Faces of Bangkok – Shadows of the Past
Ding Dong. “Cabin crew please prepare for arrival”.
The distinctive chime preceding the first officer’s cabin announcement abruptly removes my mind from its drowsy state of consciousness. I shift slightly in my seat as the plane banks noticeably into a descending left turn. As I rub my tired eyes and slowly open them I notice the cabin lights are dimmed already and all but one of the flight’s pretty air hostesses have taken their seats in preparation for the final approach into Suvarnabhumi. How long have I been sleeping? I glance down at my watch. It’s short after 2am. It could only have been for a short while. All I know is that I can’t wait to get out of this plane, into a taxi, and to my usual hotel on Rama IV.
By now the people around me have also begun to stir in anticipation of arrival. I can’t help thinking it’s a somewhat curious crowd that populates this Cebu Air Pacific A320 on its way from Manila to Bangkok. It’s mostly guys of all shapes and ages, almost exclusively of Western origin. Not an insignificant number of them are in company of an Asian girl, most of who appear to be either Filipina or Thai. More often than not neither the guy nor the girl look all too classy or refined. I hate clichés, but considering the flight’s origin and its destination I don’t feel too surprised.
I’m a keen observer. Watching people is one of my favourite pastimes while in public spaces, and sometimes when I’m really bored I even enjoy listening in on their conversations.
The two seats next to me are occupied by Craig and Pong. He’s Australian. His very distinct accent gives it away the moment he opens his mouth. Craig is a brutish looking, beefy and heavily tattooed bloke in his thirties with an uncomfortably loud voice that has kept me from falling asleep throughout the first half of the flight. He dons a black muscle shirt, white track pants, shiningly white sneakers and a glittering silver baseball cap that’s much too large for his shaven square head. I can’t help thinking that maybe that’s the reason he’s got his ears tucked in under the rims of his cap, to prevent it from sliding down in his face too much. Who knows! His entire appearance conjures up images of a Doberman in my mind.
Pong is obviously Thai. She doesn’t speak much English and has hardly opened her mouth during the entire flight. She’s certainly not the prettiest girl I have ever seen and doesn’t exactly radiate good vibes at the moment either. Her face displays a mix of sentiments of being bored, irritated, and annoyed. Yet she passionlessly keeps rubbing Craig’s right upper thigh as if he had commanded her and she’s not allowed to stop. They don’t look like much of a happy couple together and I’ve made my decision very early in the flight to outright ignore them.
In the row behind me two guys from Seattle in their late twenties have started surveying other passengers seated near them if they are interested in splitting a taxi fare to Khao San Road. From the discussion that consequently ensues around me it almost seems as if half the plane’s passengers is heading that way. How boringly predictable.
It’s been almost half a year since I’ve been to Bangkok last. Unusually long I’m thinking, considering that I visited there six times in 2007 alone, always for pleasure rather than business. And just like all those times last year this upcoming visit would be a short one too; just a meager four nights. Not enough really, but then again according to my experience plenty of time to fill my memory with all sorts of unanticipated experiences and adventures that literally lurk behind every corner in this city. On that score Bangkok has never really failed to deliver. At least to me, the frequent yet only temporary visitor, it seems as if no matter what reason you come to this city you will always leave with some stories to tell. More than anything else really this is for me the allure of this town.
It’s not the gogos that lure me back time after time. Unbelievable for many I had been to Bangkok more than a dozen times without ever making it to Nana, Cowboy, or any other of the popular establishments and P4P venues aimed at foreigners. Had I been curious about them during those earlier visits already? At times yes, but I just never felt like walking into one of the bars alone to see what they were all about, and that despite having heard and read plenty about them, not least on this website.
I guess I was just always too busy with all the other delights this city that sometimes gives me the feeling of being immersed in some sort of a demented Disneyland has to offer to its visitors, and by that I don’t necessarily mean visiting the Grand Palace or any other of the main tourist attractions around town either. There are plenty of other places and opportunities to keep a guy in his mid to late twenties busy and entertained. I’m quick to admit that some do revolve around meeting local women, but most don’t necessarily actually.
After having visited twice as a mere tourist in my early twenties, one time travelling around Thailand alone and another time together with my Indonesian born but Western raised girlfriend in transit to Malaysia, it was actually a love triangle between me, an unsuspecting French guy, and his Hi-So Thai girlfriend named Nok that really sucked me in and opened my eyes and senses to the delights of the land of smiles. This lengthy story has been told earlier and I shall not go into it again. Suffice to say, despite the unsavory ending of this affair the experiences made during that period of time left me with a case of jasmine fever I have not been able to shake ever since, as irrational as this may be. Or I should rather say, it fueled my penchant for somewhat extravagant and exotic pleasures that I have been leaning to since my teenage years, be it cuisine, general interests, and of course women.
