The Gogo Guru, Part 1
Stick’s latest column, Catching Up With Dave The Rave reminded me of a guy called Don whom I met in 2005. Dave the Rave is known as the Gogo Guru for his long experience of managing bars and the information on his website, but Don was a Gogo Guru because he genuinely believed that Enlightenment could be found in gogo bars. He was also a valuable source of advice on more mundane matters, such as bargirls and barfines. Here’s how I met him and what I learned from him:
It was my first trip, and on my first day I made all the usual newbie mistakes which are too embarrassing to relate, beginning with taking a Taxi Meter with the meter off and ending with drinking so much that I couldn’t stand up, let alone get it up. The only saving grace was that I had discovered the best bar (for me anyway – that was Dollhouse) and made a mental note of the numbers of some girls I liked. I slept late next morning (well, all day actually) to work off the jet lag and the hangover, and sallied forth at about 7, determined to do better.
I got to Dollhouse just in time to catch the last ten minutes of Happy Hour and had a Chang draft (30 baht). That first sip of cold beer after the hot walk down the Sukhumvit Road is always a pleasure. I savoured it as I watched the girls shuffling half-heartedly on stage (it was early, so there was no point in using up their energy for half-a-dozen customers). I was looking out for #45, Big Smile, (I was developing the habit of linking numbers to a verbal tag to help me remember something about them) and #1, Big Tits, but also saw another girl I had noticed before and liked, #33, Petite. There was a new girl who caught my fancy, #40, Top Knot. She looked young and inexperienced – slightly bewildered in fact – which was sort of sexy. I decided to talk to her later, and if she turned out to be too shy, to go for #33.
After about half an hour, a 50-something bald-headed guy sat down just to my left. Moments later, he moved to my right so that he could attract the attention of the girl he was looking at – it turned out to be #45, Big Smile. Interesting, I thought. They will be sitting so close that I will be able to find out about #45, as well as how another guy chats up a bargirl.
Moments later #45, Big Smile, came over, and with a big smile (of course!), sat down beside him. I was all ears, but unfortunately, found it hard to make out what they were saying. It wasn’t that the music was too loud, I could hear their voices well enough, they just didn’t seem to make any sense. Then I realised that they were talking in Thai – some Thai anyway. The guy was obviously an expat, or at the very least, a regular visitor. He bought her a lady drink and they talked until it was her turn to dance. As the other shift came off the stage, he signalled to #33 to join him. I was intrigued. This was how it should be done – chat to the girls one after another until you “click” with one of them.
I thought about this as I went upstairs to the toilet. There was an empty bar area up there with a part-glass floor which is presumably used when the bar is full. Just then, the upstairs bar was not in use and I could look down on the girls. I spotted #40, Top Knot, and watched her for a while – same as before, not dancing much, looking lost, a blank expression on her face.
When I got back to my seat, he was by himself, so I decided to ask him about his methods. “Hi,” I said, sitting down beside him. “I heard you speaking Thai to those girls.”
He looked at me with his calm blue-grey eyes and said quietly, “Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s surprising how much the scene opens up if you can speak a bit of Thai.”
He went on to explain that he had had about 30 hours of one-on-one tuition over a year, and now that he was living in Thailand, he found that it had really paid off. It had given him a head-start in the language, and he was now picking it up quickly. He gave me detailed advice on how to get started and what books to buy. He especially recommended a book called Essential Thai because an audio cassette was included (yes, that’s right, an audio cassette!) – but just then, I was more interested in the right girl than the right book. “What do you think of #40?” I said.
His eyes scanned the stage until he found her. “I hadn’t noticed her,” he said, “but it’s no good just looking. You have to talk to them and try to sense if there’s any chemistry.”
“Chemistry” – the word conjured up memories of test tubes and bad smells from my school days. “What do you mean by ‘chemistry’?” I asked.
“It’s a sort of subtle tingling feeling that she gives you. It means that she is responding to your interest and giving something back – it’s hard to define, but you can feel it.”
He went on to explain that he had already talked to three girls, but had not found that special chemistry so far.
“You know,” he added. “A lot of guys see a girl they fancy and they just have to have her. That makes them blind to her body language. So they pay the barfine and take her out, but all the time she’s not happy because there’s something about the guy she doesn’t like. Result – the guy has a bad experience.”
I nodded. It made sense.
“Just invite them for a drink and talk to them. You can wave them over yourself, or ask a waitress to bring them. When you’ve talked to a few, you’ll get the idea.”
