The celebrated musical drama film is probably close to 50 years old but perhaps still familiar to some older guys. It’s the movie that propelled Liza Minelli to international stardom. The storyline treated of the rising popularity of Nazism in the early 1930s that eventually replaced the Weimar Republic in Germany and led to WW 2 in 1938.
“What good is sitting alone in your room, come to the Cabaret!” One of the tunes buzzing through my head on my early morning cycling round yesterday! Part of a line from Sally Bowles characters opening song in what was surely one of the better Hollywood movies of the time.
Today nothing has changed. Life is still a Cabaret and played the world over. Coming home from pedaling I sat down, opened the notebook and tried to remember some snippets out of my own cabaret show in and around the Land Of Smiles.
Coffeeshop: Is what that particular “Cabaret” was innocently called in Phuket Town in early 1990. A line of 16 nicely-dressed ladies, not bikinis, each prominently numbered on the front were dancing or rather shuffling in a long line on the stage to mostly Thai piped music. All available of course to invite for a drink and talk. We stopped there sometimes with friends finishing off an evening out. I chose my number, she came sat at my table, had her drink and back she went on stage dancing. After the second round of shuffling and some hassling with the mamasan who happened to be a man I bought her out and took her to a place just outside Phuket Town on the way to Patong. It was called “Happy-in”. That didn’t leave any doubts about the clientele they were catering for. Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice. The room could have been designed or modeled on the famed Hotel California. But the best was to come.
Hardly settled in the comfortable settee having a drink a knock on the door and in came a small army of scantily dressed girls. I counted five. Would we enjoy some private show and fun? Well, why not, what’s the cost? Oh nothing, just give us a small tip. Okay then, let’s do it. No need to go into the details of what followed other than little by little the few remaining garments of the showgirls came off and they did their very best to make the fun part.…well a fun part. No guy having had fun with girls will be stingy when getting out his wallet and the girls of course knew that well. Needless to add that the tips became much more generous than intended once the party was over.
To this day I’ve no idea whether this was standard treatment of “Happy-in” customers or whether the original girl had organized the extra performers to profit her friends.
Jealousy: I had known Yui for several weeks and unwisely let her move in with me. After a while the temporary liaison became stale. I had set my eyes on another girl. When my evening absences became too frequent she got suspicious and started following me on her motorbike. One evening after a few beers at the new girls bar we left to drive to a short time place outside Patong. I was driving a two door Suzuki Caribbean Jeep. Driver & passenger doors where always looked but there was another easy access to the drivers cabin through the rear boot opening that I never bothered to look.
I put the key in the ignition starting up the engine when I heard noises in the back. Suddenly Yui emerged from the back a large builder’s brick in her hand taking a resolute swing directed at my head. My reaction was swift and with much luck I managed to avoid the blow. Judging by the damage to the front seat it was a forceful stroke. I packed her bags the same night and put her out. Changed the door locks the next day. The girl obviously had a violent temper.
A month later I saw her again in company of a Thai man she presented as her new husband. I wished them the best of luck. To myself I thought I hope the guy is going to be faithful otherwise he’ll might well one day join the growing club of Thai men who see their best appendage turned into a ducks delicacy.
Kissing: Ever wondered why Thai girls are not keen or reluctant on kissing? My personal experience in the matter came early on. She was a pretty girl fresh from the farm as they say and I had bought her out of a bar in Patpong. Her English was inexistent and my Thai little better. But when I tried to kiss her no words were needed for the message to come across loud and clear. She covered her face muttering something under her breath and pointing resolutely to her crotch, the message: “Do what you want down there but no kissing!” Obviously kissing was not part of this particular bar girl’s repertoire. Possibly she had not experienced kissing before even with Thai boyfriends.
There may be different reasons for this attitude. My take on it goes like this; Kids grow up consuming their daily doses of Thai soaps. Stupid as they are everybody loves them. Man fighting men, woman fighting woman, pulling out each other’s hairs, kicking, scratching, shouting, screaming, lots of crying. In short, all sorts of drama. Often the storyline treats stuff from the Bangkok high-society circles that ordinary, northeastern Thais girls never experience but love to dream about. Thus the immense success of the soaps. An occasional tender moment of course is also part of it. But no mouth to mouth kissing. Not surprising then their reluctance when the farmers daughters grow up, join the sex industry and the first farang boyfriend tries to kiss! Foreplay or kissing are mostly not welcome. Just get down to the business at hand would be my advice to the new set of foreigners.
