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Patpong Souls


By Jagoturner

This girl… I can't remember her name which is a shame because I should. But then, to be honest, I can't remember her telling me her name so maybe I never knew it. We met under loud circumstances… Very loud. It was in a bar called Firecats, an upstairs bar on Patpong which featured such acts as "pussy eat banana", "pussy drink coca cola", and that perennial favourite "pussy smoke cigarette". I often wonder whose brainchild these feats were. "Yeah… We got all this pussy and it's just standing there. I'm not paying all this pussy for nothing. Can't we get it to do something clever?" The same bar also featured, if memory serves me right, a couple who engaged in an act of connubial bliss while suspended from the ceiling on a motorbike… But I might have dreamt that. Anyway… The point was that the bar was so loud because all this entertainment was played out to the tunes of The Eagles, Guns and Roses, Aerosmith, Europe and other notably loud artistes. It didn't seem to matter what bar you went into on Patpong, The Final Countdown would always be a cue for a stage to fill with naked women dripping hot wax from burning candles on specific areas of their flesh which left the bars smelling in a way curiously reminiscent of a cathedral after mass, while The Scorpions singing The Wind of Change always seemed to be a cue for a bit of luminescent body painting (although this might sometimes carry on into Hotel California). Sorry… Where was I… Oh yeah… This girl… The time I first met her… It was loud… And if she did tell me her name maybe I just didn't hear it… Sounds a good excuse so I'll stick to it.

When we first met I was on a bar crawl with some gentlemen I had met earlier in the day at the Hello Bar on Khao San Road. We told a few travellers tales and shared a few large bottles of Singha. We had no common interests. We weren't really friends nor were we likely to ever become friends but then over drinks it's remarkable how we can feel complete strangers are our closest friends on Earth. One of our number had lost his mind on some island and had managed to significantly overshoot the date on his return tickets, not to mention his return visa, and was in the process of wiring everyone he knew in the world for money. Another was involved in the dubious business of smuggling ecstasy tabs from Hong Kong to Koh Pang Ngan to sell them at a hugely exaggerated price to full moon revellers who while broke enough to haggle for an hour over the price of a pair of flip flops always seemed to have a lot of money when it came to buying drugs. I was the one who spoke Thai. That was my entire personality accounted for.

Each of these fellow travellers were familiar with Patpong but they all had their own distinct approaches to it. None were looking for a hooker. None were the type to pay for sex (or at least to admit to paying for sex). They were each stereotypical backpacker types except for the drug dealer who was a few years older than me. He seemed very into being perceived as cool, laid back and one trick ahead of the rest. When we went into Firecats he ordered a glass of water and roamed around the bar sipping lightly at it as if it were a gin and tonic and he thus avoided getting hit to pay for a real drink. This didn't seem particularly cool to me but it clearly did to him. The rest sat back and enjoyed themselves, got into the spirit of the place. One even bought a drink for the woman who sat with him.

All of which is veering off the topic of this woman. My eye caught her as soon as we entered the bar. She just stood out. She wore a charcoal black matching skirt and jacket. She stood leaning slightly to one side and smiled at me. She looked a world away from the naked girls running around and yelling at each other with whisky and slimming pill fuelled carelessness. It wasn't that she was stunningly pretty. Just that she seemed elegant. Yes… Elegant… That's the word.

I sat with my companions for a while but as women arrived to sit with each of them our tables became a bit cramped and so I moved away and this girl drew me away to another part of the bar. Somewhere darker and cooler. She talked to me about the women on the stage. She told me which girls were good girls though she didn't tell me which girls weren't. She was from Laos and she'd worked in bars in Nongkhai and Korat but was new to the wonders of Patpong. We, farang, were still a bit of a mystery to her. She was more used to Asian tourists. The other girls said we were different from them… That with farang you had to bullshit more. Was this true ?

I said it probably was and pointed out that none of the guys I had come into the bar with would ever, in a million years, admit to paying a woman for sex back home. She laughed and thought this was funny. All men went to bars… All men paid for sex… That was one of the things men did. Unless they were Buddha's.

I asked her if she wanted a drink. She said it was okay… She wasn't working.

I said "If you're not working. Then what are you doing here ?"

"I just came to see my friends."

"But you normally work here."

"Yes."

