Somebody Is About To Wake Up
Psychologists will talk of a quite common dream in which subjects describe finding themselves in a popular everyday public setting, such as a fairground, busy shopping mall, an airport, or even a rock concert. Everything appears normal. The lights are on, the music is blaring out, and the street stalls, rollercoasters and so forth are in full flow. Except you are the only person there! But this dystopian fact does not seem to disturb the clowns, popcorn sellers and ticketing touts who are still popping balloons, calling out, and laughing as the empty carousel spins to the organ’s jolly tune. Psychologists call this uncomfortable feeling of displacement “cognitive dissonance”, used very effectively by the early sci-fi writers and horror movie directors, especially Hitchcock. Laymen will sometimes describe it as an “out of body experience” where your body and your brain appear disconnected. This happens when your experience – or what you are seeing – is in conflict with your expectations or what your brain perceives to be true.
The last time I visited Nana Plaza on a Friday night was several years ago. My trips have become quite rare as I’ve got older, the p4p scene has changed for the worse, and I’ve simply found more meaningful pursuits as I settle deeper into expat life. My infrequent trips were quick opportunistic forays after a business function, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday starting at 7 PM and lasting no more than an hour or two before heading home. I’m used to empty gogo bars.
Given the shutdown, I expected that my first Friday night visit in some time would be the same as any “new normal” experience. At the entrance I wrote down my name and number in the security guards’ book, just like all the other “James Bonds” at “777 777 7777”. So far, so normal. And then suddenly I was in a different dream! Standing at the entrance, looking out and up in to the Plaza, the bars appeared to be in full swing. An ocean of neon flashed noisily over the dreamscape. Outside most bars, gaggles of young, mostly attractive women were decked out in their Friday best. An electric buzz of sex and expectation hung in the air. I moved from bar to bar, most of them seemingly open. On stage, the girls at my usual haunts (Spankys, Billboard and sometimes a ‘sports beer’ at what is now called Rainbow 3) were in full gogo mode – gyrating energetically to the beats and laughing playfully among themselves. The girls seemed more attractive on average than I remember, and there were lots of them. And they were trying. Their hair was done to a turn and their outfits sparkled. Flirtatious eyes and welcoming smiles were in full supply. Well now! This is a blast I remember from the past. Welcome back to Friday nights in Nana Plaza.
Except, like in the famous dream, I was alone. Well not quite. Of course, there were others, but too few to stop the wave of cognitive dissonance smashing into my dystopian reality. Why were all these bargirls, mamasans, DJs and serving girls acting so normally? There is no one here, for god’s sake! Are they the “un-dead” of the dream? Had the virus created the perfect dreamscape-reality – a full-throttle Nana Plaza Friday Night Experience Just For Me?
This was a different kind of dystopia from my trip to Soi Cowboy a few weeks earlier, which coincided with the first week of official opening. Few did. The familiar old soi was wrapped in shadow with only a few bars braving the new normal. It seemed dystopian but there was no cognitive dissonance because, after all, the desolation, closed shutters and strained bravado of the few bargirls who bothered to be there was exactly what I was expecting.
But Nana Plaza was a mind-fuck. On the face of it, everything about Nana Plaza seemed better! The girls were prettier, they seemed friendlier and more energetic. Mamasans were pleased to see me. I had front row seats. Service was excellent. There were no Japanese sucking up all the action. In fact, few Asians at all. And for all intents and purposes, I was alone. I literally had Nana Plaza at full throttle all to myself. It was, simply, a wet dream. As I drove home, with the taxi meter ticking over obediently, I thought: “Somebody is about to wake up.”