Friday, August 31, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 23: A Bar Boy's Retirement Home

An unexpected story waited on the other side of this bridge

Anyone who's been reading this for a while already knows I've collected stories from a lot of bar boys (or gogo boys or Rented Admirers, whichever label you prefer to use).  Since I speak precious little Thai I've been very fortunate to have friends who have acted as translators and go-between help. Not that one really needs to speak Thai to enjoy visiting or traveling through Thailand, but personally I think it's only polite (and respectful) to have some words and phrases memorized - hence book report one, and we'll cover others as we go along.

But getting back to bar boys: there have been posts about visiting their room, how one found a farang partner and happily left the business, being mistreated by abusive bosses, doing double duty while working in club, one about my first interviewee, and one telling of a young man whose life was cut far too short by HIV, to reference just a few I've collected. There are also a few other related stories you can look through if you click on the Gogo Boys label in the right-hand column.

As to the girls or ladies working the same club/gogo/sex trade - also known as the World's Oldest Profession - I still haven't conjured up the interest to try interviews with any of them, but my possibly rash assumption is that the underlying details would be much the same. That's an error I intend to rectify next trip. [Yes, I did say that before the last trip, too. Mea culpa.]

But that's far enough to stray - back to today's topic.

My friend was driving us through Chantaburi on our weekend getaway and had stopped at a spot a ways off of our charted course to get drinks. Naturally, I wandered off, camera in hand.  I'd seen the masts of some fishing boats above the shrubbery a short ways away and wanted to get a better look. Rounding a corner I came to a wooden footbridge over the end of a narrow side canal.

The simple bridge crossed the shallow water to a house on the opposite side, where a small house stood. On the somewhat hobbled together stoop were a few potted plants and some wind chimes, making their music under the eaves of the roof near a tattered Thai flag... and a man, leaning on the railing and smoking a cigarette. He saw me taking pictures of the boats nearby and waved a greeting to me, smiling.

I said hello to him and went back to watching another man, sitting barefoot in one of the boats and singing to himself as he mended one of his fishing nets.  He didn't hear me, so he didn't look up until the man on the porch called to him and got his attention. He looked over to me, waved, and went back to his work.

Satisfied with the images I'd gotten, I'd turned to go back to the car when I saw my friend coming to collect me so we could be on our way.  He reached me just as the man outside the house called to him, and they spoke briefly in Thai; my friend pointing at me, and them both laughing a little. "I told him you're a visitor from America who has to take pictures of everything," he smiled, as the man called out again, waving us over to him.  We crossed the bridge - me hoping it would hold the both of us and keep me (and my camera) from landing in the water below.

Mending fishing nets 

Approaching the porch I could hear a woman speaking to someone, and soon two small faces peered out from around the edge of the open doorway. They stared for a minute until I said "Good morning" to them, and then quickly disappeared, giggling.  A minute later they peeked out again while my friend spoke briefly to the man. Turning to me, the man spoke to me in Thai. My friend translated. "He wants to know what you're doing out in the countryside," he said, and I replied with a short explanation about enjoying seeing Thai life away from the city. Through my friend I asked how long he'd been fishing. All his life?  Did he come from a fishing family?

His name was Wut, and it turned out that he did - his family had been fishing for several generations, but that he'd done other work for a while in the past.  Out of curiosity I'd asked what else he'd done, and he chuckled and said that during a rather trying financial stretch for the family when he was about 20 he'd followed one of his friends to Bangkok to seek his fortune and help the family.

I ought to have left it at that, but something made me ask my friend to inquire what he'd done in Bangkok.  Wut said something to my friend, who seemed a little surprised. "He said he worked in a bar for a couple of years," I was told, and Wut winked at me and said - in English - "boy bar".  I managed to keep what would have been a surprised look off of my face, but even having a pretty good idea of the Thai mai pen rai view regarding sexuality his frankness did take me by surprise.

I just smiled and said "you were a good son to help your family," and was ready to leave it at that, but my friend sensed a story, and being far more knowledgeable about cultural boundaries of propriety than I asked him a few other things, and they spoke quickly back and forth while I stood there, uneasily, wondering if we weren't prying into an area we should have steered clear of.

Wut, talking with my friend about days in his past

"He said it was a long time ago - a good 25 years ago, and he doesn't care if he talks about it now," said my friend. It was an opportunity I'd never had before, so we took some time and listened to Wut's story. While the World's Oldest Profession is just that, his tale was from a viewpoint based in a very different world I'd never heard. He was only at it for about two years, had worked steadily and with a purpose, saved his money and got out relatively unscathed.

It was one of the less colorful stories I've heard, but again, it was clear it came from a different era entirely. I was really grateful to have heard it, and I'll post Wut's story one of these times.

When we'd finished visiting with Wut we said our goodbyes and went back to the car, got back on the road and headed further South to our destination.

This boat hadn't been anywhere in a while, and may still be sitting in the same spot it was in five months ago.


khunbaobao said...

A reader named Sheritza left the comment "Can't wait to read Wut's story...!!! anyway.. nice blog!!!" on this post.

I check all comments to protect others from potentially hazardous linking, so since it set the alarms off when I tested it I'm adding this for them but excluding their link.

My apologies for "censoring," but I hope they'll understand. I appreciate ALL comments, and post almost all of them.

Thank you, Sheritza for the comment!

Mark Vincent Weiss said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
khunbaobao said...

Well, THAT'LL teach me to not just approve an innocent positive-sounding comment without completely checking it for a commercial link.

Nevertheless, "Mark", I hope you actually read the post and got something positive out of it! :-)