First Night in Bangkok
The first signs that I was in trouble started at about 5 AM. The sharp stab of the stomach cramps woke me from a feverish reverie to cold sweats and uncontrollable shivering. Meantime Noi was fast asleep fetally curled up under the covers and dead to all but her own dream world. I groaned in the vain hope that I’d rouse a sympathetic Noi so she could tend to me, but then a churning and gurgling in my stomach created spasms that I knew I couldn’t control and made me lurch to the bathroom and evacuate my bowels of the streams of vile and foul smelling shit..
After that first gush of shitting the cramps stopped and I felt so much better that naively I thought it was all over. Ha! As soon as I finished cleaning up and stood up the wave of nausea flooded over me so quickly that I thought I was passing out, and then a horrible heave in my stomach made the bile rise and that forced me to kneel down in front of the toilet just in time to hurl up more foul crap from my guts.
It was November 1991 and this was my first-ever night in Bangkok. I’d just spent 3 days in Hong Kong as an orientation to SE Asia and felt that staging through the then outpost of British colonialism had been a good idea. The familiarity of the ubiquitous English language signs and other Anglicized influences had nicely balanced the stark juxtaposition of hordes of yellow skinned natives as well as the throngs of brown skinned Filipinas crowding the harbor-side plazas and shopping stalls on their Sunday free day. But the most obvious feature, that was a unique experience and yet created a comfort zone for me, was the sea of shiny black hair on people who were typically no taller than my height-challenged self.
I arrived at the old Don Meuang international airport in BKK at 10:30 PM and by the time I got to my hotel it was getting on for midnight. The hotel I had booked was one of the few budget places with a decent rating in the original Lonely Planet guide, but as a BKK novice I didn’t understand the cryptic description of the room as having “enhanced visual titillations” although I did get what they meant by “guest friendly”. Actually, it was a seedy joint that was conveniently located on a side soi around the corner from NEP (Nana Entertainment Plaza), and I discovered that the “titillations” were mirrors on the ceiling and one wall next to the bed. Plus, based on the number of mongers plus scantily clad “guests” in the lobby it was a pretty popular place for short-time sessions to enjoy the enhanced visuals as well as more satisfying activities.
Aside from the mirrors the room was basic: big bed, noisy wall-based AC unit pumping out frigid air, 19” tube TV with no remote, combo shower toilet (how do you keep the toilet paper dry?), wood floors and old wood dresser with a water jug and 2 glasses on top. I thought that was convenient as I had drunk all the water in my plastic back-pack bottle while driving in the taxi on the way from the hotel, so I thirstily guzzled a couple of glassfuls.
Taking this all in it really began to sink in that I was in BKK and that erotic and exotic delights awaited me just a few hundred yards away, and as my excitement rose, so did my working member. Quick cold shower (soaked the toilet paper!) to freshen up and get the unruly member back into order, shave and then a brisk walk that almost became a sprint over to NEP. The guidebooks had not described any details and as this was way before Stick’s site there was no authoritative source of information about the bars that I knew of, so when I arrived I made all the obvious newby mistakes: I went into the first go-go on the left by the entrance (I think it was Lollipop) and then fell for the first girl who said hello to me with a polite wai and a delightful bright-eyed smile. She was a typical petite raven-haired Isaan girl with the quick laugh and friendly but slightly shy attitude common back then, the charms of which led to many wonderfully satisfying GFE visits for so many farangs of that era.
Her name was Noi, she was 27, had been in BKK for 3 months and she came from a small village somewhere in the northern part of Isaan where her family lived and farmed rice with animals with big horns. Or at least that’s what I think the hand-gestures and sign language meant because of course she could barely speak any English and the only Thai I knew was the phonetically mangled version that I had tried to memorize from a phrase book.
But the common commercial language of desire and availability was pretty easy to decipher…and so was the one describing hunger! So after settling up the tab and the 300 baht barfine Noi took my hand and led me to a close-by open-air sea-food restaurant where we feasted on the first authentic Thai food I had eaten. As is the habit of many Thai girls, Noi ordered about 3 times more food than we could eat, and she nibbled on a few morsels while continually heaping spoonfuls of the various dishes on my plate and encouraging me to eat it all up. It was about 3 AM by now and the food certainly perked up my flagging energy and interest in expending a whole lot of it in an intimate physical work-out with Noi.
