Urban Myths and Other Indisputable Facts
Although only a 6-year old boy at the time, I remember the occasion well!
My mother had just treated me to a candy bar. This was a long time ago – several decades before the politically correct brigade deemed the feeding of confectionary to small boys was akin to child abuse. I had devoured it greedily, in the process smearing my lips and chin with melted chocolate. My brother, who is 6 years older than I, observed me with distain. My elder sibling had just graduated from elementary school and now attended a minor public school as a day boy. Although undoubted viewed as a no more than a “spotting oink” by the senior boys at his school, he clearly believed that attending such a school afforded him a superior status to that of his younger brother.
“You dirty Arab”, he exclaimed – looking me up and down with a dismissive gaze communicating utter contempt for the lower orders! Had this exchange occurred during the 21st Century he would probably have been marched off to attend a re-education class, or worse. Fortunately for him it was the 1960’s when such a form of address was considered perfectly acceptable, especially when directed towards a 6-year old younger brother. Rather than being totally humiliated as was intended, I instantly formed an affinity with the Arab race. If Arabs liked eating candy, and by inference all the other things that a 6 year old boy enjoyed – such as playing in the mud; then clearly they must be alright!
I was reminded of my brother’s observation many years later when during an idle moment I was skimming through some historical submissions posted on Stickman’s website. There was one really evocative piece penned by Evel Penevil, entitled “Coffee Shop at The Grace Hotel – Portal to Hell”. Evel conjures up such depraved images of life within Nana’s Arab Quarter that I felt compelled to go see it for myself next time I visited Bangkok. Skip forward several months and I’m back in Bangkok, eager to reconnoitre the “den of iniquity”. Sad to say, the reality failed to match my expectations. I returned to my hotel room disappointed and feeling somewhat cheated. Relaxing on my hotel bed, I tried to imagine the sounds, sights and smells of the horror that should have been the Coffee Shop at the Grace Hotel. Still jetlagged, I soon doze off.
Later; I find myself in a beer bar, newly built on the ground floor of the Nana Plaza. I’m sharing my table with a bargirl. There are several other customers of various nationalities sitting with us.
Mr. Yamota is Japanese and has just ordered a round, including a lady drink for the girl. The slender tattooed bargirl speaks excellent English and is in a talkative mood. The girl explains that although many people perceive her to be just a common prostitute, sex is just one small part of what she has to offer. She sees herself as an astute businesswoman, meeting her own needs by satisfying those of others. A competent bargirl can achieve this by appearing to be whatever her customer wants her to be – a sexual partner, a girlfriend, a private dancer, a daughter, a tour guide, a companion, a confident, or just a pretty face (and body) to boost their ego. For sure, a dream maker! Clearly a successful bargirl needs to be able to adopt many different personas to manage this. The girl compares her ability to make these adjustments to that of a Chameleon which is able to change skin colour to match its surroundings.
As I look at the girl again, I realised she has no tattoos. It must have been a trick of the light that first led me to believe that she did! I also note she is buxom and has red streaks in her hair. The girl tells us that her elderly grandmother is looking after her 2 year old daughter. She lives in a village in the North East of Thailand. The girl’s family believe she works as a waitress at a Bangkok hotel. Her Thai boyfriend, not the father of her child, depends on her financially, as does her family back in the Issan. By providing money to take care of her family the girl believes she is making merit, which will be repaid to her during her next life. Last night she returned to the bar, having sold the GFE to a man who had taken her to Koh Samui for 10 days. Two hours ago, the girl had gone short-time with a man and his girlfriend (did she mention she was bi-sexual) in the upstairs room at the bar. Glancing up from my beer, I see the red streaks in her hair are actually blonde! The girl has five sponsors’ – she loves only them, who send her money each month. She is a good girl, despite her gambling and ya-ba addiction. Her sponsors all believe she has left the bar to complete her education. The second part of this statement is actually true. The girl has recently started to research the division of assets between partners following divorce in each of her respective sponsors’ home countries. The outcome of her investigation will likely determine which of her five sponsors she will ultimately marry.
The girl’s shinny jet black hair shimmers in the setting sun.
