Welcome to the Virtual Gogo Bar, Part 4
He had been looking forward to it on the plane, despite the discomfort of having to sit for 11 hours and 35 minutes with a coronavirus mask on, except for the 20 minutes they had to allow for meals, but when he arrived at Suvarnabhumi Immigration, he began to have doubts. There were long, long queues caused by 1) the health check, 2) the medical certificate check, and 3) the visa check (no tourist Visa Waivers given as yet). What was worse was that, in all those crowds, he couldn’t see more than a handful of his people – in other words, old, fat and bald westerners. “Old, fat and bald” may be a stereotype, but it is not far from the truth. Indeed, when Bill looked in the mirror, that’s what he saw – and these days, he was fatter than ever due to months in lockdown.
It felt good to be back in Bangkok though. As soon as he walked out of the airport it hit him like a pang of forgotten love – that smell – the bitter sweet Bangkok smell which told him that he had come home.
He took a taxi to “The Mother Ship” (The Nana Hotel), and freshened up with the same eagerness as on his very first trip way back when. In no time at all he was crossing the road to Nana Plaza. It was just like he remembered it – freelancers in the car park, street vendors blocking the pavements, beggars in the gutter, drinkers in Lucky Luke’s Tiki Bar watching the world go by. It was great! – a squillion times better than Dave’s virtual world – and he hadn’t even set foot in a bar yet!
He headed up to the third floor and one of the big new bars called Ladybirds where he knew the manager. But it had gone. In it’s place was a bar called Firehouse. He pulled aside the curtain and saw straight away why it had been given that name. At the back of the bar was a long stage, and in the middle of the stage was – a fire engine. The gogo girls, in fireman’s helmets (and not much else), disported themselves around the fire engine and occasionally took up a hose and squirted each other with water. He sat down, ordered a Beerlao Dark (his favourite beer when in Thailand) and settled down to watch the show.
He had not been there long, when a hand clapped him on the shoulder, and a familiar voice said, “Well, if it isn’t Boobz n’ Bottomz Bill! How’s things?” It was Larry, the manager of Ladybirds.
“Great to see you!” said Bill, shaking his hand vigorously. “They kept you on, then?”
“The new owners.”
Larry laughed. “Neh! It’s the same bar. We just rebranded it! This bar is too big, see – especially nowadays. So we needed something to fill it up – something eye catching. Well, I remembered a bar from my Ermita days, and we just copied it.”
“It’s not real. The wheels, radiator, ladder, hoses, and God knows how many other bits, are off a real fire engine. The rest is just plywood – but it looks great, and it does the job too – fills up the bar.”
Bill contemplated the stage of a while. The fire engine dominated the whole bar and drew attention away from the fact that there were too few customers. At one end of the stage was a pool, where a few girls danced topless, and at the other end, a small carousel, where a few girls danced buck naked (“The Boys in Brown know we are having a hard time, so they’re going easy on us,” was how Larry explained it). In the middle, a group of girls in red bikinis and yellow helmets were having fun hosing each other down – that alone brought the bar to life. What is it about a wet girl that is sexier than a dry one? Bill wondered.
“What’s business like?” he said.
“Blue murder, as usual,” said Larry, but without seeming too worried about it. “Not enough customers – but they’ll come – when Immigration gets its act together!”
“Too true,” said Bill, remembering the queues at the airport.
“Fancy a girl? You must be gagging for it after all those months in lockdown!”
Bill considered the idea. He had no intention of barfining because there was something else he had to do that evening, but there would be no harm in chatting to one over a lady drink. He chose one of the wet girls, and a few minutes later she appeared at his side in a bathrobe, with her hair still dripping.
“Sawat dee, krap,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“My name Jiab,” replied the girl.
“Where are you from?”
Bill was suddenly interested because that was where he planned to set up his new bar. “Have you ever worked bar there?”
“Bok phom maa, krap,” he said, lapsing into Thai as he asked her to tell him about it.
Speaking fluently now that she was using her own language, she explained that she liked it because it was near home, but it was hard to make much money. She wasn’t paid any salary, only half of each lady drink and each barfine. But lady drinks and barfines were a fraction of Bangkok prices.
Bill nodded. That’s what he’d heard, and that’s why it would be a good place to set up a bar – low overheads meant that it didn’t matter if business was slow, and when it picked up, if it picked, there would be that much more in his pocket.
Then another thought struck him. His conversation had begun in exactly the same way as with Dave’s avatar. Then, suddenly, it had taken an unexpected twist. Why? Because she was a real human being bringing her own life experiences into the conversation. Dave’s avatars were pre-programmed with Dave’s very limited knowledge of Thai girls – they would never say anything unexpected.
Jiab’s still damp hand found its way into his shirt, and he began to feel something else that Dave couldn’t program – what mongers call “chemistry”. Her body was sending out invisible sexual signals, and his was responding. He felt the urge to barfine her coming on – but one more test, an old test that he used in his mongering days to make sure he didn’t end up with a unresponsive deadbeat. He kissed her.
She passed the test with flying colours by sticking her tongue into his mouth. That was all he needed to know. “Barfine, gee baht, krap?” he said.
“Neung phan baht, ka.”
Bill turned to Larry. “A thousand baht! You’ve got to be kidding! Where’s the Covid discount?”
Larry just laughed. “You know the Thai mentality. When times are bad, put prices up!”
“Never mind,” said Bill, reaching for his wallet – but he was thinking that that would be another advantage of Nong Khai. His prices would be affordable!
As soon as Jiab had gone to dry her hair and get changed, Larry said, “Good choice. You won’t be disappointed. Where are you going next?”
“I’m going to take a look at my old bar. Not looking forward to it – but got to get it over with.”
“You’ll feel better when you’ve seen it.”
Larry gave him a knowing smile. “You’ll see.”
To be continued…
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