There was no sign on the glass door that was tinted black from the inside to stop people from seeing. Three floors up, one of those places you’d never think existed unless someone showed or told you. The rates weren’t posted, that’s
The door slid open and closed and was operated by a mechanism behind the desk that electronically locked it. Inside, the first thing you noticed was a pair of faded polyester couches with cigarette holes burned in them. There was an old TV mounted from the ceiling that cackled bad reception. A glass coffee table. Old magazines. That anesthetic smell of lubricants.
In Nana Plaza in the night the tourists come out to see the way things really are. It used to be an old shopping mall, this place. That was back in 1981, just after I was born. The entrance opens up to a courtyard mottled with thatch roofed beer bars and stairways that lead up to the terraces where girls in bikinis sit drinking. Several curtained doors open up to the gogo bars where inside elevated dance floors light the night with neon.
Listen closely. Techno and hip-hop blare outside in the plaza. Lights flicker. The red seeps deeper and deeper. Girls with dark, opaque tattooed bodies shuffle along a carousel. Mirrors surround the stage and the girls’ eyes never divert from the mirrors and their expressions don’t change.
Most men you see in the booths watching the girls while sipping on a beer or a Coke come here alone. Most of them are older. Some of them can’t even walk, victims of sclerosis or horrible accidents. I’ve seen paraplegics roll in the gogos on mechanized wheel chairs. Amputees. Nothing strikes you as strange or queer or abnormal, no, not here. I once had a ladyboy approach me in the urinal, proceed to pee next to me, then say: Mine’s bigger than yours.
There’s these machines in the gogos that produce a fog that descends like an alcoholic haze. I watch the men shuffle in and out of the gogos and beer bars with a kind of wonderment etched on their faces. The women on the chrome poles look sedated. Heavy mama-sans, cellulite oozing from their thighs and asses, walk the floors. That damp smell of urine and sweat. Aroused men pressed together in confined spaces. Into the abyss you go.
That fog that comes from these machines in the gogos, you breath it in and out, and your head fills like a balloon and you begin to drift away. It’s some potent fog.
The woman who runs the hotel, an older woman who was once a dancer herself, carries the wood block with the keys to the rooms and keeps a can of mace close at hand. The woman behind the counter is no wide-eyed eighteen year old. She’s been around. She’s seen lots.
Two boys in brown, one older sergeant, one younger officer, entered the hotel through the sliding glass door and approached the counter with the woman stood behind it. The officers carried revolvers, a .357 and .38 special, in brown leather holsters on their waists. Mostly the Thais carried revolvers because revolvers never jammed and automatics were more expensive and Thai police had to buy their own weapons. They wear brown slacks and blouses with insignia sown on the shoulders. They had to buy their own uniforms, insignia, holsters, helmets and vehicles too. It used to be they had to buy the job, but that’s changed recently. Fact was, shakedowns were the main source of income for Thai police.
The older officer had these deep pock marks up and down the sides of his face. The younger one wore leather cowboy boots. They carried a black clip-book with papered tickets. Police regs dictated they log their movements and patrol, 12 hours on, 12 hours off.
It wasn’t an easy job, being a Thai cop, because the salary if you lived on it was below the poverty line. The job had its perks, however, shakedowns and extortion being two of them.
The older cop, the one with the pock marks, he watches the woman while she examines the papers on the counter. It takes a moment for me to figure out this is not your ordinary shakedown. This woman here, one behind the counter, has got someone dirty in her hotel. Drugs, probably, and she wants her cut.
Some degenerates don’t learn. It’s Russian roulette out here. You pull the trigger and you end up on the wrong side of a loaded gun. Shit Happens. You wake up in a stinking pool of blood and vomit if you’re lucky. If not, well, then you end up worse – dead, maybe.
These characters in the short-time hotels, they share one common trait: They skate through life without the prescience of consequences. Me included.
Five ten, a high and tight haircut, sinewy but cut. That’s me. Love hotels, brothels, and gogos. Massage parlors and karaoke bars. S & M clubs. Queer alley. It’s these sorts of places that constitute my habitat. I got ads up on all the major Bangkok websites, including The Stickman Weekly. Still, no one seems to know who I am.
Before this gig, I was a teacher in a province up north. Pai, this province was called. It was kind of a famous place for the new age hippies, mostly because they sold opium in burlap bags for three thousand baht an ounce – roughly a hundred bucks US. There’s these people who live in the mountains and jungles called Karen and they been smoking opium for generations. It was one of those things. Western hippies paid big bucks to see the scene in the hills where opium was grown and smoked out of habit.
“ Leuh jak kon nee mai?” the older officer says.
“ Mai leuh jak,” replies the woman.
“Farang?” the younger inquires.
The woman behind the counter nods. A wide tobacco stained grin opens up on the older officer’s face. He knows.
“ Gee baht?”
The woman shakes her head, no. It’s a game of course. The boys in brown ask her how much for the tipoff. She denies knowledge a tipoff ever took place. The boys in brown leave a five hundred baht note on the counter and recommence to the room.
The hall is dark, lit only by translucent red light that gives it the impression of a blacked out bomb shelter. Every door is closed, locked, save but one. The door at the end of the hall of the hotel is ajar. Inside is a white porcelain sink. Trash bin. A mirror. From my vantage point, I see the toilet paper hanging off the seat and the trash can overflowing with used condoms, tissue, empty bottles of J & J oil, and boxes of Cipro antibiotics. Some people, upon witnessing these articles, might gag. Not me.
