Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Rise And Fall Of A Go Go Boy: Conclusion

Although this story is about a go go BOY, HIV doesn't discriminate between males and females

[This the second of two parts about a friend of mine who was working the World's Oldest Profession in Bangkok.  If you found this via a search Part 1 was yesterday. There are places where those with HIV can get the treatment they need to prolong their lives if they choose to make the effort, but the best course of action is prevention.  If you play, be safe.  If you can educate someone else as well, all the better.]

Tiger By The Tail - Conclusion

Pee had no idea of how much time he was out, but told me later that when he first regained consciousness he saw an almost blinding white brightness through his slightly-spread eyelashes - so bright he wondered if he was still alive or in heaven. He drifted under again briefly and was greeted again by the same bright light, although now it was joined by a pain.

He opened his eyes more and realized the light was sun pouring through the window onto him, seemingly made even brighter by the white sheet his face was pressed against.  As he became more aware he could tell he was face down on the bed, and the pain was radiating from a point below his waist line in the area he usually called his "back door". He could tell something was very wrong, but the effects of whatever he'd been drugged with still had a blanket over his conscious thinking and he turned slowly to sit up, feeling the need to use the bathroom.

Then he saw the blood.  There was blood and another bodily fluid he was no stranger to smeared around on the sheet where he'd been lying, and when he managed to stand up with the help of the nightstand he saw more where he'd been sitting.  There was the sickly sweet smell of blood and the somewhat starch-like smell of semen.

He staggered off to the bathroom, leaned on the vanity counter and looked at himself in the mirror, his mind racing despite the after-effects of the drugs. Turning and looking over his shoulder he saw the mess was spread on his lower back, on his sides, on his buttocks and down his thighs.  Not a lot, but a mess, nevertheless.  He was still woozy so he sat on the toilet and realized for the first time since coming to that he was alone in the room.

He stepped into the shower and washed himself thoroughly, as though he could make it all go away by scrubbing himself well enough.  He examined himself after drying off, and other than some bite marks on his shoulders and some scratching on his sides he had no cuts or other injuries, and the bleeding had stopped.  There were no towels, and he walked out into the main room naked and wet, hands covering his genitals out of nothing other than habit.  Although towels were strewn about the room they were all used and dirty in a manner we don't need to go into here.  He finally pulled the top sheet off of the bed and wrapped it around himself before going over and closing the drapes.

The farang was completely gone.  His small bag, clothes and personal items were all missing.  Pee hadn't noticed when he'd first gotten up and gone into the bathroom, but he'd packed and taken off while Pee was still unconscious.  Pee's clothes and small bag were still in the room, although not where he'd put them the night before. Someone had gone through them, and while his wallet, ID and money were still there his "regular" phone was gone.  The spare was still zipped into the pocket inside the bag, though, and he called Dum, his co-worker from the club.  Although Dum had been sound asleep he hurried to the hotel, met Pee and helped him back to his room, where he cried on Dum's shoulder; partly from the humiliation and shame and partly from the pain that sharply reminded him he'd been violently violated somehow - he just couldn't remember how.

The short version of the "what the hell happened" story is this: the farang had checked in just hours before offing Pee, using a credit card that had yet to be registered as stolen by the rightful owner.  He'd paid the night clerk to look the other way, brought Pee back to his room, and then invited a number of others to join him for a party. The night clerk said there were at least six, and Pee was the party favor.

Pee - for a couple of reasons - couldn't make himself go back to work for a few weeks, but he called Tum back home, and after swearing him to secrecy he told him what had happened.  Tum, naturally, was worried that Pee had been exposed to HIV, but Pee refused to even speak with him about the possibility.  Pee had himself tested for STDs (he'd received a couple as parting gifts at the "party") and he stayed away from work as long as the doctor advised.

Subscribing to the "if it's my time to die, it's my time to die" line of thought Pee returned to work several weeks after he was raped. He had a photo he'd received from the farang over a year before and  had copies of it printed and circulated among friends in other clubs, hoping someone might spot him, but that never happened.  Anyone familiar with how things go in a club area know how lucky the guy was that he wasn't spotted.

Three months to the day of the rape Tum took the bus down to visit Pee, accompany him to get his HIV test and stay with him until his results came back.

Pee tested positive. Later it was determined to be a particularly difficult to treat sub-strain.

Even knowing it was a distinct possibility he'd be positive Pee was stunned numb, while Tum was inconsolable and cried on and off for the rest of that day.  Pee wept some also, naturally, but he'd been steeling himself with the aforementioned fatalistic attitude learned at his father's knee years before, and his tears were more for Nee and his daughter.  Tum also felt that this was an unalterable death sentence, even though I spoke at length with Pee about treatment.  He took medications for a while, but had trouble tolerating them and finally just said "if it my time, it my time".

Despite being intelligent on so many other levels Pee believed this was beyond his control.  He began going to the temple on a daily basis, meditating and praying for hours at a time.  He ate well and still exercised, but he dropped his gym membership and began to decline offs.  "I have enough money," he said one time on the phone "If I die my family will be good.  They have a house, they have the farm, they have the animals and a lot of money in the bank" - and he was probably right.

"Yes, but they won't have you, Pee," I tried to explain one time. "Think of Nee and your daughter."  He couldn't be swayed, and as I was feeling somewhat hypocritical for pushing him (I abhor how people all too often push their dogma on others) I backed off.

Pee's popularity declined with his looks and his health, and after he left his original club the places he worked became less and less desirable.  Eventually he was only getting offers he knew were risky or dangerous to his health and the siren song of home finally won out.  He packed up a few things from his rented room, gave away the rest to friends and called Dum.  "I'm finished.  See you in a few hours."  Dum met him at the bus station.  He told me later that he couldn't keep from crying at Pee's appearance when he climbed slowly down off of the bus.

From the bus station Pee returned to what he used to joke about as his "Farang Palace" - the house that multiple Jacks had built. Nee still wanted to marry him, and so a ceremony was arranged and they began what they both knew was to be a shorter than usual life together.  Pee loved his daughter and happily took over as many of the daily duties as he was able to, just to spend the time with her - while his health continued to decline.

I asked Tum to please promise to send updates on Pee, and I told him if I could I'd make time to go see him when I was there this Spring. Tum promised he would, but since Pee was no longer seeing a doctor, taking any medication or accepting any help whatsoever there usually wasn't much to report, other than he wasn't doing well - which I could guess myself.

Two weeks ago while I was preparing a family party to celebrate several January birthdays my phone chirped to announce the arrival of a text message, and it was from Pee's phone.  Being the eternal optimist I'd hoped it was some good news from him (sometimes he'd text a greeting for my birthday or other holidays), but it wasn't from him - it was from Tum.

