Ramblings of a Life Left Behind: Episode 2
Two syllables. Na-Na. I’ve been coming and going to Thailand for what must be 8 years now. At first I actually lived in Bangkok for close to a year. Yes, I lived on Lad Phrao road, Soi 62 with the dogs, mosquitoes, vendors, hawkers, punters, outlaws, fugitives, and even one old Japanese man whose body was covered in tattoos. Loved the neighborhood but it was too far from everything. Since then, I’ve returned to the LOS more than 20 times. I had never up until this point EVER been to soi Cowboy or Nana. In fact, I usually went straight to Pattaya. Each and every time, Pattaya. Nana and Cowboy were not even in my vocabulary. That is, until my last trip.
My plane lands at Suvarnabhumi, and the stroll through immigration is faster than normal. I go straight to the metered taxi stand, and flash the address to the Nana Hotel, written in Thai, to one of the two girls sitting at the meter taxi desk outside the arrival gate. She gives me a funny look, and then says “Nana?” I confirm. I give my ticket to the driver in the front of the taxi queue. He looks at it, and then looks at me, and then says “Nana?” as if some mistake has been made. Yes, I confirm, NA-NA. He smiles, and we’re blasting down the freeway in no time. Yes, my first stay at the Nana Hotel, my first visit to the Nana Entertainment Plaza, and eventually, my first stroll down Soi Cowboy.
Upon exiting the freeway, traffic is a nightmare. We take a short cut through some hospital, which turns out to be a bad idea, and we are stuck sitting on a side street for 30+ minutes, not moving. Finally we hit the straight away, and I can see it off in the distance; “NANA HOTEL” in big green letters. I’m staring out the window at Middle Eastern restaurants, motorcycle taxis, and women walking the streets in hijabs. I was unaware of how diverse the area was. Finally, we enter Soi Nana and turn right into the Nana Hotel parking lot. I pay up, and head inside.
Ghosts of Nana
Something about walking down the hallway of the 6th floor of the Nana hotel gave me the chills. The lighting is poor. The hallway carpet is dark red. The walls are white with a single wooden panel running the length of the hall about waist high. Doors are painted some high-gloss enamel white color, with equally glossy black door frames. Every third door is painted high-gloss green, the shade of which reminds me of an American prison, or outdated hospital ward. It is dead silent in the hallway.
The room is better than expected, though the even numbered rooms all face the Rajah Hotel, and whatever monstrosity is in front of it and to the left, a building which is under construction at all hours of the day, and almost completely blocks your view of anything. Note to self: book an odd numbered room next time. Room is clean, bed is large, bathroom is decent. I still have an odd feeling walking down the hallway of the 6th floor. I cannot describe it, other than to say, it is just an eerie feeling. Coincidentally, I would later be told by an overnight guest, “You need to change room, this room very bad”.
Nana Entertainment Plaza Parade
It’s still light outside, and I walk out the front doors of the Nana Hotel. Into the parking lot, where it appears that old Volvos come to die. Walking towards the NEP, there are already a few freelancers standing between cars. I would later see the same freelancers day in and day out, without fail. There is a bloated white dog of indeterminable breed always laying around in the parking lot of the Nana Hotel. The first time I saw this beast, I thought he was dead. The white dog looks wholly unhealthy. He is the opposite of every other soi dog. He is bloated fat, like a balloon. This type of bloating it seems, results from low serum levels of proteins, essentially a side affect (although odd seemingly) of starvation or malnutrition. The white dog also appears to have a cancerous lesion on its ass, though it may also be that the dog was half way through taking a dump when it passed out sleeping.
I walk up and down the street to orient myself. As darkness comes, I make my way into Nana Plaza. I go to a place which I think was called “Hollywood”. Obviously I’m too early. No one else is there. It’s just me, surrounded by girls. Every single one of the bar staff, gogo dancers, and service girls asks me to buy them a drink. Note to self: Don’t ever come here again. The mamasan is a kathoey with short hair and a business suit dress. She also demands a drink. Then she demands another. So far, I haven’t seen anything that warrants buying anyone a drink, though some of the girls wrapped around poles are mildly attractive. I retire for the night, tired of saying “no” to countless demands for tips from service girls who are not even serving me.
Phuket about it, this is Thailand
So I booked a domestic flight to Phuket about 5 weeks ago, during low season. The flight is $79USD. A lady is accompanying me. We take the silly 500 baht bus to town, which of course stops half way at a travel agency, where you are grilled about where you are staying, what you are doing, if they possibly may be able to sell you some additional services. Sufficiently annoyed, we proceed to our hotel.
This time I booked a normal hotel, the type of place where the common man stays. I couldn’t resist. I had to try it once. The hotel is right on Patong beach, and is reasonable by western standards. During low season, I estimate the hotel to be at 15% occupancy. The Thai staff seems friendly enough. The female desk clerk is full of smiles. The gay man who works in the hotel restaurant is also very friendly.
After a few days, a notice is slid under our hotel room door. It is an official form from the hotel. It essentially says “You steal two towel, 300 baht” signed: Hotel Staff. Funny, I don’t remember stealing any cheap, low thread count, off white, shitty hotel towels. Eh, whatever, it's 300 baht. I’ll bring it up when it's checkout time.
