A DAY IN THE LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE
"As the sun sank toward the horizon, I decided to leave the beer bar to continue my walk down the strip. As I left, one of the greeters made a last ditch effort to capture my attention. Slipping her foot out of a sandel, she alluringly stretched it out and wriggled her toes at me. Of all the fetishes known to Pattaya, foot fetishes are the most popular. In fact, one punter at the beer bar (a fifty-something American) was seen prostrating himself to gleefully suck the toes of his “girlfriend,” each time he won their game of Connect 4. Ironically, this fetish is endlessly amusing to Thais, as they view the foot as the dirtiest, and least erotic, part of the body."
By D.A. Blyler
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
The city of Pattaya is described in guidebooks as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, a place that would have made Hieronymus Bosch say, “I told you so.” Located on the gulf of Thailand it is known to sex tourists throughout the world simply as paradise. A place where fantasies come true, be they ones involving ladies, boys, livestock, or a combination of all three. Where the tropical heat, sands, and sea combine to play tricks on the eyes of local girls and wreck havoc with accepted norms. The homely turn handsome, the obese become sexy, the old grow young again, and fetishes are the standard. It’s a magical land all right. And one that I felt compelled to see, since I live only two hours away.
Pattaya is essentially split into two sections, North and South, divided by an ugly cluster of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops in the center. North Pattaya has the reputation of being the “quieter,” upmarket side. The south is considered its seedier sister, with its enclaves of gay sex bars, disco, massage parlors, and go-go bars. All things are relative though, and the northern district certainly has no shortage of venues where one can get his groove on.
Not wanting to be saturated with carnal images, I decided to keep north and booked a 450 bhat ($10) room at BJ’s Restaurant and Guest House. The named seemed appropriate enough (though I discovered later that the initials did not signify a sex act but are actually those of the original American owner who was murdered several years ago). I checked in at noon and was happy to find my place equipped with air-conditioning and television, and that it did not house any strange odors left by it’s former occupant. After dropping my travel bag on the bed, I headed to BJ’s bar.
Everyone has certain travel rituals. My own includes the ordering of several cocktails immediately on arrival to my destination. The main reason for this is jangled nerves. I simply hate traveling. This may seem a strange admission from someone whose traveled in more than a dozen countries and is now living abroad (unlike Alec Baldwin, I did keep my promise and left the country when Bush was “elected.”). But it’s true. I love foreign places when I get there, but getting there…that’s the rub. Fears always recur that I’ve landed on the wrong bus or train; that I’ll miss my stop; that the driver will become deranged and speed into oncoming traffic, or the engineer will be high on ecstasy and jump rails. The list goes on.
I had made it to Pattaya with only two minor incidents occurring–which, for me, is a successful journey. First, the bus driver failed to stop at the Pattaya station and just shoved off passengers along the highway, thus confusing my sense of location, and causing me to be booted out several kilometers from the city. Then my songthaew ride into town turned harrowing as the pickup truck turned mass transit vehicle sped 120km/hr through dense traffic—causing me to unknowingly cut my finger. Rattled by the drive and unaware that I was bleeding profusely, I handed the driver a twenty bhat note. His high pitched squeal alerted me to the wound. Contact with another person’s blood in a city rife with STDs and hepatitis can be a scary thing.
My double gin and tonic was thus richly deserved. The atmosphere at BJ’s open air restaurant and bar was inviting. Located on Pattaya Beach Road it overlooks the bay and provides a nice venue from which to people watch and have lunch. The restaurant’s menu is aimed at the American palate, since the establishment is a regular stomping ground for American servicemen when their ships drop anchor. At the conclusion of Desert Storm, BJ’s entertained and fed hundreds of weary troops who descended on the city. An event chronicled in the Bangkok Post with the infamous headline, “Pattaya Suffers Mother of All Hangovers.” I ordered a chef salad with authentic 1000 Island dressing (a rare commodity in Asia) and settled my nerves with a few more cocktails. Then I set out to experience the magic of Pattaya.
Thailand works hard at promoting its image as “The Land of Smiles,” a tropical world without worries, where everybody is happy-go-lucky. It’s a PR program executed with greatest verve in tourist towns. Walking down Pattaya Beach Road, you’ll see signs for establishments such as The Charming Hotel, The Best Friend Beer Bar, The Happy Pub, The Good Time Café, and The Fun Shack. And when the proprietors run out of alluring synonyms, they embellish their signs with silhouettes of naked women that gotta make you smile.