I decided to do just that – but I felt awkward with him looking on, so I paid my bin, made my farewells and left, intending to start again in another bar. That bar was Five Star – a small bar with live music. The girls were noticeably older and less pretty, but I stayed to listen to the band. I soon found out the main disadvantage of small bars – the girls hit on you! I had hardly picked up my drink when a bargirl of uncertain age plonked herself beside me and started to stroke my leg. I bought her a drink out of courtesy, but that only made things worse. She was all over me. I didn’t fancy her, so I was just waiting for a chance to beat it. I couldn’t help thinking: she’s doing this because she wants to be barfined. so if I did fancy her, how would I tell the difference between this and chemistry? I wished I could ask Don about it, but he wasn’t there.
Just then, the set ended and it was her turn to dance, so I decided to make my escape. I signalled to a waitress to pay the bill and ended up chatting to her. I asked her advice on the etiquette of getting rid of a bargirl I wasn’t interested in. She explained the Thai concept of “face” and said that the best way was to have an excuse ready, such as, you’re waiting for your girlfriend.
The set was coming to an end, so I high tailed it before my lady drink lady came back again. I visited several bars and chatted to several girls, but the chemistry of alcohol did for me before the bargirl chemistry did. It was just nerves. I was necking the drinks without realising it. Later, as I collapsed onto my bed (alone!) in a drunken stupor, I resolved that, in future, I would alternate bottles of beer with bottles of water and take it slowly;
The following night I went to the Dollhouse hoping to meet my guru again and also to carry on my search for my “Juliet for a night”. No sign of #40, Top Knot, or #1, Big Tits. #45, Big Smile, was still smiling and had a fetching new hairdo.
At about 8, my guru turned up and we got chatting again. As there was nothing much doing at that early hour, we exchanged information about our backgrounds. He told me that he used to be an English lecturer, but had fallen foul of faculty politics (he didn’t say how) and taken early retirement a year ago. Since then, he had spent his time travelling, mainly in the Far East. “Not as a tourist,” he emphasised.
“What then?” I asked.
“As a seeker of Enlightenment.”
I was gobsmacked. Seek Enlightenment in a gogo bar! He had to be kidding! I almost laughed at him, but I didn’t want to offend this promising new friend, so I simply asked, “Have you found it?”
He looked at me with those haunting blue-grey eyes in a way that made me think he was going to say something profound.
“No,” he said at last.
He was quiet for a long time. I thought he was watching the girls – I certainly was (where was #40?) – but he must have been thinking, because he picked up the thread of the conversation.
“But I’ve believe that I’ve found the Tau.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The way, the road, the path. The way for me. The Buddha teaches that everyone has to find his own path – have you read Siddhartha?”
“It’s by Herman Hesse. It’s one of the best books about the life of the Buddha. You should read it. Anyway, after spending months in monasteries in Tibet and Thailand, I wanted to become an ordained Buddhist monk, but I had not travelled far enough along the Eightfold Path – I got the tonsure though!” He gave me wry smile and stroked his bald pate. “It’s like a Buddhist tonsure – but it’s just age and male pattern baldness. Well, aging makes you wise or, at any rate, wiser.”
“What did you do next?”
“I knew that I had to go back a few steps on the Road to Enlightenment. The monastery was too much for me, so now I seek it here.”
“What, in gogo bars?” There – I’d said it!
“Why not? – Do you know the saying, ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’?”
“Blake. You’ve heard of Blake? William Blake?”
“More than a poet – a guru. His poems are my Bible just now.”
As he spoke, he pulled a dog-eared paperback from his pocket and waved it at me.
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” he quoted. “Think about it.”
I did, and all I could come up with was: “”Not alcoholism, drug addiction or HIV, then?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Excess is the road, not the destination. The destination is the Palace of Wisdom.”
“So this is the Palace of Wisdom?”
“No, it’s the Road. It’s Excess. Excess of sex. The Palace of Wisdom is – Enlightenment.”
“OK,” I said, “I can see the Road. It’s right here before me – and it’s OK, I like it! But what’s Enlightenment?”
That question made the Gogo Guru look uncomfortable. He sipped his Singha, scratched his bald pate, then said, “Buddhists call it bodhi. It means ‘insight into transcendental truth’.”
I nearly did the Pontius Pilate thing and ask, “What is truth?” but I sensed that he could outdo me in any philosophical argument, so I laughed it off instead: “The only body that I want insight into is #40’s” (I mentioned her because, much to my delight, she had just stepped up onto the stage).
He laughed too. “Call her then – and I’ll call #44. We’ve done enough philosophising for one night. It’s time to get back to the Road.”
He waved over a waitress and pointed out the two girls we wanted and moments later, they were cuddling up to us.
“If this is Buddhism, I could go for it,” I said, “Better than sitting in a pew and listening to a dull old sermon,”
But he wasn’t listening. He already had an armful of #44, and I had got my hands on #40 at last.
If you enjoyed this memoir, you might also enjoy some of my books about Thailand and the Philippines. Take a look here or here.
The author of this article can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org