Six words: "Pee die today. Email to me."

I stopped what I was doing and sent Tum a short email asking for a little more detail. He must have been right there to receive it because he replied within 15 minutes.

"Pee happy now," he began. "Now he in heaven and resting much. He sleeping three days before, no drink no eat. Nee and me stay him all. He stop breath today, now his spirit go to heaven. Pee want me send you something.  What address you?"  I sent back my mailing address, thanked Tum for letting me know and for being a good friend for Pee and went about my duties setting up the party, although my thoughts returned to Pee's death more than a few times throughout the day.

The next morning when I was doing my usual routine of candles, incense and trying to make peace with the universe I offered up a wish that his passing was peaceful and that his journey continued smoothly.  As usual I added the hope that perhaps someday our paths cross again somehow.

Three days ago an envelope arrived from Thailand, and I saw it was from Tum.  Inside was the photo from years back of Pee and I that my translator friend had taken.  Our arms were still over each other's shoulders, and we were both still smiling. There was a piece of note paper folded in thirds over the photo.  When I opened it up I could see writing too shaky to be Tum's, so I know Pee had written it.  It said:

"Remember happy times.
From friend Nong Pee."

I'll look at that picture and remember him often.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tiger By The Tail: The Rise & Fall Of A Go Go Boy

Soi Dungthawee - where Pee worked for a number of years

When I first met Pee he was a strikingly handsome young man of 22. He was at the peak of both his desirability and his go go boy years at a club in Bangkok, making what was to him and his family a small fortune each month. He was bright, upbeat and a delight to talk to, even through his English was pretty limited and I'd needed a Thai friend to help with the translation.  Although I'd taken a couple pictures of him myself my friend took one of us together, arms around the other's shoulder. Before I left I'd dropped copies of them off to him at the club.

He had been one of my earlier interviewees, and like some of the others I'd been able to keep in touch with him and get updates every so often. Even if schedules didn't allow time for a lunch or dinner visit I spoke on the phone with him every time I was in Thailand over the years.

In a photo I received of him at 27 he was a mere shadow of his former self; hollow-cheeked and scarred by the skin condition that had ravaged his face and upper torso on and off over the past year. His eyes rested deep in their sockets, surrounded by dark skin highlighted by even darker circles beneath them. His beautiful high cheekbones were still there, but unless I'd looked directly into his eyes I might have walked right past him on the street without recognizing him.

In the picture I'd received two months ago he was worse. He had a colorful towel draped around his shoulders and was sitting on a beautifully finished wooden bench in front of the equally beautiful family home his tips had built - but a world away from the high life of the Big City. Beneath the towel his once gym-toned torso appeared the most gaunt and bony I'd ever seen. He'd made an attempt to smile.

I hadn't seen a photo of him for about nine months, and although my medical knowledge is limited to "playing doctor" every now and then in my youth it looked to me that barring a miracle Pee wouldn't live even to see Songkran, one of his very favorite play times of the year.

"Oh, Pee..." I said quietly to myself as tears welled in my eyes that morning. I figured I now knew why I hadn't heard from him for a while and I sat down and emailed Tum, his best friend who lived nearby. Tum had sent the photo for Pee, but there was only a very short message with the picture.  Tum and I weren't really friends - Tum thought all modern medicine was suspect and was one who discouraged Pee from getting the help he needed early on - but if my emails were about Pee's health he'd usually reply fairly quickly.

He did this time, too, and said that Pee was resigned to letting go and moving on and that he hadn't been well enough to email me himself, other than just the short note with the photo, in which he (as usual) was more concerned about how I was doing.

"It what he want," said Tum, and although I knew that to be true, it seemed a lot sooner than I'd thought it would be. "He so tired, he want sleep."

Tum is gay and has always had a crush on Pee, but Pee had fallen in love with Nee, a girl in his village, and had a daughter by her.  Nevertheless, he and Tum had been best friends as far back as either of them could remember, and had remained so - regardless of following different paths sexually. Tum had always hoped for more than just friendship, but that had never came to pass, other than one evening Pee had followed Tum's lead after they'd both had a couple bottles of beer.  While he found it physically pleasurable, he didn't feel the connection or desire he had for girls, and they only shared that single evening of intimacy.

Tum had stayed in the village while Pee went to seek his fortune, or more accurately the fortune he'd heard was there for the taking in the clubs of Bangkok. Tum had warned him of the dangers of drugs and disease and was probably the nagging reminder that kept Pee safe.  Although Nee had moved into Pee's family home for help caring for their infant daughter Tum became the "doting auntie" and would check in daily to help after Pee had gone off to Bangkok.

Through a friend who already knew the ropes Pee quickly found work in a club on Soi Dungthawee (also known to many as Soi Twilight) where his astoundingly good looks and bright attitude made him a customer favorite, and he rarely had a night without an off - sometimes two, sometimes three, depending on the details involved. He worked six nights a week, keeping only Sunday to himself for laundry, rest and prayers at the temple. Sunday was the only day he didn't go to the gym, also, but he worked hard at keeping himself in tip-top shape.

Pee had arrived in Bangkok armed with as much safe sex information as Tum could drum into his head, and although he says he took some foolish chances (collecting extraordinarily large tips) during his early months in circulation he soon learned of the dangers involved and made the vow to himself not to lose focus of his goal of a long life with Nee and his daughter while helping his family over the years.  Gazing dreamily out the window of the restaurant we were having dinner in before he went to work one evening he said he'd be happiest when some day he could sit outside and see the sunset outside of his own home up North.

Pee was consistently careful with every customer after that first few months - even if it killed a deal or got complaints registered against him with the club - and still was making plenty of money.  He'd have himself tested on a regular basis, even though he very, very rarely would bottom and risk a condom problem.  If the customer's appendage was of an acceptably thin circumference and he felt comfortable trying it he'd sometimes make an exception, but it was rare. His looks, charm and his own equipment bought him a lot of grace.

He learned how to successfully manipulate an unpleasant or risky situation with a pushy or insistent customer, and, more importantly, how to firmly say "no" if he had to.  He didn't ever try drugs and preferred to be in his room watching TV or reading if he wasn't being paid to do otherwise so he rarely went out and got drunk.

While working and with a customer he didn't care for the feeling of being "out of control" so he learned to skillfully nurse a drink. If the customer with him was distracted or off in the bathroom Pee would often pour most of it out or send it away with a waiter.  That worked better in his own club, of course, but he had other tricks he'd shared with me one visit.

