How Big Is Your Buffalo?
It’s definitely not my imagination. They’re all getting bigger. Pretty soon they’ll all be turning into hippos. I remember mentioning it in passing in an earlier submission, but it only really hit me when I was down at my favourite place in Nana last week.
Now, the mamasan has always been fat, or at least as long as I’ve known her. I get a big hug when I walk in. ‘Ha Ell Mai Jer’ (I can’t find your hips), I tell her. She laughs. It is a Thai joke, which means she’s put on so much that you can’t tell the transition between the waist and the hips any more. You can see the twinkle in her eye, but it doesn’t take much to see the hint of a glint either. It’s a hard life, but she’ll get her ladies’ drink. I spot the other two long-time staff – they’re too old to wear bikinis – and give them a wave. I get a couple more hugs for my effort, and then they’re off to fetch my beer and their ladies’ drinks.
Nit isn’t around anymore. ‘She has an American boyfriend, and he gives her money to stay away from the bar. She is now waiting for a visa’, I am told. It’s the second time around for her. She disappeared from the scene for almost a year, then reappeared. The girls at the time told me the boyfriend left, so she came back. Well, I hope things work out for her this time around, as she really did keep her word and stayed away.
The thing I remember most about Nit was her smile. I also remember a time when she wanted to get silicone implants, but later abandoned the idea when she started putting on some weight and filled out. Not that she was really fat. I think it had to do with her diet, as she was usually munching on a couple of fried grasshoppers or some other form of insect, which is basically protein. I guess that’s how those insect vendors at the entrance to Nana stay in business. It’s definitely not the tourists, at least not directly. The insect vendors are further down the food chain, yet somehow manage to sell out a full cart every night. Go figure.
Up on the stage, I recognise two of the older dancers. Both have been around almost two years, and I remember them when they first came. Nice and slim then, they’ve both put on a lot of weight since. I turn to Joy, who’s come to clink glasses and thank me for her ladies’ drink. ‘She’s put on quite a bit since I last saw her, hasn’t she?’, nodding towards the girl on the stage. ‘Yes. She has KFC practically every other day, and likes fries and burgers too.’ Hmmm. No wonder.
The mamasan brings a sweet young thing over and sits her down next to me. ‘She’s new here, just over a week.’ I smile and realise that the mamasan wants me to buy the young lady a drink. I oblige. She speaks no English, but that’s not a problem. You could see the look of relief on her face when she realised I could speak the language fluently. Definitely new to the business, and as yet to be influenced by the others. I don’t think the girls in this particular place are pressured to get a minimum number of ladies’ drinks a day, but in this instance I believe the mamasan was trying to boost her confidence and get her a ladies’ drink at the same time. Still, I wonder how long she will last.
Some girls get into the lifestyle and stay on for ages, but for others, it’s just too much and they leave after a few months. If they do manage to stay, it’s not too long before they can afford to eat fast food on a regular basis, get fat, and develop a variation of the I-have-a sick-water-buffalo-at-home syndrome. Fortunately, I don’t get this nonsense here. They treat me well, don’t pad my bills, and the DJ plays decent music. You can even go and pick out what you want. Sure, I buy the ladies a fair amount of drinks, but it does not cost an arm and a leg. In fact, it would probably cost about the same if I had two beers by myself at an upmarket hotel just around the corner, why complain?
