Letter from Singapore
As usual, my company sends me to the hottest part of the world during the hottest season of where I live. On this trip, I was lucky. Although all business class travel has been denied supposedly for everyone in the very large IT company I work for, the airline I am traveling on and for which I hold many frequent flyer miles, has some flexibility on seating and I am able to sit in exit rows all the way to Singapore and all the way the way back. Now, on my direct flight to Narita, my only anticipation is for the automatic draft beer machine they have in United’s lounge. For some reason, I am fascinated by this dispenser of golden relief, such that even if I am quite content at my current blood alcohol level, I pull a frozen glass from the refrigerator and put it on the machine. Surely, if I had one of these machines in my home I would while away each day in a trance watching the constant repetition of glass rising to receive the cold brew, almost the same motion I would soon use to raise the glass to my lips. After I arrived in Narita, I only had 1 hour to report to the gate for my trip to Singapore, so I chugged my wonderful Japanese brew, only briefly thinking why America can only dream of making a beer as wonderful as this. As I handed the cute attendant my boarding pass, I thought this would be an easy trip; a quick sleep and when I opened my eyes I would again be in the land that I considered my spiritual home; the city under the equatorial sun where I had re-found my life and discovered my future, and left so reluctantly some 7 years earlier.
After landing, as I walked through the new terminal 3 at Changi, I marvelled at the simple elegance that this airport always exudes. Coming down the escalators to immigration, I saw unusually long lines. As I queued up, I noticed that many of those waiting in line carried sports bags and wore short hair, even the girls. I thought back over the day’s news and remembered that there was a swimming meet this week that would serve as a warm-up event to the Beijing Olympics. Seeing the American flag on most of the bags, I realized I had stumbled into Singapore at exactly the same time as my country’s swim team. By this time, the ever efficient Singaporean bureaucrats saw the long queues and immediately opened 3 more stations. A few minutes later I was past immigration, collected my bags, walked unmolested past Customs, and into the cool comfort of a taxi that was waiting for me with door open. As we drove in the humid night towards the main city, listening to the syncopated Sing-lish of the taxi driver, I cursed the day I moved from this wonderful city.
Again, not used to being ahead of schedule when coming to a foreign city from America, I thought with a little bit of luck, I could be showered and into the bar by 12:30 AM. This added a whole night to my schedule in Singapore. Originally, I thought I would only have time to go out Sunday and Friday nights, as I was here on business for a Wed-Fri enablement session for our office, and had to leave Saturday morning. Now, I could catch the really good action on a Saturday night at Orchard Tower, which was only 2 blocks from my hotel. My luck still intact, I walked into the main doors of Orchard Tower at exactly 12:30 AM. The first person I saw in front of the escalators was a familiar face, the little man in the wheelchair selling roses. If my luck continued, I would see him on the way out and would buy one for my new best girl.
I went directly to the fourth floor to the bars I knew so well 7 years ago. The first place off the escalator was Crazy Horse. I looked in quickly and saw it had changed little from the old days; a mixture of old Thai women and ladyboys. I left this and went next door to Top Five which used to be Top Ten in my day. I could quickly see why they halved the number; there were half as many girls as I remember and half as pretty. Discouraged, I decided to try the bar I used to consider the last resort: Ipanema. I walked in and stood in front of the bar and immediately noticed that the Filipino rock band was not that bad. It was very crowded with girls and farangs, all having a good time. I went to the bar and ordered a beer. As I stood waiting, someone had pinched my ass. I turned and saw a laughing Vietnamese girl. She was 5 feet tall, slender, with long black hair, and as it was obviously a come-on from the working members of the club, I ignored it. But I waited a 3 count, turned and caught her hand as she tried to pinch me again. This time we were both laughing. As she had a sweet smile, I invited her to join me at my space at the bar and bought her a Margarita. Her English was limited so after a few minutes all we knew about each other was which countries we were from and our names. Her name was Nana. As further conversation would be awkward, I asked her to dance. As I expected, she danced very well as only a chrome pole can teach, so the deal was sealed for the night. We took a taxi the 2 block distance to my hotel but I missed the rose seller on the way out..
After we both walked solemnly past the reception desk, into the elevator and up to my room, she burst into a wildly playful mood once the door was shut. She kissed me, hugged me, pinched me, and then insisted we take a shower. She went first as I hurriedly put my valuables into the room safe, stripped off my clothes and then joined her in the shower. As I closed the door of the large stand-up shower enclosure, I was immediately struck by how beautiful she was naked. I had been initially attracted by her sweet face and long, silky black hair, but her body parts were perfectly proportioned and along with the dusting of hair between her legs, she was truly an amazing creature. If there was a 6 foot version of her, she would be in the next James Bond movie shot in Asia. I tried to be cool but her playful ways continued and soon we were splashing water and soap all over the bathroom. In bed, it was more of the same, so it became a game not of providing pleasure but who could make the other laugh more. Soon, we had spent our energy and fell mightily asleep. But we only slept a few hours as she awoke near dawn and wanted to leave. I opened the safe and paid her the agreed to compensation. We exchanged phone numbers and as she walked out the door, I pinched her ass and she stuck her tongue out at me.
