Friday, September 30, 2011

Bangkok City View: The Big Picture vs The Details

A slice of Bangkok  - from 80+ floors to a single one.

From a vantage point above street level it's easier to see the vast differences in building structures in Bangkok, ranging from the 80+ floors of the taller Baiyoke tower to everyday businesses and homes on ground level. I was perhaps 10 floors up when I took the three photos above that are blended into one.

Naturally, landowners there inevitably have the final say on who or what inhabits the dirt they hold claim to, and because of that there are occasionally displacements of homes and businesses as a larger fish comes along to snap up the smaller ones. I don't recall what was sitting where the construction is going on in these pictures; maybe smaller shops, maybe houses.

My guess is that the building codes in Thailand fall somewhere to the left of "anything goes," but it's often interesting to see the juxtaposition of modern buildings and much simpler buildings. I suppose the phrase "money talks" has a lot to do with it.

It's always interesting to take time and explore the area you're visiting and notice how folks there live - at least, I think it's interesting. I'm well aware that there are visitors to Thailand who see nothing before dusk when they go on the prowl, but that's their loss. Give me a room with a view, a good zoom lens or compact set of binoculars and - with luck - a relatively clean window any day.

Take as an example the photo above. It's the lower right-hand corner of the larger stitched photo up top, but if you look closely you can see a microcosm of city life in Bangkok. It has almost everything but a 7-Eleven. Along with an oddly-angled city block crowned by a saffron-colored shopfront you have buildings with residences of varying stripes.

Rooftop gardens, clothes hanging outside of upper floor windows or enclosed in chain-link fenced areas that turn open-air space into living space, some of the ubiquitous silvery metal rooftop tanks - up where the sun can help heat the water held inside, and down on the street a bus and a small pick-up truck out making their rounds.

If you look closer you'll notice a man standing in the doorway of a shop, and to his left is what I believe is a casual restaurant on the corner.

Bangkok sidewalks being the grossly under-maintained horror show they often are you have to look where you're stepping, so if you're on the street walking you'd miss this insight to the area. It's for this reason alone that I encourage you to take time to really look out of the window in your room, wherever it is you stay. Not just at the view overall, but the detail within it.

[By the way, in addition to the somewhat odd angle the blending software gave to the green-screened construction in the top image there's something unusual in one of today's pictures; something I added myself that wasn't in the original image.  Clicking on the images to enlarge them will probably help.  Can you spot it?]

Answer: In the middle (vertical) photo there's a guy leaning on a post on the 4th floor from the top, next to the red vertical metalwork - and the identical man on the 5th floor from the top, and another on the 6th from the top, and still another one on the 7th from the top. Looks like Where's Waldo has nothing on me!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Putting The Boys To Bed"

"Time to stop work and rest?" I'd asked a man who was collapsing umbrellas on the North end of Pattaya Beach. "Yes," he replied, not missing a stroke as he moved along the line of them along the sand. "Putting the boys to bed!" It was one of those times I wished I spoke more Thai or he spoke more English, as I was curious to know where he'd heard the expression.

Watching him it was clear he'd done this a thousand times; perhaps ten thousand.  Another man was folding up the beach chairs and carrying them up to stack in orderly piles closer to the sidewalk that meanders along Beach Road for a couple of miles.

I was rewarding myself with a walk along the shore to watch the sun setting over the Gulf of Thailand after a full day of more or less constructive activity, and I was stopping often to watch this daily ritual as concessions were closing down for the day. From my vantage point on the sand I could see almost all of the way down along the curve of Pattaya Beach to the start of Walking Street.

You could hear each of the beach chair's wooden frames making a clacking, slapping sound that could be heard stretching down the shoreline as stand after stand closed up for the day and put their own supply away.  There were so many chairs snapping shut along the way that it sounded a little like crickets chirping off into the distance.

Jet skis were also being jockeyed away, their engines awakened and revved up by young men who then zoomed off on them, detouring every so often to cut a sharp turn and send a wall of spray up high above their heads; the water turning pink and orange as it was illuminated by the sun setting behind it.

The children of the concession owners and workers played along in front of where their parents were on task, occupied themselves in the "labors" of children at play: digging troughs, heaping sand up into castles and stopping every so often to examine more closely something they found while digging.  Sometimes one would rise from their squatting stance and run to Mama or Papa to proudly show them their discovery.

There was no need to stay at any one spot to see the entire process; the routines were virtually identical, and done almost at the same time.  I could walk along the beach and see it happen from start to finish as the sun lowered itself behind a latticework of clouds, making portions of them glow like stained glass.

By the time I'd walked to the area where I'd planned to have dinner most of them were done for the day and sitting to visit among themselves while the last few customers/stragglers sat in their chairs. Some played cards, some played chess, some just talked over the drinks they shared as their day drew to a close.

I took a last photo of some finished stacks, roped together for the night and said "Nighty night, boys. See you tomorrow."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elephants In The City - A Bad Idea

A forest creature, looking out of place on the streets of Bangkok

My first thought when seeing an elephant on the streets of Bangkok was "oh, how delightful!" - but as rational thoughts took over it was clear that the only chang that belonged in the Big Mango was the brand of beer served nearly everywhere (I've never tried it, but I'm told it's an acceptable brew).

Chang (elephants) are in a completely different category than dogs or cats, and the idea of such a strong - albeit generally gentle and passive - animal being herded around on city sidewalks and streets just isn't right.  I'd preface that last bit by adding "in my opinion," but it's the overall opinion, for a variety of reasons.

There are risks and dangers to having a wild animal such as this in a restricted area by virtue of their size and lack of agility alone; and add to that the unpredictability of trucks, autos, motor scooters, carts and bicycles and the possibility of startling or scaring a mammal that large and you can understand my point.  

The weight of an Asian elephant can be in the range of 6,600 - 11,000 pounds, or 3,000 - 5,000 kilograms, and while I'm merely a tiny fraction of that I have my own challenges negotiating my way around traffic in Thailand; those of you who have tried to navigate an intersection there know what I mean.  The joke I'd heard went something like this: Q: What do you call a person who gets across the intersection without being hurt or killed? A: The winner!

If you've done much research on tourist sites you may well have already heard this, but I'm repeating it as a public service for our large grey hairy friends in Thailand - and I don't mean the old farang along the beaches there - and the advice is this: don't encourage the mahouts (handlers) who try to get you to buy small bundles of bananas or sugar cane to feed the elephants when you see them on the street.  They'll also want a "donation" to take a photo with the animals, and I hope you'll resist that, too.

Granted, animals can adjust to their surroundings to a certain extent, but for an elephant who has been used to living in the jungle or forest the experience of being in such a noisy, polluted place must be much more than stressful. Their padded feet aren't designed to be walking on unforgiving cement and asphalt, either, and they're prone to foot injury.