She held my hand and it was pleasant to have her hold my hand. It felt warm and sincere. She asked me questions like she really wanted to know the answers… And I guess she did… She didn't have that hard edge yet… Maybe that only came from working with farang. She leaned her head against my shoulder but that was all. I told her I had a girlfriend. That I'd been married. She hadn't married. She said this wasn't her fate. Her sisters had married and none of them had married money so she had to work. No-one in her family cared what work she did as long as she sent them money. She was good at making money in one way or another. She had had men that she liked but they always turned out to be a drain on her. I nodded and said nothing.

It struck me how pleasant she was to be with. I didn't love her. She didn't love me. We weren't trying to take each other to bed or the cleaners (or, at least, if she was trying to take me it was in a pleasantly slow unwinding subtle kind of way). Every once in a while the drug dealer would come over and say something sardonic about our companions lost in a salivating snog with a naked or near naked dancing girl. He was looking for allies in the cool and laid back stakes and despite sitting with one of these women I probably didn't seem as much like a kid in a candy store. My kid in a candy store days were long behind me. He soon drifted off again prowling around determined not to be asked to buy a drink. After an hour or so everyone was leaving. The guy with no money was in love and wanted to borrow some money for a barfine. This made everyone laughingly suggest that this attitude was probably why he had no money in the first place. I suppose I could have stayed longer with this girl but I told her I had to go with my friends. She nodded and asked if I would come back and see her again sometime. I said I would.

The rest of the night passed predictably enough. No-one got lost to vampires but only the drug dealer and myself saw the night through to the dawn. We ended up sitting in the Nat talking about Chinese politics and Nietzsche over very weak coffee. A fairly typical way for a night to end.

* ***********

A few nights later I was in Patpong again. I'd been sitting with a couple of friends at King's Paradise on Patpong 2. One had gone off with a girl. The other had gone back to his hotel room. It was long after midnight but I wasn't sure how long and I decided to take a walk. I didn't know exactly where I wanted to go. For reasons I won't go into here (this being a short piece) I was a bit confused about the direction my life was heading. Sometimes walking around and not thinking about much at all can help with such stuff. I was just crossing Patpong One when she called to me. I turned and saw her standing outside a bar as if waiting for someone. She asked me where I was going. I said I hadn't the faintest idea. She suggested I hang out a while until I decided. She didn't know what she was doing either. Maybe we could not know what we were doing together. Seemed acceptable. It must have been late. The market was being disassembled by tireless wiry guys. Scaffolding was being carried and heaped on to waiting trucks with loud clangs.

I can't remember if we talked about much in particular. We just sat on a stoop outside the bar as people came and went. Everyone seemed agreeable to me. I lost my punter farang-ness which is always pleasant. It feels a privilege somehow when nobody hustles you and instead talks naturally around you about their day of hustling. Some of her friends asked her if I was her boyfriend. "No… A good friend. Not boyfriend." One fairly drunk girl took this as good enough reason to make a bargirl pass at me. I said I was just sitting here watching the world go by. This girl stayed and chatted for a while never quite believing I was beyond the realms of being tonight's trick. When she eventually drifted home or to a disco we laughed about it.

I didn't want to go to any hotel rooms with any women. Where I was now was fine.

"You want a beer?" She said.

"Why not." I said. So we went and bought a large bottle of Klosters from the chemist and returned to our stoop and sat sharing it.

The rain came… Raindrops as large as children's hands dashed against the road. It seemed provident that we were already under shelter. People came and stood with us on our stoop for a while. A few idle phrases passed. Then they were on their way. We talked for a moment about how much we both loved the Bangkok rain. Lightning flashed across the sky as the parade of painted ladies went by. Some girls I knew said "Hi" before they went to King's Lounge or other places to have some fun or find some man to pay them for his.

"You want to go to King's Lounge"

"I'd sooner go to the dentist."

"Yeah… I think so too. Too many people. Too much bullshit."

The rain went from heavy to torrential and even under the awning we were getting splashed by it. We laughed at ourselves for not going anywhere but didn't move.

After an hour or so the rain passed. We watched the same people who went into King's Lounge leave King's Lounge. I noted few, if any, left with men.

When the rain had finished too she turned to me and said "Where are you going now ?"

"I don't know. I'll probably grab a beer somewhere else. Watch the dawn."

"Get a woman ?"

"No."

"No ? Really ?" She smiled as she spoke.

"No… Really."

"I know a place we can go get a drink."

"Where ?"

"Malaysia."

"That's a bit far."

"Malaysia Hotel. Sometime I go there."

"To find boyfriends ?"

"Sometimes… But usually just to drink and watch movies."

