As Good As A Rest
As Jimmy Paige once said, “it’s been a long time since the rock and roll,” and it really had hit the point where I “got to get back, got to get back,” to enjoy some love, sunshine and good food.
They say if you put a frog in a pan of boiling water it’ll jump out. There’s nothing startling about that statement, but if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and gradually turn the heat up the frog’ll happily sit there until it boils to death.
Through a lot of the noughties I was a regular visitor to Thailand. Between 2000 and 2007 I must have spent six months of the year there for varying lengths of stay, travelling, whoring, drinking, assimilating, sanuking, enjoying, call it what you want. I think you all know what I was up to but I was having a great time and angling myself towards living in Thailand permanently until the global financial crisis had better ideas and decided I was having too much fun. To be honest, if I’d carried on drinking the way I had been I’d either be dead or very ill by now so maybe it was a good thing. Since ’07 I’ve only managed one short trip of three weeks or so and have spent the ensuing period re-engineering my life to get myself a career that will hopefully allow me to spend more of my life in Thailand and so it was in May just gone that I had enough money in the bank and time off to be able to treat myself to a trip down mammary lane. I make no secret, like a lot of readers of Stick’s board, I’m a sucker who’s succumbed to Sukhumvit.
Six years ago you could set your calendar by the end of April being the end of the hot season. Songkran was out of the way, low season started and so did the rain and cooler weather, so I planned my trip to start on the 28th of April and booked 3 nights in the Grand President on Sukhumvit Soi 11 to ease my more mature self into a three week stint of considered and mature debauchery. I’d heard rumours that things had changed in Thailand but to be honest once I’d hit the bars I was like the proverbial frog in the boiling pan, I was ready to jump straight away and head for a newer pasture the Philippines or Cambo; such was the degree of change.
For starter’s the weather wasn’t doing what I’d expected. I thought I was going to enjoy the early part of rainy season, you know a bit of cool, an hour of rain a day to take the sting out of the heat but unfortunately I walked straight out into the throw of hot season. In the past when I’ve been there during the tepid months I’ve gradually broken myself in through November to February and acclimatised as the thermometer rose but this time I walked straight into the cauldron having just left the colder parts of Europe and really didn’t appreciate the change. The weather is just one aspect of what’s changed though. Socio-politically a lot has gone on since the last time I was there for a significant amount of time. The coup and ensuing red / yellow conflict is one major change that has gone on and, despite the fact that it wasn’t mentioned while I was there I have a feeling that the dispute has taken the shine off the famous Thai joie de vivre, the average Thai on the Klong Toey omnibus seems no longer to be the carefree spirit of ten years ago. Sombat is no longer the happy go lucky man who’s prized possessions are his bottle of Sang Tip and bucket of ice. He’s straight faced and politically aware, not nearly as much fun to be around and possible a little mournful of the comrades who fell to snipers.
The Thai economy is booming too, no longer is the farang a potential pot of gold. He’s a curio from a time gone by, not quite an object of derision yet but viewed like the appendix or the monkey stump, the coccyx a feature that should have evolved away that reminds the prosperous Thai of today of his humble past when there were 75 baht to the pound. One symptom of a booming economy is the traffic. I remember Bangkok pre-skytrain and in parts of town the traffic has gotten itself as heavy as it used to be, that I’ve been told is a consequence of the tax incentives on new cars, whatever the cause, the effect is more trouble getting from A to B, with a slightly higher blood pressure than you would have had before.
Globally the world’s a different place and the Thais are renowned for being superficially faddy. Nowadays the world is viewed through the camera lens on a smartphone. If we see somebody interesting on the street we no longer engage with them we put a photo of them on Twitter. We don’t really talk to the people we are with anymore, instead we talk to our friends on Facebook. A few days in to my trip I went on a date with a respectable girl I’d met online to an expensive restaurant and she spent the first hour taking photos with her iPhone and posting them on social networking sites. It’s not just in Thailand that happens, it’s like the world’s happening in the third person and events aren’t something we experience, they’re to be filmed and posted on YouTube and watched by your mates on their iPad in Starbucks. It seems like the whole world, Thailand included, lives its life vicariously now and that puts an invisible barrier between yourself and the women you’re trying to barfine. How long is it before there’s a barfine app that enables you to sit at home in Farangland, log on to a virtual Tilac Bar and pay for an Isaan girl by PayPal who installs herself into your living room, lies there like a starfish while you fxxx her and nicks your wallet before uninstalling herself and reappearing back on Tilac’s website.
