It was clear from Ashley’s male friends back in Australia that many of their marriages had descended to a point where an argument was easily generated over things or items being placed in the wrong room at the wrong time by one or other of the partners. Personal space and territory in the household had become crucial in the closing years of the life cycle in many aging, empty nester’s homes. A kind of dissatisfied grumpiness had firmly established itself as the convenient daily disposition, particularly true of most now dependent on Centrelink, and scouring retirement home brochures. It seemed one’s personal habits could become the sole focus of the other’s irritations with the whole world and could sometimes expectantly explode with a ferocity of Mt Vesuvius. Somehow this would supposedly dissipate when the ‘loving couple’ were to be confined into the space of a shoebox having purchased a faux wood kitchen and lounge enclosed in Colourbond metal sheeting and aluminium cabin and placed on wheels (a caravan) or, when they were penned up in a balcony cabin on board an ocean liner and had to put up with the massive thuds of the monster sized and icy Bearing Sea waves against the hull, simultaneously with the voluminous farts of their male partners; after they’d partaken in a bacchanalian kind of smorgasbord in one of the many on board lavish dining rooms they’d shuffled their way to.
Ashley had meticulously avoided all these kinds of vacations and his wife Deidre was now about to plan yet another ocean cruise without him. She really enjoyed the idea that she could pretty well unimpeded, chain smoke a multitude of menthol cigarettes and read her ‘love’ novels at the same time. Given that in this particular time of the decade cigarette smoke had become proven as so perilous for others to accidently ingest that smoking was on the verge of becoming a social taboo. In the CBD smokers were increasingly being shunted into small enclosures or, had to congregate in city alley ways and generally they, the smokers, were now seen as lepers by the conventional wisdom of the age. Even these alleys were now ‘no go’ areas for smokers, as another type of poison had taken precedence, that of overpriced caffeine served from trendy espresso coffee bars, for it was now ultimately hip to be drinking a macchiato in an alley that was in some former life and, not that long ago, the vomit pit and shelter for numerous city drunks and layabouts that sought refuge there.
Ocean cruise lines thus provided a safe haven for smokers, so long as they could face the icy blast of a gale or, the humid tropical heat of Pago Pago out on the sun bleached top deck. It was now becoming a big business for the shipping companies to entice smokers and many of the deck chairs were also occupied by the unfortunate by products of the world of tobacco the terminally ill. Doing their last, wheezing and bronchial cruise. Ashley had pictured them in his mind as ashen faced and frail, sleeping under blankets on fully reclined deck lounges, some sadly wouldn’t be woken ever again, even when the call for the on board entertainment was for an appearance of a Peter Allen impersonator. Going to Rio took on another different meaning. Their Eulogies usually referred to them as ‘drifting off' very apt! The Emphysema ship company! Such a morbid concept would never make it to the glossy travel brochures in Travel Agencies at the local Mall, any more than Ashley’s favourite Thailand Sex Tourist Hotspots would. Advertising the gyrating, sexual dynamos that young Thai women were capable of being, in a kind road map of Pattaya’s best fleshy, gogo bars was best left for the profusion of on line sites that spruiked the trade.
If Orville and Wilbur Wright were Ashley’s heroes then it should be noted that they neither smoked, drank nor, were ever married. In all those respects Ashley had faltered. They led pretty squeaky clean lives even after they taught the world to fly and became millionaires. Ashley guessed that getting their first flying machine to lift off the dunes at Kitty Hawk would have been thrill enough to keep them content for an entire lifetime. Getting customers to realise that their Japanese ornamental Maple’s beautiful burnt orange and amber leaves should now suddenly be sucked off the branches by a massive vacuum hose running from Ashley’s new invention the ‘Street Whore’ street sweeper and not enjoyed falling to the ground naturally, was going to be a massive problem that Ashley had yet to overcome. By a series of well placed ads people would see the labour saving aspects of the sweeper. No longer would they need to rake, wheelbarrow or burn leaves on their properties. Past times that has taken on a cultural significance of epic proportions in the well-heeled and leafy suburbs of Melbourne. In fact, the compost heap with all of its supposed nasties could also be instantly sucked up into the monster’s rotating jaws and pulverised into eco-friendly mulch and sold back to them. Ashley thought he was on a winner feeling confidently smug as he waited at the baggage carousel at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
On the scale of things, seeking sexual delights in the warm arms of a young, good looking Thai woman was according to Ashley one of the most powerful hypnotics known to man and the evidence was leaning dangerously in the testimonies of the thousands of men that flocked to Thailand to do so. In Ashley’s case it had caused him to delay any more work on his idea of the sweeper truck. The wandering streets and undisciplined alleys of certain parts of Thailand were filled not with leaves, but with many unrivalled sexual delights and encounters, and those heavy breathing tourists would time and again return with breathtakingly candid disclosures about their holidays which not surprisingly had managed to vacuum loads of money from their wallets.