Fact is, I have never been with a woman in my life that wasn’t ethnically Asian, and there are not even that many around in the corner of Farangland where I happen to live. “Spoiled from an early age”, as an also Asia addicted friend of mine used to comment once.
Sometimes I ask myself what my life would be like today if I hadn’t begun travelling to Asia extensively at such an early age. I am sure it would be significantly different in ways, and I am actually convinced so would I be as a person, for better or worse. I like to think for worse, and without a doubt a lot less interesting.
It’s not as if girls at home aren’t interested and even chase after me at times. It’s more that I have never really been intrigued by them. And that was even before I entered my first real relationship with the above mentioned Indonesian girl. Not exotic enough for me I suppose.
My Indonesian born girl was the closest thing to a Western girlfriend I have ever had, and even though she arrived to my homeland at the early age of five I realize now her values and her outlook in life were still more traditionally Indonesian than Western European when we were a couple. Her parents were very conservative and deeply engrained in their native culture, even though I should mention they were not followers of Islam. I had no idea how to deal with that back then and that was probably one of the reasons why our relationship eventually broke apart, which in some ways was quite a pity as this girl happened to be a nymphomaniac. I guess this just serves as more proof that it takes a lot more than good and plentiful sex to keep a relationship afloat.
Even at home it happens that a disproportionate share of Asian women show interest in me, some of them quite a bit older than me. I really can’t say why that is. Maybe it’s because some people have commented that I have a bit of an Asian look about me. I don’t have any Asian blood in my veins whatsoever, and actually I could never really make out what they were talking about when looking at myself in the mirror. Yet in the Philippines people sometimes approach me and ask me if I’m a Phil-Am, a child to an American and a Filipina. In Japan especially older people keep asking me if I happen to have any Japanese blood, and one time even my mum commented how there was supposedly something Asian about my appearance. Does she know about something I don’t? Or maybe it’s because on average I usually eat at least one Asian meal per day and often snack on all sorts of Asian treats as well, out of choice obviously. Well, probably not…
All I know is that after my affair with femme fatale Nok had come to an end, instead of having been put off Asian women by the heartrending experience for good, my liking for many things Asian flared up like I had never experienced before.
Two winters ago I had reached out to Nok, asking her to come and see me in summer so we could start planning our future life together. She eventually decided to pay a visit to her French boyfriend in Nice instead. I was only her number two, her secret lover, the guy she had seduced and whose head she had first sent spinning a year earlier during a romantic sojourn in Prague together. She took her decision, and right there and then put me into my place. She cried and pleaded with me not to leave her when I consequently made it clear to her that I would cut all ties, one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But I went through with it, and still regretted it many times, always against better judgment.
After splitting up with Nok it took me over a year to come to my senses and get ready to develop an interest in other women again. I had truly and completely been under her spell. Overdosed on dopamine I had chosen to forgive how she openly lied to me, her selfish behavior, her neglect towards me, and even the fact that she was stringing me along as her secret lover while at the same time probably pledging her undying love to her far away boyfriend in Nice about who she repeatedly told me she would separate from given the first good chance.
This is the girl I even thought of getting married to. Pure insanity with hindsight, certainly a valuable lesson for life, and yet I sometimes catch myself thinking fondly of her in a quiet moment, remembering times of blissful togetherness like I had never experienced with anyone before her, nor have I been able to find with any other girl since.
That summer I remember often leaving the office in the evenings, hoping that she might be waiting for me at my doorstep, having seen reason, having realized her mistake, and given up on the hapless relationship with her French lover in favor of me. Needless to mention this desperate daydream never came true. Today I realize how fortunate I have been that it didn’t.
And so, over time and ever so slowly, I began to snap out of it. Images of me holding her in my arms at night, our ways of softly making love to each other in a bungalow by the sea, me drying her tears after she had a fight with her parents over dating a foreigner as opposed to some well connected Hi-So Thai guy…they lost their power over me, and started to fade.
It’s been half a year since I saw her last. It was the only time I met her after cutting her off for good about 18 months earlier. I happened to be in Bangkok on her birthday, October 19th, and decided to text her a “Buon Compleanno” signed with my name, but nothing else. She used to live in Italy when she was younger…
To my big surprise she called my number within minutes of me having sent the message and asked me to meet her for dinner the following day. I knew she was aware of my frequent visits to the region but never had displayed any interest in seeing me. I hadn’t planned on meeting her this time either, but agreed to it. It should be interesting to see her again I thought. And it was.