Back at the hotel I discovered the extra-dimensional titillation that the mirrors and enhanced visuals added to the already amazingly uplifting pleasures that Noi very energetically and eagerly shared with me. This was not only my first experience with a Thai bar girl, but also my first sexual experience with a prostitute. I’d had a fair number of girlfriends before, in which the relationship lasted some time and went through the typical curve of chemistry, attraction, sex, dating and familiarity, the trajectory of which is propelled by big doses of goodwill, heapings of humble-pie and steady infusions of cash until a momentary hesitation in whipping out the wallet at the designer shoe store, along with a barely sarcastic “I didn’t know your middle name was Imelda” starts the inevitable and thankfully fast slide back to the cheap thrill and satisfaction of onanistic relief.
Despite feeling guilty and somehow dirty for having hired a prostitute, the overall experience was liberating and made me feel happy. What is happiness if not experiencing something that’s fulfilling and that also in the doing of it forwards some personal goal or desire, or at least feels like it does. So, in this case my time with Noi was not only pleasurable but gave me the feeling that it was much more than that. It didn’t matter if it was or wasn’t, it just mattered how it made me feel: happiness isn’t cerebral in the intellectual sense, it’s more visceral.
Here I was with a lovely woman who was simple and uncomplicated, and yet who had given me the most profound pleasure and joy and evoked feelings I had thought were relegated to memories of my teenage thrill years when the possibility of true love was still real and not yet jaundiced by sad episodes of unrequited desires. With Noi I felt the burning thrill of adolescent desire and passion, basic and raw, as well as stirrings of the renewed hope of love. Her sweetness, tenderness, warmth and charm were as genuine in those few hours as anything I had ever felt…and she made me believe in love again.
Of course, I knew that she was with me for her own mercenary ends and that I could no more really love her as she could love me. So I didn’t need to fall in love with her, just experience the visceral tingle of a connection with a sympathetic soul who in her own way also needed the intimacy that we had shared.
Something woke Noi and she came into the bathroom, wrapped in the tiny bar-girl bedroom uniform of a chin to shin towel, to see the pitiful farang praying in front of the porcelain throne of scatology. She asked in her lilting pidgin Thaiglish “Many sick, djep mai?” I just groaned and tried a wan smile, and then as though the effort was rejected by my innards as an insult, retched and tried to eject more of the evil stuff that was tormenting my insides.
For the next hour I suffered through the waves of shivering and chills, while Noi did her best to minister my needs by applying a cool towel compress and muttering what sounded like magical incantations to some ancient spirits to exorcise my inner demons. Sadly, Noi had to go at about 6 AM to help her sister with her day job cleaning apartments, but said she’d be back that evening before going back to Lollipop.
I had a horrible day with cold sweats, hot flashes, cramping and churning as the fever raged and then as it started to peak the semi-hallucinations and real torment began: drug flash-back induced paranoia. The fever must have tripped the circuit-breaker that usually keeps those old demons in check, or at least buried in some black hole in my mind. It started with hyper sensitivity to sounds and physical sensations: it was though I could hear the individual red corpuscles and anti-bodies valiantly surrounding and trying to vanquish the insidious invaders in my blood as it roiled through my arteries.
Then it suddenly switched to despair as I realized nobody expect a Nana bar-girl knew where I was and what shape I was in…I was relying on a semi-literate farm-girl to come back and save me.
Then later I could feel the grains of wood in the room’s door creaking and straining with an insistent scratching and far-away thrumming as though something was trying to escape from or through the door’s very fabric and find freedom in my room.
So it was that I eventually realized that there was a soft but insistent knocking on my locked door, and then “Khun Por, Khun Por…sabai dee mai?” I staggered over and opened the door and immediately reeled back as now I knew I was hallucinating…there were 2 Nois…2 lovely girls, somehow frowning while beaming beatific smiles at me, their loving kindness and compassion radiating into the room.
Noi had indeed come back to save me. I had completely underestimated the true generosity of spirit of that simple but compassionate girl I had so callously written off.
