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Once Upon A Blue Moon In The Mango




It's the middle of the week, and I'm walking down to the end of the soi, trying to spot a cab. The car will be safe at work for tonight. 'Pbai BTS', I tell the cab driver, and leave it at that. I'm not in the mood to converse with cabbies today. I round off the fare to the nearest twenty and tell him to keep the change, considering the time of day. The train station is much closer anyway, and in rush-hour traffic it makes sense.

I dial a number. 'Hi, luv. I'll be back late tonight. Some friends are in town and we're having a couple of drinks. Peuan-peuan sanit' Okay. Just don't forget to eat something. Although she will grumble that I always drink too much when I go out, my wife won't wait up. She knows I'll be late.

Up at the BTS station, I press the number for my destination and feed the machine some coins. My single trip ticket pops out.

On the way up the stairs, I dial another number…

'Ka.' 'Krub. Pbai teow gup peuan. I'll talk to you tomorrow.' 'Ka. Don't forget Saturday.' 'Okay, Krub.' She'll be going to a funeral wake later this evening, and being a typical weekday, will send my apologies for not being there. Ah, the train is here.

I spot the place I'm headed for just outside the Mothership. It's been a while, and most of the seats at the rail are taken. It doesn't really matter as I prefer the bar counter anyway. That way I avoid the roving street vendors, who tend to annoy the people seated at the rail. I wonder how many wooden frogs or sunglasses they actually sell.

I order a Tiger and wait to see who will show up. The girls here will leave you alone if you don't show too much interest. The slow parade of girls and katoeys making their way to the Plaza is a more interesting spectacle, and the bar counter is a nice, laid-back vantage point. It's also interesting to keep half an ear cocked to the banter of the service staff – it's quite revealing what you hear when they think you can't understand what they're saying.

By seven, we've got a decent crowd of guys. Though the music volume is loud, it is still at a level you can make sense of the goings-on without shouting. The trouble now is, being an open-air place, the heat can really get to you. A change of venue is suggested. The majority vote is for Soi Cowboy, even though the Plaza is within pissing distance. Either way, it'll be nice to get into an air conditioned place staffed with near naked girls.

I spot Mike's friend John over next to the main stage. I get myself a Tiger and join him. The rest are still outside having a smoke. We've come inside to see if the dancing girls really have forgotten to put on their knickers. Yesss!! The Phantom Panty Snatcher would feel quite out of place here. We smile at each other, then look up for an eyeful before smiling at the girls. The poor fellow opposite, he's got his gaze focused at a spot somewhere between the top of his beer and the dancing girls' knees. He's not even taking advantage of the mirrored floor or ceiling. Jeez. You've flown halfway across the world, paid for your beer in a naughty bar, and now you can't even will yourself to get en eyeful. Pathetic. You should have stayed at home and ordered a Playboy subscription instead.

A table has opened up in the far corner; we grab it. The stage is enough for two girls, but is only occupied by one. The other is still on the long sofa where she had been sitting with the previous occupants of the table; she looks a little lost. As I slide in next to her, I see another girl coming up the other side to keep John company. 'Woss' name', she says. I smile and go along. Finally, after seeing her struggling with very limited English interspersed with sign language, I indicate I can speak Thai. She looks relieved.

For the sake of the article, I'll call her Na.

'You speak Thai.'

'Yes.'

'I'm glad. I can't really speak English. Have you been here a long time?'

'Many years.' She looks hopeful.

'What about you?'

'Oh, in the bar just one month. I'm still paying for my uniform and boots. Five hundred baht for the boots, and another five hundred for the uniform.'

It'd be fair to say the boots would amount to that, but considering that the skirt and bikini top were just wisps of cloth, and that there was no investment whatsoever in underwear, I'd consider that a bit on the expensive side.

'How old are you?'

'Twenty-five.'

'Hmmm. That's not so young.' She nods her head, then nods in the direction of the main stage.

'There are many young girls here, mostly eighteen or nineteen. You see that one? She is nineteen and already has five boyfriends.'

'What about you?'

'Not yet.' I spot a yellow bit of paper stuffed inside her bikini top. 'What's that?' She pulls out two drink chits. 'Oh.'

'Tell you what. I'll buy you a drink. How much do you get out of it?'

'Fifty baht. So you know how the system works?'

'Yes.'

She goes off to get her drink. I turn to John, who's chatting to another girl. 'You know, John, it's a shame. I just don't understand why the girls like those tattoos, indicating the direction the departing girl is headed. He shrugs. Okay. Maybe I'll just ask her later.

She takes about five minutes and comes back with a drink in her hand, raising it for a quick toast. 'Thank you.'

'You're welcome. Did you get your drink chit?' She nods, and again exposes a fair bit of cleavage that can only be described as petite while in the process of retrieving it.

'I notice you have a tattoo', indicating one on her upper shoulder.