Being somewhat surly by nature, I bucked the inducement to grin during my walk down the strip, only to be stopped several times by stunningly attractive girls, who took my arm and said, “Turn that frown upside down, handsome man. Do you need friend?” Had I been someone new to Thailand, the experience could have proved disorienting, but having lived in the country for some time now, I simply took it in stride and replied: Mai dee oh nee. Tee lahng bahng tee (Not now. Maybe later.).
When in a foreign city for the first time, I don’t like to bar hop a lot. I prefer to find a welcoming place and stay awhile; get to know the bartender(s), eavesdrop on the customers, and watch local life unfold. A large open-air bar in the center of the northern strip, simply called “Bar Beer,” seemed the perfect spot to settle in for a few hours.
Stopping on the sidewalk, I was greeted warmly by four pretty Thais in halter-tops and leather mini-skirts, and promptly ushered up the steps to a barstool. That I was attended to by all four was somewhat exceptional by Thai standards, but when I took note of the other customers it began to make sense. Anyone who weighed less than two hundred pounds, was under forty, and was reasonably attractive would clearly be viewed as a diamond in the rough. And under that generous rubric, I made the cut. My lovely greeters then circled around as I ordered a gin and tonic, waiting for me to select one to drink with. Their hopes though were dashed when I informed them that I already had a Thai girlfriend–one who was fond of knives and fits of jealousy. They sighed with disappointment, and sullenly returned to their positions in front of the bar.
Sipping on my drink, I noticed that most of the punters were playing games with their female companions. Several were carefully deconstructing Jenga buildings; a few were dropping chips into Connect 4; others were playing cards; and each man took turns at a dice game called JACKPOT that kept circling the bar. The reason soon became clear. It’s well known that when attending college, guys are skilled at turning any innocent game into a drinking game, but in Pattaya any game can be transformed into a sex game. Every time a Jenga collapsed or a “Rummy!” was yelled, free kisses and fondles were exchanged, discounts on blow jobs offered, or (if the man had lost) extra money added to the lady’s coffer. As for the dice game, the letters of the word “Jackpot” corresponded with the numbers 3-9. For 10 bhat, you could take a chance at rolling all these numbers in seven throws. If successful, you won the jackpot, which was a free “short time” with one of the gals. Hey, hey, turn that frown upside down, Joe.
People say that Pattaya Beach Road has a street life like no where else in the world, and it does. But the problem with this description is that it sort of implies that its something you ought to check out. And that just ain’t so. In the carnival of mirrors that is Pattaya, no one falls for the illusion harder than the Germans. They visit the city in greater numbers than any other nationality–a situation reflected in the large number of restaurants specializing in bratwurst, sauerkraut, and schnitzel. During my tenure at the beer bar, eyeing the street life, I was subjected to a steady procession of middle-aged Deutschlanders, beer bellies sagging over their Speedos, strutting like Baywatch lifeguards gone to seed, with a diminutive girl in tow. It is not a pretty sight.
Many people ask what Thai demimondaines have over the “working girls” of other countries, the qualities that have created Thailand’s unparalleled reputation for sex tourism. The reasons are undoubtedly many, but the two that resurface most frequently in my conversations with customers are personality and scale. Thai girls do love to laugh and have fun, and many men assert that purchasing a night with one is more like a date than a business arrangement. In fact, to nurture this fantasy, and old hand in Pattaya will never discuss money at all. He knows the going rates and just slips his lady friend some cash at the end of the date–as though he is being generous and doing the gal a favor. What a guy.
Secondly, Thai women are extremely petite. The country thus has become a virtual playground for the Humbert Humberts of the world, with Pattaya as its capital. Any gent who wishes to live out their Lolita fantasies can do so here without fear of retribution. It’s not that Thailand doesn’t actively enforce underage sex laws, but that it has an abundance of beautiful, available, women in their twenties and thirties who still have the frame and weight of the average fifteen year old Western girl. Welcome to the Grand Illusion boys.
