|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.