|Night shot in Pattaya, with no inferences made. None of these are Chaa or Na.|
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]