Another two beers. Another barely concealed look of contempt from a waiter wanting a 20 baht tip as he slouched away empty handed. It was midnight at The Bamboo Bar, Pattaya. The place was packed. As the band launched into Hands Up, the old disco favourite, Farangs at the elasticated waistband stage in life flocked to the dance floor with their homely looking forty something Thai girls.
baby hands up
give me your heart
Everyone sang along, hands raised at the appropriate moment. It's a happy scene. As sandwiched as we are at our table, between giant Russians, Sai couldn't resist and was up on her feet beside me dancing along. I knew that she'd like to be up there on the dance floor with me. I'd seen her earlier through a mass of people, as she made her way back from the toilet, stopping to dance alone on the fringes of a crowded dance floor for a couple of songs.
"You not shy okay", she said, as she tried to persuade me to get up and join her. It's not something I've ever really been able to bring myself to do. Not something that I've ever been comfortable with. Too self conscious, too English, too late to change now. I wish that I could. As the chorus came around once more Sai was ready and sang along
baby hand job",
complete with her own hand gesture. The nearest Russian came close to getting showered in beer as I almost choked on the mouthful I'd just taken. I laughed until I cried. Through blurry tear filled eyes I looked at Sai as she danced and laughed.
I shouted over the music, "Sai, it's hands up not hand job", holding my arms up in the air as I tried to explain.
"Oh, I think hand job" she replied.
I dissolved into fits of the giggles again and, of course, what else could I do as the chorus came around again but sing along
baby hand job",
complete with that special hand gesture.
As we wandered back to the hotel along Beach Road I suggest we cross between the nose to tail songthaews to be nearer the sea.
"Why you want walk here? "Sai asked.
"It's more romantic", I say, pointing at the lights reflecting on the water out in the bay.
" Lomantic", she scoffed, as we weave our way between the working girls and mongers.
"Farang ba", (crazy) she adds, as I knew she would.
It's about as romantic as a stroll around the Nana Hotel car park at 2:00 AM except that it's by the sea, but no less entertaining.
" Sanuk maak", Sai says of the evening as we sit on the edge of the bed. "Why you not dance with me"? she asked, still puzzled.
"I know, I'm sorry Sai", I reply, unable to explain.
I find a music channel on the TV that's playing something I could dance to, if a loaded gun was put to my head, if you could even call it dancing. That sort of late night shuffle as the evening winds down at some function or other and people pair off. A scene that I inevitably observed from the sidelines in my youth when I thought that it mattered. It was never me up there in some smoochy intoxicated embrace. Though I wished that it was I always somehow felt detached from it. The memories of all those disappointing parties from the past, that I pretended to enjoy, came flooding back as I pulled Sai up from the bed and held her close. As we shuffled around the floor I really expected her to break away and dismiss it as more "lomantic" old tosh but she didn't. It was me that pulled away and I was surprised to find that she wanted it to continue.
"Again again" she pleaded, with one arm tightly around my neck and a hand on my shoulder,
"I want you teach me", she said, enjoying this new experience of a slow dance rather than what she was used to.
I laughed, "Sai there's nothing really to teach", I said, as we moved around slowly shifting our weight from the left to the right in time to the music.
" Sai qua sai qua" (left right left right) she repeated to herself clinging on tightly with a big smile on her face.
It was all in rather sharp contrast to about sixteen hours earlier when a fast taxi from Bangkok had dropped me off on Beach Road. Sai had been out of touch for several months while I'd been back in England. Her number went out of use so I couldn't call her, and she didn't contact me until a couple of weeks before I was due to return to Thailand. She had fucked up big time and was now, it seemed, hiding out in Pattaya too frightened to stay in Bangkok. She wouldn't go into detail over the phone.
"When I see you I tell you," she had said.
Though she never believed that I would make the trip to Pattaya to see her, "I think you not want see me again", she'd said several times, no matter how many times I assured her I would.
I called her from beach road and checked in to a hotel that we'd used once before. She arrived in the back of a songthaew about half an hour later with a baseball cap pulled so low over her face I didn't notice her at first as I waited under a shady palm. She was all smiles to begin with but once in the room she buried her face into my chest and cried, great shuddering sobs that soaked the tears and snot into my shirt. I sensed that it was a mixture of relief that I had actually turned up as promised, and of regret over what she had done. Sai, I knew, was not one to turn on the waterworks at will. I'd only ever seen her cry once before when, after a few drinks, she had told me a little of the poor Isaan background she came from. Even with her limited grasp of English she'd painted a scene so vividly of the time she had given birth to her daughter that it still stays with me to this day. With her parents long gone, and a husband who'd left her several months before, she delivered the baby alone.
"Have nobody help me", she had said as tears streamed down her face. "Mama Papa tai laew (Mother and Father had died) husband pai laew" (husband had gone)
"I stay alone when baby come out", she continued.
When the words weren't there she mimed the cutting of the cord and holding the baby that, somehow, said more than words ever could.
Slowly the reason she was laying low in Pattaya began to unfold. One evening, back in Bangkok, she happened to hook up with a girl she didn't know that well but ended up trawling around Sukhumvit with anyway looking for business. As she tells it they were eventually beckoned up, from a window, to a room either in a hotel or an apartment, I'm not sure which, by a punter.
"Him smoke ya ba", she said.
