My vacation in Thailand happened kind of by accident. The ticket had been bought well ahead of time, and the plan was to meet up with some friends before travelling on to our final destination. For reasons that I will not bore you with this did not come through, and suddenly I found myself with a non refundable ticket and no work scheduled for a couple of weeks. Rather than wasting the ticket a vacation seemed like a good alternative. I was long overdue for one anyway. A few searches later on the internet and a modest hotel had been arranged near Walking Street in Pattaya.
Walking is the best way to get familiar with a new area and the first day or two I did a lot of it. Up and down Walking Street, Beach Road and all the little sois. Further in towards the highway the area did not look as pleasant and so I stayed mostly near the waterfront. Here and there I would stop for food or sit down with a drink just to watch the world go by. There were gogo bars on just about every street and I decided to check out the interior of one right next to my hotel. Just inside the door two young girls grabbed me by the hands and pulled me towards a bench seat in front of the stage. Soon there was a small crowd of cute locals surrounding me. Must be my devastating good looks, although strangely this kind of thing almost never happens in the US, perhaps American girls are just too shy. Just after my arrival the other fifty percent of the customers left his seat across the room and staggered out of the bar all alone. My waitress was jotting back and forth bringing drinks for the girls and me. She was urging me to take home one of the girls. ”You take her home”, she pointed, “you take home this one”, pointing at another, “you take both”. Okay she was a little pushy but it was all in good fun, and I liked sparring with this girl. Her English was quite acceptable and she was funny and charming. It was not my plan to take any of the bargirls out but just for fun I decided to challenge this waitress. Every time she pointed out a new girl for me I told her “no, I only want you”. She would laugh and say no and suggest another girl, and it all turned into a silly little contest. She was perhaps a little flattered though, and suddenly she gave in. “I go change” she said, and all of a sudden I had a date. Okay this was not actually the plan; I should probably have thought this one all the way through. She came back in her street clothes and we went for a walk down the road. It was too late for dinner, and we ended up at another bar, where we spent some time talking and getting to know each other. Before sending her home I had promised to come back and see here at her workplace another day.
My second (and last) visit to the bar was not a good experience. Without getting into too much detail, my bill was severely padded, to the tune of more than 1000 baht. When asking my waitress, a sweet and shy girl (not the same as the last visit) about the bogus charges, it was made clear that the mamasan had ordered them and added them to my account. While we were talking the mamasan came over to my table. She admitted that they had made a “mistake”, but insisted that I had to pay the bill anyway. She said it had already been rung up in the cash register, and it could not be changed (Thai logic I suppose). Arguing that I should not have to pay for somebody else’s error, was getting me nowhere, and finally I just paid the bill and left. The young and very drunk mamasan, with a gigantic beer bottle in her hand, gave me a big smile as I walked out the door and said; “come back soon”. “Not a chance”, I told her, “in fact I will never even set foot inside this place as long as you still work here”. She could not understand why I was being so mean to her.
The waitress from the first night was with me as I left the bar, and at this point we ended up staying together, until I left town a few days later. We had a pretty good time doing all the touristy stuff. After spending most of the past decade in Pattaya you would think she’d know the place pretty well, but apart from the area around where she worked, this was not the case. She had never seen a show, or been to one of the big parks, and she had never even been to one of the islands. “Up to you” was her favourite phrase when asked what she’d like to do. She was not much help in planning things, but I think she enjoyed the activities I came up with anyway. It would seem that it had been a long time since she did anything simply for the fun of it, tough as this is very much against Thai nature. She was nice and pleasant although a bit reserved, but after a while I was starting to see another side of her. Apparently there was a bit of a mean streak in her. She would never pass up an opportunity to say something derogatory or slightly demeaning about anybody, and I was not excluded from her jabs. Of course her comments were always camouflaged behind a smile, and easy to dismiss at first. All in all everything went pretty well until the last evening before I was going to leave. We went to se the Tiffany’s show in the afternoon and in the evening I was planning to take her to a nice restaurant. All of a sudden she insisted that we had to stop by her bar first. As you can guess from my previous experience I was not in favour of this idea, but she would not budge, and she promised to make it short. I sat down at the open bar across the soi keeping my promise never to set foot in her bar again.