I went back to sleep and slept until noon. I awoke and put on shorts, t-shirt, and sandals and schlepped a block to the Starbucks on Orchard Road. It was already crowded with eager Singaporeans ordering iced coffees. I ordered a hot coffee and bun and sat outside to wonder what I would do on this trip. As usual, I started this day in front of my laptop working on email and work items. When I finished, the sun was setting fast so I went to the hotel gym for an hour, showered, and then hailed a taxi to go to one of the most unique dining experiences in Singapore: Newton Food Centre. This open air eatery with close to 100 food stalls to choose from, attracts Singaporeans from all strata of society. Although the food is great it also provides a chance to observe people at their most friendliest, when they are about to eat or just after. I found a stall with especially nice looking tiger prawns, ordered 2 large ones along with greens, rice, a large Tiger beer, and then settled into a seat at a metal table. Watching the throngs of people from all walks of life having a good time, I mused it was pity we couldn’t bring the world’s warring factions to Newton for an evening of food and drinks to resolve their differences. I am sure the world would be a more peaceful place. I was reluctant to leave after I finished my food and drink so I ordered another Tiger. Now braced by 2 large beers, I was ready for the real objective of the evening. I jumped into the cool air of a Comfort taxi and said one word to the driver: Geylang.
Largely ignored by Singapore’s urban planners, Geylang is an area filled with small stores, shop houses, and marginal hotels. It is also the home for one of the red-light districts of Singapore. I had never visited this part of the city before on my many visits but I had heard plenty of stories of the many small brothels housing the mostly Chinese and Filipino working girls. This area also had many freelancers and part-timers who just wanted a little more money in their lives. As I was not sure where to go in Geylang, I asked the taxi driver if he had any recommendations. My Chinese driver, older than most, smiled and said he thought he knew of a few places. My driver stopped in from of a small shop off the main road with a bright red lantern in front of it. He said I should go through the glass door but he would wait for me. Inside the doors I found an old man sitting behind a desk and to the right of it was an open space with 3 or 4 half dressed girls. Everyone perked up when they saw my white face with the old man pushing me into the room with the girls. They lined up in front of me tried to look their best, but each one had some defect that turned me off; too much rouge, too old, too fat, and the last one had yellow teeth. I backed out of the house as best I could and soon I was in the safety of the taxi. He took me to 2 more places but it was the same experience at each one. As we were driving to a 4th place the driver suddenly pulled over and turned to face me. “What you looking for, la?”
I said I would like to find a young, nice looking girl that I could take back to my hotel for the evening. He said OK, pulled out his hand phone and spoke to someone in Chinese. After he closed his phone, he said we should wait here for a few minutes and someone would be coming soon to meet us. We sat in the cab for 15 minutes without speaking when I said we had waited long enough. The driver assured me it would be real soon. Did I want something to drink? A beer? Sure, a Tiger would be nice. He turned off his engine, grabbed his keys and out the door he went. In no time, he returned with a large Tiger beer and glass. Where did he get this? He popped the cap off the beer with a small opener on his key chain, and then started the car and the air conditioner. After I was halfway through the beer, I noticed headlights pulling up behind us. My taxi driver got out and went to speak to the driver. The lights dimmed and after a minute, they escorted a very pretty Chinese girl to my window. She was young, very young, like 15, and someone had dressed her short pants and a small tank top. The other man held her firmly by the arm, she looked scared, and he said in a heavy Chinese accent she would only cost S$200 for all night. I paused a few seconds and said no. The man became agitated and started yelling at my driver. I pulled out a S$50 note and gave it to the man. He took the girl back to the car and drove off. When I arrived back at my hotel, I gave the taxi driver a nice tip but he still gave me a puzzled look as he drove off. In my hotel room, I curled up in bed and thought about my sister and her wonderful 13 year old daughter back in America. I felt unclean so I got up and took another shower before sleeping.
