It’s Good to be Single
Thailand has always stood out from other Asian countries, at least to me, as a place to have fun and relax and pursue interests, and not get caught up in the daily grind that is so prevalent in other places. Well, upon further reflection, there are a few other places that would satisfy these criteria, but are otherwise not entirely safe, at least for the long haul. Thailand was the last place I have lived that was actually fun. It was only the Asian currency crisis on 1997 that wreaked havoc on my otherwise simple equilibrium, actually a very timely event, and ultimately forced me to try to take life seriously and relocate. Now, after nearly 20 years living in relative obscurity, I am about to take the plunge and relocate to Thailand, the home of the night scene that nearly burnt me to a crisp (though I was more than compliant in the victimization).
Thankfully, I left Thailand as I had arrived: single. For that accomplishment, I have to thank two agents that well prepared me for what I was getting myself into: my ex-wife and Korea (my ex-wife is not Korean). Let me begin with my ex-wife, who, for the purposes of this submission, we’ll call Eve. Eve is not a Westerner gone to bitterness and flab, but rather was a vivacious curvy, not too big nor too small Chinese-Filipina with weasel-like smarts and a nose for the party. We met in Manila sometime in the late 70’s, at a place that sold basic sports equipment. She was a sales girl, in the parlance of the times. Anyhow, to cut to the chase, she was also the daughter of a Hokkien Chinese family that produced Chinese medicines out in the provinces. Hence, she was borderline rich, but rough in the ways of a country girl: think Ellie May from the American sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Anyhow, we got married. Over four years, mostly in the US, her material needs far outstripped my means, and eventually my desire to provide, and we were divorced. But in those four years I learned what it is like to have Asian in-laws that are driven by money, superstitions, single-minded consumerism, and zero intellectual curiosity. As you probably can predict, a lack of financial wealth placed me on the bottom of the pecking order. At the end of four years she did us both the favor of wanting out. Stupidly enough, I resisted. But maybe not so stupidly. I stated that I would quit my job and go anywhere, Paraguay for instance, before agreeing to pay a dime in support. She agreed. In all fairness, the marriage must have sucked from her perspective as well as mine. There were no kids thankfully, so it was almost a clean break.
Fast forward to four years later, 1986 to be exact, and I found myself happily employed, even more happily alone, in the Republic of Korea. The Korea of 1986 was just emerging as a modern economic entity, and was still rough around more than just the edges. However, P4P opportunities were in abundance, and I couldn’t let such opportunities go to waste. No siree! At the time, just about anything existing in Bangkok existed in Korea, only the numbers of those plying the trade in any particular establishment were less. In a pole dancing place, there were two to three on a stage at a time, and not fifty. In the BJ bar, maybe three or four, and not twenty-five. You get the idea. Stunners were more the rule than the exception, however. In short, it was a happy time. I won’t go into my job, except to say it came with a pass to get on the US Army Yongsan base in Seoul, so I was set up, and was not a GI. For the Korean women working the scene, the extent of their knowledge of foreigners did not go much outside the GI world. A GI meant Px privileges, and was a sought after commodity. Having the same privileges, living in a decent apartment off base, and not bound by military regulations led to a lifestyle that was difficult to control. The bargirl English spoken there was a kind of Pidgeon that has probably died out. Still, it was better than what you can often hear in Thailand. Example: “He slicky slicky too much, go monkey house.” Translation: “He stole something, and was sent to prison.” Fun stuff.
The job also provided ample opportunity to meet other people from other socio-economic classes. Because of this, I was able to meet women from many different parts of society. Refer back to the paragraph on the ex-wife in-laws. Yep, more of the same restrictive values which makes life a bore. I knew at that point that marriage was the gate to drudgery. Fool me once, shame on you, etc. At that time, being involved with a ‘good girl’ in Korea meant, in her eyes, walking down that lonely aisle . . . . no, thanks. I saw no sense in pursuing hurt feelings either, so, over the course of time I realized it would be better to stick to P4P.