I ask Mr. Yamota why his compatriots choose to frequent “Japanese only” bars and massage parlours and also why they are prepared to spoil the girls by paying much higher fees than their Western brethren. Mr. Yamota smiles indulgently in response to my impertinent question. He explains that Japanese visitors have never demanded separate facilities, but given their Thai hosts provide them, it is unsurprising they attract custom. These establishments understand and specifically cater for the needs of their oriental customers, providing access to the lighter skinned girls that the Japanese prefer. Similarly, a European may choose to drink in an Irish bar or eat in a German restaurant. In a capitalist society, premium service will usually attract a premium tariff, which a customer should reasonably be content to pay. For example, if you choose to stay in a 5-star hotel then you would expect the room rate to be higher than at the 3-star hotel next door.
Mr. Yamota winks at me conspiratorially, which strikes me as being very un-Japanese. “I’ve also heard the 4 (inches) by 4 (minutes) by 4 (thousand baht) myth”, he confides. “The third part might be accurate, but there are many happily married Japanese women who will readily testify to the inaccuracy of second.” “Speaking for myself, I’m happy to confirm that the first element of the equation is also well short of the mark!”
The waitress returns to our table. Mr. Patel, who is from Lucknow has said little so far. He orders another round of drinks, settles the checkbin and hands the waitress a generous tip. I notice that he makes no attempt to fondle her shapely behind, nor indeed any other part of her anatomy. I ask him how he likes Bangkok. He tells me that he travels here two or three times a year on business. His pharmaceutical company supplies a number of private hospitals in the capital. Despite being a senior executive, Mr Patel is sometimes made to feel unwelcome when visiting bars and restaurants. On several occasions he has been accused of being an Arab and refused service. Despite this he likes to visit the bars, usually when entertaining, but sometimes like this evening by himself. When by himself he enjoys people watching and will also sit and chat with anyone he happens to meet. He is dressed in smart casual attire, having just showered and changed following his last business appointment.
Mr Kim is from Seoul. He sympathises with Mr Patel in that he has also been made to feel unwelcome when he visits Bangkok. Mr Kim admits that he enjoys spending time with the bargirls, but tells me that the girls are often unwilling to go with him, sometimes openly hostile and afraid. Having recently been bereaved, Mr Kim says he lonely. He will sometimes barfine a girl who reminds him of his wife, just for companionship. He assures me that on the occasions he does take a girl back to his hotel room, he is always gentle and will never coerce her into doing anything she is uncomfortable with. Mr Kim strikes me as being a sincere and kindly man. I have no reason to doubt anything he has said.
My attention is distracted by the sound of a police siren and pounding feet. Half a dozen policemen suddenly appear with batons raised. To my surprise they approach our table. The bargirl disappears at the first sign of trouble. My new found friends are dragged to their feet, handcuffed, and hauled across the square. I notice that a large metal cage has been erected as a makeshift cell. The door to the cage is opened and the three of them are thrown inside. Facing the cage is a raised bench. Behind the bench sits a Western man wearing a legal gown and wig. Someone calls the proceedings to order. “Will the court please be upstanding, His Honour Judge Korski presiding.”
An English skinhead then makes an appearance. I realise he is English because his allegiance to the fascist “British National Party” is tattooed across his forehead. The skinhead introduces himself to the court as the Council for the Prosecution. There is no Jury or Council for the Defence!
“You are hereby charged with being undesirable aliens” announces the skinhead. “How do you plead, guilty or no contest”? There is no response from the prisoners, for none is needed.
His Honour Judge Korski invites the skinhead to outline the case for the prosecution. The skinhead opens a book and begins reading out loud. I see the book is entitled, “Urban Myths and Other Indisputable Facts”. The prisoners’ fate is sealed!
Five minutes later, His Honour Judge Korski confirms their guilt and passes sentence. The three prisoners are removed from their cage, still handcuffed, and led towards the Thai boxing ring where their punishment awaits them. The twelve Thai boxers who will administer the punishment are already in the ring. In place of boxing gloves and bare feet, they have been equipped with knuckledusters and steel toecap boots!
“Let the punishment commence”, cries His Honour Judge Korski.
I can picture the scene in my mind, I really can.