It was almost 2 Nois: she had brought her sister Lek back with her, to look after me, because she had to go to Lollipop. They had also brought soup and sticky rice, but when they undid the rubber band on the plastic bag containing the soup the sharp and sweet aroma of the tom yum made me retch and lunge for the trash can before I spewed on the floor. The spasms and heaves felt like they were tearing my stomach and sides apart but there was nothing left to bring up.
Noi left and Lek stayed with me until about 10 PM. She tried to cool my fever by wiping my face, neck and chest with a wet towel and then gently massaged my head and temples. Her light caresses were more tender and touching than analgesic, but nonetheless helped me relax and start to push the demons back into their deep, dark lair.
I drifted off to fitful and somewhat feverish slumber. About 5 AM I had a vision of a lovely raven haired maiden emerging from a far horizon and drifting closer, her bright smile beaming radiance from her beautiful face in shimmers and pulsing rays. She seemed to be calling out to me in a mysterious but entrancing language that swirled in the air like wispy tendrils of smoke that encircled my head and licked at me ears and teased my senses. It was a delicious dulcet tone that sounded like honey tastes…sweet, mellifluous and meltingly smooth.
Was this indeed an angel come to take me to meet my final fate?
No, it was another angel called Noi, coming to visit after a short-time assignation.
She could only stay for a short while, to minister my needs as Lek had done earlier. But her presence was a tonic that no medicine could equal, and that allowed me to finally get some real sleep. In fact, I woke up about 6 PM that evening, my tongue swollen and so thirsty I would have drunk my own piss. But thankfully Noi had left a small bottle of water and I swilled it around in my mouth and then greedily gulped it down.
That night was perhaps the worst, even though the fever had abated and the retching had stopped. Now it was not the physical sickness that wracked my body but a mental malaise and a different set of demons that tormented me. Although I wasn’t sure if Noi or Lek would come back to visit I so wanted them to…I needed them to. I craved their presence, their humanity, their compassion and their love. But they left me alone to find my own salvation and destiny.
So, at 7 AM I woke…suddenly wide awake, still enervated and not refreshed but alive and so hungry that another type of cramp was gripping my innards. As I sat up I felt the debilitating, pounding, hangover-quality headache from gross dehydration. But even through that fog I thought of Noi and Lek, and instantly missed them, especially Noi. As I again wondered if I would see them again I noticed 2 bottles of water and some fried chicken and sticky rice on the old dresser, and my heart and spirits roller-coastered with the elation of knowing that Noi or Lek must have come back in the night, but then slumped for not seeing them and missing them. Although Noi’s chicken smelled so deliciously tempting I knew that its savoriness would be instantly rejected by my still protesting stomach.
So, after a quick, cool shower I dressed in shorts, shirt and sandals and gingerly made my way down to the restaurant where I selected the blandest items on offer: white toast, bottled water and black tea with milk and sugar.
As I ate I felt some strength come back, but also some ominous grumblings starting up again.
The receptionist told me the nearest pharmacy was on Sukhumvit just before Soi Nana. I somewhat unsteadily walked the 100 meters down soi 6 to Sukhumvit and turned left, and despite the gurgling in my stomach I felt relatively ok. Well, ok until I got to the Landmark Hotel when I felt an internal seismic shift and my bowels clenched desperately trying to hold back the flood. I really, desperately needed a toilet…RIGHT NOW! I minced my way up the ramp and into the Landmark like a ladyboy who’s been dry-drilled by a hardcore monger.
But just as I got through the rotating door into the grand lobby, my spasming sphincter gave up and I felt a stream of shitty heat squirt into my underpants and shorts. As I stood just inside the lobby, partially doubled-up and reaching back to feel the seeping wetness, the suited hotel security guy gave me the evil eye so I mustered as much “don’t look at me like that coz I’m a rich farang and I belong here” attitude as possible and waddled across the lobby to the toilets. In the bathroom I washed my underpants and dried them as best I could by pressing them between paper towels and the nice cotton hand-towels. I inspected my shorts and thankfully the dark khaki hid most of the staining, but I untucked my shirt to cover that up too. I stuffed my jockeys with 2 unfolded cotton towels to absorb any more accidents, waddled across the lobby, again managing to put the confidence game over on the house suit and finally down the long steps to Sukhumvit. Only about another 100 meters to go!