The money rolled in faster than he'd ever dared dream.  Pee bought himself a nice cell phone and clothes to keep himself attractive, but other than his gym membership he put almost all of his money away.  Once a month he'd take a break and make the bus ride home to see his family, his girlfriend and his daughter. They'd talked of marriage, but Pee said he wanted to wait until he was done working so he could be "with Nee only".  Thanks to his income construction was started on a new home for the family, and due to his thriftiness Pee had it paid for (and then some) before the job was half done. It was a beautiful, two-story home.

Three years ago Pee had a regular customer come into the club that he'd been off with before; someone he'd liked for several reasons that aren't important here and someone he hadn't seen for about nine months.  The farang said he'd been busy with work and unable to come to Thailand, but now he was making up for lost time.  Pee was happy to accept the overnight off and go back to the man's hotel with him, stopping only for some things at the Family Mart near the hotel.

The man opened a Coke for Pee and didn't seem to mind that Pee wanted to watch one of his favorite Thai shows while he went to shower.  When he came out of the bathroom sporting the white hotel towel wrapped around his waist Pee got up to go shower himself.  He came back out in an identical outfit, downed the last of his Coke and re-joined his off on the bed to watch a little more television, as they'd done in the past before getting down to business.

About 15 minutes after finishing off his Coke Pee rapidly began to feel dizzy, and found himself being dragged unwillingly into unconsciousness in what seemed like mere moments afterwards.  He'd heard about guys being drugged, but he never suspected it could ever happen to him; especially not from this repeat customer who'd always been so gentle and polite. Nevertheless, he knew something was wrong and tried to get up off of the bed to go dress and leave. The last thing he remembered was the sensation of falling, hitting his head on the floor, and his view of the carpeting at an odd angle mere centimeters from his eye before losing consciousness.

[Tomorrow: the conclusion]

Friday, January 27, 2012

Playing Chicken With The Waves

A surfer makes his way to the path down on the California coast

There was some legal paperwork a ways away from my home that's needed tending to for a while, so yesterday I took the afternoon and got it taken care of. Since I was already near the beach front I took a drive up the coastline for a ways afterwards, stopping at a few spots to stand on the cliff and watch the surf.  The waves have been much larger than usual lately - probably fueled by some storm out on the Pacific - and were putting on quite a show while pounding onto the rocks below.

The sound of that much water slamming into the face of the rocks and cliffs was so powerful you could feel it in your chest; a concussive WHOOMP that added a rhythm to the consistent song of the sea gulls and other birds nearby.

The higher surf also brings out the surfers.  Being later in the afternoon they were now out of school and work and came like lemmings to the sea, clad in their wet suits and carrying their surf boards.  From one vantage point I could see them approaching the path down the rocks to the water and watch the sets of waves, waiting for a break in the sets so they could get to the water as safely as possible.

The young man in the top photo is also in the one below. He made it down the rocks and entered the water without being pulled in - deaths from this seemingly foolhardy practice are very rare - but I didn't watch very many of them try it. Made me nervous.

It was a fine reminder of how small and insignificant we, our lives and our planet are in the Grand Scheme of things.

See you back here on Monday. Have a great weekend, unless you've made other plans.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 44: Assorted Working Folks

Selling slightly racist trinkets on a BTS walkway in Bangkok

Spot welding in Jomtien Complex
- without safety goggles
Today's offering is an assortment of workers I've encountered in Thailand, doing their usual jobs.  The Thai are often a contented bunch overall, regardless of what it is they do to earn enough to hold body and soul together for another day.  That attitude is a gift many of us could benefit from, and some of it is a choice we're capable of making.

There have been more than a few mentions in the past here about finding contentment in what you do, and I've usually put most of those into the file folder labeled sanuk (enjoyable or fun).  Pardon the oversimplification but I'll say again that if it isn't sanuk, the Thai don't care to do it.  The specific post about it is here.

A tarot card reader wanted to predict my future on the beach.

The nice thing about it that by in large you can find some joy (or at least satisfaction) in the most menial or unpleasant jobs.  If you go back and look through the Smiles series you'll see many examples of that, including sewer workers and others doing what must be back-breaking labor.

This traffic officer was taking a break when I walked by
This last picture today is of a woman I met while out distributing food packages to slum families with a charity group.  The woman lives with the family members and children she cares for in the shelter behind her, and collects items from the dump to recycle or sell.  I try to think about that when I'm tempted to bitch about my own obligations in life. You'll hear more about these folks again soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Vacation Plans Of One Excited Bunny

Panoramic view from the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center

In an email I'd sent to my best female friend there I was going on about things I'd planned for my next visit, and her reply began "Who's an excited bunny, then?"  Having never heard the phrase before it made me laugh, but she was 100% correct: at about two weeks from my flight date I was one excited bunny.

Although I'm not two weeks away from my departure this time - closer to six, unfortunately - I've already begun to count the days, and if I were a small child again I'd probably be pestering my mother all too frequently how many more days there were left until I got to go, rather like the ageless child request "are we there yet?"

As usual - and despite my better judgement - I've again chosen to repeat the same actions and expect different results and have overbooked my schedule, figuring that all is going to go smoothly and on schedule in a country where the people and culture overall rarely succeed on either level.  That's a generalization, obviously, but it's not all that far off the mark.

Part of that is their overall laid-back mai pen rai attitude, and some of it is just an inherent part of the individuals themselves.  "Hawaiian time," "Filipino time," "Mexican time," "Tropics time" - I've learned to adjust to them all, so "Thai time" doesn't really bother me, and I'd suggest you not let it bother you, either.  Schedule the extra time into your day and you'll keep your systolic/diastolic numbers in much better check. Losing your temper in most any situation will cause you to lose face, and that's not something you want to do there.  There are a few other stories about that, if you'd care to reference the thought: "The Golden Rule vs the Ugly Americans", "Keeping a Cool Heart #1" and "Keeping a Cool Heart #2".

Planning too many things in a short visit has bitten me on the butt more than a few times, but something's fallen off the list almost as often and I end up with idle time anyway, just not usually when I've planned it.

I'll be trying some new places to stay this trip and again getting myself out of Bangkok and Pattaya, although calling on the sponsored students will take a week of my time, and that's more than enough of Pattaya for me, truth be known. There's still so much more of the country (and surrounding countries) I'd like to explore. With the help of a Thai friend I've booked some nights at a beach resort that few Westerners go to and will be again outside of Bangkok proper to explore the temples and area in a suburb where a good friend now works.

Not all of my friends know I'll be in the area yet because there won't be enough time to see them all as I'd like to, and the best I'll probably manage with some of them is phoning to say "Hey, I'm here - how about dinner tonight or tomorrow?"