The age-old practice of elephants being used as beasts of burden for logging and other heavy work is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was throughout the kingdom, but many of those animals are now in dozens of encampments throughout the kingdom where you can visit them, see them do demonstrations and even ride on them.  I'll agree that keeping them in a resort atmosphere leaves potential for abuse, but the idea here today is about chang in the city, so save your time: I agree it would be better if they were able to live freely in the wild.

We'll talk more about trained elephants another day. Here are two of the three city photos I have of these magnificent beasts. This last one was taken while I was sitting at a table next to the window and looked up to see a trunk tapping the glass with a thud.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Napping: My Guilty Afternoon Pleasure

A morotcycle taxi guy snoozes away the middle of the afternoon with a new cycle catalog covering his face.  Maybe he's dreaming of a newer model than the one he currently owns, you think?

Many in the USA would associate an afternoon nap time with those who are either pre-school age, retirement age or perhaps even creeping toward a second childhood.  Thankfully being past the 9-to-5 working stage I don't often have the afternoon obligations I wore as my yoke in the fields of the working world, but there's always life itself, and those already retired will understand that completely.

The main item to check off my daily list is my writing, and that's always an iffy thing to schedule. With a number of projects in the works it's not unusual for me to look up and see that it's past lunchtime and I'm not 100% pleased with what I've accomplished so far.  My guess is everyone has days like this.

The old line I heard often enough in an office setting was "the job expands to fill the time allotted," and there's a certain element of truth to that.  The phone rings with an incoming call from someone I'm happy to see looking up at me from my phone ID screen, the computer *dings* to announce the arrival of something emailed or messaged to me from somewhere across this wide, wide world of ours, I stop too often to look in on the few online forums I participate in, there are two newspapers to read in addition to the revolving stack of books on the table next to me and the usual business of keeping a home to occupy my days.  Add to that the pleasure that is my circle of friends and family and it can be a very full day.

AND... there's the ever-present lure of an afternoon nap; at the top of my personal list of guilty pleasures.  Part of the attraction is advancing age and not sleeping as soundly as I did in my youth, and part of it is simply that I've always enjoyed it and now find that since there's nobody looking over my shoulder to make sure I have my nose to the grindstone there's nothing to stop me - other than my usual feelings of obligation for everything in paragraphs two and three above.

I don't sleep in like I used to.  It's not that I can't, it's just that I don't.  Even during my working career I was up early on the weekends, because there were things that I wanted to do, although I could hit the snooze button a dozen times on Monday through Friday... go figure.

Decades ago, in more - ahem - colorful times of my life I loved the feeling of being pulled into slumber in a number of ways, but since I now choose to participate more fully in my own life I don't have any of those as an option any more, and perhaps that in and of itself is part of the hypnotic draw of an afternoon nap.

What on earth does this have to do with Thailand?  OK - I'll tell you.  I love early morning walks, so I'm often up while the sky is still pink, but by mid-afternoon I'm often ready for a tepid shower and a nap until the sun is lower in the sky.  That also leaves me re-charged for the evening and into the first part of night time before I'm heading back to my room for the night.

You of any age may want to give it a try, too.  Siesta time is an idea whose time has come, in my opinion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Accommodation, Part 15: Topland Hotel, Phitsanulok

You can see some of the temple roofs at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat along the bottom of my window here.
The rainy season is in "full tilt boogie" mode throughout Thailand lately, and I've been thinking more than usual about friends in places in Phitsanulok (as well as other regions) currently underwater. Phitsanulok is roughly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  An interesting bus ride, if you have the time.

So far they seem to be holding up as best they can through the flooding that's plagued them recently; the Nan river having overflowed it banks in many areas and sending WIDE swaths of brown, earthy water across vast areas that normally aren't submerged.

Anyway, being some 10,000 miles away the best I can do is hold the positive thought for them and try not to worry. In that spirit the time seemed right to post about a happier time at a hotel I've enjoyed there.

Another room view. The bath and shower are behind the mirror.

The Topland Hotel and Convention Center is located about 500 meters/300 yards from the banks of the Nan, so it may have had some problems when the last heavy rains came through, but I can't say one way or the other at this point.

If you're going there soon you can always contact them directly via the phone number or email at the end of today's post.  I do know that during more serene times it's a nice place to stay, and a place I'd book again, myself.  There were lots of areas to wander and explore near the hotel itself.

You can see in the top photo that from my room I gazed out over the extensive grounds of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, a place you should definitely wander over and take a walk around, if you're in the area. Those who were reading this blog in November last year saw a two-part post about that temple - those who are catching up can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

TripAdvisor currently rates Topland as #3 of 30 hotels listed for Phitsanulok, and with rates for a double "Superior" around $35USD and "Deluxe" around $50USD, it's what I'd call a good value.

The reception desk at the Topland Hotel
There's a large indoor shopping mall within an easy walk, and a night market along the river - although it might be having some flooding problems right along about now.

A street in downtown Phitsanulok

Topland Hotel and Convention Center
68/33 Akathodsarod St. - A. Muang - Phitsanulok, Thailand 65000
Tel: 66-55 247800-9, 245390-4

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Do YOU Think? - Poll #1

Beng Melea, in the jungle outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia
While going through photos from a previous visit I ran across images from a five-day stay in Cambodia - and got to wondering if maybe it would be a pleasant change for people out there if stories and photos from other places were added to the blog here.

I know I've already posted a couple of times about shopping at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei Taiwan (here and here) and about cruising on passenger ships, such as the posts on glaciers, ship crew members, as well as another about on-board health (The Norovirus And You) and an intro to cruising, but there's so much more to share.

I didn't have much luck with Google's add-ons, SO... We're going to run an informal poll here.  If you'd be kind enough to vote via the comments whether you'd like to see only Thailand posts, posts from other Asian countries or posts from anywhere I roam, I'd appreciate the input. I'll leave it here and running for a while, and then maybe just delete the post to save the clutter.

Thank you in advance for participating.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life As A Go-Go Boy, Pt. 4: "Finit"

Night view of some of the same area seen in the day in Part 1.
[This is the conclusion of a four-part story. You can find Part One, Part Two and Part Three by clicking the links. While the facts of the story are true some things have been altered to avoid identifying any specific club.]

Things went better for Chaa after the first couple of times he was taken out of the club by a customer, meaning after he'd had time to learn more of the game from Na. More often than not he was able to manipulate the situation by feigning ignorance (real or not), playing on the emotions of the customer, declining to do something he found unpleasant or offering different services than what had been requested. Most times the farang on vacation didn't want to go back to the club and try again, so they gave in and settled for what Chaa would do with them.  Sometimes his tip was cut some because of that, but it was worth it if the customer had horrible personal hygiene, an aversion to showering or some physical thing that Chaa simply couldn't rise to the occasion for.  We won't go into all he shared about this, in case you're eating.

