HIV and Khao Sarn Road
I recently completed another jaunt to the LOS and feel compelled to offer an update to the Biergarten on Soi 7 and the girls that frequent the place.
The whole thing started a couple days after arriving in Bangkok and spending a while milling around the Sukumvit area. I was sitting in the food court on soi 7 reading the paper one afternoon when an "old" friend wandered up to the table. (Call her "K" for this report.) K is a Biergarten regular and a friend of one of the freelancers that I had hired on several occasions. I never felt physically attracted to her but she spoke decent English and just one of those people that you feel comfortable talking to among all the financially motivated conversations in farang Bangkok. I had met her on a previous trip to the city and we'd exchanged a few friendly emails during my absence. I think she saw me as a customer initially, but later realized that it wasn't going to happen. Because of that, sex and money weren't really a direct issue between us (at least as much as that's ever possible), and I felt like we shared a unique kind of honesty with respect to the scene. She'd openly tell me about her customers and I'd tell her about my temporary employees. Anyway, she sat down and we were just shooting the shit there, both of us with a casual, yet interested part-time eye on the entrance to the Biergarten and I happened to bring up the subject of HIV.
"K, do you know anybody that's has HIV?" I asked.
"Sure," she says, her casual reply startles me.
"Anybody that works in the Biergarten?"
"Yes, I think 50-50."
I'm pretty sure I understand what she means, but just want to make sure. "You mean, you think half the girls in there are HIV positive?"
"How do you know?"
"I speak them. And I see in hospital."
This is getting interesting as well as hitting just a little too close to home, but after verifying some more details, I press on.
"Have you ever seen me go with lady who is HIV?" I ask, almost knowing the answer before she speaks.
"Jing jing," she says.
Her answer baffles me. "Why didn't you say anything?" I ask incredulously while quickly reassessing our friendship.
"You use condom. No problem," she says like she's talking about the weather.
At this point I'd put the paper down and can feel the sweat forming on my forehead. The hoi malaeng po and Singha I'd recently ingested is starting to worm it's way back up my esophagus. I don't know about you but, condom or not, I don't really want to have any kind of a physical relationship with somebody that is HIV positive, no matter how brief our contact. The thing is, I dig oral sex, and I know that the odds of contracting HIV from this activity are slim, they are there, and I know I'd done this with more than a couple girls from the Biergarten. At the same time I don't know if K really knows of what she speaks or is just trying to impress me with her working knowledge, but by now it's too late. I'm dumbfounded with what suddenly seems like obvious realizations that for some reason had never had a meaningful impact on my thick skull. Like many farangs I'm sure, I'd always heard the statistic that somewhere around one in six Thais were HIV positive. In my head, I'd always say, "Yeah, that's all those needle-sharing, menial-labor locals who don't use condoms when they're visiting their local Chang Rai brothel." But all of a sudden it makes sense, "Half the girls in the Biergarten are HIV positive, yeah, I can easily see that." See, nobody in any kind of authority around there has any interest in exposing just how many of these freelance girls are infected. It goes along with the Thai mentality perfectly: if everything looks OK, the farang goes away happy and the girl gets paid for a quality service rendered, why shake things up? So what if the farang goes home with a decease? What's he going to do, sue a freelancer for nondisclosure? And the Biergarten (as well as it's cousin, the Thermae, for that matter) is the depository for all the can't-get-a-job-anywhere-else, need-the-cash-tonight girls from anywhere. The thing that really got me though, is just how casually she spoke of the HIV thing, like it's no big deal and everybody knows about it.
Man! That two minute exchange not only ruined my day, but somehow instantly soured the whole scene. All of a sudden I feel like I'd just had enough of this this twisted freak show.
After hastily excusing myself, I went back to the hotel and moped. I felt a little bit betrayed by K (though I don't blame her), but also that, through some glitch in the system, I had just accidentally caught a glimpse of the little man working all the levers behind the curtain. The thing that most people kind of know about but nobody's supposed to see because it ruins everything. I decided a change was needed and figured the next morning I'd head over to Khao San for a bit. I'd visited before, but never spent much time and, what the hell, it was cheap.
Khao San offered a refreshing change to the whole Sukumvit scene, mostly because I'm still sweating what K had revealed. Big difference here. On Sukumvit I'd always felt young, on Khao San I immediately felt like an old fart. I'm average looking, tall, early thirties, reasonably athletic, and blond, but on Khao San that's nothing to write home about. Just too many tan, twenty something, shirtless Euro-dudes. But, like I said, it was refreshing. Sukumvit was like shopping, Khao San felt like hunting.
There are plenty of desirable women on Khao San but they're of a shockingly different nature than what I was used to. Shocking, mostly because it was so much like home. Most of the girls here on initial contact, either working in bars or just hanging out, just seemed a little chilly but, after putting in some hours, it kind of grew on me. I slowly came to the conclusion that the girls were like this because of the predominately cheap nature of most of the farangs here. After dark, some of the bars along the main drag seemed to attract more than a few last dollar, already drunk, hippie frat boys yelling for another round of 40 baht big Changs. Nonetheless, there are a couple of late-night clubs in the area that are simply loaded with gorgeous local women. On my second night there, a like-minded farang and I hooked up with two local lovelies who, after dancing our asses off, steered us to an off-premises, mostly locals, police funded hot spot for way after hours fun. Subsequent evenings held similar discoveries and all relationships were of the platonic nature. Like granola after too many frosted flakes. Though I did go back to Sukumvit the night before I left for home, it didn't feel at all the same and if I return, I'm not sure where I'd go first.
I am only relating this to you because of the balance to Sukumvit that Khao San offered to the Bangkok scene. While I by no means believe that Sukumvit or Khao San are completely typical of Bangkok (let alone Thailand) and it's people, they do offer an insightful contrast.
The interesting thing about this last trip, thinking about it now, is that I've recognized this kind of progressive (or regressive maybe) scale that I've moved along since my first time there. I started out being infatuated with go bars and massage parlours and gradually shifted to beer bars. After some of that, freelance places had a strong attraction just because there seemed to be something more exciting, less predictable about what you'd find there and what the outcome might be. So this whole transition to places like Khan San and RCA, without realizing it at the time, was a continuation. I recognize now, there seems to be an ever-changing balance that some of us, as men, need between the basic biological desire to get laid and that of pursuing women that are somehow, at least initially perceived to be, just beyond our grasp.
I very much doubt the figures of 50% of the Beer Garden girls being positive. In all truth and honesty, I'd be surprised if it was even 5%. You do hear these sorts of urban myths around and K probably truly believed those figures to be true. Khao Sarn Road is a great alternative from Sukumvit Road and yes, there are young lasses available out there. Remember any Thai girl going to Khao Sarn Road knows that the guys there are predominantly farang. Now this does not mean that they are prepared to jump into bed with any old farang or anything like that, BUT they know that it is a farang dominated area and they still go along…yes, many of them are "curious"!