The barmaid in the place I was at, brought over a Jenga game and sat down to play with me, instructed I believe by my girl to keep me entertained. There were no other customers at the bar and she had plenty of time. She was cheating blatantly so there was not much point in playing the game. Refusing to cheat I lost half a dozen games in a row. She seemed to get more excited every time she “outsmarted” the foreigner. The fact that we both knew she won by cheating, did not seem to hamper her excitement at all, and at the end she was getting a bit cocky. It was not the only time I ran into this rather peculiar way of thinking in Thailand. If you allow them to win they feel superior to you it seems, and the fact that you knowingly let them get away with cheating only proves your inferiority. Who knows though, they might be right about that.
While we were still in the middle of the first game my friend had come back out of the bar holding a bottle of beer. Ready to leave, I thought, but she went back inside. A few minutes later a motorcycle taxi arrived and a bunch of food was set up on a small table outside. The entire staff came outside with beer bottles in hand and the feast was on. A girl came across the street to invite me over. It seemed appropriate since I had probably paid for the whole thing, but I refused anyway. My friend came outside several more times but instead of coming over she went back inside. Finally I’d had enough, and I paid my bill and got up. Hungry and not in a great mood anymore I was ready to take off on my own but she was suddenly right there. I started walking without saying a word. She was scurrying along next to me holding on to my arm.
“Why you mean”. I don’t answer. “Why you yell me”, I stopped and look at her. “What are you talking about? I haven’t said a word”. Her eyes are bloodshot and her face twisted in anger. She is definitely under the influence of something more than just beer. “You angry me, I can see”, she is stomping her feet like a child. “Playing a silly game with a cheating stranger was not what I had planned for my last evening here, and besides I am hungry. I thought we would have a nice quiet dinner together”. My disappointment does not seem to register with her. “I have right to eat with my friends”, she’s yelling now. How appropriate for her to point that out. For a moment I had forgotten that I do not belong in that club. Admitting it is a minor slip on her part but then again she is somewhat impaired. “You're right”, I say, “and I have a right to have dinner right now, you can come along if you want to, I don’t really care”. I start walking again and she shuffles along still hanging on to my arm, muttering something I can’t quite make out. “Where you go, everything close”, she complains. She is right about that, she has kept me waiting so long that every restaurant along the street is closed. I head back to the hotel room, lost my appetite anyway.
As soon as we are back in the room the yelling starts all over with double force. “Why you mean. Why you treat me bad. Why you angry me”. How did this thing get so suddenly out of control, it is like a lightning strike on a clear day. She is completely irrational, and I don’t want to listen to it anymore. “I’m going to sleep”. I tell her, “you can stay if you want to, up to you”. Would much prefer it if she left, but trying to be polite. “You pay bar, you pay me”, she scream. Of course I would, no problem. This is the same honorable bar that ripped me off a couple of days ago, and the same bar where she spent her entire evening leaving me stuck across the street waiting. I’m sure they expect payment in full for every day I “kept her away from work”. I count up several thousand baht, some for the bar, most of it for her. I am not really sure what the appropriate amount is, but this seems to be a fair compensation for her time (Would find out later that the amount was more than fair without being extravagant). I put the money next to her purse. She picks it up, counting quickly, and throws it down on the bed in anger. “No good” she screams, “you pay double”. The amount she is asking for is pure extortion, out of the question. I would probably consider paying her more if she was nice and pleasant, but under the circumstances my offer stands. There’s no bonus for bad behavior. “I make big problem for you”, she yells, “I stay here and I make big trouble”. When I get angry I never get out of control. If anything I get even more calm and rational. Using any level of physical force against women is totally against my nature, and I would not even throw her out of my room. Briefly I consider calling hotel security, but I would rather take care of this myself.