Back to that subject (P4P), I recall quite a few expats there with well-paying jobs falling head over heels for bargirls and even street walkers. Gifts of gold lockets, brand name cosmetics, etc. were not uncommon, and several marriages were consummated. A few I am aware of still exist to this day, defying the odds. Fortunately, through sheer luck, experience and taking the trouble to learn languages, it became apparent more than ever, that these girls occupy the bottom rungs of a society that was otherwise quite educated, even then. Being seriously involved with these women, I thought, would pose challenges no sane person would want to undertake. My crystal ball showed me simultaneous explosive outbursts, drunken binges, unsavory ethics, etc., not to mention inane conversation. One pub bud I recall got stabbed in the shoulder by a bar girl in a fit of rage over something I recall as being trivial, too trivial to recall. Just as in Thailand, local Korean men would not have anything to do with these women. Some of the expats I knew either couldn’t see that, or didn’t care, painting the entire society in a single brush stroke. I thought it was roughly the same thing as a Samsung executive being involved with Roxanne from Trailer Camp 3, Tennesee.
Fast forward to Thailand, 1994. Similar job, but located in Phanat Nikhom, Chonburi Province, just about midway between Bangkok and Pattaya. My apartment was nearby the work site, about a 7 min walk. This was before the addition the many expressways, so getting to either was a bit of a chore. More often than not, the challenge was met, leading to a regrettable morning the following day, especially a workday. By this point, this expat was a seasoned, jaded P4P punter in his own playpen. Weekends were great because I was able to stay in Bangkok. This was going smoothly for about 2 years, and then the train began to go off the rails, probably because the routine was getting dull. The locale of the demise was a certain large go-go on the second floor of Nana in the far right corner, which will remain nameless. The girls would dance on the stage nearest the entrance in their birthday suits, and sometime wonder around the crowds in that state. Later, the place added a stage behind plexi-glass for shower shows, the one kind of show I must say never gets boring.
At this time there was a group of four to five regular customers, of which I was a proud member. There were rules, among them were: 1. Whatever you get up to, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. 2. You do NOT get up on the stage, no matter what state of inebriation you are in. 3. If we meet the following day, you come alone. They were rules to live by. And live by them we did, and, prospered and thrived, and lived through a couple of very good fun years.
The Nana Plaza 2nd level place was a regular stopover. And it was there that one lady, who we will call Deng, slipped through the defense line. She, by the way, was one of the shower show performers. The extension of our involvement begun with trips to nearby hotels, sometimes with a friend of hers in tow, then visits to other bars, and then visits to other bar zones, such as Patpong. Naturally, I broke away from the group on these nights. The parameters were stretching, but still holding. But then, we went too far. Deng learned my full name, where I worked, where I lived, my phone number, and so on. Of course I revealed this information voluntarily, being the weak lustful pathetic excuse of a monger that I was. Soon after, the phone was ringing at 3 am on the nights I wasn’t out. There were unannounced visits, with taxis waiting downstairs to be paid. (The fare wasn’t cheap!) There were orders to restaurants in the middle of the morning, and I still recall running through a rainstorm in the middle of the night to get to the all night market at the gas station to by those large bottles of Heineken.
The flat became sort of a second home, and a semi-regular tag along friend, who we will call Fon became more of a regular than Deng. The place reeked of cigarette smoke. Yet, somehow I managed to show up at work the next day. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes challenging. I recall returning home one morning with Deng and Fon in a taxi, and having to duck quickly nearby the worksite before being spotted by a secretary. I knew what the ladies I was with looked like. To their credit, they dressed casually, but the make-up was a dead giveaway. Another bad memory is fighting the urge to black out in the middle of an interview. Yet another memory was having to bolt out of my seat for an immediate trip to the bathroom. I didn’t make it, and spewed all over the door. Nonetheless, the job was getting done, so there was nothing to be worried about.