In the pharmacy I hoped to find a medical professional so the sight of a young girl behind the counter wasn’t reassuring. But I needed help so I stared gesticulating what had happened, hoping my histrionics made some sense to her. She smiled and without hesitation placed a set of 5 packages on the glass counter. But just as I was starting to feel this was all going to be ok, I felt a sharp surge of bile and the internal heaving that meant only one outcome…my toast and tea was coming back up the way it went down…in a projectile hurl that spewed all over the vinyl floor. It was too much for me and I collapsed on the floor, but fortunately not in the milky mess. Funnily enough, I can very distinctly remember it didn’t smell bad and noticing that it looked exactly what it was…milky tea and little bits of white toast.
As I lay there a younger girl came out from a back room and without any hesitation squatted down and started to clean up my mess with some rags and her bare hands. Meantime the counter girl brought out a folding chair and helped me to sit up in it. It was obvious that this wasn’t the first time they had helped a farang in desperate straits.
The counter girl opened a bottle of water and made me take a sip. Having made some room in the bottle, she tore open one of the packets on the counter, poured in powdered electrolytes and vigorously shook the bottle to dissolve them. Then she made me take the first dose of medicine that was a nasty smelling pill big enough to choke an elephant, and also a batch of acidophilus culture and the 2 other tablets.
She signed and gestured that I had to take the electrolytes every 3-4 hours, the elephant pill twice a day, and the others 3 times a day. I felt so helpless I just gave her my wallet and trusted that she’d take the right amount, or at least leave me a token sum. She took a 500 baht note and came over to show me the change, which appeared to be a 100 baht note and some coins. I took her hand and folded it around the change and with a wai told her thank you. She tried to pass the money back to me but I pushed her hand away and shook my head, while again saying thank you – this seemed to convince her and she gave me a big smile, a nice wai and a thank you in return.
I rested for a few minutes to gain some strength and also to wait and see if another eruption was developing, but either the medicine was kicking in fast or I’d jettisoned all my excess fluids.
The walk back to the hotel was wobbly but otherwise uneventful although the exertions had made me ravenously hungry so I stopped by the restaurant to eat a little rice and plain boiled chicken. The real food perked me up and thankfully didn’t produce any of the ominous grumblings from my tummy or bowels. In my room I swigged down another bottle of dissolved electrolytes and then flopped down on the bed for a much needed and restorative nap. So much for a nap, because I woke up about 8 hours later, soaked in sweat as the air con was set way too high – evidently when I was suffering from the chills I had turned it way up – for sure it wouldn’t have been Noi or Lek as they insisted on near arctic and nipple-hardening cold. I downed another bottle of the electrolytes and a dose of the acidophilus and other meds and waited to see if things stayed down. By about 11 PM I was feeling much stronger, so I decided to shower, shave and go back to Lollipop to thank Noi and give her some money for helping me: I realized that I hadn’t paid her for staying with me that first night, and she had not asked me for anything either. Maybe she felt sorry for me, but of course in my heart I hoped that we had enjoyed something more than just a commercial exchange and that it had been a real GFE.
I felt much stronger as I walked the short distance to Nana and as I got closer a different type of tingle and sensation tickled my tummy – the sweet anticipation of seeing Noi and her beatific smile.
She wasn’t there. The mamasan said she had quit suddenly earlier in the day and gone back to her home village…she thought that her mum was very sick.
The news churned up a whorl of feelings from sadness to worry as well as a gnawing emptiness. She was my first Thai girl and she had enchanted and delighted me with her spirit, her beauty and her exotic and erotic charms, such is the power of intimacy and loving kindness. But such too is the profound void created by loss, even the loss of a kind of emotion that is ephemeral and never fully realized. It’s as deliciously sweet and as emptily vapid and insubstantial as cotton candy – the taste and desire for more lingers even while the sugary floss has so rapidly dissolved.
As I sat at the bar disinterestedly staring at another Noi gyrating on the central dance platform I reflected that my Noi’s mum was fortunate indeed to get even more loving kindness from her daughters than they had given to an undeserving farang like me.
Yikes, what an introduction to Thailand! One often hears of foreigners falling ill at some point on their first visit – it happened to me too – but seldom of it being quite this bad!