One way or another I have to break this up. She is refusing to leave the room, this is her trump card. I have to take it away from her, but how? I calmly pick up the money of the bed, and hold it out towards her, want it or not? She slaps my hand away and yells, “no good”. I put the money back in my pocket, and she is not quite sure what to make out of that. I put my shirt back on, grab the key, and I walk out the door. “Come on I say, we're leaving” – have to get her out of there somehow. “Where you go”, there is a hint of uncertainty now behind the anger, she’s rattled. “Don’t know and I don’t care, but I will not sit here and listen while you try to blackmail me”. “Blackmail”, she wonders. Funny, she knows exactly how to use it against me, and yet she is not able to pronounce the word. “I will not sit and listen while you threaten me in my own room”. She laid down on the bed. “I tired, I stay here”, she plays her last hand. The bravado is gone but there is still a hint of defiance. “Fine” I tell her. “Why don’t you stay here and make big trouble all by yourself, I’m leaving”. I close the door and walk over to the elevator. Lets see how this plays out. If necessary I’ll just get another room and bring my stuff over there. Before the elevator door can open she is standing in the door of my room. “Where you go”. The anger is gone, and she is reduced to pouting. “I very tired, I want to go sleep together, I feel bad, why you leave me tomorrow”. Okay, you have to admire her tenacity, her game is lost and she is already setting up her hand for the next one. We are both exhausted and she falls asleep immediately.
The next morning everything is back to normal. She is sweet and funny and I think a little embarrassed. “What happen yesterday” she ask, and I say “nothing much”. “I drink some beer with girl-friends, I can not remember something (read: anything)”. “Mai pen rai, don’t worry”. I know she is lying, and she knows that I know. I am allowing her to save face and she appreciates it. There might even be a hint of respect for the way the situation was handled the previous night. She is who she is and in the short term that dictates her action. I could never really blame her, any more than I could blame a snake for biting, it’s just nature. She had been a very different person once, but the circumstances of life had brought her to this point. Had she made a bad choice, or had there been no choice to be made? <You were not so very different from a hobbit once, were you… Sméagol?> We found a restaurant near the water and sat down for breakfast on the covered patio outside. A middle aged waitress had somehow gotten the idea that she was better than us, and she was devising subtle ways to prove that to herself. The Thais have a way of insulting people with what could almost be mistaken for a friendly smile or a polite gesture. She did not think I would pick up on her shallow wai and her condescending looks, but she had no idea who she was messing with. My senses had been sharpened through the past weeks' adventures and they had been forged in battle. When she came back with our food things did not turn out exactly the way she had planned.
There is a level of awareness that I happen to think is the natural state for humans. Most people, I suspect, in their lifetime only get to experience this state briefly, if at all. Safety, comfort, security and all the other illusions of civilization are things we all strive for. Not often do we consider that it all comes at a very high personal cost. The dreadful predictability of my homeland has gradually dulled my senses. Thailand is a civilized country but, to me at least, it is still strange and exotic, with a faint base note of danger. I like the people. I like the beauty, the luxury, the excitement. I like what Thailand does for me. Even more I like what Thais do to me. I like the price she demands from me, forcing me to think, to adapt, with eyes wide open. Black Face, black heart, cold observation tempered by compassion, when appropriate.*
The waitress had to bend in over the small table in order to put down our plates. With a smile and a few words in Thai she slid the plate down in front of my companion. It was not a friendly kind of smile, it was condescending, designed to put her in her place, to show her that she was less than. The waitress had no idea I was observing, to her I was just another stupid farang, unaware of my surroundings. She was feeling good about herself, gaining face. As she turned left to put down my plate I caught her eyes. She froze, like a deer in the headlights, she knew she was caught. I moved forward an inch or two, looking up at her, smiling. My smile did not make her the least bit more comfortable, it was not meant to. After a few seconds she could not take it anymore. Looking down at the table she put my plate down a little to the side, awkwardly pushing it towards me with one hand while trying to prevent the tablecloth from bunching up with the other. There was enough room for her to work really, but she was afraid of getting to close. I leaned back in the chair giving her plenty of space, watching with amusement. She fumbled nervously, trying to get the knives and forks and napkins placed in a hurry. Any tourist glancing over from the already packed sidewalk a few feet away would have no idea about the battle being fought. They would only see a happy tourist receiving excellent service from another smiling Thai waitress. As she finished I gave her a brief nod and a “thank you”, the same way you would politely dismiss any servant having performed their duty. She could not even look at me. Oh, how she hates us, how she fears us. “I’ll be back if you need anything”, she muttered before leaving. The line sounded rehearsed, like something she would tell every customer, without ever reflecting on the actual meaning of the words. We never saw her again, and the bill was brought over by the young man from the cash register.