We left and walked up to Silom Road and away from the opening of Patpong a little so the tuk tuks would be cheaper. She negotiated a cheaper price than I could have. She spoke Lao to the driver and I think that made a difference. Most of the tuk tuk drivers seem to come from the Northeast.

For some reason the Malaysia was closed. So we went to a bar in a smaller Soi Ngan Dupli hotel. We had a drink and she said "Let's take a room here."

"What ?"

"We can have a beer and watch a move on cable… I like staying with you. Good company."

"Okay."

"I like to watch farang movies. We pay half each."

"No… It's okay… I'll pay. I don't want to come across as cheap."

"If you're a friend we don't have to think about that."

So we took a room. It was pleasant. We watched a movie for a while. But the room got to me… It was a bedroom. I was with a woman and there were the usual sounds of giggling from other rooms… Maybe the odd bang… The odd sigh. Owing to the heat and my stickiness I took a shower. Owing to the heat and stickiness she did the same. Soon we were lying under covers. And not to kiss would have seemed discourteous somehow. And it was nice to kiss. Chuck Norris seemed a bit off-putting so Chuck and the lights went off… And the towels came off. And there was nothing between the two of us but skin…

I don't know if there was really any kind of passion on my part but I had a part to play and I played it. It seemed natural and right to play it. After all men and women can't really just be friends can they ? So there we were and afterwards everything seemed okay… Except my conscience.

We talked a little as if nothing had happened. And it wasn't long before we were kissing again and I don't know why I was so easy but I guess once you're in a certain position with a naked woman it's hard to find objections to letting nature take it's course.

"How long do you think you'll be staying in Bangkok ?" She said afterwards.

"Not too long. Another couple of months."

"Why don't you stay here ?"

"Because I don't work here. I work in England. When my money runs out I go back."

"Your money doesn't have to run out."

"Yes it does."

"I could help you stay here. I make good money. More than enough for us."

I tried to laugh but suddenly I felt this terrible sinking sensation and realised that I was about to do something really shitty. That I'd already done something really shitty. I went quiet and we watched the end of Chuck Norris shooting people. I wasn't thinking much about Chuck Norris shooting people. She looked happy. I guess it was because we'd talked… Maybe she wanted a certain kind of thing and I'd seemed to be it. I pretended to go to sleep and thought about my caddish behaviour.

As great as she was to be with but I didn't want there to be an "us".

We talked a little when we got up… We talked but it wasn't so easy now. She wasn't the friend of the night before. She was now someone who had an idea about permanence.

I gave her some money and she looked at me as if I had just spat in her face.

"You don't have to," She said.

"I do have to." I said. "It keeps everything clear."

She smiled and waied me thanks and given what she had said the night before I knew this felt bad for her.

We were sitting having breakfast in the coffee shop. She looked out across the way and suddenly ducked theatrically behind a table.

"What's the matter ?" I said.

"That man…" She said. "I know him."

"So what ?"

"He's a bad man. A very bad man. I don't want to him to see me with you."

I looked across and couldn't see any man at all. Maybe my eyes weren't that good. "Well… I think he's gone now."

She got up and finished her breakfast as if nothing untoward had happened.

We took taxi's and went our separate ways.

* ***********

We saw each other a few more times. Never going to a hotel. We shared the odd drink. I always got the impression that she wanted more. But then I'm a vain egotistical bastard so I would.

Once, and it might have been when I was back with my girlfriend or at a time I was with a new girlfriend I was sitting outside at a table by a bar… I sat alone drinking a coffee. I felt her come and stand close by me as if waiting for me. I didn't look her way. I didn't say a thing… And then she just walked away.

I don't know why I did this. I don't know why I didn't just turn around and ask her to join me for a drink. I don't know why I was such a cunt. I guess I was just, at that moment, spoiled in the way Bangkok spoils us.

I went home and wrote in large capital letters as a kind of reminder to myself. "I COULD NOT LIVE IN BANGKOK AND KEEP MY SOUL."

When people ask me why I love Bangkok… Why I really love Bangkok… The truth is that I always think of sitting out there on Patpong as the street put its lights out… As the rain fell in huge drops and thunder hacked across the sky… I think of all the people that came and went as I shared a beer with a friend. I think of that… It's an abiding memory in my mind and whenever I remember how it felt I wish I was in Bangkok right now. And yet the saddest thing is… I not only can't remember her name. I can't even remember her face.

Stickman says:

Nice.