Dee got into the habit early on of fondling Chaa when he'd pass within reach, as did Boss.  Dee seemed to do it with everyone, and since the others had found a way to turn it into a playful thing with no harm intended, Chaa went along with it.  He added his own line to it, sticking his hand out at her after a grab and saying "Twenty baht!"  The others soon joined in, and as odd as it sounds they pulled together as many others do in trying circumstances and became somewhat of a half-ass family, looking after and taking care of each other.

Boss, on the other hand, became a handful - especially when he was expecting or demanding access to what he considered his property.  He would punish them in a variety of ways, but the worst of it wasn't even a specific punishment, it was his unpredictable outbursts of temper when he would sometimes lash out at the closest guy who wasn't quick enough to get out of his way.

As close as I've been able to figure it out he actually had a horse rider's crop he kept with him most of the time, except during business hours.  When he was conducting his "pep talks" he'd sometimes snap it on a table top for emphasis, but it was talked of in hushed tones that he'd struck a few boys in his time, and none were still there when Chaa had heard about that. He also had a voracious appetite for the boys themselves, and was liable to demand favors at any time. As he was rather rough with them many had left his employ for that very reason.

When he was looking for some company upstairs, either before work or as the club was closing, he'd walk around the club whistling the same tune every time, leer at the guys one by one and then have Dee let them know that it was their turn. Chaa didn't know the tune was, but when he whistled it for me, I recognized "I'm In The Mood For Love", although I didn't try to explain this perversity to him. Nobody there was happy to hear him whistling the tune, and some even left work early if it was near closing time, risking the fine for doing so, and boy, did Boss love coming up with fines for his guys.

There were so many possible infractions that Dee was assigned the task of keeping track of them, and they changed so often that even she had trouble remembering some of them. Showing up five minutes late was one fine, more than 15 minutes late was a higher one, an hour late and you didn't get your "salary" for the night.  You were fined for not getting enough drinks bought for you within a specific period of time, or for not getting an off in a few days. In addition, Dee would sometimes be instructed to discourage customers that spoke with her from selecting you, so you ran out of money and had to borrow from your friends or rely on them to eat.

Chaa was popular with the boss and he cringed with he heard the whistling because he knew he may be in for another rough ride, but he felt obligated and somewhat trapped. The first night Boss was kind of nice to him, but shortly thereafter he became rougher and more physical with Chaa. To begin with he called Chaa "Dark Eyes", but that gave way to a nickname Chaa didn't understand and I won't repeat here on the blog.  I didn't explain it to him when he asked my friend and I, either, but we told him it wasn't a nice word. At the time Chaa just said "Well, he not nice."

The week before I met him Chaa was talking with Na one afternoon and told him he just didn't think he could do the job any more.  Being a very nice looking young man he'd been popular with the customers and had been taken off by quite a few who were overly kind to him and tipped him generously.  Maybe they realized he was still relatively new and unspoiled, maybe they sensed he was truly a gentle soul who didn't fit the often raucous club life so many of the guys fall into - a life of partying, shiny baubles, cell phones and, worst of all, drugs.  Chaa was intent on saving every bit he could and sending it home. His immediate goal was to earn enough to replace their still-ailing water buffalo, have a new roof put on the house and add some to the family savings as a back-up.

He ate as cheaply as he could, bought slightly used clothes from his flashier friends as they tired of them and bought new ones and even had a friend cut his hair. He had just sent a large amount home for his father toward the purchase of a young male water buffalo, and now had only enough to eat for a day or so unless he got more money at work... but he was fed up with being used and abused, and just wanted to go home.

Two days before I'd met him he'd been into work early to lock a gift he'd bought for his father in his locker, and he heard the whistling.  Chaa tried to get himself out of the club before Boss saw him and was just a few feet from a clean getaway when Boss called out his name and told him to stop.

He was leering and wiggling his eyebrows at Chaa as he approached him (it was funny when Chaa did it for us, but I'm sure it wasn't at the time) and this time Chaa said "No".   As Boss's face got red and he began to charge through the club at Chaa, Chaa picked up the only thing within his reach - a common broom - and swung it to keep Boss away, cursing at him. While swinging the broom it slipped out of his hands and flew across the club; the bristle end knocking a light down and the handle smashing two bottles of liquor.  Boss flew into a rage that just seemed to grow and grow.

Dee came running from the back when she heard the glass breaking, and arrived just in time to see Boss with the broom held in his hand, gripped near the bristles and wound up to strike Chaa with the handle.  Chaa cowered against the wall and turned by reflex to protect his front side.  Boss swung and Chaa felt the intense snap of the handle across his thighs.  Dee shrieked and began begging Boss to stop, but he turned on her, ordering her to stay out of it unless she wanted some of the same.  She shouted across to Chaa to run and he was already heading towards the door when Boss caught up with him and gave him the blow that would leave the second bruise I saw.

In front of the club Chaa met a few of his co-workers arriving to the club who understood by the fear on his face that he was in trouble, and they intercepted Boss as he came storming through the club door.  Several of them held him back, wrestled the broom away from him and shoved him back through the club door that Dee had been holding open, watching it all unfold.

Boss was still bellowing and screaming for blood, saying he had friends who would "take care of" Chaa if he didn't pay for the damage and lost booze, and that he knew where he lived, so there would be no getting away. One of the guys went into the back and phoned Chaa to alert him.

By opening time Dee had managed to calm Boss down, telling him that Chaa had been contacted and that he was sorry and would pay off the damages, which was true.  What Dee didn't tell him was that Chaa planned to leave and go back to his family as soon as he paid it off.  Boss agreed - and the next night, being a man of his word, Chaa returned to the club.

Up front the guys all acted normally, but when Boss would be out of the room several came over to congratulate him for standing up for himself.  One said he would have used the broomstick to do to Boss what Boss had done to most of them.  (Although Chaa was pretty somber while relating  this saga to my friend and I, when he got to this part he laughed until he nearly choked).

When I took him out of the club that night he still had a tab owed to Boss - and no money for his ticket home.  After we'd finished talking that night I asked if he wanted to sleep in the unused bed in my room, and he nodded yes.  I got him to understand that I needed to get some of my copious notes in order before I went to sleep, and handed him the remote for the TV.  He said "I shower," and went into the bathroom, where I heard the water running for a while and then the sounds of someone splashing in the bath tub. After he started draining the tub Chaa showered, came out with the towel wrapped around him and announced "Play water!"

I wondered what he was talking about, so I went into the bathroom to look while he crawled into his bed, propping himself up and flipping on the television to a Thai channel.  He'd taken the bubble bath liquid I'd bought at Watson's or some place there for a lark, read the Thai directions and taken a bubble bath. He told my friend the next day that he'd never had a tub bath before, which isn't at all surprising; at home he used a plastic bowl to pour water over his head from a large drum of water in their bathing area.

