I usually get to the bar at the beginning of the first afternoon of my holiday. There is always someone who remembers me. Not my name. That is not important. They remember what is important: my face, my drink, who I paid bar for last year.
The bar is not remarkable: it is a bit larger than the average bar beer in Pattaya. A long circular bar, many bar stools. Near the road side some chairs and tables. A pool table. A wall with photos of years long ago. Faces which have once been there, but who have now left. Two televisions set to some Thai channel. Somehow I once ended up here on one of my afternoon walks, and have been ending up here in the afternoon since.
The ladies working do not remember my name. They know that I have been here before, that I bought someone a drink, left someone a tip, taken someone out. Customer names are not important, or make no sense in Thai anyway. Actually, many people would not remember the customers visiting this bar. They are the average guys, invisible in their home countries. Doing the kind of jobs you would only notice if someone stopped doing them. Not the kind of guy to step to the front. Decent, middle of the road guys, not the ones who open up, but friendly and willing to help when asked. The ones asked by their female colleagues when heavy boxes need to be moved, but further invisible to women. They have no names here. They are known by their country (“Mister Kangaroo’’), their drink (“Mister Orange Juice”) or some physical characteristic (“Mister Chocolate”).
The women working are not beautiful. They are average Isaan women, a bit older than the ones working in gogo bars. Most have had a failed marriage to a Thai, and one or more kids. But they are good company, kind and sensitive to their customers. And the rest of the afternoon, they spend just watching the television channels.
Lady Good Heart is the one who greets me this year. She has been away from the bar for some time, and is back. But she still has the overview, who works here, who has a good heart, and who is good for “taking care”. Her daughter is now working in Pattaya too, in a gogo on Walking Street. We share stories of the past, and I ask for a companion I had some years ago.
Lady Same Tall as You. Nice long hair. She looked at me from the other side of the bar while I was playing the dice game, and having a drink with one of the others. When I left she met me. Me same tall like you. It was true, almost up to the centimeter. So we went to my room. She was kind. Warm smile. A generous lover. Two people in each other's arms, some afternoon in some Pattaya hotel room. She is gone now. Her boyfriend has taken her to England. Or New Zealand. It doesn’t matter. Men from “land” are good. England, Netherland, Finland.
Lady Beautiful Cashier is gone too. Married. She was the one exception to the rule that women in this bar are not beautiful. She was. Every day I asked her to go out with me. Every day she said no. So later on, at the beginning of my holiday I just asked her once, if you can go this year just tell me. The only thing I got was a goodbye kiss at the end of my holiday. She had a boyfriend, and a promise of marriage. A thing she did not want to put at risk. And she was dedicated: every day she spent studying behind her desk, going through workbooks to improve her English. The marriage came through, so old lady is cashier now.
Lady Not Enough is still here. She does not like me. Every time I buy a lady drink, it is not enough, I should buy two. A hundred baht tip is not enough, must be a bit more or also a tip for another lady. She is waiting. Waiting to find a man, who will take her to his country and take care of her. She is like so many who have worked in this bar before: they come here with the hope of meeting someone who can take them to some kind of better life. In the time waiting, they serve the drinks, do the cleaning, play the connect 4 game, see the occasional horizontal exercise as part of the job, and otherwise watch the television or wait for the food cart to pass by.
There is a woman in the bar who is hard to place. She is ordering drinks, and even orders a lady drink. “I am customer” she says when I greet her. With an emphasis on customer. It is the evidence of success. Years ago, she must have been on the other side of the bar. But she has been taken out. And then, you come back. Once. To show that you have made it: a man whose funds allow you to be a customer in Happy bar. And, as ultimate evidence, a half Thai, half farang kid in tow. You do not speak with the other customers: they are the kind of men you only had contact with in a life that is now gone.
As for the others, for her the bar was just a place you spend a short period of your life. Happy bar in the afternoon is a sort of Transit lounge. Men pass through to meet a friendly face. A woman who is kind to them, for a few hours or days. Women pass through, looking for money or a better life. A transit lounge to pass time. Some are, like me, killing time before the party starts in Walking Street in the evening. Some are waiting for a boyfriend or husband. Some are just waiting for the food cart to pass by. Some are waiting to make a decision.
When you watch closely, you can sometimes see a small ritual. A man, sitting alone with his last drink. Inside, he is quietly crying. It is the end of his holiday. The end of the few weeks where there were people who did see him. Where there was someone who wanted to go out for dinner, or spend the night. Now, in a few hours he will be back home, in the place where he is invisible.
So some decide. They take their holiday friend home. Somehow, I believe these Happy bar marriages work. You marry a gogo girl for the illusion. Thus, it fails. You marry a woman from Happy bar, because you have no illusion. You both know where you come from. You do not expect too much. A kind person around. A little support in hard times. It works. Or, I am too romantic.
Next year, in the afternoon I will walk to Happy bar again. Someone will be there who remembers me. Not my name. That is not important. My face, my drink, who I paid bar for. Some faces will have changed. Some faces will be the same. Waiting. In Transit.
Happy Bar, Pattaya, August 2012