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A Helluva Long Way to Do Nothing

A Thai Trip Journal, 1989
Part III: The Colonials

There are two English guys who evidently live at the Tungmahamek. They're often in the hotel restaurant when I eat. I've christened them The Colonials. One if probably about 40, average build, with a neatly trimmed mustache. The other is older, probably around 50, with thinning gray hair, wire-rim glasses, and a bit of a beer gut. The younger one is eveidently a sailor. I heard him talk about unloading a boat in heavy waves one day, and on another occasion he made a reference to "when I was captain of the ship." They're there at nearly every meal, usually drinking beer from long, tall glasses, relaxing in the air conditioning. They've evidently been here for a long time; the paunchy one was one day wearing a shirt from the Blue Fox Coffee House (next door), and it was faded, as though it were fairly old. One night they were joined by a Thai woman whom I guessed was the younger man's prostitute. I imagine that they fancy themselves to be very worldly, no, world-weary gentlemen, living out their lives in exotic Bangkok. After all, they've seen everything by now. They're Colonials.

Ah, and they're not the only Ugly Farangs:

"Where you from, friend?" asked the extremely overweight man, heading up the stairs as I was heading down.

"Chicago," I said. "You?"

"Darwin," he said, and I thought of the Galapagos Islands. He seemed somewhat lizardly.


"Darwin. Darwin, Australia." He came back down the stairs, settling in for a long conversation. His name was Peter. He was a little too friendly. I asked what brought him to Bangkok.

He laughed a deep, conspiratorial laugh, and it made me a little sick. I should have guessed, I thought. That's what brought him to Bangkok.

Peter went on for a while, carrying the bulk of the conversation. He went to light a cigarette, then launched into an incoherent discourse about Thai matches. "Like the matches you Yanks got," he said. "I love those matches. You never know which way they're gonna light, like against anything, you know, flame one way first, then the other. Nothing but phosphorus, those matches." Then, with the match situation thoroughly clarified, he turned to a different topic. "Got myself a nice little whore here," he said. "Five days. Really pretty. Really nice, you know." I turned away to look out the window. I did not want to picture huge, bulging, vulgar Peter atop a delicate Thai girl.

"Pretty dangerous pastime," I commented.

"Oh, in the States, sure. But it's pretty safe here."

Sure, I thought. That's why the doors to the lobby have stickers saying, "Ask For Condom before AIDS Calls On You. AIDS." That's why there is a VD clinic around the corner.

"Well," continued Peter, "I'm gonna go down to the street now. Change some money. God, a person can go through money fast in this place."

Yes, I thought, if you're buying whores a week at a time, you probably can go through money fast.

"Come on down to the street with me. You're not doin' anything."

"I've got some work to do up in my room."

"Oh! Wash your mouth out with soap!" he said. He started down the stairs again as I continued up. He was still mumbling about soap as I walked down the hallway.

Later, as I ate lunch in the hotel restaurant, I was talking with a taxi driver about things to see in Bangkok. The Colonials were there. Peter came in and introduced himself, and they received him amicably enough. He sat down with them, and soon I got the impression that they weren't all that pleased to have his company. But I doubt if he noticed.

Snooker is a apparently a pretty popular game here. There's a Thai named Wattana who is apparently one of the best in the game. The TV in the hotel restaurant was on during one of the nighttime matches, and the Colonials were thoroughly enthralled, making obviously knowledgeable comments about strategy as the game progressed. The younger Colonial's prostitute was there, too, and he kept reaching over to rub her shoulder. The distance between them was just a little too far for the move to appear to be casual. It seemed to annoy her slightly. She was trying to read a book.

Regarding prostitutes and sex-for-sale: I'm within walking distance of the well-known Patapong Strip and its legendary live shows. Before I left I wondered if I'd be able to resist the temptation to go. Now that I'm here, I'm a little surprised to find that it's no temptation at all. Maybe that's because my mind is otherwise occupied. Maybe it's the vision of the VD clinic around the corner. But I don't think so.

From 10,000 miles away, the idea of Bangkok's live sex shows is abstract. In Bangkok, however, it's not abstract at all: it's very real, and it's very ugly. Prostitutes here are, in large part, poor peasant girls who are trying to make money to help their parents, so that the other members of their family can have a better life.

We come here, fuck them, throw a few dollars at them, then go home and tell our friends what a great lay we had in Bangkok.

It's too ugly. It's too sad, too real, too cheap. And it is not appealing at all.

But back to the TV. One of the curious things about Thai TV is how heavily Westernized the commercials are. Western music, in particular shows up often: "Layla," on a Nissan commercial, "Funeral March of a Marionette" for Loctite Superglue, Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" for Kodak, Deep Purple's "Highway Star," "Great Balls of Fire,", the opening theme from "The Road Warrior," part of Henry Mancini's score for "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," and on and on. I find the commercials fascinating. There is one bizarre ad in which several different people, in an MTV-type setting, sing together. All the singers look Thai, but they are imitating different Western pop stars. There's Thai Michael Jackson, and Thai Tina Turner... very strange. There's another very weird commercial for some kind of drink. It starts out underwater, with a gigantic shark opening his mouth, and inside his mouth a guy is standing up, holding a bottle of this remarkably refreshing beverage. Strange. Very strange.

Unrelated notes: I'm baffled by dogs' tails here. They often go straight up into a vertical curly-Q. I assume that his must be the result of some human undertaking, a strange fad in dog fashion. Not all of them are like that, but it seems to me that nearly half of them are.

Also... I miss Chicago. I'm homesick for the strangest thing: I really want to hear an Empire Carpet commercial.


This article contains eight parts:
Part One: Get Your Wings
Part Two: Orient Orientation
Part Three: The Colonials
Part Four: The Singapore Guys
Part Five: The Least-Laid Plans
Part Six: Doing Nothing at the Border
Part Seven: Back to Bangkok
Part Eight: Ayutthaya, Bang Pa-in, and Home