When I saw her stepping out of the elevator at Central World Plaza I thought she looked more beautiful than ever. Well, certainly more beautiful than I remembered her. Three years ago, at the time our affair started, and also later, at the time it came to a tearful end, she looked like a young girl. But that day in the mall, walking towards me dressed in a flowing white skirt, a plain but very fitting black blouse, and semi-high stilettos she looked like a lady, stunningly beautiful and full of grace.
In those fifteen seconds it took her to reach where I was standing motionlessly, just resting my eyes on her, a torrent of old feelings and emotions I had believed to have overcome and buried deep within my soul partly rushed back into and swept over me like a tidal wave. But despite her magical appearance and even though she appeared so much more like a lady on the surface I couldn’t look at her as one anymore. Too much had happened between us. Too much had I been disappointed. Yet her grace and beauty clearly still held more power over me than I had expected or thought possible. It had taken me over a year to get her out of my system, but my reaction to her at Central World only proved that I never managed to do so completely. To this day I am not entirely sure if I ever will.
We sat down in a Japanese restaurant. Talk was slow and awkward. Eventually she informed me that she had split up with her French boyfriend that summer after spending a month with him at the Cote d’Azur, just weeks after I had forced her into a decision between him and me.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” I asked her.
“Because everything between us had been said” she answered.
Then she started to cry. Soft tears rolling down the cheeks of a beautiful Thai woman. I observed motionlessly and then handed her a napkin, consequently waiting for her to recover her poise.
“I have someone else now”, she announced with a weak voice. “Do you?”
“Yes I do”, I lied, eliciting a feeble smile from her.
After one hour she said she had to leave. Her parents were visiting and she still had to take them shopping. I knew this was just a bad excuse.
I walked her down to the parking lot to send her on her way. “Good luck” I told her there and got ready to walk away. That’s when she stepped closer and hugged me hard. She held onto me like that for a minute, her head resting on my shoulder, her long silky black hair brushing against my arm. I couldn’t help noticing how she still felt and smelled the same, wonderfully exotic, intoxicatingly sensual. Time stood still for a precious little moment there, until she loosened her grip and briskly stepped away again. There were still tears rolling down her face when she pulled out of the parking space and accelerated her Fortuner towards the ramp leading to the exit.
I still remember how the next hours felt extremely awkward to me. I walked to Siam and sat by the fountains in front of Paragon. An uncouth gang of supposedly Malaysian hookers not very subtly tried picking me up there, obviously to no avail, but at least temporarily distracted me and diverted my thoughts from my feelings of sentimental confusion.
Nok spoke of becoming friends again at dinner, but to me her words, even if they were well intentioned, had no real meaning.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Bangkok, Thailand”
Deep in thoughts I hardly noticed we touched down on the runway already. My mind focuses again on the four days ahead of me. I have friends to visit; good times are going to be had, and perhaps a little adventure of sorts. In this city you never really know. All I know is that it will be good, without Nok, as this time I have vowed not to bother contacting her again.
It’s in this drowsy state of consciousness that I have a moment of clarity, simple yet real and convincing like it has never been before. What a wealth of experiences I would have missed out on if I had stayed with Nok any longer. All those adventures, all those places, and all those girls…
Walking Ipanema beach in Rio with lovely Yara in January, romantic dinners and more in Santiago’s Providencia district with angelic Angela in February, several adventures and misadventures with lovely maidens in the Philippines in March, not even to speak of all the interesting times had with Vee and Malee during my trips to Thailand last year. So many memories, so many stories…
Yet probably Nok will always stay with me. I have never felt drawn to a person as much as I felt drawn to her, like a fly is drawn to open fire and consequently burns up in the flame. Maybe this is what would have happened to me too. There is no way of telling.
I know now I am the best damn thing that ever happened to her, and while I wish her all the best despite everything she has put me through, the devilish part of me also wishes her to realize this just as much.
Three weeks later. I find an email from Nok in my inbox. “Happy Birthday” she writes.
My birthday is in January. Now it is June. I let her know this. She apologizes.
She will be off to Australia soon she writes. Her company will transfer her there.
“When will you come back to Thailand?” I ask her.
“Only to visit” she writes back. “I will not only work there. I will get married soon. Have kids. Settle down”.
“Good luck” I tell her and set my email account to block her address.
To be continued.
That's a nice start.