You Can’t Go Home Again
This story goes back to 1998. That was the last time I was working in Bangkok. I came over in 1997. I was living with a family in Bangkok but I won't say exactly where. When they built their compound, they were alone. But, of course, time marches
on and before you knew it the whole place was developed. Unfortunately, it wasn't all good. Bars and massage parlors abounded. The "decent" people generally stayed in their homes once they got there at the end of the day. But not
I had three dogs at the time; two small and one large. Usually, I would make three or four circuits through the neighborhood. Sometimes I would walk all the dogs individually and other times I would walk the two small dogs together. And, naturally, I would make one round alone. Sometimes, two: one in the beginning and one at the end. Quite honestly, I was fascinated by the nightlife and the goings on at these places. But I never went inside any establishment, not once.
Before I get to what I did do, let me explain what I didn't do and why. I didn't go into any of these establishments, not even once, even though the whole atmosphere of the neighborhood, after dark, was exciting to me. But I don't drink so that eliminates that pretext for going inside. The only other attraction, then, would have to be the girls (or the boys if you were so inclined). One thing I could never see myself doing is going with a prostitute. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that the thought of being physically intimate with someone who had been with so many different people, whether for money or not, is actually repulsive to me. Repulsive is actually not the word I was looking for but I can't think of the correct word right now. And this is not meant to offend any of you who are with working girls; this is just the way I am. I say whether for money or not because it wouldn't actually have to be a prostitute. There was a girl in my high school class that probably slept with half the guys in the class (and we're not talking about a little rural school) and I couldn't be intimate with someone like that either. Generally speaking, I was never one for one-night stands although I will admit to a few. But since the age of 18, I have pretty much not used a condom and so that is the second reason. I started to one time, after that age, and it was off within a couple minutes. Fact is, I can't stand to wear them. Consequently, I get into long-term relationships with people I trust and feel very comfortable with. I don't need anyone to tell me that it only takes one time to get an STD. I know that but that is the way I've chosen to live my life.
So, then, let's get to what I was doing. As I said, I was fascinated with the atmosphere of the nightlife. And, honestly, some of these girls were gorgeous. While I couldn't see myself sleeping with them, I enjoyed talking and flirting with them. Even the katoeys. The funniest place that I passed was a gay bar. Imagine a bunch of Thai boys standing out in front of this establishment in their t-shirts and white briefs. And I think they must have all been wearing cock rings, or something as simple as a piece of string or a rubber band. As I would make the rounds, the girls (and boys) would all try to entice me into entering their bar. I would flirt with the girls and talk with the boys. Maybe there was even a little flirting with the boys. When I walked my small dogs, the girls all wanted to play with them. So, I had fun. I treated everyone with respect. And it soon became clear to all that I had no interest in the bars or in having sex with anyone. Once we got to that point, it was actually a lot nicer. The talk changed from the standard bar patter to actual conversations, when we could. It felt like they were genuinely happy to see me when I came around. Of course, business is business. If someone else came nearby, they would break away to try to snare the new guy(s). No problem. Everybody has a job to perform, right? This went on for quite some time but I don't remember the actual time line, only that it started some time in '97 and went into '98.
One day I noticed a change that I didn't understand. Everyone knew that I had no interest in entering any of the establishments but they were all suddenly trying to entice me to enter them anyway. And, I mean all of them. I thought that was really strange. And then it was trying to get me to stay when I wanted to leave. This too was new. And I'm thinking to myself what could have caused this change and I was completely at a loss. Then it got really weird. At whatever bar I was at, someone would actually accompany me on my walk as far as the next bar. Even though this was strange, it wasn't unwelcome. As I've said, some of these girls were incredibly beautiful. So, being the flirt I was, I had no problem with a beautiful girl accompanying me on my walk. What was a bit disconcerting was when I passed the gay bar and one of the boys decided to walk with me. Frankly, I felt a little uncomfortable walking with a guy in his underwear. Fortunately, it was a short distance to the next bar. I never tried to get an explanation from anyone, after all they were still as friendly as ever, but I was really wondering about what was going on. And then, one day, the answer showed up. There was a police box about 100 meters from the house. I passed it all the time. So, one day a police officer shows up at the house and speaks with the head of the family. And the conversation, as it was related to me was this:
A neighborhood girl had been raped one night by a farang. No one knew exactly who the perpetrator was and there was talk of reprisals going around. The people in the neighborhood all knew me and knew that it wasn't me but the talk was coming from outside the immediate area, perhaps some of the girl's extended family. What had been happening is that the people from the bars were trying to keep me close by in order to protect me but the talk was getting more heated and they weren't sure they could protect me if something were to happen now. So, the police were requesting that I stay off the streets for a while, until everything had blown over.
This was surprising because, more often than not, Thais don't seem to be willing to get involved or help anyone outside their immediate circle of family and close friends. Maybe it was because I had been talking with them nightly for so long that they considered me a friend. They certainly had no vested interest in keeping me safe or even have me keep coming around. I wasn't some free-spending customer dropping piles of cash on them. All I can guess is that it was because of the way I treated everyone. The girls were all like my little sisters, and I mean 'little' literally. Easily 95% of them were no taller than me chest level. But I think it also had to do with the earlier time. Did anything ever happen? I don't know. Shortly after that, my company sent me to the Philippines and I never looked back.
Since coming back to Thailand, I went to visit the family and took a look around the neighborhood at night just to see how it compared to the way I remembered it. And, honestly, I can only say that the neighborhood today is much worse than it was back in the 90's. The bars seem to be filled with a different class of people and I had no desire to get to know them.
No place stands the test of time. Nothing is ever as we remember it. And try as we might, we can never get back to that same exact place that we hold so fondly in our hearts. That one last look I took around the old neighborhood made me think, and realize the truth, of the expression "you can't go home again".