the best of my and I decided to check it out. I met a guy of about 60 in the lobby of my hotel and he highly recommended the water show. I didn’t require any further convincing and at the appropriate time, I went exploring.

I walked into the bar advertising the water show and quickly realized it was almost deserted. That meant that all the guys onstage in their underwear were focused pretty much on me. I may be 41, but I brought down the average age of the clientele by at least half. No joke. For the three or four customers sitting watching, there where ten or fifteen guys onstage and slowly rotating around, each of them with a number pinned to their underwear. While they are onstage, the pushy manager keeps asking which boy you like and why you don’t take that one or that one. How about him over there? I had absolutely no intention of hiring a boy for a long list of reasons, but was curious as to how it all worked. If you see something you like, you give the manager the number and he motions the boy over. At that point, you buy a drink for the boy at a price triple to drinks anywhere else in the city and see if you like to get to know him better. If yes, then you pay the manager and the boy goes to your hotel with you. Asking price? 1300 Bat (about thirty dollars).

Just when I was about to get out of my seat and leave, the water show started. It was kicked of with a group dancers holding candles, the main one clad in a gold and sequined Speedo who pours melted wax all over his oiled body. One they leave the stage, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a small glass swimming pool where a solitary guy in a basic Speedo does his Esther Williams-esque swim routine which was synchronized to “My Heart Will Go On”, a song that appears to be stalking me all over the globe.. That was enough for me, I was out of there like a shot.

I decided I had seen enough and started back toward my hotel, but before I could get to the end of Soi Duangthawee, I decided to go check out a different bar, which was a bit busier. And suddenly I knew I was definitely not in Kansas anymore. There were two naked guys wrestling onstage and suddenly one starts banging the other, and if that wasn’t enough, the show soon became acrobatic with the guys doing it while hanging from bars, against poles, upside down and any other way you can imagine. But then came the part that really stunned me. They started making their way around the bar, greeting and shaking hands while they were in the middle of the act. I tried to change my DNA and turn invisible, but no such luck and soon they were right in front of me, hands outstretched, saying “Hello, you cute, where from?” I declined shaking hands with them as politely as one can do in such a situation and I could feel my ears turning red from embarrassment. It was just after that that a little muscle guy in a Speedo came and sat next to me. His proximity and the fact I said hello to him obligated me to buy him a drink. That was fine, I wanted to see how it all worked. Up to a point, that is.

Of course, they manager walks over and asks if I want the guy all night. I reply in the negative and another boy, this one dressed like a customer, comes over and sits next to me. It was only after he ordered a drink it dawned on me he was a money boy as well. Then they both wanted to come to my hotel and so I quickly paid the bill and left.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Foreign Policy

I woke up one morning in Prachupkhirikhan with a most spectacular idea. As the world was a few weeks into the Obama era, I decided it was time to due my duty and so I pulled a page out of the Sarah Palin handbook and decided to brush up on my foreign policy experience. It all started with a drive down the coast, through the military base, across the runway and past Ao Manou. I was headed first to the even more isolated beach community of Hat Wa Kaw and from there, I pulled a Village People and decided to Go West. My Destination? Dan Singkhon, the little village at the border crossing of Thailand and Myanmar. I crossed the narrowest part of Thailand and from Beach to Myanmar is about 12 kilometers. I had no idea what I would find there, but there was only one way to find out.

Ideally, I wanted to go into Myanmar, but that particular crossing is open only to Thai/Burmese citizens, and my glowing red sunburnt skin would not let me pass as either. The road was quiet and winding through the hills. What I found odd, was that the colors of the leaves gave the whole area an Autumn feel to it, making the coconut palms and banana trees look somewhat alien.

I got to the border and it was nothing like what I had expected. It was a very low key place with nobody coming or going. On the Thai side of the border was a flower market, specializing in orchids. There were a few arts and crafts, but it was just a flower market. No drinks, no souvenirs, just flowers and some knitted caps. The Myanmar side was just an empty road disappearing into the hills. That was it.

I walked around, took a few pictures, met a few people and then got back on my motorbike, waved to Myanmar and made my way back to the beach. Who knew that dabbling in diplomatic and international relations was so exhausting? I grabbed and empty chair on an empty beach and ordered myself an ice cold Chang beer, which had become my drink of choice not so much for the taste, but for the double elephant motif. With my beer, I decided to be adventurous. I ordered a bag of potato chips with a flavor I had never seen before: Soft shell crab and garlic. I was in seafood heaven and so decided to be open-minded. I can honestly say, of all the potato chips I have eaten all over the world, those were the most disgusting of the bunch.

Just Another Day...

