Monday, 10 November 2008

Am I Pregnant, Deformed or Senile?

Is that what "Man U" means?

It's up to you, as they say in Thailand.

Waiting, waiting! Migrant workers at the North East bus terminal.

There's hundreds of routes and bus companies to choose from.

Feeling dazed and confused, Bangkok's tough for a village boy.

We’ve just been to Bangkok by long distance bus to meet family coming back from England.

The inter-city buses are excellent value and move millions of country folk to and from their jobs in Bangkok, cheap labour that props up a national economy run for the benefit of the urban elite. The buses aren’t bad though and it’s not very often that a driver falls asleep through over-work and slaughters half his passengers. (It happened the day we travelled and on the same route… seven were killed.)

Anyway, for a change we took a daytime bus with a different company and it was about nine hours door to door. This time the bus took a toilet stop near Korat at a flashy new filling station and it made my day. They were building toilet blocks fit for all comers.

As usual there were three choices at the pump if you needed fuel and three choices if you needed a dump. I often use the disabled toilet as there’s room to swing a cat but this time there were some unfamiliar choices.

There was no ‘disabled toilet’ but instead on a blue sign, boldly written, were the words, “Pregnant”, “Deformed” and “Senility”.

Oh Joy! Dictionaries are such a minefield!

Reaching for my camera, my hand shaking, I made my decision. I’m definitely not pregnant and only slightly deformed, so it’ll have to be ‘Senility’.

Then as I turned the corner I confronted another blue sign, a manekin pis of a male leaning backwards and spouting an arc of wee, below him the words, “Man Urine”!

In Thailand you sometimes hear in hushed tones what sounds like, “Man Shitty”. This is the English football club that former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, a little short of cash, has just sold for a cool profit of fifty million pounds.

And now I think I know what “Man U” must mean.

Bangkok, Bangkok!
Anyway, we got to Bangkok and it was as extraordinary as always. The roads were flooded as usual and as we left the bus station, the taxi should have been a boat. We met who we’d come to meet and did the things we had to do and moved smoothly from traffic jam to traffic jam.

We saw no hint of the demonstrations and anarchy that continue as the ‘Peoples' Alliance for Democracy’ continues illegally to occupy government house. This ‘democratic’ movement has been holding the country to ransom, arguing that the rural poor are too stupid to vote and so should be disenfranchised.

Yes, as always it was all slightly mad. The maddest moments for me though were just after Lewis Hamilton (somebody said he's Barak Obama’s younger brother) had won the Formula One motor racing championship by a whisker. An old friend, Trevor and I watched the race in a bar just beyond Soi Cowboy with a sign outside saying, “No Bar Girls”, and Hamilton kept us in suspense until the very last corner. It was so nerve wracking Trevor had to rush off to a pharmacy afterwards and get some beta blockers to slow his heart rate.

Now three in the morning and with the Skytrain closed I was thus faced with a walk down the notorious Soi Cowboy and all the way back to my hotel in Soi 2… the one I always stay in that says, “Sex Tourists Not Welcome” outside. Normality of this sort is the exception in this city.

My walk on the wild side was quite a revelation for an innocent like me. At this time all bars should be closed and their denizens, both male and female had spilled out onto the streets. It's now the last chance saloon and nobody looked in a hurry to go home. There's still every chance of an assignation or more likely a bowl of noodles at one of the many fold-up tables blocking the sidewalks at which sit huddles of Thai girls, dark eyes flashing shamelessly, who gaze up at you as you pass.

Down the long canyon of Sukhumvit road I walked, night tripping on the broken pavements, breathing the humid air, the smell of drains, of frying and taxi fumes, all neon glitter, an urban jungle of girls in black jeans and skimpy tank tops waiting for buses they never get on.

“It’s my life… it’s now or never and I ain’t going to live forever,” belts out loudly at a stall still selling bootleg CDs. Live now for Gomorrah you die.

Thai, Girl, Thai Girl.
I’ll say nothing of the punters, the men on the street, prowling and predatory, but what of the women? Where are they from and why are they here in such numbers? Well…

“It’s the same the whole world over... it’s the poor what gets the blame.
It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure. Ain’t that just a bloody shame.”

Many of the women on the street don’t look like hookers though, more like students or village girls and perhaps that’s why they do so good a trade.

“Thai girl, Thai girl, feisty fit. On the sois of Sukhumvit.
What immoral hand or eye can frame thy fearless symmetry.”

I tell myself not to be judgmental. Sukhumvit road so graphically displays the extremes of rich and poor that exist in Thailand and it’s hard to be blame the poor. Better to try to understand and respect these entrepreneurial women who sell themselves both soul and body to support the child they’ve left behind in the village with Mama, that they never see as she grows up.