I worked for a short while and then showered and crawled into my own bed and slept.  The next morning we went for a walk on the beach where no conversation of any importance was needed, but I had time to think.

When my friend arrived around lunchtime we spent a few more hours talking with Chaa, and I corrected my hasty notes from the night before.  While Chaa was using the bathroom I asked my friend "What do you think?  Do you think it's a legitimate story?  How much of this do you buy?"  My friend said he believed in it enough to pay part of Chaa's fine and his ticket home if I wanted to do the rest of it.  His opinion was good enough for me, so when Chaa came out my friend asked him if he wanted to go home - today.

Chaa looked puzzled for a moment, but when he realized what we were proposing he burst into a wide grin and started speaking excitedly in Thai.  What he was saying was "Really?  Really? You will help me do this? REALLY?"  Turning to me he asked "Sure?"  "Sure," I said.  Chaa was nearly beside himself and he hopped - actually hopped - around the room, like a kid on Christmas morning.

We took him to his room and my friend went in with him while I waited in the car. He bundled up what little he had there and told one of his roommates that he was going to live someplace else. We left his stuff in my room while we went and ate and did some shopping for small things he wanted to take home with him, and when we figured Dee would be at the club we stopped in there.  Dee knew what his bill was, and we had her call Boss down so I could have the satisfaction of handing him the cash and letting him know myself that Chaa was leaving. Boss took the money, but told us to get out of his club, which we gladly did.

We went and picked up Chaa's belongings from my room and took him to the bus depot, where I gave him money for his ticket home and another sizable chunk my friend thought should pay for the roof repairs they'd need done soon, as the rainy season was bearing down on them. Chaa was again overwhelmed, but he had the sense not to bounce around the bus depot like he had earlier.  "Thank you...thank you," he kept saying, repeatedly unfolding the bundle of cash from his pocket, then folding it up and putting it away again, as if it would disappear if he didn't keep checking it. "I happy. I happy."

My friend - who is easily old enough to be Chaa's father, as I am - gave him a lecture of sorts, saying he'd better not find him working like this again, and Chaa said he had no intentions of ever doing that again. Turning to me he said "Finit (finished). Shuah."  Although farm work would be tougher he knew he belonged with his family, and still looked forward to starting one of his own.  He pulled out a photo out of his wallet of a lovely young woman he identified as his girlfriend, the girl he intended to marry.

When it came time for him to board the bus we said our farewells and Chaa hugged both of us, thanking us again.  He was crying, but they were tears of gratitude - and I wiped my eyes as he climbed up into the bus and waved at us from his seat by the window.  When the bus pulled away I said to my friend "Well, honey... there goes our boy!"  My friend laughed and pushed me away, saying "You're crazy, you know that?"  "Yes, I know," I said, "but sometimes it's a good kind of crazy."

[As a follow-up - for those of you who like such things - with my friend's help I've been in sporadic contact with Chaa. He's remained in Saraburi, married his girlfriend (she now lives with him and his family) and has a baby boy - who it appears in the photo I saw to have inherited Chaa's eyes.]

Chaa's dark eyes

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life As A Go-Go Boy, Pt. 3: First Night On Display

A "help wanted" sign in Pattaya. Note the age range.
[This is part three of a story. Click on the links or scroll down the page for Part 1 and Part 2]

Chaa's co-workers were downstairs by the time he'd cleaned up and come downstairs to meet them.  Na came over as he entered, put his arm around him and asked quietly "Are you OK?" "It hurts," Chaa replied, still a little overwhelmed by what had just happened to him upstairs. "If you're lucky he didn't like you and then he'll leave you alone," said Na. "I don't think I'm lucky, " frowned Chaa, sharing some of what Boss had told him.

Boss came downstairs shortly before opening time and had mamasan Dee gather the guys together for what he called his "pep talk".  In actuality it was more or less their usual marching orders for the night: get off the stage and into a seat next to the customer, hint or ask for a drink, agree with whatever Dee said, don't say "no" and do whatever it takes to get the "off" fee into the register.  Na leaned over and whispered to Chaa that he'd start out smiling and calm, but would often end up red in the face and shouting.  "He shout a lot!" said Na.

"HEY! Pay attention, dammit!" shouted Boss, as if on cue.  He's seen Na and Chaa whispering, and didn't like it. Chaa jumped a little, but Na just smiled.  "Sorry, sorry!" he said, and he was sorry to have begun the tirade so early in the meeting. It soon degenerated into Boss's usual rant about putting up or getting out.  Everyone seemed relieved to see the door open and the doorman's head poke in, saying "Customer."  Dee clapped her hands and the guys hopped up on stage.  The music came on, and they were open for business.

The first customer was followed a couple of minutes later by two more, and the rest of the evening was an ongoing ebb and flow of older Caucasian males, punctuated every so often by a younger man, someone of a different race and a pair of women who seemed to have snuck away from their tour group to see what a club was like.

Na had given Chaa some idea of what to expect while they were riding down from Saraburi to Pattaya on the bus, but told him more about what to watch out for and avoid while walking along the beach a few hours earlier.

"Protect yourself from disease," he'd started out with "Ask for condoms, even though a lot of your customers won't want to use them. Sometimes they'll tell you they'll pay you more if you don't make them use protection, but many boys get sick or die because of this.  Two in our club have HIV, and one of them only took the extra money one time.  He only got an extra 1,000 baht for it, too.  Some don't pay you what they say they'll pay you, either.  It's not worth it, Chaa, but up to you..."  Chaa was upset listening to this, but he didn't comment.  

Na went on: "Be nice to Dee, the mamasan.  If you aren't she won't suggest you to the customers, and your income will suffer.  Don't promise that you will do something with a customer that you don't think you can do, or your tip will suffer, too - and you're in big trouble if they come back and complain and Boss hears about it.  Make sure you get a drink, if you can; hint about it if the customer doesn't offer to buy you one. You get 30 baht from the price he pays. And," Na lowered his voice and leaned in closer to Chaa to say "do whatever it takes to keep Boss happy. You do not want to have him angry with you." Chaa had already seen Boss's face darken when he'd resisted doing something Boss had been pushing Chaa to do upstairs earlier, and he suspected there was more to come.

The rest of the evening was somewhat of a blur for Chaa.  He had been singled out by Dee as the new boy, but although a couple of guys had brought him down off the stage and bought him a drink, he hadn't learned how to play the game to get himself offed yet.  It was uncomfortable for him to be sitting next to a customer - especially one who wanted to put his hands all over his barely-covered body - and that discomfort was too much for him to hide.  

"You'll get used to it," said Na.  "It's like being in the movies. You smile and act like you're having a good time and you get rewarded."  Chaa wondered if he ever could, but he trusted Na and made it through the shift.

