Fish Bowl Therapy
By The Grinch
Washington D.C., Fall 1986
From an Esquire Magazine point of view, my life was apparently good in the Capitol of power lunches. I had a well paid job working as an environmental consultant, a small condo in the right part Foggy Bottom, and no responsibilities – meaning that I was single, never before married, and therefore no financial liabilities such as child support or paying an ex-wife to leave me alone.
However after 7 years of dealing with DC lawyers and political sycophants, I came to a life altering conclusion: “We (I) gotta get out of this place” – and I felt this with the conviction shouted out by Eric Burden in the 1960’s Animal’s classic hit. I submitted an application to the American Peace Corps. I was accepted without problem and given the choice of either serving in Ecuador or Nepal. Since I could already speak a little Spanish, thanks to previous binge drinking escapades to Baja, I chose Nepal to maximize the time zone difference with the eastern United States.
Eastern Nepal, Spring 1988
The culture shock was brutal: shocking differences between the upwardly mobile and the well laid out and planned quadrants of D.C. and the no infrastructure village life in the Himalayan Kingdom. By the eighth month in country, I had survived three debilitating episodes of amoebic dysentery, a broadside attack from an enraged water buffalo, an irritating bout with scabies, and a jungle trek highlighted by encounters with leeches and poisonous snakes.
Bangkok, October 1988
It was time for a break. I was overdue for a one-month vacation partly subsidized by the American taxpayers. Most of the male volunteers either went for a mountainous trek in Nepal, or to Bangkok and the islands off southern Thailand. Since trekking was already part of my job description in Nepal, I decided Thailand was the best option. Some other considerations entered into my decision. Two of my best friends from the United States – a married coupled named Brad and Mary – were due to be in Bangkok on business at the same time of my proposed holiday to Thailand. In addition, two British volunteers also working in Nepal were keen to accompany me on a first visit to Thailand. Safety in numbers I thought. My British friends, Rob and Louise, were a couple. The British couple met in Nepal and were drawn together by their mutual perchance for dope smoking and the limited relationship opportunities available in conservative Nepal.
My own social situation was relevant to my first experience in Thailand. For 14 months in Nepal, I had not touched any woman, not even a handshake that I can recall. At that time there were absolutely no politically correct sexual possibilities in Nepal except for other western female volunteers or horny tourists looking for alternative adventures. I was however over twenty years older than most of the female volunteers and tourists and therefore not much of interest to them.
My two British volunteer friends and I boarded a Royal Nepal Airlines jet for Bangkok. Brad and Mary were already in Bangkok and staying at the 5-star Regent Bangkok (now the Four Seasons) on Rajdamri Road, and Brad had also booked me a room there for two nights at his expense. These were mighty good friends; they even sent a hotel limo to pick us up at Don Muang. During the ride from airport to the hotel, all of us went through several phases of visual culture shock. The differences between Kathmandu and Bangkok were immense. We marveled at the Bangkok infrastructure – there were four-lane paved highways, high rise apartment buildings, fast food restaurants, and an absence of sacred cows straying into every pedestrian path. I walked in mouth opened awe into the lobby of the Regent while the Brits went off to secure less expensive and more backpacker oriented accommodation. In the hotel lobby, Brad and Mary were enjoying a round of Singhas while waiting for me to arrive. I checked into my room, a beautiful Thai hostess brought in a basket of exotic fruit, waied, and then exited. And then I was immediately whisked away to Brad and Mary’s room for some doses of single malt scotch. Both Brad and Mary had a high end lifestyle and I was making every effort to adjust.
While on our second round of single malt, we started to plan the evening. Brad was a chief employee for a sound system company in the United States, and he was working with some influential and wealthy Thai businessmen from company M to distribute these US manufactured sound systems in Bangkok. The first evening in Bangkok we met with executives from company M who took us out for dinner plus entertainment. One of the company’s employees was a very lovely Thai woman named Jam. She suggested we do some business related research after dinner. This meant going into the field to see where some of the acoustic systems had been installed. Our first field trip venue was Superstars in Patpong. This was my first entry into a chrome fixtured Go-Go bar. All I can remember is the beautiful dancer that Jam invited over to keep me company — beautiful skin, flawless legs and so friendly, even though she did not speak any English. My new dancer friend communicated by moving her hand progressively up my leg. Before the fondling got out of hand, Jam dragged us all off to a gay bar in the Patpong complex where company M sound systems were also blazing away to some Bee Gee’s beat. You can understand that I was very disappointed. It was subtly explained to me that there would be no happy ending for me tonight as some of company M’s junior executives had more adventurous plans for me on the second night. At least now I had something to look forward to.