Sometimes you just have to laugh. On a previous visit, I had come with a friend, and he had popped out with one of the ladies for a quickie, so I stayed on for a couple more beers to wait. The old staff are usually around to chat with, and I was having a good time. Now, opposite me on the other side of the bar, was a new girl who didn’t have a lot of success in trying to persuade the guy she was sitting next to to go out with her. After he’d left, she still remained seated, but started crossing her legs to expose body parts in the hope I’d notice. I did, and smiled. Joy, who was sitting next to me, followed the direction of my smile, and her face suddenly took on a look of horror, shaking her head at this girl like she was embarrassed at the action. It could also have meant a don’t-waste–your-effort-with-him look as well. Still…
Back on the stage, the girls are leaning on the poles and doing a bit of a shuffle. No wonder they get fat, it’s lack of exercise. It’s a far cry from the old days in Patpong, where the girls were proud of their antics on the pole. They’d put a lot of gymnasts to shame. But as one of the older guys put it, many suffered from an ailment called ‘pole rash’. Simply put, it was constant contact with the pole that would turn certain areas almost into leather…
About a year or so ago in Nana, I was at another favourite place when one of these girls showed up. No mistaking the micro-miniskirt or the cut of the dress, and not a single ounce of fat on her. She got up on the stage and proceeded to put the other girls to shame. All she wanted to do was be on that stage. I later found out she was at least fifty, a grandmother, and didn’t need the money…
Back to the buffaloes.
The other thing is the food. Fresh food has always been available practically at all hours in the Land of Smiles. You just had to know where to find it. Most locals did not own a refrigerator back in the eighties; they didn’t need one as they’d get everything fresh from the market in the morning. In fact, they used to look down on frozen food and dairy products they would not touch either.
A lot of Thai food has a high percentage of fresh, if not raw, vegetables. It is here that I first acquired the ability to eat raw long beans, eggplant and cabbage and actually enjoy it. You never ever saw a fat person back then, as I remember.
The first fast food place opened sometime in the late eighties; it was a hamburger place near the Erawan shrine, and people at the time wondered whether it would even survive. The only people initially were the tourists and an occasional local. Then a pizza place opened up at Central Lardprao, and I remember a fried chicken place around the Ramkhampaeng university area around the same time. No one expected these places to proliferate, but that’s exactly what has happened, so it’s available practically everywhere today.
Is fast food alone to blame for the trend of seeing more fat people around? I don’t think so. Around that time, the local telephone system was quite bad, and the internet was still in it’s infancy. (I personally had to wait almost five years for them to install a telephone at the time. Eventually I gave up and got a mobile, which I kept even after I got the land line.)
People still had to go out and buy what they wanted back then. And as fast food was more expensive (and still is), they’d opt for the cheaper and more readily available local fare.
Today, almost any fast food chain is thirty minutes and a phone call away. It’s convenient, and they’ll deliver even in driving rain. You still need to go out and buy your local Thai food. So convenience is another factor.
The lifestyle of this generation has also changed. Instead of going outside and kicking a takraw ball around with the guys, most kids these days are sitting behind a computer, playing games or using internet chat places. They don’t want bicycles, they want a motorcycle. They lack exercise.
They also take convenience for granted. My kids know the four-digit codes for all the local food chains off the tip of their tongue. Fancy coloured brochures with the latest fast food offerings appear with alarming regularity in my mailbox. The kids don’t want to cycle five minutes to the nearest market (with all the foodstalls). It’s too far / the bicycle may be stolen / I’ll get bitten by a dog… it goes on.
The elder has also discovered (and raided) my emergency stock of canned food, something that has not happened before. My wife refuses to eat canned food, in some ways I don’t blame her, seeing as how fresh food is easily available.
These days, he has the sense to call me and ask if he can raid my stock (I wonder why?). This happened again last week, but since the maid had her day off I reluctantly gave in. He’s calling back again in less than five minutes, asking me how to open the can, and I’m thinking, ‘Whaat?!!’
As it turns out, everything he’s raided before had a pop-top. The particular can he had in mind was a ’real’ can. You needed a tool made for the purpose. Try explaining how to use a can-opener to someone over the phone.
There’s a can in the kitchen sink; it looks like Popeye has squeezed it and the top has burst open. There are five can openers also there; all have been pressed into service. Gobs of condensed soup litter the sides of the sink. From the looks of it, he’s finally used the one that makes the triangular holes in the ‘real’ beer cans, and worked his way around.
I show him how to use the one with the lever and the key.
‘Oh.’ And goes back to his program on satellite TV.
So if you’re running away from the cows over in Farangland, pretty soon all you may find here in the LOS are similar big buffaloes.
Couldn't agree more, they're getting bigger!