It had continued to be difficult for Chaa to play the game to make his money, and even more difficult for him to perform the first time few times he'd been taken off.  Dee had been pushing him as "the new boy", and later on his second night a large German man had offed him.  He'd been very kind to him inside the club, complimenting him on his darker skin and his looks.  He'd bought him a couple of drinks and tried to talk socially with Chaa, but Chaa knew only a little English and absolutely no German whatsoever.  The man did some talking with Dee, and Chaa had understand when she'd pointed at him while nodding her head and saying "Sure, everything, can do everything."  Chaa was uncomfortable with that, but went along to be agreeable, dressing and leaving the club with the German.

As luck would have it, his first experience was a very simple one, with the German man asking very little of him - and certainly less than Boss had the previous night when he'd climbed on top of Chaa, pinning him down and forcing himself inside of his "back door", essentially raping him.

Chaa soon learned what to say and how to manipulate a situation as best he could to his advantage. Things went better for him for another month, but then it all turned sour. More than sour: it turned downright ugly.

Next time: the conclusion.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Life As A Go-Go Boy, Pt. 2: Meeting The Boss

Night shot in Pattaya, with no inferences made. None of these are Chaa or Na.
When we left off in Part 1 Chaa and I had just arrived back at my hotel after a rather long walk from his club. It wasn't a place where guests bringing visitors back to their room was welcomed and someone from the front desk who had been off for a few days called out politely to me as we were walking by. I stopped to explain what I'd already explained to the general manager, and after checking the note paper-clipped to my registration card he apologized and said good night to me.

To explain that last bit I'll share that in most cases I try to find a public place where it's quiet enough to talk while taking written and digital audio notes, but those of you who have been to Thailand know it's rough to find such places, so a table and two chairs in my room works best. To facilitate that I make an effort to negotiate a deal in advance with the management; sometimes it's possible, sometimes it's not. It's not a practice I'd recommend, and I usually have another Thai friend along to translate, anyway, but in the interest of safety I'd strongly urge others reading this to use both discretion and more than a full serving of common sense. If there's any doubt - don't.

My friend wasn't able to come translate for me because he had an early appointment the next morning, but he offered to "sit in" and translate during my talk with Chaa via the speakerphone on my cell phone.  It was a long ways from ideal, but it worked. We talked for over an hour that first night.  More truthfully I asked a string of questions, and soon Chaa just took off and talked on his own, perhaps grateful to be able to unload.  Chaa's story actually unfolded over two visits, that first night and a much longer time the next day, when my friend could translate.

Four months before I met him, Chaa was home with his family in Saraburi, some 230Km/140Mi to the North of Pattaya. Their farm provided much of what they needed themselves, with enough left over for his father or younger brother to sell at the local market. His mother also had a stand on nearby highway Route 1, where she sold the excess of whatever happened to be in season at the time. Not being that much of an academic - and not having the funds needed to pay for anything more than the most basic schooling available, anyway - Chaa worked the farm, played football with his friends, went to the nearby temple regularly, celebrated all the usual holidays and made friends with one special girl in his village.  When puberty came knocking that friendship took a different turn, and Chaa found himself in love.

Along about that same time, problems had also come knocking on the door of the family's traditional stilted home: his mother fell ill with cancer. She lasted nearly a year with the care available to them, but died a painful death.  While going through this ordeal brought the family closer together, it was traumatic. Soon after his mother passed away their buffalo died and their roof began to leak like a sieve.  His father was unable to bear the burden, and the family's finances suffered.  Shortly thereafter Chaa's friend Na returned home from Pattaya, where he had gone to seek his fortune a year before.

Na had been a friend of Chaa's since early childhood. He'd been sending money home to his family regularly, and would arrive to visit bearing gifts for his mother, father and younger brother, telling tales of working in a nice hotel in the seaside city of Pattaya - but that's all they were: tales. Na was actually working in a go-go club that catered to farang.  Chaa said "everybody ask how he make much money at hotel", but Chaa knew after Na explained it to him over lao khao, an inexpensive form of whiskey. At the time drinking was relatively new for Chaa, but something he'd come to rely on soon enough.

Na told Chaa that if he could do the work he could make enough money to get his family sound financial footing, replace the roof and save enough money to build himself a better start for his own family, but it wasn't easy work - and there were some parts of it that were not only unpleasant, they were downright dangerous.  Na himself felt he was nearing his breaking point but vowed to take Chaa under his wing and help him get started and watch over him; even offering to give him the "finders fee" the club owner paid to each guy who brought a new employee in to work the club.

Chaa mulled this over for a day before deciding to take Na up on his offer.  While packing his small bag he talked with his father, trying to assure him that he'd be back and that soon their money worries would be over; he was going to work with Na in his hotel. His father was pleased to see Chaa taking the initiative to help the family, but knew nothing of what he would have to be doing.

Early the next morning he called his family together, hugged them a teary farewell ("Everyone cry. Everyone cry.") and headed with Na to catch the bus for the long ride South. Rolling down through Pathum Thani and Bangkok they arrived in the middle of the afternoon at the bus station in Pattaya.  Na took him first to the room he shared with with two other friends and said Chaa could share his sleeping spot with him until he'd gotten his own bed and then, since there was enough space in the room, they could be side by side. Chaa was thankful for that.

After they'd washed up Na took Chaa for a quick tour around the area, taking the song taew down along busy Beach Road where they hopped off to walk along the sand - something Chaa had only done once before in his life.  The chair and umbrella places were beginning to close up shop for the day as they walked along the water's edge; the sun beginning to set off over the horizon.  As the sun set on their right, the lights along beach road came alive on their left, and music sailed over their heads and out to sea.

Na took him out to eat, and Chaa missed his mother's cooking as they ate; just a small part of his overall inner turmoil about leaving home, this decision, and what may lie ahead for him.  He'd heard a little about what Na's "job" was, and the unknowns about it kind of frightened him.  That knot in his stomach grew larger as they finished eating and headed in the general direction of his new job.  "Maybe boss not like country boy like me," said Chaa, and Na laughed and laughed. "Stop worrying," he said, putting his arm around Chaa "If you have a fresh 'little brother' he'll like you!"

"Little brother" is a euphemism among some Thai for the male member, and that comment alone made Chaa more nervous.  He considered just thanking Na and going back to the bus station, but he felt ashamed that he would pass this chance up to help his family. They needed his help, regardless of what he had to do to get the money.  He felt he'd lose great face if he returned home with nothing, and he didn't feel he could tell his father what he was really up to in Pattaya.  He felt his father would judge him and be disappointed in him, so he continued to walk along with Na. It was now getting near 7:00pm, or 19:00.