The thing that struck me this time though was how many of the prettiest Thai girls I saw were in fact men; katoeys as they’re called. Sometimes they have you fooled but you can often tell by their height, the slim figure and spinnaker cleavage, the exaggerated swing of the hips. They’re woman writ a little too large.

It’s when they bat their eyes and say, “Where you gor?’ And “I gor with yooo!” that you know for sure.

They hunt in packs swinging fast along the pavement, appearing from the shadows and sometimes they scare me a bit. They’ll bounce and jostle you while one of them gets a hand in your pocket, so that night I kept my hand firmly on my wallet. Anyway I got back to my hotel after neither adventures nor noodles but it reminded me just how vibrant and bizarre Bangkok always is.

And yet again I ask myself what pressures push both females and males to risk their health, selling themselves to these grotesque foreign tourists, to have their tackle chopped off and chance their arm on the streets?

I remember once a katoey in Phuket who late one night hissed at me, “Blow job can? We go beach together?” And another who said, “I gor with you. Have pussy!”

He didn’t get my reference to the Cats' Protection League but instead politely asked me for a little money.

“Please I need a little alcohol… please, to help me with my work.”

The Sad Life of a Migrant Worker.
Another very human story struck me when we were at Morchit bus station waiting to make the long overnight trip back home to our village. It’s a vast warren of a place through which hundreds of thousands of souls pass between home and city looking for work. It’s really quite smart with granite floors and the toilets are clean but to me it’s sad, a purgatory for transients. At Songkhran, the Thai New Year festival, the bus station is overwhelmed with people as factories close and everyone converges to fight for a seat and go home for their annual few days break.

Just now my taxi driver told me the bus station has been packed with kids coming to work during their mid-year break, just as Cat used to do, and with adults going back to their farms to begin the rice harvest. Half the population of Thailand seem to be on the move.

As we were sitting waiting for our bus on stand 128 I noticed two little girls in pretty pink dresses and I realized it was Yuie and her little sister from our village. It didn’t register with me at first as although I know the children well, the parents who were with them weren’t familiar to me.

Cat told me their story. The reason I didn’t know the parents is that they’re never in the village but work for a wealthy Chinese family in Bangkok. The mother had taken the long bus trip back to the village to collect the little girls for a few days in Bangkok and she was now taking them home to the village overnight. Having got them home and not allowed time off work, she then had to leave them with grandparents and the same day get the next bus back to Bangkok. It meant perhaps forty hours travelling to be together for a few days.

The Chinese can be tough on their domestics. Cat says Yuiee’s Mama has worked for this family for fifteen years and has never lived with her children. He employers must live a life of luxury and ease but this is the order of things, that there are rich and there are poor. And for the loss of her freedom and family life how much does Yuiee’s Mama earn? Perhaps four thousand baht a month… about 120 US Dollars, which even here is hardly a living wage.

All of which takes me back to the Sukhumvit road.

A good looking working girl or one of those painted amputees might make as much money in a single night, given some luck and a drunken punter or two.

That's just the way it goes!

Copyright: Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog. November 2008

With apologies to William Blake.


pongo said...

I have always enjoyed reading your elegant and entertaining prose on the weird and wonderful here in the Kingdom. However, this time you've gone too far. Have you taken leave of your senses, man? All this scatological talk is sure to cause a great stink amongst the denizens of Upper & Lower Sukhumvit. And as for swinging poor Cat around the confines of the disabled loo, shame on you! You better watch it, Hick. I'll be marching on Hicks Towers to rescue the poor lass and give here a good home. One more thing: this Trevor bloke sounds a bit of a wimp, if you ask me. He's far more likely to have been shocked and stunned by the glum faces of the GP's podium finishers - Massa, Alonso and The Iceman - whose countenances had to be seen to be believed and whose lack of good grace in failing to congratulate Obama Hamiliton, the youngest champion in Grand Prix history, clearly rankled. (To be fair, Massa did redeem himself somewhat with a last minute but perfunctory acknowledgment of Hamilton's championship triumph). Alonso, on the other hand, was Mr Glum personified. Roll on 2009.

Thai Girl said...

Hey Pongo, how did you know?

Yes, Trevor's a total wimp!

Do you know the guy?


pongo said...

Yes, with regard to this Trevor bloke, Hick, I confess I have had the dubious distinction of making his acquaintance. The man's a total dunderhead. Best avoided. Apparently he's a former wicker bottom chair-repairman and a part-time gynecologist to boot. He's said to be in semi-retirement here in BKK, but still keeping his hand in with regard to the medical specialization!