When a whore quoted 4,000 baht for long time I nearly dropped my 130 baht Heineken. I’ve seen a lot of things come and go in the bar scene over the years, the Carlsberg / Heineken duel, all night opening, 1 AM closing, illegal after hours bars, opening hours relaxing and tightening periodically, those fxxx off stupid Frankenstein boots (their disappearance has been one change for the better) and the prices have been slowly and surely heading north for years. Perhaps it’s foolish of me to be surprised, because as a man in my forties I should know that commodities rarely get cheaper with time and ass is just that to many, something to be bought and sold. I think that aspect is something that will never change. But the Thai economy is undoubtedly booming and those price hikes are in some ways a reflection of that. It’s not only the price of tail that’s gone tits up, I paid 400 baht for a penang curry, rice, fishcakes and a soda. That’s not a lot cheaper than the same meal on a lunch time special offer at a Thai restaurant in the UK. 7 years ago that would have been less than 200 baht. When my hotel booking started to whir out I went looking for a condo that accepted short lets and bumped into a guy from a forum I used to frequent. I joked, “All the whores are gone, they’ve got jobs as project managers for IBM,” and he actually agreed with me, “That’s probably not far from the truth,” he replied. Thai women no longer need to sell their arses as they can support themselves by more legitimate means nowadays and it seems the women that have remained in the industry are the ones who would have chosen it anyway. They’re more professional if that means anything to you and very often that means keeping something of a professional distance from their clients, very little pretence of loving you long time nowadays, pay, come, go in that order. While I might sound cynical saying that, I also get the impression that the girls who are in the industry now are ones who seem to have an affinity for it. No longer are girls who’d prefer to be finishing their degree forced into the game they’re happy chasing careers. The girls who are left seem to be in the right vocation and in some ways that takes the bullshit out of it. Drink fxxx be on your way. My buffaloes are perfectly well looked after, thank you.
One thing I did like about Thailand when I was a regular visitor was the friendships I had, one or two turned sour as is the norm, but the stalwarts that kept Nana and Cowboy afloat seem to have found newer pastures. I could walk down Suhkumvit 5 years ago and within five minutes have bumped into an old friend or heard my name called and stopped for a drink, or got off the BTS at Nana and bustled through the turnstile with an old flame who’s name I nearly remembered and we’d go for a game of pool before she headed to work. The familiarity I once knew is gone. While the actors might be acting out a very similar play to the one on the bill in 2007, there a very few cast member of the original production around. The old man with cricket ball in his mouth who sells big lighters is still around. We were on nodding terms in my heyday. I bought him a beer once and after that he’d always stop and say “Thailand Bullshit, you know that” before opening his big Zippo up and sparking it in front of some punter who was never going to buy it or one of his laminated maps of the kingdom. He seems to have forgotten who I am though and walked straight past without a glimmer of recognition. The slug still crawls up and down the lower odd numbers with his bowl in front of him. The midget’s gone from outside CheckInn. As a reflection of the changing demographic there’s an amputee beggar with a beard and Muslim skull cap, no doubt one of the seedlings that didn’t blossom during the Arab Spring. The thalidomide girl who used to walk round begging and smiling with an Emporium bag under her armpit has disappeared but the guy with no shoes and an All Blacks shirt has started to worry passers by outside Central Lad Prao instead of Soi 4.
The very rare street savvy punter I bumped into that I knew told me that Soi 11’s where it’s at, the gogo girls want too much money, Nana Sisco isn’t there anymore, Gulliver’s or Climax are your best bet these days and Soi 4 is more beer bars with black tiles and blue lights, cleaner and primmer than its grimy old self. Nana in some ways has more of a feel of sois 7 & 8 in Pattaya than it did of old. Soi 11 is strange mix. I nicknamed it Khao San 33. There are some of the late great whoremongers that made Bangkok the party it used to be in evidence but you see a lot of farang women hanging around outside converted VW Camper vans that takes the edge off what Bangkok used to be best at, but slightly better heeled punters than the backpack quarter of Banglampoo. Back in the days The Office on 33 was one of the best places to go to start the night so I gave that a whirl and was the only customer. I remember once debating with a friend if Nana and Cowboy would ever disappear. It’s obvious they’re both prime real estate. Washington’s Square is well on its way to becoming condos, a mall, a big hotel, offices or all four, and it’s only a matter of time before the sois we knew and made love in turn to glass, concrete and steel.
The laughs and beer don’t seem to flow as freely as they used to, but the money for most farangs these days doesn’t seem to be as easy to come by and consequently not as easy to let go of as it used to be. I’m glad I did what I did in my 30s and it looks like most of my 40s will be spent saving for my retirement. Maybe by the time I reach my 50 the economic cycle might have levelled the playing field a bit, or maybe not, the way things are going you might get Thais coming whoring in Farangland before too long. Heraclitus rightfully pointed out “The only thing that is constant is change,” or as Nok so philosophically pointed out “Everything same, same different.”
As a footnote the best 1000 baht I spent was at Dr BJ’s Soi 7/1, although it would have been 700 a few years ago.