Am I Pregnant, Deformed or Senile?
In Thailand the inter-city buses are excellent value and they move millions of country folk to and from their jobs in Bangkok, cheap labour that props up a national economy run for the benefit of the urban elite. The buses aren’t bad though and it’s not very often that a driver falls asleep through over-work and slaughters half his passengers. (It happened the day we travelled and on the same route… seven were killed.)
Anyway, for a change we recently took a daytime bus to Bangkok with a different company and it was about nine hours door to door. This time the bus took a toilet stop near Korat at a flashy new filling station with some spectacular toilets which made my day.
As usual there were three choices at the pump if you needed fuel and there were three choices if you needed a dump. I sometimes use the disabled toilet as there’s room to swing a cat but this time there were some unfamiliar choices.
There was no ‘disabled toilet’ but instead on a blue sign, boldly written, were the words, “Pregnant”, “Deformed” and “Senility”.
Oh Joy! Dictionaries are such a mine field!
Reaching for my camera, my hand shaking, I made my decision. I’m definitely not pregnant and only slightly deformed, so it’ll have to be ‘Senility’.
Then as I turned the corner I confronted another blue sign, a manekin pis of a male leaning backwards and spouting an arc of wee, below him the words, “Man Urine”!
In Thailand you sometimes hear spoken in hushed tones what sounds like, “Man Shitty”. This is the English football club that former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, a little short of cash, has just sold for a cool profit of fifty million pounds.
And now I think I know what “Man U” must mean.
Anyway, we got to Bangkok and it was as extraordinary as always. The roads were flooded as usual and as we left the bus station, the taxi should have been a boat. We met who we’d come to meet and did the things we had to do and moved smoothly from traffic jam to traffic jam. We saw no hint of the demonstrations and anarchy as the ‘People's Alliance for Democracy’ continued illegally to occupy Government House. This ‘democratic’ movement was holding the country to ransom, arguing that the rural poor are too stupid to vote and so should be disenfranchised.
Yes, as always it was all slightly mad, though the maddest moments for me were just after Lewis Hamilton (who somebody said is Barak Obama’s younger brother) had won the Formula One motor racing championship by a whisker. An old friend, Trevor, and I watched the race in a bar just beyond Soi Cowboy and Hamilton kept us in suspense until the very last corner. It was so nerve wracking that Trevor had to rush off to a pharmacy afterwards and get some beta blockers to slow his heart rate.
Now three in the morning and with the Skytrain closed I was thus faced with a walk down the notorious Soi Cowboy and all the way back to my hotel in Soi 2.
My walk on the wild side was to be a revelation for an innocent like me. At this time all bars were closing and their denizens, both male and female had now spilled out onto the streets. It was the last chance saloon and nobody looked in a hurry to go home. There was still a chance of an assignation or of a bowl of noodles at the fold-up tables blocking the sidewalks, at which sit huddles of Thai girls, dark eyes flashing shamelessly as they gaze up at you as you pass.
Down the long canyon of Sukhumvit road I walked, night tripping on the broken pavements, breathing the humid air, the smell of drains, of frying and taxi fumes. All neon glitter, an urban jungle, with so many girls in black jeans and skimpy top as if waiting for a bus they never get on.
“It’s my life… it’s now or never and I ain’t going to live forever,” belts out loudly at a stall still selling bootleg Ds. Live now for Gomorrah is another day.
I won’t describe the single men prowling on the street as I must seem to be one of them, but what of the women? Where are they from and why are they here in such numbers? There’s an easy answer.
“It’s the same the whole world over it’s the poor what gets the blame.
It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure. Ain’t that just a bloody shame.”
Many of the women on the street don’t look like hookers though. They’re more like students or village girls and maybe that’s why they do so good a trade.
“Thai girl, Thai girl, feisty fit. On the sois of Sukhumvit.
What immoral hand or eye can frame thy fearless symmetry.”
I tell myself not to be judgmental about any of this. Sukhumvit road so graphically displays the extremes of rich and poor that exist in Thailand that it’s hard to be blame the poor. It’s better to admire these entrepreneurial women who sell themselves both soul and body, as so often they support a child they’ve left behind in the village with Mama that they’ll never see as she grows up.
The thing that struck me this time though was how many of the prettiest Thai girls I saw were in fact men; katoeys as they’re called. Sometimes they have you fooled but you can often tell by their height, by the slim figure and spinnaker cleavage, the exaggerated swing of the hips. They’re woman writ a little too large.
They bat their eyes at you and say, “Where you gor?’ or “I gor with yooo!” and then you know for sure.
They hunt in packs swinging fast along the pavement, appearing from the shadows and sometimes they scare me a bit. They’ll bounce and jostle you while one of them gets a hand in your pocket, so that night I kept my hand firmly on my wallet. Anyway I got back to my hotel after neither adventures nor noodles but it reminded me what a bizarre but vibrant place Bangkok always is.
And yet again I ask myself what pressures push both females and males to risk their health, selling themselves to sometimes grotesque foreign tourists, to have their tackle chopped off and chance their arm on the streets?
I remember once a katoey in Phuket who late one night hissed at me, “Blow job can? We go beach together?” And another who said, “I gor with you. Have pussy!”
He didn’t get my flippant joke about cats but his was a very human response.
“Please I need a little alcohol… please, to help me with my work.”
Another slightly sad story struck me when we were at Morchit bus station waiting to make the long overnight trip back home to our village. It’s a vast warren of a place through which hundreds of thousands of souls pass between home and city looking for work. It’s really quite smart with granite floors and the toilets are clean but to me it’s sad, a purgatory for transients. At Songkhran, the Thai New Year festival, the bus station is overwhelmed with people as factories close and everyone converges to fight for a seat and go home for their annual few days break.
Just now my taxi driver told me the bus station had been packed with kids coming to work during their mid-year break, just as Cat used to do, and with adults going back to their farms to begin the rice harvest. Half the population of Thailand seem to be migrant workers.
As we were sitting waiting for our bus on stand 128 I noticed two little girls in pretty pink dresses and I realized it was Yuie and her little sister from our village. It didn’t register with me at first as although I know the children well, the parents who were with them weren’t familiar to me.
Cat told me their story. The reason I didn’t know the parents is that they’re never in the village but work for a wealthy Chinese family in Bangkok. The mother had taken the long bus trip back to the village to collect the little girls for a few days in Bangkok and she was now taking them home to the village overnight. Having got them home not being allowed time off work, she then had to leave them with grandparents and the same day get the next bus back to Bangkok. It meant perhaps forty hours travelling for them to be together for a few days.
The Chinese can be tough on their domestics. Cat says Yuiee’s Mama has worked for this family for fifteen years and has never lived with her children. Her employers probably live a life of luxury and ease but such is the order of things, that there are rich and there are poor. And for the loss of her freedom and family life how much does Yuiee’s Mama earn? Perhaps four thousand baht a month… about 120 US Dollars, which even here is hardly a living wage.
All of which takes me back to Sukhumvit road.
A good looking working girl or one of those painted amputees might make as much in a single night, given some luck and a drunken punter or two.
I guess that’s just the way of the world.
Yep, the way of the world…