Neither of us was thrilled about going to Patpong; the district and its sisters, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza, reputedly the world’s largest red light quarter, made Sodom and Gomorrah seem a like salubrious family getaway, as wholesome as Disneyworld. In a sense it was a theme park of sorts, a Fantasyland for fiends of every stripe: sex-starved Germans--sweaty lust smeared over their faces like butter; scummy down-and-outers from Europe; your garden-variety British pedophiles; andkamikaze gearheads like my friend and me. That raw vice that had once made Patpong an amusing novelty, though, had been long been watered down and was now crowded with slack-jawed tourists, intrepid bargain hunters, and parents with their children in buggies.
The first time I visited the area back in the early nineties, both sides of the street were packed with go-go bars, girls in string bikinis dancing on bar counters and shaking their little fannies to Eurobeat tunes.
If one of the girls gave you a personal hard on, you could order her, like a numbered dish off a menu, and take her back to your place for an hour or two or all night depending on how long you could go before your poor testicles, shriveled up into little raisins, cried, “No mas!”
As you passed, panderers and pimps would call after you in a dozen languages, watching your eyes for the glint of recognition.
“Guten Abend, Mein Herr . . . Konbanwa . . . Bonsoir, Monsieur. Buona sera. Good evening, sir.”
A familiar greeting in your mother tongue is the seductive bait and you can’t help but look in the direction of the voice. The pimp has you in his crosshairs. “Good evening, sir,” he says as he reels you in. He holds out a graying card, tattered and frayed, and starts rattling off the smorgasbord of vaginal acrobatics and other “exotic” performances waiting for you:
And so on.
I went to one of these shows way back when I was just a kid really. I had oly been in Bangkok for three days but had been hounded the entire time by taxi drivers, tuk-tuk jockeys, hotel bellboys, and common street pimps, all asking me the same question: “Sir, you need a girl?”
“You want nice Thai massage, maybe a little more, help you sleep better?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“How about a good-looking Thai boy?”
After three days of this constant peck-peck-pecking, my defenses had compromised, so when a barker called out ”Ping pong pussy!” I couldn’t resist.
I stepped inside, took a seat near the stage and ordered an overpriced cocktail. A Thai woman, rather long in the tooth, came out onto the stage, undressed and, lying on her back, proceeded to shoot ping pong balls out of her vagina into a martini glass several feet away.
Was I impressed? Somewhat. It was certainly more than I could do with my own genitalia. Was I turned on--and I do believe that was the point of the show, to get me so lathered up with sexual desire that I would take the prostitute massaging my back to my hotel room--was I burning with lust watching the show?
To be honest, I found the whole thing rather depressing.
“You want to take me home?” the prostitute asked.
A ping-pong ball hit the rim of the martini glass and flew into the audience where a middle-aged kraut caught it.
“Not really,” I replied.
The prostitute stopped kneading my shoulder and went to work on another man’s neck.
Easy come, easy go.
As soon as Jean and I arrived in Patpong, we made a beeline for the Japanese street, a lane with bar upon bar catering to Japanese men. There was no comparable street exclusively for Germans or Aussies or Frenchmen, but the Japanese managed to have a street all for themselves, employing some of the best looking girls you’d hope to find in the trade. And what made these girls all the more attractive is that they were dressed in evening gowns rather than the raunchy outfits of the go-go girls that left nothing to the imagination.
They called out to the salarimen passing by in simple Japanese, “Hey uncle, you’re welcome here.”
And so on.
Jean walked up to the peddler and asked if he had Gauloises, blue?
“No, sir. Sorry.”
“Just give me a pack of Marlboros then.”
The peddler handed Jean the pack and said, “One hundred baht.”
“One hundred baht! Are you out of your mind? Forget it!”
“Okay, okay. Eighty baht. Special price for you, sir.”
“Special price for you maybe,” Jean grumbled as he removed some bills from his wallet. “Rémy, remind me to get some cash tomorrow.”
“Jean, get some cash tomorrow.”
“Would you like me to smack you now or when we get back to the hotel?”
As the peddler was giving Jean his change back, it occurred to my friend to say: “Maybe you can help us.”
“We’re looking for something a little, shall we say, stronger than tobacco to smoke.”
A small, dim light clicked on inside the peddler’s head. He smiled. “O-h, okay.” Motioning for us to stay put, he said, “Let me get friend.”
Before long the friend came, a guy roughly our age in faded jeans and a tatty, faded blue polo shirt.
“You want grass,” the friend asked right off the bat.
"No,” Jean said. “We want yaba".
“W-w-what?” The guy stuttered; his eyes bulged. “It’s n-n-not easy t-to get.”
“Tell us about it,” Jean replied flatly.
“How about some grass? Real good quality.”
Jean gave the man an emphatic No. “We want yaba. Yaba or nothing.” He made like he was about to start walking away.
“Okay, okay. Wait. Wait.”
The guy’s eyes darted about, taking a survey of the people in the area. He gave us a good looking over, too. And why shouldn’t he? For all he knew, the two of us, as odd a couple as Laurel and Hardy, might have been out to cheat or, worse, entrap him.
Taking a few steps away from us, he made a call on his cell phone.
“Okay,” he said to us after hanging up. “It take time. Twenty minute, maybe thirty. Not easy. Very, very hard to get.”
Jean’s eyes met mine as if to ask: you okay with this?
What are bridges for if not for crossing?
I nodded to the dealer. “Let’s do it.”
“Okay, follow me.”
We were led away from the Japanese street to a wide thoroughfare lined with noisy beer gardens and overrun with sloppy drunks.