It's not the ideal way to socialize, but sometimes it's the best I can do with the precious few weeks I'll be there and thankfully most of them are understanding about it.  Over the years some have dropped off of the list after one of those "you never have time for me" kind of conversations, but again, thankfully, most say "Mai pen rai - see you next trip!"  Those are the ones I do see next time - come hell or high water.

Anyway. . .  the countdown begins.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Amphawa's Night Market: More Available Light Shots

Later in the evening, and a ways away from the main activity of the Amphawa floating night market

A couple of days ago someone left a comment on last July's post about the Amphawa floating market, suggesting that Amphawa was also nice by night, too - and I wholeheartedly agree.  [If you missed the first batch of night photos about that area, they're here.]  

I've long maintained that one hour out among the locals while travelling is worth five at a tourist spot.  Not that touristy places aren't worth visiting, because they are or the natives themselves wouldn't go there, but you know what I mean, and although this is generalizing, Soi Cowboy and Soi Twilight aren't really Thailand - they're more what tourists have done to Thailand.

This side street from a car park led you to the canal activity

Although the Rama II park was beautiful [Part 1 here and Part 2 here] and I enjoyed the park display of photo murals of the King in his younger days, and while touring the temples is always pleasant and educational I have to admit the evenings mingling with the locals throughout the market and restaurant area were probably the best parts of my days there.

The best noodle shop I tried in Amphawa - just a block off the main canal

It's not just the aroma of noodle shops and restaurants that drift along on the evening air - although those savory scents certainly enhance a stroll - I think it's the overall unspoiled attitude and graciousness of the people themselves; different than that of those in the tourist-ridden city areas where some have adopted parts of the less pleasant social behaviors of the Western world.

The Thai phrase mai pen rai (meaning "nevermind" or "it doesn't matter") has been overused on many travel sites, but it's really a true part of the culture there, and it's surprisingly refreshing every time I run into it. The woman in the picture above said it with a smile when I apologized after I accidentally bumped the back of her chair while moving out of the way of a motor scooter, and I added another tally mark to my mental list of reasons I love Thailand.

Another of that noodle shop - note the logo if you want to look for the place
No place is perfect, and I believe my compact video recorder was liberated from my bag at the night market there one evening while I was distracted by something, but big deal - I need to pay attention to my surroundings and the possibility of pickpockets as much as anyone else.  I was one of a precious few "round eyes" and I stood out somewhat in the crowd anyway, I'm sure.  I'd guess the percentage of farang in total was somewhere around 5%, if that much.

Some of the unhurried and polite people strolling along the walkways

The evenings I spent in Amphawa (other than my unexpected time detained in the police station) were really nothing less than idyllic: delightful in all respects.

For much more about the parks, temples, locals and the likes you can click on the "Amphawa" link under Labels in the right hand column.  The post today will take it up to 25 about the area, and it's a beautiful place.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Enjoy Your Weekend

Although dawn today began with a beautiful sunrise, clouds have since come in en mass to thickly blanket the area and a substantial amount of rain has been predicted for the next 36 hours or so.  One of the joys of home ownership are the routine upkeep chores, many of which have been haphazardly added to the stack of things in the "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" basket.

One of those (for me, anyway) has been checking the rain gutters for debris, and while I'm glad there are a lot of trees near the house. . . well, you know.  I suppose I'd rather be up a ladder for a while than up a creek with water damage in the attic, so there goes a couple of hours I hadn't budgeted for, and that's my writing time this morning.

Add to that, today is my best friend's birthday, so in addition to my fairly full schedule for today I'll be baking a pineapple upside-down cake and preparing dinner for him and a few other good friends.

My friend's birthday cake from last year

I hope your weekend goes smoothly and that you have some time to relax and have fun, too.  As time goes by that connection with family and friends becomes more important, so make the best of it!

See you back here on Monday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

As Rare As Hen's Teeth 1: Expat Requests

"Proper chocolates" are a desired commodity among many expats. In fact, I've never noted it not being greatly appreciated.

The last few trips friends there have asked me to bring them coffee beans, sharp cheddar cheese and what they call "proper chocolate", something that will actually melt in your mouth as opposed to the waxy warm-climate chocolate that's offered for sale in Thailand.

The coffee requests have surprised me because there are several chains there that do quite a trade in it, including that green-colored place based in Seattle that I do my level best to ignore wherever I go.  I'd rather go without coffee than support those folks, and personally I put them just a notch below that clown's hamburger chain.  My best friend grew up on a coffee farm and thinks they over-roast their beans.  "Why would anyone want burnt coffee?" is the question I get from them, and I don't have an answer for that.  Anyway, the topic isn't my coffee bean preferences, it's things that would be welcomed by expats and some Thai folks. . . and a pound or two or Peet's coffee (or another quality brand) have always hit a home run with folks there.  The person's favorite brand of tea may not be available there, either, and would be a light and welcome gift.

Hot dogs, aside from what pass as sausages in Thailand, are something expats have problems finding there, and there still seems to be an ongoing debate on a few forums regarding what constitutes a "real" pastrami sandwich. Some of this is just quibbling on details from personal preferences, but a decent hot dog truly isn't all that common, from my experiences, anyway.

Fresh and/or perishable items are a challenge, but if you stop and think about it you'll probably find a way; necessity being the mother of invention, and all that.  Being that some of you will be seeing friends the first or second day after arriving you can care for things long enough to get them there safely, as I have.

Cheese, for example. After doing some online research without much luck I called a cheese processing company and explained the challenge. The good folks at Tillamook to the North of me assured me that as long as the brick was still sealed, kept as cold as possible until going into my suitcase (wrapped in some clothes as insulation) that it would keep just fine for at least 36 hours, which was much more than enough time for me to get from my front door to my room in Thailand, where it went into the room's refrigerator.  The next day there were smiles all around the office when friends found out there was sharp cheddar cheese in the break room. Two full pounds of it didn't last the day, as I recall.  By the way, freezing cheese to take along changes its consistency when it's thawed, and I wouldn't recommend it.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) didn't know quite what to make of it, and probably thought the worst because when I opened my bag in Thailand I found the standard notice saying "we have opened your luggage and inspected the contents," which I've gotten somewhat used to finding. If I were looking at a screen and saw something dense the size of a brick I'd probably be interested in seeing what it was, too.

Internet image, not mine
The first time my luggage was hand inspected on the way to the plane was when I was taking four Magic 8-balls to the students I sponsor there, and those items all lined up in a row aroused some curiosity, too. Why 8-balls? See the post from Friday the 13th - or the one about joking about death on a song taew in Chiang Mai.