Now it is check out time. My overall feeling is relaxed and generally not irritated. Now a fat male Thai is behind the front desk. He is not smiling. I hand him the key. He says “You wait, we check room”. So I wait, and he checks the room. Surprise, he returns and says “You drink two beer, 300 baht, you pay now.” Funny, we didn’t actually drink anything from the mini refrigerator, let alone two beers.
I am now mildly irritated, my sense of well being is slowly evaporating, and the day that was off to a pleasant start has now been corrupted. I throw my bag to the floor, and tell the portly Thai desk clerk that I won’t be paying for beers that I did not consume, nor for towels that I did not steal. I can tell by his general demeanor that he is a dishonest scam artist, who has pegged me for an idiot farang. He pushes the receipt towards me and shouts “You pay now!”, I reply with a string of profanity in English and Thai.
I am now laying on the hotel lobby floor in a stupor. A Thai man in a blue shirt is kicking me in the head repeatedly. Where he came from, I have no idea. The round Thai desk clerk is sucker punching me in between blows from the random Thai man in the blue shirt. The gay restaurant waiter jumps in every now and then, slapping me in the face and prancing back and forth, floating around the lobby. I’m helpless. Outnumbered. Bleeding. I think I have swallowed a few of my teeth, and the others are so loose I can move them around with my tongue. A Thai man has grabbed my girlfriend’s purse after punching her in the face, and has now taken all of our money. She is screaming. No one is helping. It’s low season. The place is empty. I slowly lose consciousness again, the last thing I see is the ceiling of the open air hotel lobby.
And then I snap back into reality. I look around the lobby, we are alone. I press my hand up to my face, my nose is not broken, and I still have all of my teeth. I’m staring at the portly Thai front desk clerk. He is handing me a piece of paper for the two towels that I “stole”, and the two beers that disappeared from our room mysteriously. He is asking me to pay for them. I smile and hand over 600 baht. Of course I was scammed, and of course I am an idiot farang. Of course I could have stayed there and argued, but I could tell by the desk clerk’s demeanor, shifty eyes, and the confidence with which he ran his scam that he would not hesitate to slit his own mother’s throat for a dollar, so I chose to just pay and smile. I see the average Thai person’s annual salary as equal to roughly what I earn in about 2 and a half days. It’s low season. They need money. Phuket about it.
On Belligerent Farang
I’m sitting in the air-conditioned internet shop which is about 20 steps beyond the Nana Hotel walking towards the Raj. As I am checking emails, it starts raining hard. I am the only person in the internet shop, which is staffed by two Thai girls, who are busy charging their IPods and watching a TV drama online. The internet fees are something like 120 baht every 15 minutes. In comes a British man of about 65 years. I regard him momentarily and carry on. I’m reading about how the SEC announced the Fair Fund distribution of more than $78 million to more than 590,000 investors who were affected by undisclosed market timing in certain AIM mutual funds.
Time passes. Commotion erupts from within the internet café. The British man is furious. He is stomping his feet on the ground. He is making a scene. It seems he has used the internet for 25 minutes, and the two Thai girls are trying to charge him for 30 minutes of use. He is outraged. The Thai girl tries to explain that as the sign on the door indicates, the charges are for 15 minute increments. If you use 25 minutes of internet, it is closer to 30 minutes, then to 15 minutes, and thus you will be charged for 30 minutes. The concept seemed simple enough to me when I first entered.
Captain Cockney is having nothing of it. He is raising his voice. He is shouting down at the two tiny Thai girls who run the place. He is now stating that he will pay 70 baht, because he feels that is what the service is worth to him. A Thai girl is now yelling at him, and asking why he didn’t read the sign on the door, windows, and at the computer desk before he started to use their service.
The British man throws 70 baht onto the table and yells “It’s your loss, not mine!” I am now ready to hide under the table, as Thai men stream in through the back door and pound this miserable farang into a bloody pulp. I wait. No one comes. Thai men unforthcoming, I’m tempted to tell the offending farang to vacate the premises before I pound him into a bloody pulp and then skin him alive, then feed parts of him to the bloated white dog that sleeps in the Nana parking lot. Before I can react, he storms out the front door into the rain. He is the victor. He has cheated two Thai girls out of ~$4 USD.
I now empathize with Thai service people, bar girls, hotel staff, shop owners, restaurant owners, waitresses, street vendors, taxi drivers, tuktuk scam artists and everyone who deals with farang. I imagine what they must have to deal with. I imagine bar girls getting short changed by farang, hotel bills left unpaid, verbal abuse. I estimate that for every farang who deservingly gets beaten senseless by Thai thugs, there are probably 10 more that deserve the same, but escape punishment, only to come back to the LOS again and again.
It's early morning when I check out of the Nana and head to the airport. I decide to make the journey in one of the antiquated Volvo 740 turbos from the aging Nana Hotel car park fleet. The driver is jovial. It is 5 AM. He is wide awake. As we pull onto a freeway onramp, he says to me the words that represent the sum of all my feelings as we lurch out onto the highway; “Bye bye Nana Hotel, bye bye so many pretty lady!” Yes, indeed.
Unfortunately scams of the type that you experienced in Phuket are becoming more and more common in Thai-owned and managed businesses. This is one reason to go for Western-owned and / or managed businesses when you can.
Sadly there has been a MASSIVE increase in scams and crimes against tourists and foreigners resident in Thailand recently. It's something I will cover in the weekly soon.