Visa trip: The year was 1991. I had been doing my regular visa trips for 3 years already mostly to Penang. Often on the convenient Thai Airways flight from Phuket. Other times by road in a van via Hat-Yai and Padang Besar, on to Butterworth and Penang. We would stay for a day, two or three according to the services required. Even in those days the visa rules changes yearly or sometimes twice a year as they do today. So you never really new how long it would take. In the evening a Malaysian guy we called Moto because that was his mode of transport and nobody knew his name. He collected passports and fees and brought them back whenever ready in a day, two or three. I never saw the Penang consulate myself. Then back on the van or flight to Phuket.
One day with my friend Steve we decided to take a drive for a change to the Kota Bharu consulate also in Malaysia. Situated on the Gulf of Thailand. We stayed overnight in Sungai-Golok. A shabby hotel room with a tiny TV that showed exclusively porn movies on cassettes piled up next to the TV.
On to Kota-Bharu the next day and the consulate. The consular officer was a friendly old man. He told me that he would issue the requested business visa with 3 entries and valid for 9 months one more time but told me firmly I now needed to get a working permit back in Phuket to obtain any further business visa.
Back in Phuket I was introduced to a Pakistani-Thai who offered to do it. Price tag was 35,000 baht. Not familiar with Thai bureaucracy and yet limited language skills I had no choice but to accept. When he took me to the nearby hospital to obtain the requested medical he bitterly complained for the excessive price of 50 baht coming out of his pocket for the document (there was no medical examination of course just a flimsy piece of paper with the hospital stamp and my name on it). Thankfully in years to come one of my staff who was friendly with a Labor office guys always got the extensions for many years hassle-free but logically subject to a small “contribution”.
Promotion tour: May always marked the quietest month in the tourist season. It was the end of a long and tiring 6 month. It meant also preparation for the new season to come. Brochures were printed, later Internet pages updated and then in early June followed what was for all of us the long awaited and best time of the year. Promotion tour in Europe combined with a bit of holiday time. Two of the office girls always accompanied me. One was a good French speaker, the other passable in German. That day we had a promotional evening at a motel halfway between Geneva and Lausanne conveniently situated by the autoroute (highway). The girls of course looked radiant in their traditional Thai attire, young and charming. I’m sure their sole presence boosted sales 2 or 3 fold.
Pleased with the order book filling up nicely by the end of the day after the presentation ended. I offered an extra drink to the girls before retiring. That’s when one of them was approached by a middle aged guy asking her to join him to visit a night club in nearby Geneva. Politely refusing the invitation she mentioned that we would all go up to the room shortly moving on early morning to the next day’s presentation. He insisted saying that no one would know what time she’d go back to her room. Another polite refusal.
As is customary when traveling with Asians and also to keep expenses at reasonable level we all stayed in the same room on these occasions. That was not to the guy’s taste when told but he eventually left.
Next day packing our bags and ready to leave, a visit from the local constabulary. A complaint had been filed of an ongoing sex orgy possibly with two under aged girls in room XY. Spontaneously we all had to laugh out loud. Presenting passports, visas. Working schedules etc. it took less than 15 minutes to convince the Gendarme and his deputy of the reality of the situation and invite them to join us for a friendly drink before we had to move on.
A day trip: to Evian, France was planned. Starting from our base in Vevey with my sister and the two Thai promotion girls on the back seat. It’s quite a drive half way around Lake Geneva when we arrive in Saint-Gingolph, the border crossing to France. This is before the EU (European Union) but the Schengen Convention already operational. Border crossings were easy mostly without any formalities. Until the customs officer saw the two oriental looking girls. Passports were requested. It turned out that one of the girls had no specific birthdate. Only the year she was born but no day or month. Suspicious! Next he discovered that none of the girls had visas for France. Sir, I intercepted, we just go for lunch and a stroll around the lovely little town by the lake. Back in 3 hours or less. We did that the last two years without problems. Still somewhat suspicious eying the interior of the car but I believe he probably would have relented. Then one of the girls pointed to my wallet saying “just give him 50 Francs”.
I rolled my eyes knowing what was ahead. OK, everybody steps out of the vehicle, hand over the car keys. We were led into an office in back of the border crossing post. A superior officer was going to be summoned to interview us. But first we were in for a long wait.
Sir, it was just a joke, understand! No way would I ever dream of bribing an honorable officer of the Grande République française. A bit more sugar coating finally did the trick and we were let go but back the way we came of course. The Swiss Customs officers having observed the scene from the other side all had that somewhat subdued smile on their faces wishing us a safe journey home. Schadenfreude is the word that best described their attitude.
As for us we stopped at the nearest fast food outlet lunching on hamburgers and Coke instead of fois-gras, black olives, garlic toast and red wine.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]