Ashley’s favourite place of late was the beachside resort town Hua Hin some 200 kilometres south of Bangkok. Here, he liked to ply the warm sand between his white toes, take off his shirt and gaze lustfully at his Thai girlfriend’s tight buttocks enclosed in a her silky, black bikini bottoms, as she swished about in the shallows taking selfies in between directing sultry and sexy wide mouthed smiles back at him, seated as he was in some Buddha like perch in the shade of an over-priced rented umbrella and in a kind of an endless summer, fountain of youth kind of pastime. The truck could wait! While his wife Deidre lit up another smoke and looking way out to sea on Deck C of the Pearl Princess in the Caribbean, not a stone’s throw from the Antilles, she was for a brief moment drawn away from her book The Sunday Time’s No 1 Best seller Jill Masell’s A ‘Walk in the Park’ the title of which was prefixed with ‘if only love could be a simple as…’
Ashley, who was almost half way around the world from his wife Deidre, took another swig of his Heineken, as he gently brushed the wet hair from the neck of the lithe-bodied and very much younger Nee, gorgeously seductive and glisteningly wet she was towelling herself dry next to him and, he pulled gently on her cute ear lobe and repeated those very same words to her ‘If only love could be as simple as… a walk in the park.’ Perplexed, she gave him a weird look, threw down the towel and reached for the menu.
Nee was not unlike thousands of other young Thai women who had escaped the poverty of the Isaan region up north and established themselves in the countless hair dressing saloons and beauty parlours across the sprawling Bangkok. The proliferation of which said something about the vanity of many Thai women, but Ashley daren’t not go there with her and continued to slurp on his Tom Yum Gung soup from the foam bowl that the beach waiter had just bought him. Similarly, Nee had been married before to a Thai man and by the age of 31 had two young children. Nok (female) aged 8 and Mat (male) 5 but was separated now and received no financial support from her former partner. So she did what most stunningly good looking, young Thai women do in Bangkok to make ends meet. She peddled her body as a high class hooker by night, as well as being a hair dresser / beauty therapist by day in her small, dingy saloon situated in the suburb of Sathorn. Freelance hookers like Nee preferred the top nightspots and exclusive bars popular with foreign men in and around the Sukhumvit Road area in Bangkok. It was likely that a good ‘sugar daddy’ could be scored in these places, as older men with money were the preferred targets for most of these women. Ashley was never sure that he liked to be called a sugar daddy, as his weight at 64 years of age was now of concern and he was trying to cut down on the stuff.
Nee not only supported her children but her aging mother and stepfather as well, situated as they were in the monotonous outskirts of Bangkok. It was the way female children inherited the responsibility of providing care for their extended families in Thailand, as no social security system existed for the aged, and most of the male offspring in these families were out of work and were absolved of any of those burdens. For the most part, they often still hung around home sponging off the parents, so in effect the daughters were supporting the able-bodied males as well, whose notorious gambling and wayward drug and drinking habits was enough to keep the daughter on her back seven days a week, just to keep them all fed and have the bills paid. Nee often hoped her brother wasn’t home when she called by, as she’d would be forced to hand over yet another 1,000 baht note… no fun really! Anyway, it was mostly all of Ashley’s money. So a whole network of social relations in Thailand ultimately depended on the monies generated from prostitution. It was ridiculously improbable to calculate this in the national accounts and then to gauge the real impact of sex tourism upon the Thai economy. However, it was clear to Ashley that in Thailand a huge dependency had arisen out of sex tourism as when he had inadvertently over stayed his 30 day visa by a whole ten days on one occasion he was only fined $150 by immigration officials at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. A small fine by any comparison and one that encourages many foreigners to overstay. Not that the Thais really minded. There was of course a multiplier effect of the foreigner staying and spending money in the country for it meant in the cruel reality of the whole business that another family or two could survive for a few more days on the money that eventually filtered down from it all.
As a result, many resort towns and cities in Thailand were now dependent and running entirely off the profits of the foreign tourist trade much of it concerned with sex and truth be known, Ashley’s contributions over about 40 years were substantial. In almost every instant his various girlfriends' mothers had been able to get those new spectacles and finally see him properly, their grandfathers saved from the certain death bed by having that critical prostate operation and their son’s dental work finally carried out (after the motorcycle accident). Surely all of this counted for something and must rate high in the good deeds book of Buddha? Is there such a thing? Ashley sure hoped so.
By now Ashley had amassed quite a collection of Buddha pendants, good luck charms, string bangles and woven Thai waistbands given to him by many Thai monks, village elders and poverty-stricken sugar cane farmers from places like Soeng Sang in return for his 40 years of tireless donations to the welfare of their families. He reckoned that at the very least there should be bronze plaques with inscriptions about the good deeds of Ashley in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Patpong all paying tribute to him for honourable deeds beyond the call. Just then the beach umbrella rental guy came up demanding another 300 baht, firmly snapping him out of his dream. Then, a short while later, when Nee asked for yet another platter of prawns, the now grumpy Ashley, in a senior’s moment told her to, “Fuck off down to the on-board smorgasbord and serve herself!”
As far as the bronze plaques to Ashley were concerned, in the fast pace of the sex tourism industry the best he could hope for was that the Cialis vendor in Sukhumvit Road would vaguely recognized him and remember his previous protestations and wild out pourings at his stand a week or so back, and that this time he would not sell Ashley any of the inferior stuff. Stiff luck that was gonna happen!