As the sun sank toward the horizon, I decided to leave the beer bar to continue my walk down the strip. As I left, one of the greeters made a last ditch effort to capture my attention. Slipping her foot out of a sandel, she alluringly stretched it out and wriggled her toes at me. Of all the fetishes known to Pattaya, foot fetishes are the most popular. In fact, one punter at the beer bar (a fifty-something American) was seen prostrating himself to gleefully suck the toes of his “girlfriend,” each time he won their game of Connect 4. Ironically, this fetish is endlessly amusing to Thais, as they view the foot as the dirtiest, and least erotic, part of the body.
I passed on the offer to suckle a toe and crossed over to the sea side of Pattaya Beach Road. The tourism board’s description of Pattaya as a city of sandy beaches is somewhat of an exaggeration. Cross that out. It’s a helluva exaggeration. The “beach” is barely wide enough to walk on, much less frolic. All one sees when strolling down the footpath at the sand’s edge are an endless single-file row of multicolored umbrellas, rented by geriatric tourists who are served soda in plastic bags by local adolescents. There is actually so little sand that one doesn’t even get the smell of the beach. As for the sea, well no one in their right mind goes swimming in it, thanks to sewage run-off and garbage dumping. The city has built new water treatment plants to help tackle the problem, but it’s still not unusual for the rare, foolhardy, swimmer to exit the sea with plastic bags around his ankles.
Walking south along the footpath, I soon heard the unmistakable voice of Karen Carpenter floating in the distance: Loneliness…is such a sad affair…and I can hardly wait, to be with you again…Which could mean only one thing. A Filipino cover band was not far away. Though Thai bands do acceptable jobs at covering Western music, it’s the Filipino groups who truly excel at the profession. Hundreds are scattered across Thailand’s major cities, entertaining the locals and tourists. This particular one was playing in a garden restaurant on a stage surrounded by mango trees and tropical flora. After rushing across the street (yes, I have a soft spot for Karen Carpenter), I captured a lawn table in front of the lead singer to hear the end of “Superstar.” The menu on the table revealed a wide variety of Italian specialties, so I decided to take dinner there.
The next two hours consisted of fresh mozzarella and olives, fried sliced aubergines, linguini marinara, and a steady flow of Valpolicella. If you had closed your eyes, you would have sworn that Patsy Cline, Donna Summer, The Pointer Sisters, Roberta Flack, and Phoebe Snow were all there for your dining pleasure. The evening was passing so pleasantly that I thought of actually ending my night early, on a high note. But, being a tourist, I knew that I had to at least take a stroll down a few of Pattaya’s sois, where the real action takes place. I paid my bill and soldiered on.
Since I was near the central part of Pattaya Beach Road, where Western fast food restaurants materialize in disturbing numbers, I turned back toward BJ’s to investigate the life on the sois. As night gains ground in Pattaya, the working girls turn more aggressive and direct, worried that the day will end without a trick. The long lines of parked tourist buses provide good cover for sidewalk proposals. Within the span of thirty meters, I was offered the services of six different girls at rock bottom prices, repeatedly being assured that they did, indeed, love me “so much.”
After running the gauntlet of girls, a Thai boy asked if I liked to gamble. Ordinarily, I would have brushed the kid off, but the long day of drinking had caused me to drop my guard, and I said, “sure.” He ushered me into a vacant construction site where it appeared they were building a new hotel. After walking twenty feet, I had the sudden feeling that I was walking into a trap and would soon get rolled for my money and passport. But then I saw a circle of men and heard the unmistakable sounds of a cockfight. At that moment, my young usher returned to the road to recruit other punters. I stood motionless for a second. Something wasn’t quite right. The spectators at a cockfight are usually loud, cheering on the roosters and placing bets. These men were oddly silent. I then noticed that there were others inside the circle, on their knees, facing them. I advanced no closer. I knew that was one image I didn’t want burned on my retinas for years to come. Far away, I could hear the voice of a Filipina emulating perfectly that of Roberta Flack: At work I just take time, and all through the coffee break time…I say a little prayer for yooouu. Yes sir, I should have ended the night on a high note.
D.A. Blyler is the author of two published books of poetry, Shared Solitude and Diary of a Seducer. His prose works have been featured in such publications as Salon, Exquisite Corpse, Escape Artist Magazine, and Zuzu's Petals Quarterly. A former creative writing teacher at the University of West Bohemia, he will launch his debut novel Steffi's Club, an absinthe fueled saga of prostitution, crime, and romance in the Czech Republic, as an online serialization at Friction Magazine in the Fall. He now lives on a banana plantation in Thailand.