The Wages Of Sin
It is only in Bangkok that I have ever been accused of always having a smile on my face. But I have often thought that Thailand will be the death of me. Whether by accident, illness, disease or despair I couldn't say, but I'm sure it won't
be of old age.
The Wages of Sin is Death, I once saw it written on a little sticker stuck to the grubby blue wall of my hotel room in Chiang Mai, that shade of blue that cheap hotel rooms seem to specialise in. Laying back under my fan, that sounded like a helicopter landing on the roof, and while wondering how a footprint could get so high up the wall I realised that I'd seen the sticker too late.
On my first visit to Bangkok all those years ago it was three days before I could walk to the end of the street without stopping for a drink. Coming as I had straight from an English winter, the heat had flattened me. And so it was as the new boy in town I allowed myself to be pulled up some stairs on Patpong and pushed into a bar. This was in the days when touts physically manhandled punters into places they didn't necessarily want to go. Long before Patpong had a night market and became family friendly. Spotting a complete greenhorn six half naked girls clamped themselves to me. I shuffled to a bar stool trying to look as though I did this sort of thing all the time. I'd never had six half naked girls stuck to me before. I don't think I'd ever seen six half naked girls before. My main thought at the time was that I didn't have enough hands. But I managed to knock my beer over on the bar in all the excitement which only added to my greenhorn credentials. In no time at all my bill had more pages to it than War and Peace. The one girl with superglue like qualities who stuck to me for longer than the others was Tim. She gave me her bikini top to hold as she climbed up on stage and did a fire eating act. I certainly hadn't seen that coming.
Most of what happened over the next few months I never saw coming during that first trip. I barfined Tim and for the first time in my life I wanted to shout out at the top of my voice in public YAHOO from the back of the tuktuk as we raced in to the night back to her place. Being English of course I didn't. I don't know where Tim lived, just that it was a little room at the back of a hair salon which we had to walk through in full view of everyone there. I barfined Tim a couple of times. She wasn't great looking it's just that she got to me first I think. But looking back I realise that she was good to me. Always walking me back out and flagging a tuktuk for me, making sure the driver knew where I wanted to go and fixing the price.
Tim made the mistake of introducing me to her "sister" Joy. I never saw Tim again. Joy was beautiful and worked at another place on Patpong. I loved the way she couldn't pronounce my name so called me "Rish". Everywhere we went Bob Marley seemed to be playing No Woman no Cry and Joy would ask everytime"why him sing that Rish, why him sing that"? I bought her some silver earrings, well silver coloured anyway, which looked nice against her skin. "Rish I want put on "she squealed running to the mirror so she could sleep in them.
We got very drunk one night at one of the outside bars on Patpong which, at that time, had a tattered canvas roof that let the rain in. Having checked in to a nearby hotel earlier in the evening we forgot where it was after a few Singhas and stumbled around for ages looking for it again.
After that there was no going back to ordinary holidays. This addiction to Thailand that I have been afflicted with ever since had taken hold. Since then I've been drugged and robbed, I've been almost brainwashed by con men who lured me in to a card game where I nearly lost everything, maybe even my life and I don't even play cards. I've been in hospital with Dengue Fever and with Tonsillitis, and just recently almost lost the race on the back of a motorbike taxi for an ever decreasing gap between a parked car and a moving bus. Whatever happens I still keep coming back. I consider it as all part of the game.
Once I'd discovered the Old Thermae Coffee Shop I really thought I'd made it on to the Bangkok night scene. Ordinarily there wouldn't have been much to connect first world war poet Wilfred Owen to The Thermae as it was then. Bundled into a tuktuk outside the Beer Garden, on what in those days was a dark and gloomy Soi 7, with several girls I didn't know, I was introduced to The Thermae. Being after midnight we entered via the back door, which only added to the mystique of the place. I really thought that I was one of the privileged few to know of it. And stairs leading down below street level seemed to hold the promise of so much more than those that rise above it. Of course in reality it was an eye watering smoke filled room that everybody already knew about. But the place had character there's no doubt about that.
I took a friend one night to show him my discovery. The booths were full to overflowing, tables sloshed with beer, whisky, and melted ice. Red faced drunken Farangs staggered around as girls in the corner put another Isaan classic on the juke box to a cheer. It was a wonderful scene of desperation, hope and hopelessness. Through a haze of smoke and beer fumes my friend Tony leaned back in his chair, and in a moment of unexpected seriousness, the first in a week of trawling the bars, he said "I wonder what Wilfred Owen would have made of all this? "What point he was trying to make I had no idea. Any explanation was lost as I laughed so much it hurt. He walked away a little annoyed leaving me there looking as though I was having some sort of fit. The room became a blur through tear filled eyes. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard since Hippy Bob crashed in to a bar in Nana Plaza, scattering bar girls before him, and told me that farting termites in Africa were responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. And this was before green issues were fashionable.
Having escaped from the madness of Bangkok for awhile I turned off my fan and listened
to the rain and thunder that rolled over Chiang Mai. Contemplating that little sticker I waited for Lek who would come to my room around 2:00 AM after she finished work. Even now I can still hear that slow click clack sound of her heels along the balcony
as she came closer and closer to my room until that little tap on the door. Just the anticipation of hearing those footsteps was quite something, and so was she. Standing there in the half light with raindrops on her soft, smooth, dark skin I
thought that if The Wages of Sin is Death then it's a small price to pay.