The boys in brown enter the hotel room of some unsuspecting john and begin the inquisition. They conduct a general inspection of the room. They search the john’s clothes, bag, wallet, shoes, underwear. Of course, they know where the drugs are and they want the farang to know they got him. So they put on a show.
When it goes down it goes down like this. Most degenerates believe they are somehow immune. They pay to be sexual deviants in a world sexual deviance is not only accepted; it is the norm.
Well, it’s a hell of a wake up call, two police officers entering your room at midnight. Especially if you are in bed, naked, with another man.
I been at this game too long. In Nana, a strip of concrete jungle that exfoliates paranoia like bubonic plague, it never hurts to look over your shoulder or even, as some do, carry a Taser in your cargo pants pocket. When you been one of the soi 4 haunts for close to seven years the years contort and blur. It’s not just the booze, either. God knows you’ve had your share of amphetamines and never been one to turn down ya ba when it’s offered.
You’ve had knives pulled on you by ladyboys. You’ve been rolled. Ripped off. Roofied. Lord knows time in the sordid urban sprawl hasn’t been kind to you.
You got these yellowed eyes from the onset of cirrhosis of the liver. Lungs that have seen better days outside of the smoky interior of a beer bar. It’s been years since you’ve been gainfully employed. Into the night you stumble.
Arms drag, legs trip.
The neon of the gogos and beer bars distort the night air on the terrace. Girls wearing next to nothing sit along the terrace on metal stools and sip coke and rums and chat on their cell phones. Few, if any, notice you as you make your way from one gogo to the next. You are looking for something, yes.
I pull out the information my buddy gave to me just before he returned to England. The girl’s name was Fon. She was 5’6’’, 19 years old, with dark complexion, born and bred in Issan, according to the client. She had tattoos on her back and shoulders. For Nana Plaza, that description was about as non-descript as it comes.
But I had a photo.
If the girl worked in the plaza I would find her if I matched the face to the picture. It was easy, after all. The girls when they worked wanted to be found and when they wanted to be found it often led to a confrontation of the violent kind. These girls, they never left home unarmed.
I do the Nana Plaza gogo crawl.
Spanky's, on the second floor, was stop number one. The venue attracted a crowd with girls with long foam tubes that they used to smack customers and the customers were given foam tubes and smacked the girls fannies. I sit down, order a drink, and smack the dancer in front of me on the pole with the foam tube. It was what you did. It was the fact you had money in your pocket. I buy the girl on the pole a drink and study the faces of the girls on the stage. I want to remain anonymous, for now.
I had looked at the photo before arriving. I didn’t see a girl who fit the description, even in the dark. These girls looked mid-twenties, bar hardened beauties. I lived this played out scene for a half dozen years, the drinking and fucking and drinking and fucking. Nothing changes, except the venue.
Next up was Carousel.
It was an honest-to-God filth pit. Girls on a carousel, half naked, going round and round, shower nozzles dripping water on the stage. Glistening bodies. Men getting lap dances on couches, fucking dancers in the toilet stalls. Suffice to say, it was a popular joint.
I used to frequent this scene on my trips from Pai to Bangkok. I lived the life. I used to revel school holidays because it meant a few extra days in Bangkok.
Angelwitch, Rainbow 1, 3, and 4. Cascade if you felt deviant.
The plaza beer bars.
I search the lot of em through and through and do not find Fon. It’s getting late. The plaza closes soon. The desperation is palpable in the bars and the gogos where women do not have customers as yet.
I decide to walk across the street to the Nana parking lot. Streetwalker country.
They crowd the entrance of the plaza. They line the streets. They hang out in the 7-11. Ladyboys, working girls, psychos and rapists and con artists. Opportunists of the night.
It seems things are going well when one of the lady boys grabs my crotch.
“I go with you, baby.”
“I do everything you want.”
Even here, in Nana Plaza, the law of averages applies. It’s something no one ever told the man being led out of the love hotel. There are the farcical bastards that tow the line and then there’s everyone else. You tight-rope the edge of the precipice until a gust of wind knocks you off. Shit Happens.
I walk up and down soi 4 sauce eyed. I’ve been here too long. This isn’t why I came. Too much of anything is a bad thing.
No one ever said the work was easy, sifting through the riff-raff of the night in a vain attempt to swim upstream – in a rat infested sewer. No one said you’d be living like this on the wrong side of forty with no prospects.
I come across a bargirl who resembles Fon at 5am at one of the street bars near soi 11. I sit down with her and order a Tiger beer. I say sawsadee – the nascent of conversation.
“You want short-time or long time?” she asks.
“Long time,” I reply.
“Ok, we go back your hotel room.”
“I don’t have a hotel.”
“Ok, we go back your apartment.”
“I don’t have a apartment. I stay in a Buddhist temple.”
“Ok, we go short time hotel.”
“I’ve got no money.”
“Then why you talk to me you crazy man! You need money in Nana!”
There is no arguing that fact. Nana, more than anywhere in the world, you need money. It’s a necessity. In the end, I take out my camera and snap the photo in the proper angle and call it an evening.
Later, in the early hours of the morning, I find myself in Queens Park near Emporium. The gates have been locked tight. The park is closed. I scale the iron fence and make my way into the park.
I slump against a tree.
The sun touches the horizon.
Thus begins another day in glorious Bangkok, Thailand.
I like it! Macabre….and so accurate!