Forgotten History of Angeles (and Pattaya)
The first time I learned about the existence of Angeles City was twenty years ago from the Sunday edition of the South China Morning Post, then the most profitable newspaper in the world, still owned by Rupert Murdoch. What I read und saw photographed was so unbelievable, and so disparate from the standard prudishness of the Hong Kong press, that I decided to have a look at the place myself.
In 1995 I booked a flight to Manila and took a taxi from the arrivals exit of the airport directly to Angeles City. The driver was pleased by the destination and grinned broadly. If you ever have passed Metro Manila by car, you know what a snake-pace drive it is.
Finally I arrived on Fields Avenue in full daylight, and I immediately understood what made Angeles tick. It was – if I am allowed to say so – the pockmark or wart at the underbelly of an American Air Force base, developed to provide the highly paid American servicemen with all the pleasures money can buy – at discount prices. Similar settlements exist adjacent to American airbases in Okinawa and South Korea. They are not advertised in the South China Morning Post, but if you stumble into one, you will discover that they offer high value / low priced services also to civilians. The Clark Airbase that was the reason d'être of Angeles had been demolished by the eruption of the volcano Mount Pinatubo, and the Americans had withdrawn, but the young ladies of Angeles tried to hold on to their proven trade. It was all they had learned, and it was in their eyes not as bad as being a maid in Singapore. The girls of Angeles succeeded in a certain way by attracting new customers from Australia, which is not so far away as Europe or America. In fact I met in Angeles very cultivated guests from the fifth continent, with whom talk was a real pleasure. Not all of them came to Angeles pour cherchez les femmes, some preferred jeune hommes, but I have no prejudice against preferences as long as it is not pedophilia. (Or the kind of sadism, Korski accuses a certain contributor to these pages of performing.)
At the time of my visit to Angeles the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo was still recent history, and the air of Angeles was filled with invisible poisonous volcanic dust, which made the sweet ladies of the night cough all night (and probably also all day). Soon I discovered that the one thing they desired most urgently from me was not my money, not my kindness, but those soluble tablets which soothe coughing. I always have a big supply of them when I travel to bronchitis prone places in Asia. Two nights in Angeles and I began to cough myself. Notwithstanding the extreme pleasantness and docility of the women of Angeles, I hired a taxi and escaped to the Luzon seaside to breathe freely the fresh air of the South China Sea.
Three years later I decided to lease a condo on the beach south of Pattaya, where I since have spent most winters. If you reflect on it, Pattaya has the same roots, the same foundations as Angeles. It was originally not much more than a few hammocks under palm trees on a lonely beach, where American bomber pilots could relax, after they had killed dozens of people – invisible to them – in the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and returned safely to Utapao Airbase (at that time leased to the American Air force by the Land of Smiles – a historical reason for enmity between Cambodia and Thailand, as the Americans – it is accounted – threw more bombs on the tiny Kingdom of Cambodia than during the whole world War II on Germany.) The hammocks were replaced by beds, iceboxes were bought to keep the beer cool, and the Vietnam War became a profitable business for the fishermen of Pattaya and the sex workers they invited to make life and death more enjoyable for the bomber pilots. As profitable as it was, this business ended in 1975 as it ended fifteen years later for Angeles. But if you compare these two places: Angeles has remained a monoculture of the one Tambon, one product type, but just look to what a diversified development Pattaya has taken off.
The main business of Pattaya is now housing speculation, and it has provided the city with a skyline, unique from here down to Singapore. What are the short time earnings of a hundred Isaan girls compared to the sales commission on a twenty million condo? To make staying comfortable, Pattaya has developed one of the best infrastructures of Asia with fast roads, excellent airport connections, hospitals where you can survive (a friend of mine just died miserably in Phnom Penh), hypermarkets like Tesco und Carrefour, which are a boon for foreign tourists and retirees, and world class hotels like the Royal Cliff group, starring in many LOS movies and last year's TV-News. For me, living here, the sex industry of Pattaya is practically invisible, in contrast to Angeles. Here also I feel no longing on my tongue. Every time my sister visits me, I am able to give her a full day sightseeing tour through Pattaya by taxi, which leads us from landmark to landmark, without ever coming across a bar beer.
The housing speculation has reached a critical bubble state, but I predict it will not break Pattaya. The Chinese have a saying "An empty house is a better investment than money in the bank." So the overbuilding will keep apartment rents at the lowest level far and wide. I do not recommend retiring completely to Thailand, but spending here a few months every year can be a true fountain of youth.