The last couple of hours before leaving were spent at the outdoor bar next to my hotel, I met a really interesting Dutch lawyer who had retired to Pattaya twenty years ago. He told me stories about how he had learned to get by in this exotic country. His Thai fiancé was politely staying in the background and not saying too much, but she appeared to be both smart and cultured. I wish I had had more time to talk to this couple, but perhaps I’ll go back some day and be lucky enough to run into them again.
Before I knew my driver was there and I had to leave. My girl followed me to the car and gave me a big hug before I got in. She had never been overly affectionate and I was a little surprised at her warmth. She had seemed different this morning, perhaps a little softer, like there was a small crack in her armour. She knew that she had behaved badly last night and I think she had expected some form of retaliation. When it did not come she was not sure how to react. As the car pulled away I turned around. What I saw startled me. She was just standing there in the middle of the road, staring at me, but she looked so little, so lost, somehow she looked ten years younger than just a minute ago. There was no wave, no smile, but I swear she was close to crying. My leaving was of little consequence I’m sure, but I think perhaps it was a symbol of something ending. It was as if the last few days had brought out something from a past long forgotten, and suddenly she was realizing it had gone forever. The young girl she had once been was looking out at herself, her future, as time and space collided in a narrow dead end street, in Pattaya. There was no anger or defiance anymore, just an overwhelming sadness, and resignation. I wanted to stop the car. I wanted to run back and rescue her, but I knew she wasn’t there. I was looking at a ghost, a spirit, Thailand is full of them. I turned my back as the car pulled into the main road, and I never saw her again. “Goodbye little girl, I am sorry I never met you.”
There is an old Zen story that goes something like this: Two monks are coming down to the river to wash their rice bowls. Just as they get there a scorpion fell into the water. The older monk immediately reached into the water picking up the drowning scorpion and putting it safely back on to the riverbank. The scorpion repays the monk's kindness by stinging his hand. As the monks go on to wash their bowls the scorpion once again falls into the water. The older monk once again picks it up and once again he is stung. “Why does the scorpion sting when you are only trying to save its life”, ask the younger monk. “How can it not”, the older one replies, “To sting, is a scorpions nature”. “But why do you continue to pick it up when you know it is just going to sting you again”. “How can I not”, say the older monk with a smile," to pick it up, is my nature”.
* It is my understanding that the term; “black face, black heart”, is used throughout Asia. While the original meaning is not positive, it has still been seen as something of a virtue among certain groups. For instance the samurai nobility tended to see this as a bit of an ideal. A leader with a “black heart” will be able to make the tough decisions that will ultimately strengthen the country, or corporation, he is in charge of. In turn everybody involved will benefit. He will do the right thing without favouritism and personal agenda. “Black face” will let him do what is necessary without regards to his own popularity, or gaining face. Of course these traits would only be useful when combined with a strong personal code of ethics. I am sure Stickman could do a much better job then I can, explaining this expression.
You really put up with a lot of hit from this girl…and so many guys allow these girls to treat them like shit. Why?