Na knocked on the front door of the club until someone heard and came to open it up for them. "OK, my friend - here we go," said Na. "I'm going to be right here with you. Don't worry. You're not going to die!"  Chaa laughed, but this was all so foreign to the farm boy.  He followed behind Na as he called out for the mamasan (who went by the female name Wandee, or Dee) who would introduce Chaa to the farang who actually owned the club, although it was "managed" by a friend of convenience to circumvent Thai law.

Dee was a flamboyant character, somewhat like the khatoey Chaa knew in his village; they acted like girls, but if you ever saw them in their t-shirt and underwear while swimming in the river it was obvious there was something different "down there" than on the girl he had been making overtures to. He had no problem with that in a social setting, but he jumped when Dee walked up to him and rubbed the palm of his hand on the front of Chaa's shorts and purred "Boss will like him, Na - you will get your commission!"   Na winked at Chaa, remembering their agreement.

"It's OK," Na said "take it easy."  Chaa knew it would take a while before it would be "OK" with him, but he felt committed so he just clenched his teeth and smiled.  Dee took him by the hand and walked him back into the rear of the club and up the stairs to where the boss was watching TV and having a beer.

"Boss," she almost sang "Na is back from Saraburi, and he brought a friend with him."  The man looked up at Chaa, and Chaa was instantly ill at ease.  "He not look, he stare," Chaa said, but what was translated for me via the tinny speaker phone speaker was "He said he smiled at him like he was a sweet, like dessert." Dee gently pushed Chaa from behind in the direction of where Boss was sitting, and he put his beer down and reached his hand out, as if to shake hands.  Chaa stuck his hand out and moved close enough to shake hands, but Boss lowered his hand, placed it to the side of Chaa's knee and slid it up his inner thigh and into the leg of his shorts.

Chaa jumped again and Boss said "Steady there, big fella, I'm not gonna hurt you," and continued doing his personal inventory.  As humiliating at it was, Chaa's body responded as nature intended and Boss looked up at Dee and asked "How old is he?"  "18," she said "He has ID."   Boss whistled a bit of some unfamiliar tune - a sound Chaa would come to dread - and said "Wow. You can start tonight. Get him a locker, Dee - get him changed and ready for work and then send him back up here."  Dee replied "Na will take care of him; they're friends."  "I could care less," muttered Boss, "just hurry him back up here. I want to be downstairs for opening time."

"Boss will try you first," said Dee "and make sure you're OK." Chaa was apprehensive, but since it had to happen some time he figured he could find a way to make it work for him - somehow.  He had no idea what being intimate was about with anyone other than a male cousin who he had experimented with a couple of times a few years ago, but that had been pretty basic exploration; besides, Boss wasn't at all attractive to him, and he worried yet again.

He tried to protect some shred of modesty as he undressed and put on the skimpy shorts that Dee handed him, but it wasn't easy with Dee smiling at him.  He tucked his clothes into his assigned locker and stood there, facing away from Dee for a moment or two, until she reached past him and pushed the locker door shut with a  metallic bang. "You need to buy your own lock."  Na walked over and offered to lock up his wallet for now, and Chaa took it out and handed it to him, closing the locker again himself.  He took a deep breath and said a prayer before turning and saying "OK. Ready."

Na pulled him aside and said "Just think of something else when you're with him, and be nice to Boss. If you do, things will be easier for you. If you don't, well... he can be upset fast."  Chaa must have looked frightened because Na quickly said "You can do this. Be strong."

Dee led Chaa upstairs again to Boss's room and knocked on the door.  Boss called out "Yeah?" and Dee opened it.  "Come on in, young Jedi!" he smiled at Chaa.  "Name Chaa," said Chaa, and Boss laughed. "Yeah, well, I guess you don't remember that one.  Thanks, Dee.  Give me a call when we're ready to open."

Chaa wrestled with his natural "fight or flight" impulse, but finally just let go; walking over to the beckoning Boss.  Dee went out, closing the door behind her.

[Next: First Night On Stage]

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Unhappy Side To Life As A Go-Go Boy

In the harsh light of day some things just aren't as glamorous as they appear at night.

[Let me clarify up front - the guy in this story is long out of the go-go boy business. While the facts are true I've changed a couple of minor details to avoid identifying the specific club in Pattaya.]

"Boss me bad man," said Chaa, looking down at his boy drink - a rum and coke.

I've heard plenty of stories over the years, and have heard almost every story you can imagine from the go-go boys I've collected stories from during that time. Having been extensively trained in interviewing skills by a large corporation I've worked for in a previous life, I can read both verbal and non-verbal signs - and there was something about Chaa's comment had made me uneasy, and I squirmed a bit on my seat, hoping to see him brighten and say "joke!", but he didn't.

It was a small club in Pattaya, not one of the large, brightly lit showplaces, and that suit me just fine.  I had an unexpected free evening, and although I didn't have a friend with me to translate I thought I'd take my chances and see if I could find someone who could speak passable English. Usually I'm OK on my own with the help of a phrasebook and a "talking dic," as a friend calls my electronic talking dictionary.  The club looked fairly plain from the outside, and when one of the employees came out to talk to the doorman I could tell that the music was at a moderate level, so I just walked in through the open door as if it had been opened for me.  The doorman seemed a bit surprised, probably being used to having to reel people in off the street.

"Chaa new boy, he good boy but he shy," said the mamasan when I asked her why this one dancer of 10 seemed to be somewhat fascinated with the floor right in front of his toes.  "Chaa!" she called out to him, getting him to look up in our direction.  She waved him over before I had a chance to say no. "Oh, well," I thought to myself "it's not going to cost me more than a few minutes, one drink for him and a tip, so what the hell."

As he was stepping down off of the low stage one of the other guys laughed and made a comment to tease him (evidently about being called down) and when he turned his back to me I saw two bruises across the back of his thighs, at about a 45-degree angle.  The upper one was only on his left leg, the lower across both of them.  They were a little over an inch wide, and seemed to be no more than a day old - two at the most.

He sat down, putting on his best "show face," but I could see his heart wasn't in it.  I wasn't at all pleased with the mamasan but I bought her a drink, anyway, telling her as politely as possible that I'd appreciate it if she'd go enjoy it while working someone else, which she did.  Turning back to Chaa I pointed to what was now his bottom and asked if he'd fallen; how he'd hurt himself. "Boss me bad man," he said again, with the added emphasis and a slight frown.

It was as if the music had stopped along with time and I just stared at him for a few seconds, somewhat shocked at what he'd said.  Suddenly I got it: he'd been hit.  At least twice, and it seemed as though he had been pushed about as far as he was going to allow himself to be pushed. Still, he was at work, and since the music was below the usual concert level I was fairly sure I wasn't the only one to hear him.  The mamsan looked over from where she was working another farang, smiling a somewhat sickly smile at me before giving Chaa a sharp look.