The next morning I prepared for the next few days of work with another colleague from America. He was a strange mix of culture, family from India by way of England and now recently migrated to America. Even so, he was a brilliant technologist and as much I knew the business requirements, he knew how to implement them way beyond anything I could ever have imagined. Together we made a formidable team and I enjoyed working with him. Anyway, the next few days were 10 hours of work followed by a lavish dinner at one of the many wonderful Singapore eateries; Boat Quay one night and East Coast Centre Seafood the next. Courtesy of our grateful hosts, of course. But on Friday night, I insisted we go back to Newton so our hosts decided not to tag along. As I suspected, my friend’s complicated mind appreciated the scene before us as well as the food, so we had a nice meal of tiger prawns while we talked over our latest success. As the night lingered on, I wondered what we would do next. The next day we would both go back to Farangland so I didn’t want to waste it. He did not drink so nightclubs seemed to be out of the question, yet I suggested we go to one as it was nearby: Orchard Tower. He readily agreed so off we went into the night to a venue I knew all too well, and a role I had not played in some years.
This time, I didn’t waste time and we went directly to Ipanema. It was very crowded with a ratio of 10 girls to each man. Looking around for a table, a girl with nice breasts and a dress that could have been made for an Oklahoman tea party jumped in front of me and asked to dance. Her sweet smile gave me pause but I pressed on to a half open standing table. With the loud, pulsing music in the background, we ordered drinks; beer for me and Coke for him. After some small talk, he told me that he and his wife were not on good terms now, yet he stayed for his children. Now looking up, he remarked that there seemed to be a lot of girls in this club. Almost choking on my beer, I pointed out that most of the girls were here to meet men and make a little money. He didn’t seem surprised and asked how it worked. Now my mind drifted back to an earlier time; back when I worked in Singapore and visiting American executives would ask to visit similar venues and ask similar questions. Back then I felt like a pimp, but now for my good friend, I patiently explained how the system worked: find a girl, strike a bargain, and then relax and have a good evening. He said he liked a girl with big breasts and I immediately remembered the girl from Oklahoma by way of the Philippines. I told him to wait. I went back to where I saw her before and there she was. I asked her if she still wanted to dance. She said yes, so I walked her to our table. My friend’s eyes became large and a rare smile appeared on his lips. I introduced him to her and then left them alone while I went for another beer. When I returned, they were arm-in-arm, and after a few minutes, they were on their way to their particular nirvana. As they left, I gave him the thumbs-up and he returned it along with another smile. Another happy couple produced by me, the shameless pimp.
I stood drinking my beer with a smirk on my face but soon I became very jealous of the evening that lay before my friend. I was instantly very lonely and almost started to panic at the thought of going back to the hotel alone. Remembering I had Nana’s number in my phone, I texted her and asked what she was doing. She replied she wanted to meet me at my hotel. I replied 30 minutes? She relied yes. I hustled out of the bar and down the escalator into the sidewalk of Orchard Road. I walked the 2 blocks to my hotel and planted myself in the lobby with a good view of the front door. In the waiting minutes, I whiled away the time by people watching, one of my favorite things to do in this diverse city, but 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes and then to 40 minutes. I started to text her, no response. I went into the hotel bar and after a couple of beers, still nothing. I went back to my room resigned to a lonely last night in Singapore. Then, just as I was about to fall asleep, my phone rang. It was her. I ignored it. Then texts started to arrive, she was in the lobby now and wanted to come up. I responded with “no”. She persisted so I decided I had to deal with this personally. I dressed and went down to the lobby. She was dressed in a short skirt and looked like a teenager. She gave me a big smile and I frowned. Like a child wanting something from their parent, she desperately wanted to come to my room but I kept up my “no” responses. Finally, I said “yes” but only for a few minutes as I had a flight to catch in a few hours. In the room, I sat on the bed and tried to ignore her. Suddenly, she jumped on top of me and started pulling my clothes off. It was a new game for her and she intended to win. In the end, it really was quite an experience to be mauled by a beautiful girl half your size into having sex with her. An hour later, we parted almost exactly as the last time: a transfer of money and a sticking out of tongue.
I always appreciated these long trips home as it gave me time to reflect on new experiences and to try to make sense of them before I reappeared back in my reality. This trip was no different but instead of feeling blessed by being able to experience the greater world; I felt like I had changed in some great way that would lessen the value I placed on the next trip. What was it? The offered young girl or the working girl I was with that looked like my daughter? Similar past experiences that once seemed strange and exotic now seemed cheap and sophomoric. I told myself that on the next trip I would limit my activities to positive ones with no mongering. I settled in for a long nap felling much better, but as I fell asleep and my consciousness evaporated, a small part of brain whispered, “You’ll be back.”
Fascinating undercurrent here. I truly believe that to get any perspective of what we get up to in Thailand, be that as local residents or frequent visitors, one way to really know is to break the cycle. Leave Thailand or stop visiting for a period. Do that and you have a chance to reflect on what you have been up to from a distance and perhaps importantly, at the very time you had expected to be in Thailand.