She nods again, then says 'Feel it.' I do. It's a little rough and knobbly. She points a little further down to her elbow, where there is no tattoo. Ouch.

'How many stitches?'

'I don't know. I was in the hospital and it hurt a lot.'

'How?' 'A motorbike accident. My girlfriend and I fell off on the way home late one night.' She looks at me again, and shrugs her shoulders. 'We were both drunk at the time. I have to dance now.' She gets up and climbs on to the stage in front. Whoa. No panties. Time for another eyeful.

By the time she gets down, I've ordered another beer. She tells me she's from Esarn, the Northeast part of Thailand. Her parents grow rice on a rented piece of land. 'How large is the land?'

'Three rai.'

'That's not a lot. How many percent of the crop goes to the owner?'

'Fifty percent.'

This sounds about right. Sad but true. 'What did you do before coming here?'

She motions with her hands. 'Grow rice.' Something about her expression made me feel that she was more comfortable growing rice than dancing on a stage with no panties on. But something must have happened for her to make that jump. Usually there's only one thing.

'Do you have children?'

She nods. 'How old?'

'One year.'

Makes sense. 'What about your husband?'

She shakes her head. 'No husband.' Silence. Then, 'Can I go back with you?'

I shake my head. 'I don't think my wife would like that. I really only came out for drinks with friends. I'll be happy to buy you another drink, though.' She reluctantly accepts that and goes to fetch her drink.

When she gets back, she looks thoughtful. 'Okay, you've got a wife. How about short-time?'

I laugh. 'I'll think about it. How much is the barfine?'

'Six hundred baht.'

'How much do you want?'

'Up to you.'

'No, it's not up to me. How much do you want?'

She thinks a bit, then says 'Two thousand baht.' I laugh again, shaking my head. Then she says, 'Look. I really don't care. Five hundred, one thousand, whatever. Up to you. I think you're a nice person, but I don't love you, and I need the money.'

Now at least she's honest about that.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see John. He's motioning towards the door. Looks like we're moving on. 'Look. My friends are going. I'll think about it. Maybe I'll be back. Okay?' She nods, but looks a little disappointed. I make quick work of the beer in front of me, but perhaps not quick enough, as by the time I'm out the door they're out of sight. Well, not quite. Some of the guys have moved on, and I've spotted John sitting at an outside table with the smokers. Ah, well. Might as well just grab another beer.

I've only had three sips at it when the girl who'd been sitting with John comes out. She's dressed for the street. John smiles. I guess the party will be breaking up pretty soon. No worries. Just then, the door curtains part. It's Na. She's got that what-about-me look on her face…

There was a period of time when due to the nature of my work I was sometimes obliged to entertain new visitors or clients to LOS. I blame my old boss. 'Take my car, take my driver. Have a good time.' Yeah, right. Dinner bills and regular music entertainment venues were not a problem. It did however, become a whole new can of worms when trying to claim expenses for some of the places those visitors insisted on experiencing.

The one thing that came out of this was that I had adopted a couple of bars as a semi-regular port of call. I was known and trusted, I knew the regular staff and trusted them. They were 'drinks only' venues; I wouldn't take any of the girls out of these places, and they knew it. New girls approaching would be shooed off. I liked that. I was also known to pay the occasional barfine just to get the girl off; some couldn't meet their monthly quotas, while others did have children at home. It's called 'sangkhom'; the closest English explanation I can think of is 'to help out without really expecting anything in return'. It was appreciated to the point where I could leave somebody totally new to LOS in the bar with instructions that he was to be taken care of, and go back without feeling guilty of abandoning him.

The trouble with regular places is that once you walk in the door, you were almost always expected to buy a ladies' drink for the regular staff. It could get expensive. It was a good thing that after finding another job, I was seldom in the area. It was no loss.

Back to Na…

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. 'Here, Na', handing her the note. 'Go and get changed.' To say she was happy would have been an understatement. I also had a funny feeling that she wouldn't have been happy with just the barfine.

I was right.

In the little time I spent with her later, I could still see the farm girl, naïve in many ways to her new profession. Her needs are still basic. Food. Shelter. Family. It's a transition for her; she'll either run for the hills if she's not cut out for it, or be slowly taken over by the dark side. Her new sisters are already teaching her the tricks of the trade. Either way it's an uncertain future.

Looking back at all the flashing neon and the people still in the street, I remind myself why I so seldom come out here any more.

I watch her take a taxi in the distance before hailing one myself. My wife will be asleep when I get back home, and I have to give my mia noy a call tomorrow. I'm expected at a 'Ngan Buat' ceremony in her village on Saturday.

Stickman's thoughts:

There was something about this story that I really liked. I cannot put my finger on what it was. Maybe it was the compassion you feel for the girls, something we don't always see. Anyway, whatever it was, I liked it.