My notice hadn't been personalized like the one a woman got advising her to "get your freak on" that was in the news a while back (the resolution for that instance is noted by the TSA here), but it gives you a kind of odd feeling to think someone's been going through your things.  Unfortunately, it's all part of travel now.

But I'm off topic. Sorry.

Chocolate - at least, the style we're used to in the West - melts too easily to be practical for regular distribution there, and while you can buy the same brands they don't usually have the mouth feel of the creamier style you're more than likely used to.  Sees candies is a favorite with one of my best female friends there, and I make a habit of taking her a pound or two each visit. She's an expat from the United Kingdom and provides me with so much help when I'm there that she's well worth the effort.  When I arrive at my room there I put the box into the refrigerator and it holds just fine.

Another good friend I'd taken a box to left it open to share with their office mates while we went to lunch, and the photo up top today shows how it looked when we returned.  At least they had the decency not to poke a hole in the bottom to see what the filling was and then put it back - with any that were left, anyway.

A commodity that isn't difficult to find but is somewhat expensive is peanut butter.  There's a story from way back about my visit to a Thai prison that tells more about the sticky stuff, and if you know a PB-aholic they may be quite pleased with a large container of Skippy Super Chunk.

Another somewhat pricey item in Thailand is beef jerky.  I've had a standing request for that for some time now.

Specific spices and herbs have been requested, too.  Some prepared concoctions for soup, dip and the likes can hit a familiar place, too, but those are more personalized and you'd need to ask the recipient in advance.  Goodness knows they go out of their way often enough to help we visitors - it seems a small thing to do to show how they and their help are appreciated.

That's a start.  When we come back to the topic another time I'll share some things my Thai friends are always happy to see.

Is there something you or friends there have trouble finding that you'd care to share with us?  Leave a comment, if you would.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Flowers, Part 13: Morning Blooms

Orchids blooming on a tree in Santhipap Park, Bangkok

A pink Mussaenda shrub blooms
After accompanying a friend to Victory Monument fairly early one morning (where he caught his usual ride to work) I took my time walking back along Thanon Ratchawithi, detouring through Santhipap Park, a peaceful stretch between Ratchawithi and Thanon Rang Nam.

It's an elongated park - seemingly an afterthought amid a well-built-up area - and nothing like the vast expanse of Lumphini Park.  About a football field wide it's perhaps 10 fields long, but has paths, benches, ponds and well-maintained flowers and trees.

The last time I mentioned this particular park was a couple of months ago in November, when a young couple became part of the "Smiles" series as they were courting on a bench, the same morning today's photos were taken.

Early morning and late afternoon light are just about my favorite times of day for pictures, and although it can be harsh that's just part of the challenge, I suppose.  Anyway, here today are three different "pink-ish" pictures taken in Santhipap Park, and one red herring. . .

Ixora is a common shrub used throughout Thailand, but a dense bunch of clusters are still really beautiful, I think.
That's one carefully carved tangmo (watermelon)

OK, so the last one's not really a flower, but every so often you run into a fruit or vegetable garnish that's been carved so skillfully it's worthy of being included with the real things.  The well thought out detail of this watermelon carving reminded me a little of the carved soap flowers from "Don't drop the soap (it's fragile)" post from last September.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Better To Light A Candle Than Just Bitch, I Guess

Bees pause briefly while carrying pollen (and other things) from one beautiful bloom to another. Get the idea?

Although yesterday's post was more about hope than anything else a comment came in saying (I'm paraphrasing here) "what can be done about it if the Thai themselves don't care?" and it warrants following up on the post here rather than trying to put it into a comment reply. The comment also contained a link and some inappropriate language so I didn't let it go through, but here's my reply:

First and foremost I didn't say the Thai aren't concerned about what I call our Modern Day Plague. Only a total idiot or someone with a death wish would line up to be stricken with HIV or AIDS, and there's far more visible public education going on in Thailand than in the United States - to our shame, I might add.  On top of that, it takes two to tango and far too many visitors to Thailand feel that the "anything goes" mentality makes the wishful thought of invincibility in some way a prophylactic of the classic definition... which, by the way, it's not.

Naturally I don't mean to imply that the following could include any of you reading this, but tourists can be reckless, impulsive and selfish even when sober, and far too many regularly tranquilize themselves in the name of having a good time, which can sometimes make things worse.

In that spirit I'll light a candle rather than merely curse the darkness. Here goes. . .

Quite a while ago I posted a piece about safe sex and included a Thai public service announcement about it that's still a fine example of clear thinking on the part of the Thai media. I'm re-posting that clip here:

...and here's a newer one about birthdays (and very thoughtful gifts, I might add):

Nevertheless, it was still estimated as late as 2010 that 60% of sexually active teenagers, more than 50% of males having sex with males and 40% of sex workers didn't use condoms consistently [source: Thai Department of Disease Control].  The highest numbers of new infections in Thailand tend to be in the middle-twenties age bracket, the most popular age for many in the sex trade, where the infection rate is between 25% and 35%, depending on which source you choose to accept.

An unpleasant reminder
of a pleasant encounter
If you have friends in Thailand - especially those in any of the categories in the paragraph above - may I suggest you make an effort to do something to help. Bringing the topic up in conversation may well be awkward, but if you're truly friends it's worth the risk of being seen as a bit forward, and if this person is at high risk (i.e. in "the trade") it's well worth the risk, isn't it?

There are several worthwhile organizations out there that do great work helping educate those in the sex trade with facts and safe sex supplies, and perhaps you could show them a web site or give them contact information. One of these is the Bangkok-based SWING (Service Workers in Group) on Patpong Soi 1. Another I've heard encouraging things about is MPlus+ in Chiang Mai (although I can't personally vouch for them).

There are two in Pattaya that I have had direct contact with and would personally vouch for: Heartt2000 and TakeCare Safe Sex Project.

Heartt2000 is the umbrella over Dr. Philippe Seur and his work helping those who aren't sure where to go and those who think they have nowhere else to go. While some assistance is available through the Thai National Health not all of the more effective treatments are included yet, and that's where Seur is (more than likely) a life saver.

TakeCare volunteers fill and distribute packets of condoms, lube and information to male club workers. Their supplies come from private donations.  One year I took them a box of 1,000 condoms and have another case of lube sachets waiting to take on my next trip, but they're fine with cash donations, too.

If you can't do anything else to help while on holiday - wherever that may be - and your holiday just isn't complete without having intimate contact with a native at the very least set a proper example and practice safe sex yourself.  Every time.