On day two in Bangkok, my British friends joined the party, and we made a tourist round of the city and a river tour. We were totally spoiled by being chauffeured around in company M’s fleet of expensive cars. By evening, we ended up at the giant seafood restaurant on Soi 24. The dinner was again hosted by representatives from company M, and we were all fully fed and pleasantly drunk on a generous variety of seafood and copious amounts of white wine. I made a lot of merit with Rob and Louise that night by getting them invited to this banquet. They said if they had not been there and if I described the meal to them later, they would never have believed me.
It was late by the time we returned to the Regent Bangkok hotel. It was so late that I assumed that my big adventure was going to be cancelled. However, as soon as I entered the hotel lobby, I was immediately ushered out by the company M junior executives who were set to deliver me to a Thai massage venue. Good for them, they had not forgot. The executives justified this outing by saying (with a knowing wink) I was to experience some Thai culture. Before departure, Brad gave me some extra baht to pay for the massage and tip the girls. He also volunteered some last minute advice. For some unknown reason, I started to suffer some performance anxiety and was a bit nervous. Being somewhat shy in character, my previous experiences with working girls had been very limited. I asked Brad if there would be any consequences if I declined the sex. He just heartily laughed and replied that I would not want to say no. Brad said this with so much conviction that I then wondered how many times Brad had been to Bangkok without Mary, and maybe Mary had a good reason for accompanying him on this trip.
I was then whisked away in a brand new Jaguar to what I believe was the Chao Phraya Baths 2 on Sri Ayudhya Road. Upon entering the establishment, I was confronted by the Fish Bowl. Seeing the absolutely blank look on my face, a company M executive, who said he was experienced in such matters, took charge and selected two ladies for me. I was extremely pleased with his expert selection. The lovely petite ladies escorted me by hand to the bath and massage room. While the bath slowly filled, the ladies disrobed behind a towel and then undressed me in a modest fashion, always keeping the towel between me and them. While sitting together wrapped in towels and waiting for the damn tub to fill, I began to really get aroused. Finally the towels dropped to the floor in one instance (why were they on in the first place?) and we all jumped in the tub.
The 90-minute massage, plus several extras, was the needed antidote for 14 months of accumulated Nepal village abstinence. I had completed two “rounds” and felt the ladies deserved most of the credit for enhancing my stamina. The long lasting certainly did not come from all the beer and wine I had drunk at dinner, and Viagra was probably still being tested on laboratory mice. At my age (46 at the time) I was amazed my old body could come to feel this type of pleasure again.
Before exhausting into bed in my hotel room, I reverently gave sincere thanks for the nourishment of body and soul.
Washington D.C., Spring 1991
I had been back to the nation’s Capitol for 17 months. For the last 12 months, I had again been working as an environmental consultant. Upon my return to DC, I experienced all varieties of reverse culture shock which manifested in a host of physical ailments. I visited the doctor more times in that period than any time in my life. I was finally diagnosed with an ulcer.
Sulking in my Foggy Bottom condo, right after undergoing a colonoscopy at George Washington University Hospital located across the street, I gazed in despair at my Fish Bowl near my tape deck. In the instance the goldfish flicked its fin, the answer came to me in the form of a natural cure.
The Cure: quit boring consulting job immediately and purchase a one-way ticket to Kathmandu, transiting in Bangkok for one month.
When I checked in to Washington Dulles airport for the first leg of my escape, my stomach was already mending back to normal. I was able to eat airport restaurant chili and felt no hint of irritating gastritis. Because the plane was late by several hours and I had arrived at the air terminal so early (due to eagerness), I was rewarded by an upgrade to Business Class. Something was telling me I had made the right decision.
Hanoi, Summer 2005
I have now been living and working continuously in Asia for the last 15 years. Fortunately, I did only spend one month in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand on my return to Kathmandu. The time was not right for me to indulge in the sexual menu available in Bangkok. Later I did have the opportunity to work in Bangkok, 1998 – 2000, as a consultant to an overseas development assistance project.
I now have an Asian wife and 12-year old daughter. In the living room of our house in Hanoi, the fish bowl has been upgraded to a small aquarium.
It's nice when you take a risk to improve your life, and it comes off.