A Hot Day In Paradise
A few years back I remember reading in the newspaper that the court decided that it was legal for women to ride the subway bare-chested since it was also legal for men to do so. I don't know if anybody has ever taken advantage of that right, but it seemed reasonable to me since I prefer to wear the fewest amount of clothes possible whenever it's hot out. We've all certainly had a girlfriend or sister or other type of female companion that jealously declared, "I wish I didn't have to wear a shirt in this heat! I'm so hot!" If you're like me you probably muttered something to the effect that it was indeed unfair and sexist for women to be required to wear oppressively hot shirts while imagining throngs of beautiful, topless young women parading through the streets. Of course, if you're like me your imagination is remarkably similar to a 'lite' beer commercial on TV.
Last year I took a 6 month long holiday through SE Asia. I was the the stereotypical lanky, tanned, long-haired backpacker you can meet on Khao San Road. One day after a day spent exploring Bangkok I met a Thai girl on my way back to my guesthouse. She asked me to join her for dinner, and since I'd been traveling alone in some pretty remote places for a while I was keen to have some female company. Things went well and she ended up being like my girlfriend and staying with me for a week or so while I was in town. She was really nice and treated me very kindly, taking care of me when I got sick from drinking too much and showing me around the city. She was a poor girl and completely out of money, so I think she was just trying to latch onto somebody to take care of her for a while. Some of my best memories of Bangkok are with her, wandering between street stalls until she found one that was acceptable to eat at. They all looked the same to me, but she knew what she was looking for. The deal was that she would order for both of us, and I would pay. What a great way to experience the delights of Thai street food, setting a hungry Thai girl loose with a pocket full of baht and a license to eat anything she fancied!
One day she told me she needed to go visit her friend. I followed her through a maze of small soi and sub-soi, ducking under low-hanging, corrugated tin roofs and smiling at the people we passed. I was loving it, and tried to soak up every moment of the experience. I saw the men sitting around smoking cigarettes and women washing clothes or looking after the naked little ones. Skinny, athletic-looking chickens were clucking in every soi, pecking at the asphalt for food. Finally we came to the hovel we were looking for, and we went inside. The men were sitting and smoking while watching a muay Thai boxing match on the TV outside. I was invited to join them with a beckoning gesture made by a scrawny, withered old man with his fist clasped around a flask of Mekong. After a few minutes I realized that I was out of place, as I didn't want to make any bets on the fight. I could sense the men hoping for a friendly wager with an ignorant farang who couldn't tell the difference between the well-matched fighters on the fuzzy screen.
So I went inside the hovel to find my girl sitting on the floor with a gaggle of clucking older Thai ladies playing cards. I watched the game for a while, but I couldn't follow the rules so I dozed off after a few minutes. I awoke a while later and my girl had lost all her baht, so I gave her a little more and tried to take interest in the game again. It was May, and the heat was intense. The small fan in the corner was doing a meagre job of circulating the air, and I felt like I was stuck in a sauna! The women noticed my discomfort and brought me some water. I was pulling the collar of my shirt back and forth away from my sweating neck trying to pump some air inside to cool myself. It was one of those moments that I desperately wished to take off my shirt, but not wanting to offend the ladies I refrained.
Apparently one of the older ladies in the group could read my mind. She was a plump woman of about 60 with a missing front tooth. I guess she was uncomfortable with the heat as well. She unbuttoned her shirt, took it off and folded it up neatly onto the floor next to her. She turned to me and gave a somewhat toothless grin and a laugh, causing her sagging brown breasts to shake and wiggle. After a few more clucks and laughs they went back to their game. Nobody batted an eye. My girl soon lost the money I'd given her, and so we got up to leave. I believe the topless woman was the big winner in the game, so her happy laughter made for a great deal of uncomfortable looking bouncing.
I took it all in as part of an interesting Thai experience, but never was able to reconcile her actions with what I knew of proper behaviour for a Thai female. Since nobody else in the room seemed to care so I didn't say anything. I certainly understood her desire to take off clothing in an effort to cool off. Maybe she was an old g go girl. Maybe she was a practical old woman who felt hot and didn't feel shy around a farang. Maybe it was her house. To this day, I don't know. But I do know that it shattered all my beer commercial fantasies of what it would be like if women could take off their shirts like men when it got hot.
Nice. This reminds me of a classic that happened to me and two friends in Korat almost four years ago. We went into Klang Plaza and as we walked through the menswear department of the department store, one of the sales assistants was ironing a shirt. One of my friends went up to her and jokingly motioned to her that he would like her to iron his shirt. She didn't even blink and motioned for him to take it off. So right there, in what was once the best department store in Korat, a tall farang removed his shirt and stood shirtless for what must have been almost 10 minutes as the sales assistant ironed his shirt and gave it back to him with a smile. It was one of those "only in Thailand moments"