As time moved on it seemed he had no real interest in Sai though she was free to stay while the other girl smoked with him. Somewhere along the line the girl dropped something into his drink and sure enough he was out for the count soon after. Sai, unaware that this was what her "friend" had had in mind, nevertheless split a few thousand baht 50/50 and left. The other girl it appears stayed on to get whatever else she could. Later the next day Sai received a call from a girl who, as it turned out, happened to be staying in the same building. She warned Sai to keep well away from the place and advised her to steer well clear of Sukhumvit altogether. Understandably the bloke who'd been turned over had been to the police. They were now in possession of CCTV footage from the building that clearly showed Sai's face. Sai had had her hair tied back at the time, the other girl it seems had made sure that her hair was covering her face. Sai then demonstrated how this girl had untied her hair, as they entered the building, and bought it all down over her face. Although Sai noticed it at the time the reason why had never occurred to her. Why would it? She wasn't going in with the intention of robbing anyone, the other girl obviously was.
"She know what she do", Sai emphasised.
Having been drugged and robbed myself in the past (see my story Pay Day, Readers Submissions 14) I wasn't sure how I was feeling about this up until that point. It had certainly fxxxed me up at the time. As with many other girls it's all about survival, it's just that Sai always seems closer to losing that battle more than any other girl I know. The opportunity presented itself and she took the money, I'd say that a lot of girls would when placed in the same situation. The intention to steal it wasn't there when she went to the room, which I guess counts for something, though I wouldn't want to rely on that as my defence in a Thai court. When I was caught out the girl had had every intention of doing what she did to me.
The problem, as Sai now sees it, is not going to go away anytime soon. Sukhumvit is where she works, it's what she knows, it's where her friends are. As splintered as their existence can be I've always been struck by how the girls will help each other out moneywise if they can, even if it's just 20 or 30 baht so a girl down on her luck can eat. Sai, I know, has both helped others and received helped herself. Now, unable to remain in that area, the fragile safety net she might have had is no longer there. The one thing now that she can't risk is being picked up by the police in one of their frequent night-time sweeps along Sukhumvit. It's an occupational hazard to girls like Sai that costs each of them B1000 to get out of Lumpini police station jail. I know because the last time I was in Bangkok I bailed Sai out myself (see my story Mook, Sai and a Sexy Thai Virgin, Readers Submissions 16). The fear of being hauled in, as part of the usual routine, and the police matching her up either by accident or design with the CCTV footage, or any photo they might have made from it, was too much. Unfortunately she is a familiar face to the boys in brown at Lumpini. A few hours there she can handle, a few years in one of the bigger jails she couldn't. Whether they could put two and two together or not I couldn't say. Unwilling to take that chance Sai was on the next bus to Pattaya.
Though I never saw the room she'd found for herself there the description she gave was enough. "Antarai mak maak" (very dangerous) she had said of a small mosquito infested place on a soi populated with drunks, junkies and snarling dogs. Staying at the hotel came as a welcome relief to her from all that. Though we had an enjoyable time I'm not over keen on Pattaya myself and after a few days I was eager to get back to Bangkok. The thought that I'd return alone I knew would be too much for Sai, even though I promised I'd be back to see her before I flew back to London. The idea of me being somewhere without her I know drives her mad. She made an excuse to return with me saying she had to pick some stuff up from her room in the city. To scared to go anywhere near lower Sukhumvit, and unable to persuade me to leave Soi 8 where I stay, we parted company at Ekamai with the promise that I'd return to Pattaya. I didn't hear from her for a couple of days after that. She'd said she'd be going straight back but sure enough she called me from Bangkok. She arrived at my hotel on Soi 8 later that evening. I'd persuaded her to come right up to the door in a taxi so she wouldn't have to walk anywhere around Sukhumvit. As thunder rolled across the city, and lightning flickered like a faulty neon light above, I lent in to pay the taxi driver as Sai got out. She was through the hotel doorway and in the lift up to my room before I'd even received my change. Over the next couple of days I witnessed the genuine fear that she had of just being in that area. During the day she'd reluctantly walk the length of Soi 8 to the skytrain, or to jump in a taxi if we couldn't get one on the Soi, with her baseball cap pulled way down over her face. But after dark it was a different matter. Walking from the skytrain back to the hotel at dusk one time had got her so scared she didn't want to leave my room again that night. She was seeing unmarked police cars and plain clothes police everywhere.
"You Farang, you don't know" she said, after I thought she might be being just a little bit paranoid. She then told me of a time she'd been pulled into an unmarked car once before while just waiting at a bus stop. Strip searched by some sleazy cop for "ya ba" he then took B500 off her because she wouldn't have sex with him before letting her go. Over reaction or not I couldn't say but the paranoia was infectious and I was seeing figures in the shadows myself before I talked her into going back to Pattaya. If she had been picked up while she was with me I would never have forgiven myself for talking her into staying on Soi 8.
"You see crazy lady?", Jan asks the next day as we meet for some afternoon delight. She always refers to Sai this way though they've never met each other.
"Why you want to see her?" she enquires, after I tell her the latest tale, her nose wrinkled a little as she asks.
I have to confess that I don't know. She's not the first one to ask. It's a question I've asked myself many times. She makes me laugh yet drives me to despair in equal measure. Whereas Jan provides the perfect GF experience Sai wouldn't pretend that she even knew how to. For reasons that I can't explain there's something that links us together. I guess for now the dance will continue.
We've all got, or had, a Sai in our lives, a woman who perhaps we should not be attracted to, but to whom we feel a sense of attraction or compassion.