There were other signs that things could get out of control. A butterfly knife dropped out of Deng’s pocket as she was getting dressed one morning. One morning at a just about dawn o’clock I got a call from a guy raging in Thai and then slamming the phone down. Another time I went out to the living and saw that either Deng or Fon, not sure who, had graffitied up the wall with pictures and Thai writing. They both professed innocence, and I had no idea what the graffiti meant. I was getting funny reactions from other residents in the building. One morning, I woke up to find a jar of change missing. No big deal, but a sign that things were headed in the wrong direction. I’d been around long enough to recognize exactly what I was dealing with, and more or less suspected from the beginning. Nonetheless, experiencing it first hand was another story. There were crying scenes, silent treatments, frequent requests for loans for the ubiquitous ill relative up in Issarn. Then there was suspected yaba usage on the part of Fon, actually both of them now that I think about it, and even more bizarre behavior, followed by a semi-comatose state replete with rolling eyes. At one point I was almost committed to picking up a telephone and calling a hospital. Fon snapped out of it just in time. This was becoming not all that much fun, and I longed for the simpler times.
But that was not to happen. Well, yes and no. What happened instead was the Asian financial crisis, which actually began in Thailand and spread through much of the region. My salary turned to shit, and the staff at work shrunk. I was told that if I would like to leave it would be fine. This is ultimately what I had decided to do, but not right away. It took about a month decide to leave Chonburi, and then another six weeks to actually do it. The first order of business was to move out of the flat. That was easy. Hotels were relatively cheap, and I found a room in one about a 10 minute drive away. Once I was sure that they hadn’t any property in the flat, I told the ladies I would be traveling upcountry on business. That was the last time I actually communicated with them (Was too chicken!). I took back-leave for two weeks, moving stuff out during the day, and hanging out mostly in Pattaya in the evenings. That way the phone at home would go unanswered. Thankfully, I had a private office at work with a direct line, so there was nobody to answer calls on that phone either. I sure miss the pre-mobile phone days! Pattaya gave me pause about leaving Thailand, but I had not saved much during my time there, and was in no mood to begin now. After the move was completed, I stayed in Pattaya for about a week and a half. Daytimes were generally spent down by the Soi Post Office grunge pit, and evenings would see a shift towards the relatively upmarket Walking Street area. In less than a week’s time I had two new mates. Carousing was a good time in an environment I had until then not visited very often. It was fresh, and I got a kick out of the tourists who seemed to far outnumber the expats. It actually felt like being on holiday. Probably after the first four days there I decided it was time to leave. From then on, I went through a princely sum of savings, but avoided the pitfalls of what I had allowed to happen. The damage was done, but I was free.
This all transpired decades ago. There was a lot more to it than that, obviously. Maybe the morale of the tale is getting your normal Asian marriage done quickly, and if it does not work out, you just might be better for it. Having just about reached retirement age, I’m going to take another stab at a life in LOS, this time without a job. Where I will live as not been decided just yet, but it will not be anywhere too near Bangkok or Pattaya. Maybe Surat Thani? Maybe Loei? I don’t know yet. The past twenty years living in relative obscurity 7 hours by plane away from Thailand have allowed the opportunity to resupply the coffers and clean up my act, and also to develop other pursuits. Up until about 5 years I ago I visited Thailand about once a year, but then stopped. I hope it will be a bit novel again.
Once a person becomes addicted to the nightlife in Asia, especially in Thailand, it is a hard thing to turn off. At this age, however, I won’t have as much energy as I did then, or the ability to rebound quickly from drunken nights. Definitely, there will be less patience for the con game, which, as I understand has been cranked up several levels. Also, I recall seeing the old geezers back then. They were rather embarrassing, and now I guess I am one of them. The test is to return and see if I can swim or sink. I’m still single after all this time, and loving every minute of it.
The author can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org