Incident at Soi Cowboy
I am not so sure of what to call myself. I go to Thailand on business and pleasure every few months and then I go back to the US for another few months…so am I an expat or a tourist? No matter, I enjoy my visits.
So, I have a few "preferred" bars that I frequent on Soi Cowboy such as Shark, Dollhouse, Suzie Wong and Tilac. Some times I stop by Baccara where I would by a drink, sip at it inside while watching the girls and the Japanese looking up the second floor and then I take my drink outside and sit down to watch the rest of the Soi Cowboy crowd. I get so much pleasure out of seeing the Farangs and the beautiful ladies hand in hand walking by. I remember on that particular night, I saw what seemed to be an 80-year old hunched over "young man" in the arms of a 20 year old brown beauty. I wish I had had my camera, the smile on his face while walking very slowly was of pure satisfaction while I can see that his lady was almost proud to take care of this man. In his country he would never be able to even look at a 20-year old! This is what makes Bangkok so special.
I must have seen tens and tens of people walking by but for some reason I did not notice this very old woman, on the floor, right across from me, about 10 feet away. She was sitting on a small rag with a baby of no more than a year. While she never made an attempt to beg for money, she had that look of desperation on her face. I am sure it was all planned, but anyone with a heart would have felt something. The baby, amazingly, did not wonder off far from their dirty, little, old carpet. I kept watching the old lady and the baby. Her face was wrinkled so much she must have been in her late 80's, she was skinny and she looked like she has seen anything but the comforts of life. The baby, well it was oblivious to what life it was leading. Out of the blue, the food street vendor about 5 feet to her right presented her with a small foam plate of white rice and some meat on top, pork perhaps. The old lady then waied the man a few times almost touching the ground with her hands and forehead. I can see that the food vendor just gave her the food for free of course. Many Farangs went by and none gave her any money. My beer was half full or half empty, you decide. I started sipping it even slower to see what would happen next. I felt so sad and so lucky at the same time. Here I am drinking a 150 baht beer and this lady seems to have nothing. I am sure the baby is given to her to beg with, nonetheless, it was pitiful. Then the next thing that happened blew me away. You see, there are these three of four "kids" that run around Soi Cowboy selling single flowers / roses to the silly Farangs for 20 baht I think. I know them all, I have seen them working the soi for over 3 years now. I could swear they were 5 years old when they started. They do pester the Farangs and the Thai ladies many times but somehow in the traditional way of Thai life, they are left alone to do their thing. Although I have seen one Thai lady walking with her new found Farang shouting with anger at the two boys trying to sell them some stuff.
The little girl who sells flowers, without asking, kneeled down on her legs, sat on the ground next to the old lady beggar and went on to grab some white rice, no meat, from the little tiny foam plate. The old lady was looking away at that moment, so the girl took another ball of rice and quickly started chewing on it. All of a sudden, the old lady looked at her, and her eyes got really angry and she screamed at this little girl. The girl pulled her hand away from her third rice attempt and she kept on chewing her stolen food but looked guilty, embarrassed and ashamed. The baby looked at the old lady and at the young girl knowing something was wrong but did not understand. I was watching all this in amazement, the crowd walking by felt like they were ghosts and see through. All I could see is this micro interaction of these three people. The girl stood up slowly, still chewing on her rice, and walked by the old woman very slowly like a child who was caught in the act and had been punished. The old lady then did the thing that made me almost cry, she looked at the girl and had tears in her eyes. She was torn between having enough food for her and her given baby and sharing some of this food with a young hungry girl. The girl was gone by now, but the old lady kept on looking at her baby, tears in her eyes probably feeling guilty for screaming at the young girl, stroking the arms of her baby as if she was saying sorry to that girl. After a few moment the old lady's eyes went stone cold and then our eyes caught each other. She realized I was watching the whole thing. My eyes were red and watery. I did not want to cry but I felt so sad and she could tell how I felt and then her eyes went back to the softness she had before. She looked at me for mere seconds and never looked back. The baby was picking up some rice now, and she would help him / her to eat it. She never looked at me again. My beer was getting warm, I felt like my heart was taken out of my body and squeezed by the this window of life in Bangkok. I tried to shrug it off and I thought I better go to another bar to forget what I had seen. I wanted to give her some money, but somehow I could not get myself to do it. I went on to Suzie Wong I think and it was time for their 10 o'clock show. I ordered my black and Coke and sat there in the background looking at the stage like I had done many times in the past but all I could see was out of focus naked girls. My vision was blurry and all I could see was the scene I had just lived through being repeated again and again. The way the old lady shouted at the young girl, how her eyes and tone went from anger to sorrow and regret and how the little girl walked away in quilt….no matter how much you know about the scheming that goes on in Thailand, it touched my heart….
If you look closely at a lot of what is going on in the periphery of tourist areas in Thailand it can really pull on your heart strings. One does not want to become totally desensitized to life, but sometimes it is best not to pay too much attention to some stuff otherwise you can become depressed.