Figuring there was a story here, even if Chaa couldn't say more in English than the standard list of phrases I called the mamsan over and said "I'm taking Chaa off."  Chaa picked up his drink and downed it in three large gulps, and asked if he could have another.  "Up to you," I said, "but we're not going to have sex, so you don't have to fuel up."  He looked puzzled - something I'd gotten used to after the first few dozen interviews I've done - and asked "No sek? Sure?" "Sure," I replied. "No more drink," he said - and got up to go change.

The mamsan followed him into the back, and I could hear shouting coming from through the curtained doorway.  Chaa was back out in front of my table in his street clothes and ready to go so fast (just over three minutes - I'd glanced at my watch) that I hadn't gotten my check bin settled yet, so he had to wait, talking with the other go-go boy who had chided him previously as he left the stage.  The guy on stage couldn't understand what Chaa was saying, and leaned down so Chaa could speak directly into his ear.  He guy looked back and forth between Chaa and I a few times before shrugging his shoulders and waving good night to him.  The other guys who were still on stage clapped their hands and called out to him in Thai as we went out the front doors, where the doormen seemed to shun him.

"Hungry?" I asked him, expecting him to say no, but he said yes, he was hungry, and made a beeline for a cart that seemed familiar to him, I couldn't tell.  I do know he ate more of a dinner than I had a few hours earlier and seemed surprisingly hungry.  I tried not to stare as he wolfed down six BBQ sticks of chicken and pork while we walked along.  "Great," I chuckled to myself " a kitchen dispose-all on the hoof."

"Sorry," he apologized "not eat today," and I shut up and let him finish what he had in peace as we strolled along toward my hotel.  As he was licking the sauce off of his fingers I asked again "Hungry now?" and he looked up at me somewhat sheepishly and replied "Can eat noodle?"  "Sure," I said, patting him once on the shoulder "let's eat noodle."  This time we sat down at one of those familiar groupings of metal tables adorned with plastic outdoor chairs and I ordered a bowl myself, even though I wasn't all that hungry.

Chaa slurped down his full bowl before mine was cool enough to fool with, but I'd also stopped to call a friend and see if he'd help translate some things for me when I got Chaa someplace quiet so I could ask if he'd share his story with me.  My friend agreed, and soon afterward Chaa and I were headed back to my room.  I turned to him and asked "You OK?" and he smiled, patting his belly and said "Good. Now fat!" which was not the case, but I understood what he meant.

I was staying in a place much nicer than I usually choose to pay for and Chaa was a little wide-eyed as we entered the lobby.  "Have you been here before?" I asked. "No, new for me," he said.  As it turned out he was fairly new to the scene, and he had quite a story to tell of his family, their home, his friend on stage with him and how he ended up being somewhat of a slave to the "bad man".

That story next time.  Have a good weekend, all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flowers, Part 12: In And Around Amphawa

Violet blossoms at Ban Kung Maenam
Even though I try to pay attention to what's around me in Thailand I'm usually surprised each trip with a batch of new flowers and plants that I haven't seen before.  Not that I'm unhappy about that, but so far I've failed to pick up a flower guide for plants in Southeast Asia, so I wind up with a bunch of specimens I can't identify once I'm back home.

Pinwheel-type blossoms at Rama II park in Amphawa
Occasionally my searches bring up an image of the same plant and I'm rewarded with a genus and more reliable name for something, but it's all part of the adventure, I suppose; I don't really need to know what they are as long as I can be there to enjoy them.  Like Tom Waits says "[it's] the pursuit, you see - and never the arrest".

This riverside plant looks a bit like holly, but I know it's not. The leaves were soft and had no stickers
Readers like Krobbie have responded with names for a lot of the flowers here previously, and having someone join in is, in reality, more fun than looking it up in a book.  Nevertheless, I have it on my "Thai To Do" list for the next trip, and it's a good excuse to go browsing the book stalls at Jatujak market and other places.   

So... here some images I took on my stay in Amphawa - a story I should probably make an attempt to finish soon.

Even I can spot the delicate grace of a tropical water lily

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Travel Tips #3: Airline Food

EVA Elite Class "middle of the night" meal, after a late take-off
The last time I flew across the USA it was on a domestic airline. It doesn't need to be singled out here as most have a similar policy regarding their passengers; that being "load 'em in, move 'em out".  The theme from the 1959-65 TV show "Rawhide" sometimes comes to mind as I'm herded aboard and packed into my seat, but that's more of a personal quirk, I suppose.

I'm not as slim as I once was, but my sidebars don't hang over several inches into the seat next to me - or seats, if the Universe is unhappy with me and the draw puts me between two people. I do my best to make my seating arrangements in a timely manner, but a couple of times I've been packed very much like a sardine, once between two men who were closing in on 300 pounds each.  I didn't have space to take a deep breath during the entire flight. I got up and walked around a lot.

Back to the topic of airline food, some airlines will sell you what I've come to know as an Insults In A Box; what they generously themselves call "meal choices", often consisting of precious little more than variations on the four pre-packaged items in the top photo today.  Five, if you want to count the sealed napkin. For this you pay $5US. Sometimes there's a packaged sandwich or salad, but that's closing in on twice as much.

The proper meal examples I've felt justified sharing are from recent flights on EVA, the Taiwan-based airline. Along with the damp towels, water, coffee, tea, nuts, cookies and other snacks provided throughout the flight, they also feed you a proper meal - two if you're on a longer flight - and that's built into a ticket price that's competitive with United and some other US airlines.  I was on a red-eye flight and was frankly more interested in going to sleep when the stewardess arrived with a choice of meals at 01:20 in the morning, but I ate some and tucked the non-perishables into my carry-on for later. The photo isn't great, but I took it using my reading light.

As we were approaching Taipei for our transfer eight hours later they served your choice of two breakfast meals. Mine's below, again taken with my reading light.

EVA Elite Class omelet breakfast
On another trip I was in economy class for one of the shorter legs of the journey, and while the economy meal isn't quite as nice as the Evergreen/Elite class, it's still better than the Insult In A Box...

EVA Economy meal out of Bangkok: Pork, rice and egg

The moral of today's tale is this: check with your airline and ask for clarification on the meals the airline provides.  If they're like EVA, it's actually too much - I don't eat all of it when I'm on a 12 hour flight with no way to help it digest.

If they serve the "snack box", buy something of your own that you'll find palatable and take that along, even if it means buying a sandwich past the security gates of the airport. That's going to be expensive, and I really don't need all that much to hold body and soul together until my first meal after landing.  Oftentimes I have a bit of a layover in Taipei, and there's a nice noodle place with plenty of seating in the Taoyuan Airport.  I can often be found there reading and slurping noodles like these:

Taipei beef noodles with egg, bok choy and green onion
One last thing already covered in the post about staying healthy on planes: wash your hands before eating, as everything you've touched along the way has been previously touched by a thousand others.  How's that for a happy thought to close with today?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lunch With The Kids

Noodles in Buriram. Too hot, Mom!
Lunch out with a friend seems like a good idea today, and that's going to cut into my time for a written post here.   Since I'm already looking forward to Vietnamese noodles out myself I thought I'd share a couple of photos of kids having their lunch; they're having noodles, also. 