“Wait here. I come right back. Five minute.”
As we waited, Jean whispered to me in French, “Any sign of the cops, I want you to hightail it to that street with all the shops there. Go all the way through until you get to the main street on the other side. Understand?”
“Get a taxi, but do not, and, man, I shouldn’t have to tell you how important this is, do not go straight back to the hotel. You do not want to lead the cops right back to where we are staying.”
“Take two taxis if possible, or better yet, a tuk-tuk. They’re faster. Walk the last kilo.”
The guy came back a few minutes later and said he could get the yaba, but once again emphasized that it would take time.
“Yaba is heavy shit,” he said as he led us away.
Where did this guy learn his English?
“The police are . . . Police are . . .“
“Clamping down?” I suggested.
That seemed to be the word he was searching for. He nodded.
“Yeah, the police are clamping down. Heavy shit. Heavy, heavy shit. When you get it, hide it there,” he said pointing to his sock.
It didn’t sound like the shrewdest piece of advice to me. Were I a cop, that’s one of the first places I would look. No, it’s better to keep it tucked in you hand so you can toss it into a river, or down a drainpipe, or into a garbage bin the first sign of trouble, and run for your life into the nearest, most crowded place you can find.
“I understand,” I said.
"Ten years", the guy said over and over. "Pot, hash, no problem, but Yaba? Ten years."
He made a gesture with his hands to show us the handcuffs that would surely be slapped on us if we were caught.
I started to occur to me that this yaba might not be worth all the hassle and risks. Ten years in a Thai jail was no day at the beach. Just the same, I followed behind the dealer like a child on the heels of the Pied Piper.
Jean and I were brought to a small bar far off the main strip. It was chockablock with young prostitutes sitting in booths, singing karaoke. Aside from the bartender and a doorman, there were no men in the place, not a single customer.
My first thought was that we had been tricked into coming to a hostess bar where we would be forced to buy the girls drinks. Jean was ready to bail right then and there, but the dealer persuaded us to wait until he came back.
“Fifteen, maybe twenty minute,” he said, leaving us in the care of the bartender.
We sat down at an empty booth in the back that faced the entrance, and ordered gin tonics.
Before long, some of the bar girls slinked over like cats about to pounce on mice and asked where we were from.
Jean replied that we were from Luxembourg.
More questions followed: How long have you been here? What are you doing in Thailand? And so on.
Jean fed them a load of baloney about being orchid buyers for a flower-importing consortium. Why bother with the truth?
When one of the girls tried her best to curry favor with Jean, I told her: "You’re a very charming girl, but, I’m afraid it won't work. My friend here likes men. Little men. Hairy little men."
The girls recoiled, but, without skipping a beat, they turned their attention to me.
One of them sat down next to me and grabbed my wimpy bicep.
“You very tall. Me like,” she said. "Do you have girlfriend?"
"Yes,” I answered. “I have four."
"Butterfly boy!!!" They cackled with laughter.
The girl put her arms around my neck and begged for me to let her be my fifth girlfriend.
“I’ll think about it.”
“You don’t like me?”
“Oh, I like you alright.”
Not that she wasn't pretty, she was, captivatingly so with her friendly eyes and natural, unaffected smile, but the thought of spending the next six months worrying that I might have contracted HIV or some other nasty STD was enough to make the hot water in me run cold.
Ten minutes came and went and Jean started tapping his lighter against the tabletop. "If the guy doesn't show up in another 10 minutes,” Jean said, “I’m outta here. "
I had to agree with my friend. The longer we were forced to wait the more I worried we were sitting ducks.
The bartender, noticing that the two of us were getting restless, came by and assured us the guy would probably be back in another ten minutes.
Jean was ready to bolt. I swear he had the patience of a firecracker. When I suggested he have one more cigarette before leaving, he lit up and sat back in the settee, arms crossed, glaring in the direction of the entrance.
Fortunately, before Jean could finish his cigarette, the dealer returned. It had been nearly forty minutes, breathing heavily.
So much for yaba being readily available.
As Jean settled the bar tab, I followed the dealer to the restrooms in the back of the bar where, locking the door behind us, he pulled out a roll of ten pink pills, tightly wrapped in clear plastic.
"I only wanted a few," I said. "This is way, way, way too much for the two of us."
"But I bought these for you," he said. "Ten for five thousand."
"Five thousand?" It was taken aback.
So much for the drug being cheap.
"I haven't got that much," I said. Actually, I didn't really know how much cash I had on me and I wasn’t about to start counting the contents of my wallet before him. "I'll take five for two thousand. It’s all I can afford."
That was out of the question. The guy wanted to unload the whole lot as quickly as possible. It was far too risky carrying it.
"Look, I only wanted five at the most and I've only got twenty-five hundred baht."
"All for three thousand," he said finally.
I passed a wad of bills to him, took the roll of pills from his hands, and left the restroom.
Jean was ready to leave, and, with not so much as an adieu bade to the girls who had been such charming hostesses, we beat feet out of the bar. Once outside, we hopped into the fourth taxi and drove off to the Pratunam area where the Baiyoke Sky Hotel was located.
Getting out of the taxi a good ten-minutes’ walk from our hotel, we dropped in at a convenience store to get some tin foil. Not finding any, we bought, a chocolate bar, chewing gum, cigarettes--anything we could find that came wrapped in foil. We also picked up a fresh lighter, some tonic water, and, once fully accoutred made our way back to our hotel, snickering like kids leaving a candy store.
© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The complete version of No. 6 is now available for a variety of devices at Amazon's Kindle store.