Feel free to forward the link to this post to Thai friends so they can see the commercials above as well as the information below if you want. I took 15 minutes and scanned a brochure that won't make a lot of sense to you if you don't read Thai, but it might help a Thai avoid infection.  I'd like that.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Having A Dream - Especially Today

Knowledge is truly the key to the problem

Today is Martin Luther King's birthday. Most of you have heard the "I have a dream" speech, made famous by his presentation on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Although it wasn't "new" for that day - it was an adaptation of a few speeches previously presented - the thoughts behind it coalesced compelling thoughts for millions.  That gave birth to further understanding and acceptance, and helped move the entire process (read: education) of the United States; making progress in combating ignorance, prejudice and fear. That process is far from complete, but great progress has been made.

In the early 1980s a new blanket of ignorance, prejudice and fear was thrown over the collective heads of not only the American public, but of peoples around the world; a new disease that appeared to cross all boundaries, with no discriminatory capability of its own: AIDS.  It circled the globe with the speed of modern travel of the time, and soon affected people on every continent of our planet - except Antarctica, as far as we know.

Where did it come from? How was it spread? Who could be blamed for it?  Populations everywhere clamored for answers like villagers to their spiritual guides when some new affliction reached where they lived.  At first the homosexuals were blamed for it, and that prejudice - coupled with another long standing one - has lasted to this day, despite extensive proof that it is only one of many ways of transmission.

My educated guess is that there aren't all that many IV drug users or heterosexuals in extremely uneducated  third world countries that follow this site, so let's leave them and the other fringe transmission possibilities out of the loop today and stick with sex, shall we?

So far I've kept this site acceptable for all but the most innocent of audiences so I'm not going to go into any graphic detail today, but if you look at totals of infection overall the Human Immune Deficiency virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS is primarily spread by sexual contact.  A generalization, but one I'm going to run with today.

Let me say that I personally know some Thai/Westerner couples in long-term, committed monogamous relationships, and I think that's wonderful.  That's what life's all about: sharing, caring, and being one unit. Today's post is for the others.

If we go back again for a moment to the regular followers of this site I'd think it safe to say that a good number of you are planning to visit the country within the next year or so, if you haven't already.  Maybe I'll start a poll on this just for my own curiosity one of these days.  Of those folks, there are a number who may be planning to have sexual contact with someone.  I say "may", because the vast majority of tourists through Thailand do not go there for the sex, as unbelievable as that may sound to some. By the way, I'm not judging the sex tourists today, so please attempt to keep your knickers from bunching up.

Today's point is that if you're thinking of visiting one venue or another in search of sex you need to be better educated than the sex workers themselves if you wish to protect yourself from exposure to HIV or the wide spectrum of other sexually transmitted diseases that await you in any such situation.  The early warning line we got in the USA "If you have sex with someone, you're also sleeping with everyone they've slept with before you (et cetera, et cetera)" is just as valid today as it was a few decades ago, and worth thinking about.

If you believe that the male or female you rent for a while hasn't slept with anyone before you there's an investment opportunity I know of that's just for you - please email me today.  Fall in love with a bar boy or a bar girl? Bollocks. I wish you the best of luck in your fool's paradise, and I hope you continue to wear protection for all varieties of sex each time you come back to visit the one who you believe sits and waits for you while you're back home.  Let's take a quick look at some of the delights that await you if you don't, shall we?

Hepatitus B
Hepatitus C
Trichomoniasis (more with female contact)
Bacterial Vaginosis (also more female)
HPV - that can cause:
Genital warts and
Anal warts

You can add to that any number of miscelaneous UTIs (urinary tract infections) as icing on the cake if you really need to, but the above 10 ought to make you stop and think... at least a little bit.  While some of these can be treated, slowed or cured, some are gifts that keep on giving for a lifetime, and a couple can help bring life to a close far earlier than it probably would have otherwise.

Youth often believes they wear a cloak of invincibility, and that's why 85% of Thai youth don't think HIV is something they need to concern themselves with - although 70% of sexual infections occur in this group - and only an estimated 20 - 30% of them use condoms [noted from a study by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].

So, my dream today is this: may knowledge find a way to do an end run around the rampant cultural, dogmatic and social prejudices that have hobbled the dissemination of information to help peoples around the world make an educated choice, at the very least.

For those of you who already have the information at your fingertips and are not in a monogamous relationship (one that you are as sure of as you can possibly be) please make use of it and be safe - with every partner, every time.

Not a very jolly topic for a holiday, but for some of you out there it's a matter of life and death.  Yours.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday The 13th

Walking under an elephant
is believed to bring good luck
In Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" he and his somewhat loopy 60-something cousin "Sook" bake fruitcakes to send to friends in December.  When they're counting their change before buying supplies one year Buddy states he counts a total of exactly $13.00, and Sook -  slightly aghast - says "Buddy, we can't mess around with thirteen... our cakes would fall; we'd be likely to put someone in the hospital.  I don't even get out of bed on the thirteenth!"  Rather than count it again, and "just to be safe", they throw a penny out the window.

I'm not much on superstitions myself, but I regularly find myself in a position while traveling to humor someone who is.  For example, in the Philippines you can't go to bed with wet hair because you're liable to die in your sleep.  One close Japanese friend insists you can't whistle at night because it's bad luck.  A Thai friend backs up a variation of that same belief as he told me one balmy evening while I was whistling while walking that it would attract pee (ghosts) - and ghosts are something you do not want to mess with among the believing Thai - trust me.  The exception is if you're in the film industry, as movies about ghosts seem to keep the Thai film industry thriving.

The rooms in the rear of the Om Yim Lodge (where there is no room #13) overlook a picturesque old Chinese cemetery, but I've had friends visiting who were uncomfortable with that, asking "why didn't you get a room facing the front?"  For a couple of visits I requested one just to avoid the possible problem.  Better view facing the BTS, anyway.

Friday the 13th is winding down where I am, and it's already the 14th in Thailand so I hope everyone I know there is still drawing breath and free of a hospital bed.  If the day was to be unlucky for me I seemed to have missed that part, but it was a frantic day of errands, appointments, meetings and the likes - a day that spiraled out of my control somewhere after my morning coffee when the phone rang.  Nevertheless, I've gotten through it... so far.

If I'm not back on Monday you can blame it on the wrath of the universe being brought down on me for dissing superstitions.

Or a ghost.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rented Admirers 2: Comfort's Where You Find It

A customer stops to chat with the girls after finishing his session

Although we've already done a a story about farang and their rented admirers there's an aspect of the World's Oldest Profession at work here that's more compassionate than others, and that "softer" side fills a void for many who succumb to the siren song of the touts that line club alleys or linger in front of some of the massage parlors in Thailand: they just want to feel desired - possibly even attractive - for a while, at least.