Noodles at the market in Amphawa

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rain In Thailand, Part 2

Mild flooding on Second Road in Pattaya
Since there's an unusually heavy amount of rain in parts of Thailand right now it seemed an appropriate time to add another post on rain in Thailand to Part One.  September is usually the heaviest month of rain there - the season running from June through October - and you can expect some fairly dramatic rain at some point of the afternoon or evening, but parts of the country are being flooded, as they often are every season.

The pictures today were taken two years ago this month, when I was passing through Pattaya and happened to be caught at the mall one evening after dinner. Normally in rainy season I have a zip-lock bag folded up in my pocket for my wallet, camera, passport, whatever - but I'd been shopping some and couldn't manage to keep everything dry, so I'd hailed a taxi. The white spots in the photos are the large rain drops, caught by the flash.

Parked motorcycles on Second Road, axle-deep in water
Motorcycle taxi guys standing in the rain, hoping for a fare
Showing a turn and one of many, many storm drains
The driver was a little put out that I kept opening my window to take photos, but I dried things up before I got out and actually left a little of it cleaner than when I got in!

Youtube poster timpawlosk shared a clip/slideshow taken yesterday in Pattaya that a forum moderator was kind enough to post, and it's such a nice slice of (heavy) rainy day life that I thought I'd include it here today:

As long as we're on the subject of rain, here's the link to the post about Thai pop singer Sek Loso's song about a rainy day, "Fon Tak Tee Nah Taang".

Friday, September 9, 2011

Memories of 9/11 - In An Old Bangkok Cemetery

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of what's became known as "9/11", a blanket euphemism slapped over the day's events in an attempt to cover wounds still very real for many a decade later. I knew a few who were lost that day; a couple peripherally, one intimately.  The link to that remembrance is here. Since we don't meet here on the weekends I figured I'd have my say on the upcoming anniversary by sharing a visit to a cemetery I made on  a September 11th a couple of years ago.

Many memorials had photos, like the one closest on the left

Adenium Obesum (aka a Desert Rose)
The belief in ghosts strongly held on a variety of levels by many Thais usually keep cemeteries pretty low on the list of destinations for a morning walk, but I'd seen the place several times from the Om Yim Lodge when I'd stayed there and had always meant to explore it, so since it was still early and I figured it would be cooler than in the mid-day sun I took the BTS to Chong Nonsi, made my way down the stairs and looked for someone to ask directions on how to get back there without going through someone's property.

The first woman I asked scrunched up her face as if to say "why would anyone want to go there?" but she pointed to the walkway that cut in off of Naratiwat Road, the same walkway that goes past the Sathorn Inn, a place I'd yet to try. Down the walkway I went, got to a junction that I felt was correct, turned right and came to the front of the cemetery.

Nobody was there. I mean nobody, and it appeared as though that had been the case for some time. Weeds and other vegetation grew freely among the monuments and head stones throughout the grounds, some appearing to be an arm of comfort draped over and around more than a few of them.

All of the writing I saw on the stones was in Chinese, so I'm going to make the guess that it was at least primarily a Chinese-Thai spot, but as there was a significant amount of water standing around the now slightly sunken memorials I didn't  climb up close enough to check all that many.  It was, after all, a resting place and not a theme park.

Being September 11th my thoughts naturally turned back to images broadcast that day; scenes astonishing and horrifying at the same time.  Images you don't want to see but are powerless to turn away from while being overwhelmed by their intensity.

The twin towers themselves took thousands down with them; many as young as the man who was pictured on one of the monuments I walked by.  He looked to be around the same age as the friend I lost, and I thought of Mark as I took a picture of the picture, here to the right.

There were still sashes tied to a couple of the sizable ficus trees on the grounds, leaving no doubt that this was a Buddhist cemetery, as you may have read about in the "tree wat" post. You can see some in the photo below, which also gives you an idea of how close the Chong Nonsi station is. It's visible in the upper right-hand corner of the photo.

Walking around and seeing the lush, wild growth throughout the area I thought of the field in Pennsylvania where the plane carrying my friend plummeted to the ground, and wondered if the land there had also healed and become green again, covering the blackened scar of fuel and fire. Having stopped by the tree above to sit and say a few words to my late friend - wherever his spirit may be now - I wandered back out through the front of the cemetery and went about the rest of my day.

For all of you who also lost a friend, relative, co-worker or lover on September 11, 2001 - may you find some comfort and serenity on Sunday when your thoughts will probably once again be torn out of your control and return - at least briefly - to that horrible day.  I hope you have managed to find closure for your loss in this past decade.  I know I have, but I still miss him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Clip From The Calypso Cabaret In Bangkok

By the numbers the first two posts about the Calypso Cabaret seem to be some sort of guilty pleasure for some, so why not indulge people's fantasies every so often? For those who'd rather look at men as men there are a number of additional dancers to the scene, and that ought to take some of the sting out of it for you.

The clip today is a little longer than many posted here (well, there is the night time motocy ride through the back streets of Pattaya clip), but still just a portion of one of the scenes in the show. Performances last right about an hour, and I was also taking the stills so didn't fool with the video very much.

Those looking for the first two photo posts can find them here: Part 1 - Part 2. Located beneath the lobby of the Asia Hotel the show has been a well-crafted and well-executed standard in Bangkok for many years.  There's more information about the location, address, show times and show link in Part 1.

Female impersonation doesn't do much for me, unless it's really done well, and then it's an entertaining illusion. Middle-aged to old(er) men doing drag to any degree leaves me totally cold - uncomfortable, really - as they lumber about in their over-done outfits, big hair back-brushed and sprayed to the point of being a fire danger and squeezed into their outfits; really looking more like over-sized spangled sausages than women.  It's grand fun in some clubs, I know, but...  well, I'm not on this earth to judge.

Years ago I had a Pacific Island man renting a room from me for a few months. He had a face that was borderline pretty to begin with, and with his skin tone and fit figure could effectively indulge in his habit of doing "high class drag", as I used to call it - and he did it very well.

He drank like a fish, though, and while he'd leave the house looking very much like Tina Turner in her "What's Love Got To Do With It" period it was more often than not that he'd arrive back home around 03:00, having misplaced his key and be knocking on the door to be let in.  When I'd stumble to the door and swing it open there would often be a similar version of Tina, but now looking as thought she'd been in a fight: torn fishnet stockings and wig at a strange angle.  It didn't last long.

Nevertheless, I'm not picking on those that find cabaret entertaining, and to prove it I'll post more photos another time down the line.  Those who absolutely can't stand it: you've been warned.