I woke one morning to an absolutely amazing sunrise over the islands just off the coast of Prachupkhirikhan. I took the quickest shower in the history of showers, grabbed my camera and ran down to the deserted boardwalk below. I know, I can hear you grumbling, “where the heck are those pics?” Well, I am sorting them out now, organizing, rotating and all that. So leave me alone already!

Anyway, back to me in Thailand. I mentioned in an earlier post that the beach I stayed on is not really a beachy sort of beach, but more a fishing community. What I learned, is that just a short ride away on my rented motorbike is a military base which anyone can go to and entry is as complicated as signing your name in a book. No ID. No nothing. On that base, just after crossing the live runway complete with jet crossing sign, lies the beach of Ao Manou, a deserted stretch of sand where the Japanese landed when they invaded Thailand during World War II. The beach is lined with coconut palm and evergreen trees and the water was blue and clear and I immediately realized I had not worn my swimsuit. I rode back to the hotel, changed and then had a change of plan. Once on the base, instead of heading directly to the beach, I decided to explore. I headed to the Historical Park on the base.

The historical park is part military with the old quarters, airplanes and some statues commemorating something or other. Most things are only in Thai, so it is hard to figure out exactly what is representing what. But it is also part Langur sanctuary where you can feed and mingle with Langur Monkeys. They are adorable. All black, with giant white circles around their eyes, reminding me a bit of Buckwheat from “Our Gang”

It is at the Langur monkeys that one finds the first of about one thousand steps that lead to the temple at the top of the highest peak in the area. And what does one find on that peak? Why a temple, of course, with a Buddha relic. I decided to go up, not only for the relic, but for the view. I climbed and I climbed and I climbed some more. After every turn there were more stairs and those stairs where followed by even more stairs, until they weren’t. Suddenly, about one third or so of the way up (I assume I got about that high) the stairs stop and then it is rocky mountain path lined with a rope. I debated if I should continue or not and decided to let logic win and I came back down. The thing that stopped me was that there was no other traffic going up or down. If I should have an accident, and it looked like a possibility from the path, I would probably have to die on that mountain. Nobody knew I was there. There would be nobody to help. Nobody for miles and miles to hear the screams.

I headed back down and soon after planted myself on the deserted beach, went for a swim and sat in the sun, listening to the silence and the waves and taking in the vast expanse of scenery which included only 10 people in the entire area I could see. As I usually do when I am sitting on a beach with just my hyperactive self for company, I got bored and went for another swim. This time was different. I saw that I was hanging with the jellies. Cute little jellies, but like snakes, little jellies can equal some serious pain. I decided that out of the water was a better place for me. I decided that spelunking was perhaps safer for me and so I took my motorbike a few kilometers north to Ao Khan Kradai to see the reclining Buddhas in the cave, which is reached after climbing steps to the top of the small mountain. Maybe I had just seen too many of them. Maybe I had had too much sun. Maybe it was the tons of graffiti everywhere, but I just wasn’t impressed with the inside of the caves.

That was enough for me, I headed back south toward town and stopped in the the fishing village of Ao Bang Nang Lom and had a most amazing lunch of broken fish and crab soup in lemongrass broth and some shrimp fried rice at a little grass roofed table just across from the beach where the fishermen bring in the fish. As oon as the boats come in and the fish is unloaded, the people from the restaurants and the locals run out and make their purchases. It was definitely some of the freshest seafood I have had.

My next stop was yet another temple situated up yet another flight of steps. 394 monkey lined steps, to be exact. At the top it has a very odd Santorini meets Thailand jungle feel to it. Vast panoramic views of the three blue water bays dotted with islands and inland, extending all the way to Myanmar, just a few kilometers away. Coming down I was almost attacked by a monkey. He was sitting there quietly and I passed by and said “hello” in a soft tone that communicated “I come in peace” and he bared his teeth at me. Twice. The first time was a little flash, but the second time made the hairs all over my body stand on end.

Once I got over the panic of the monkey and was safely back in my room, showred and beer in hand, I sat on the little balcony looking out over the Gulf of Thailand. It was all just so relaxing and a million miles from the nearest care. I thought about just sending for Manuel and stay here forever. I am sure I could get a job fishing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Hair Affair

I am one of those people who like familiarity when it comes to certain things, such as getting a haircut. I like going to the same person or salon, knowing what I am in for, what I can expect. But yesterday, I had to bite the bullet and get myself a haircut here in Bangkok. I headed over to the shopping area of Siam Center and walked into Club Chic. Nobody spoke a word of English and I speak even less Thai. I made a scissors motion with my fingers and was promptly given a number and a seat. When the time came for my haircut, I wasn’t sure how to explain what I wanted. I had looked at a few magazines while waiting and didn’t see anything that would look good on me. I don’t think I can pull of the Thai version of “the Rachel”.