Take as an example the man in the photo above.  I use the photo because nobody's identifiable, it was taken some time back and the shop is now part of a construction lot, as is the internet shop nearby where I spoke with the man a short while after the photos were taken. We were at PC stations that faced each other, and I'd asked him point blank "How was the massage?  Good shop?"  Understandably, he looked a little surprised, so I pointed in that direction and told him I'd noticed him coming out of the place while walking to the internet shop.

"Yeah," he allowed, somewhat sheepishly "They seem to be OK with me there, and there's a lot to be OK with!" He smiled as he motioned down the front of himself, gently noting that he was obese. "That's their job..." I thought to myself, but I didn't voice the opinion.  What I did say was "Good. Happy to hear it."

We chatted a bit more before going back to our email and other things, but one thing he mentioned during that short visit stuck with me: he said "It's nice to feel loved. I don't get much of that back home." "Oh," I said "surely you have friends and family back home who love you," and he replied "No, I mean physically desired."  I was a little taken aback as I always am when faced with the "Stranger on a Bus Syndrome"; when people reveal things to a total stranger they wouldn't share with anyone in their everyday life. I couldn't think of a way of agreeing with him without being unkind, so I replied that what he was feeling was perfectly human; we all need to feel attractive sometimes, whether we think we are ourselves or not.

I turned on my camera and held it up towards him so he could see the few images I'd taken.  He was surprised and laughed "Yup, that's me... Mr. Thirteen-XL!", making reference to a shirt size. I said "They seemed to be enjoying their visit with you - they were offering to share their snacks with you as you were leaving."  "Yeah," he laughed as he patted his belly "that may have been the first food I've turned down in six months!"

I shared with him that I'd had weight problems at different points throughout my life, and he gave me a brief but revealing look into his history - one I've heard variations on more than a few times: he'd been a chubby child in a less than ideal family setting and ate for comfort, although he didn't come to that realization until years later. He hid his feelings by being the class clown, but he was a lonesome teenager through high school and college, feeling he'd never have the loving relationship he wanted.  Here in the Land of Smiles he'd found a temporary fix, and he was quite thankful for that.

Although these are my own unscientific observations, if you take the time to observe those who are "on the prowl" in either a girly bar or a gay go-go club you can usually identify which of three groups they belong to: the headstrong/bold, the amiable/sociable and the docile/meek.  The guy today was of the docile group: feeling he was undesirable he paid for the company and physical closeness, and it's difficult to be critical of that if you're not some bible-thumping moralist, and the more vocal of those tend to end up in the news for playing in the same sandbox.

Not that people from any of the three groups are uniformly free of mental and emotional baggage, but if you ask enough working as those whose time and company are paid for (and I have) you'll learn that those the least difficult to deal with are the docile customers, for a variety of reasons we don't need to go off topic for today.  For simplicity's sake say they often are gentle and just looking for the closeness.

Years back I had an acquaintance here stateside that was a nice-looking, successful young man, regularly paying for the company of a sex worker, but not often for the sex; it was the closeness and affection he convinced himself was reality during the time they were together.  He was socially awkward and had thus far been unable to get himself to get out into the dating pool and find himself a mate.  He's now married with two kids and doing fine, but at the time he was somewhat of a mess.

I think that's sometimes the case with those labeled as "sex tourists" while travelling, too. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Walking The Crocodile Farm In Samut Prakarn

There are plenty of things to see and do in addition to the crocodile show at the Samut Prakarn (also spelled Prakan) Crocodile Farm and Zoo just on the outskirts of Bangkok - more than a mixed group or family could really do in a day, and there's something for those of all ages. While I've seen small children at the crocodile shows I know they're not for everybody, but there are plenty of other options.

Dinosaur statues in one area - there are more than just these two
In addition to the crocodile wrestling shows there's an elephant show going on every 60 minutes, also, featuring a few pachyderms going through the routines you'd see at most any elephant show: playing soccer, twirling a hoop and similar tricks that's definitely appropriate for all ages. There's also a fairly good sized playground, an informative museum, the paddle boats to ride around on and a train you can ride all around the park.

I havent got photos of the limited zoo area, but there are a dozen or so types of animals in pens around the perimeter.

You can eat in several different spots, from walk-away snacks to sit down meals, and since this is a hatchery and farm, there are many many places to shop for crocodile goods ranging from simple trinkets and souvenirs to pricey accessory items.

As you'd also see at many theme parks there are photo opportunities galore, from silly to daring - such as crouching down next to one of the larger show crocodiles out on the "show" island, or beside a large tiger. Granted, these particular specimens may well be slightly sedated for safety's sake (at least, that's what I told myself when I put myself withing striking range) but still...

Pose next to this fine specimen for a photo, ready to pick up in a few minutes

The biggest draw, though, are the crocodiles themselves, and as was mentioned in the introductory post about the place they claim to have 100,000 of them. Many of the pens are open and allow you to get as close to them as anyone needs to be. There are a few examples below.

"Dog pile," crocodile style

Here's one I bet you didn't know: crocodiles hold their mouths open to regulate their temperature.

The line from the movie "Forrest Gump" was "Stupid is as stupid does," and evidently there are stupid people all around the globe, as illustrated by the multi-language signs around the park's enclosures:

I put two photos together to show "before" and "after" when raw chicken is dropped from the elevated walkways

Battling for the snacks - taken from the elevated walkway
That's about all I have for you on the place this round. If there's interest I'll run another set of photos from some other shows I've attended there sometime in the future. I hope some day you can visit there yourself.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mach Schau: More Crocodile Show Video Clips

In yesterday's post I mentioned the inherent danger of dealing with crocodiles on turf that quite clearly belongs more to them than the human performers, which includes slipping and falling or allowing your attention to wander while within striking distance, as it's a safe bet the crocodiles rarely lose sight of the snacks walking around them.

Where did I get the term "mach schau"? It's from my youthful Beatles fan days, and it's stuck with me.  When they were playing 12+ hour shifts in Germany before hitting it big with "yeah, yeah, yeah" the audience would continue to push them for more, more, more by shouting mach schau (more show) at them.  There.  Now aren't you glad you asked?  Here today are two more clips of the crocodile show.

The first clip shows a crocodile wrestler attempting repeatedly to single out the specific crocodile he wants up on the island-like stage to participate in the next part of the show. In this instance I believe it was the "money shot" portion, where the guys place money thrown by the audience into the crocodile's mouth and then retrieve it with their hands.

The crocodile wasn't in the mood, had a headache or for whatever reason didn't want to play, and the wrestler had a bit of a time getting it out of the water.  At one point the crocodile turns and snaps, and by how fast it moved I suspect falling is a legitimate worry for the wrestlers.

In the clip yesterday you saw the thinner of the two trying to get the other to stick their head into the reptile's mouth.  The clip below is what happened afterwards.  As you'll see, after giving a wai more of prayer than respect - although I'm sure that was part of it - the young man hesitates and makes a false start but eventually puts the front half of his head within the biting radius of the crocodile, to the shouts of the announcer over the loudspeaker and the blare of the old "Hawaii 5-0" theme - both of which I could have done without if I was putting my face on the line, so to speak.

Tomorrow you'll see more of the animals and grounds as we wrap up this trip to the Crocodile Farm.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Showtime: Offering A Crocodile A Little Head

A young man with more courage than good sense, in my opinion

The Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo runs a live show every 60 minutes from 09:30 in the morning through the afternoon, the last one being at 20:30, I believe. You'll find an overview about the park by clicking the link above. I've been there a few times, and since it's usually been for only part of a day I've yet to see all of the place because I tend to get drawn into the small stadium where they do this particular show.

There's always a minor concern as to how animals are handled for circuses and shows such as this, but in this instance there's a chance for the reptiles to get revenge - although in truth it's most likely just natural instinctive reaction on their part. Call it the gruesome streak in me - and maybe that's true - but being the timid soul I am personally makes the vicarious thrill of possible danger a compelling draw.  Judging from the crowds the show draws I'm surrounded by plenty of company, I've noticed.

While waiting for a show one afternoon I heard a woman roar in what I guess she thought was the noise a crocodile makes when it's about to attack, and turned to see her teasing her little boy by "roaring" and clamping her hands at him, croc-style.  At first he laughed, but after taking a closer look at the size of the beasts now being roused below by a staff member his expression sobered up and she stopped.

The woman in the lower left makes a mock attack on her son

The show begins with a trumpeting musical fanfare of some sort - the Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark themes were really big for a while - punctuated by a man doing his best to whip up the crowd's enthusiasm via loudspeakers around the stadium. I'd suggest not sitting too close to one as they're fairly loud. There's usually some English involved, but most of the audience is Thai so don't expect a lot of details offered in your native tongue, if any.

Maneuvering before the show
Sometimes there's a show girl along to sweeten the pot for some watching, making exaggerated gestures with her arms like a woman showing what's behind Door Number One on a game show, but once the show starts most of the audience is paying more attention to the two men entering the area at ground level, onto an island raised perhaps a foot above the water level of the pond around it. After offering a wai of greeting to the audience as the announcer introduces them to the applause of the crowd they wade out into the pond to about calf-level and begin splashing water up onto the island stage with their hands and arms, making it not only easier to move the crocodiles around, but also for the comfort of said reptilian guests. There are also a few spray holes in the surface of the island that are turned on and off during the performance to help do the same thing.

While one is slicking up the performance area the other is scouting around for the specimens they plan to use for different parts of the show. I'm told familiarity is key for some of the tricks involved, and if you're putting yourself in grave danger predictability is probably the wiser path to choose, I suppose. These creatures have jaws with a clamping pressure of 5,000 pounds per square inch (an alligator can only manage 2,000, but I don't recommend playing with them, either).  Most of you are familiar with Rottweiler and "pit bull" dog attacks via the news; they ring in around 400Lb/Sq inch, and a human can manage slightly over 100Lb/Sq inch - just as points of reference.

At the shows I've attended they start out small and work their way up.  Maneuvering the creatures is usually done by the tail.  While the muscles of their tails closer to the body are quite powerful for swimming and striking if the body is grounded it can't pull its body around by the end of it, so pulling it backwards is the easiest - and safest - way of moving the crocodiles around.

Losing his grip on the tail a performer lands hard during a show

There's one exception to that, though, and that's if you fly backwards and end up on your back, knocking your head on the cement and losing your focus while you try to get up with your head spinning.  The crocodile can get turned around pretty quickly, and I once saw a performer nearly end his career after a near-disastrous slip and fall after losing his grip on the tail. There isn't room for one of these to get up to speed in this enclosed area, but they can go as fast on land as around seven miles per hour (10Km/hr), and while I can't speak for you that's faster than I normally move.

The first "tricks" are usually just done with a stick, such as the one held by the guy in the photo below, seeing who's reflexes are best as the guy puts the stick into the crocodile's open jaws.  As you can see by the shredded end of the stick it's somewhat of a toss-up as to who's won the most rounds.

The ante is upped when one of the performers gets a crocodile to open its mouth, kneels before it and then "charms" it with light strokes with a stick on the top side of the snout from eyes to nostrils a few times before sticking his hand and/or forearm into the open mouth. Things almost always go according to plan, and the crowd throws money down onto the island to tip the guys - usually currency folded up around a coin to give it enough heft to carry it the distance down from the stands. They pick it up to get it out of the way, thank the audience and stash it away.

Upping the ante a bit further they then proceed to do a similar stunt while putting their heads between the open, toothy jaws. Below is a clip of the performers putting on a show as one tried to get another to put his head into the crocodile's mouth.

Eventually they make it, as the guy up top today proves. If you think about it for a moment, this is an extremely nervy move.  Remember, while they have limited side-to-side movement to their "necks" and very little muscle power to open their mouths there's that bone-crushing power to snap them shut. I've taken pictures where the performer's expression is intended to be a smile but indicates a look closer to "get me the hell OUT of here!"   Here's another still shot from that same show:

They play to both sides of the arena, so for those of you who prefer an alternate view here's one from the back side:

Here you can see how far into the jaws this guy's head is

The tips come raining down on the guys after these tricks, and you'd think they'd leave well enough alone and quit while they were ahead, but no... they scoop up the money, drag in another scaled participant and, after getting it to hold it's mouth open they put some of the money into it, reaching not just inside and picking up the bills and coins from the crocodile's (immovable) tongue, but deeper down past its palatal flap - the stiff tissue that allows it to keep water out and breath through its nostrils - and that puts them far enough in that if the beast decides to clamp down on their forearm there's really nothing they can do to escape.

A crocodile's natural instinct when it's chomped down on something is to do what's known as a "death roll", which disorients their prey and allows them to drag it underwater where they can break it's bones and often drown it. I know there are clips of unfortunate performers being snapped down on out there on the web, but while I'll joke about such things with friends it's nothing I'd care to watch myself, so you're on your own finding them.

I'd say if you have an opportunity to see one of these shows, do it.  Maybe stick around and see it twice. I usually do.

With effort, a performer hoists up one of his fellow performers