In fact, I have always been leery of haircuts with someone’s name attached. Most of them seem to have been for women; The Farah Fawcett, which was one of my mom’s old favorites, the Lady Di, the Bo Derek, the Demi Moore circa Ghost and of course the Rachel. Being a man I have always been spared the pressure to walk around with another person’s do on my head. That is, until yesterday.

With the exception of shaving my head once a year or so, I have pretty much had the same hair since 1998 and I have always been happy with my nameless portion of non-receding hair on my head. No reason to change. But then it happened. I needed to explain which haircut I needed, and without skipping a beat, the hairdresser brought me a small book filled with images of various celebrities in a number of looks. Even though I saw my hair on the first page, I decided to thumb through and see if I could find it on someone else, someone whose name I wouldn’t mind having stamped on my forehead, but my efforts were in vain. I had no choice but to cave in. I took a deep breath and pointed. The hairdresser smiled and began cutting away.

I my hair is the opposite of Asian hair. It is blonde, baby fine and very soft, so I always have to out up with whoever is doing my hair taking a minute or two to have a feel and smile and invite someone over to experience it as well. Yo hay eso sof. This time was no exception. But soon we got down to business and before I new it, I paid and stepped out into the Bangkok sun with my Ryan Seacrest hair.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


My journey started at 530 this morning. I grabbed a taxi to Southern Bus Station in Bangkok and bought my ticket for the first bus leaving at 07:05 and suddenly had an hour to kill. I assumed the station would be crowded. I assumed there would be a line. It wasn't and there wasn't and I was ticketed in less than a minute. And then an odd thing happened. Just as I put by backside to the seat in the station, the theme music to Forrest Gump came on. It was just the perfect timing in the most unexpected place that made me laugh. I got some funny looks and the rest of the people stayed at least two seats away from me in the waiting area.

Soon it was time to head to the platform and I was happy to see two rows of double-decker luxury air-conditioned busses waiting there. I wasn't so happy when I realized they were not the kind I would be taking. Mine was a bit more old school. I know that when people think of Thailand and busses, very specific images come to mind, images usually involving chickens and goats. This was not the case, but we weren't that far from it in this bus. It was old and being held together by paperclips and tape. There was only one foreigner on the bus and he wasn't on for long.

It turns out the bus from Bangkok to Prachuabkhirikhan is kind of like a city bus, making all kinds of stops with people getting on and off. That explained why it ran every 20 minutes, making the five-hour journey between the two places. At one stop a woman with an official looking badge boarded and she began selling small, individually wrapped roses. Everyone except me bought one. A few stops later a woman with a giant bowl boarded and everyone except me put money into it. She then reboarded with food and nobody except me bought anything. I have no idea what it was, but it sure was yummy.

Well, after five hours I arrived in Prachuabkhirikhan and I need to make a little bit of a correction to something I said in an earlier post. There are no pristine white beached here and the water is not clear blue. But it is a fantastic place away from it all. It is a fishing village with beautiful multicolored boats everywhere and islands just off the coast, a couple of which I will go kayaking too in the next couple of days to explore come caves. The reason there isn't really a beach is that the water comes right up to the sea wall, which makes for a great soundtrack while sitting here in my room just a few meters away. It has been a long time since I was lulled to sleep by the songs of the mermaids and even though it is not quite nine, I can already feel my bed begging for me. It is a bit of a culture shock being here, not so much because it is a fishing village, but because there is nothing to do. There are almost no people on the streets. No cars. No beggars. No horns. Every once in a while a car or motorbike passes. Everything here seems to be playing in slow-motion and it is a very surreal experience, one I am both enjoying and not really sure how to deal with. But this is what I wanted. This is one of the reasons I came to Thailand.

I rented a motorbike almost as soon as I got here and spent a few hours exploring the town. Tomorrow I will get up at sunrise as it rises over the sea from here and then I will go to the cave temple which contains a lying Buddha and afterwards venture up to the temple on top of a little mountain at the end of the beach and that will pretty much mean I have seen it all and will still have almost 2 full days left to fill with nothing but myself. It is strange for someone like me, someone who lives to talk, to be quiet all day. There is nothing to say. There is nobody who understands a word I say. Even a universal word like "beer" brings a short look of confusion while the translation occurs. I did meet one older German couple I ran into at the end of the one and only pier in the town. I asked them to snap a picture of me and they asked me what I thought of Obama. It seems they have been coming to this town for years, something I can see myself doing as well. Perhaps. Maybe.