The Cool Season
It’s the cool season in Bangkok. I know that because bargirls are shivering outside the bars as well as in. It’s about twenty four degrees centigrade and they’ve got goose bumps. My first night back in Bangkok and I’m welcomed with open legs as always at my favourite little bar on Soi Cowboy. Five girls bundle me into the soft seats at the far end where I drown in a sea of female flesh. Some of these girls I’ve known for years. I’ve tried to cut it down to two, maybe three girls, but it’s always five. If one isn’t there, for whatever reason, another one takes her place. Colas and Tequilas keep on coming for them. Beers keep coming for me, Sometimes I’m told they’re free. The boss loves me. Why wouldn’t he? I spend a fortune in there. It’s so good to be back.
After the near death experience of crossing the road at Asoke Junction I’m walking that stretch of Sukhumvit where you couldn’t feel more alive. Just breathing in that night-time atmosphere up to Nana. I want to feel it coursing through my veins once again. I meet Sai around midnight. A swarthy looking Mediterranean type takes to the dance floor with his tilac at Bamboo Bar on Soi 3. It’s a quiet night. The peak of his white baseball cap frames his fleshy face as he oozes across the floor in a tight white singlet. What appears to be a shuttlecock down the front of his tight white trousers is a horribly
mesmerising sight. Sai jabs me in the ribs, “What you look?” She asks accusingly, thinking I’m looking at the girl who, of course, is all strappy heels and gorgeous. But this guy loves himself more than any p4p girl. I’ve no doubt that he thinks she should be paying him. By the time he discovers his reflection in the glass at the back of the stage the girl is just about out of the picture.
It’s the cool season in Bangkok. I know that because I’m strolling along Soi 11 without breaking sweat to meet Jan for some afternoon delight at The Playboy Hotel. I like Jan. I call her up, “What are you doing now, Jan?” I ask hopefully.
“I wait you,” she replies with a giggle.
Within half an hour she arrives on the back of a motorbike from Din Daeng. An afternoon with Jan. That thought gets me through many a day at work back home. And now here she is all small, even smaller now she’s removed her shoes, and brown and beautiful and mine. I notice some strangely touching words written by Billy Joel, of all people, on the shower cap packaging that she’s just ripped
I can take to the skies.
I can soar like a bird with his heart full of song.
Won’t you colour my eyes.
I’ve been waiting so long
Somehow they catch the moment (though slightly mis-printed). I want to tell Jan that this is how I feel towards her right now but the words would have been lost. In the soapy paradise that she leads me to words aren’t needed anyway.
I have a framed photograph of Wan on my wall at home. It captures her perfectly. With dark eyes narrowed against a low sun that danced on the Chao Phraya she looks directly into the lens with a big bright smile. She’s just taken a bite on a piece of jackfruit, her skin is glowing. Times must have been
good when the picture was taken all those years ago. She wears a big chunky gold necklace with a Buddha amulet encased in more gold. On her wrist is a substantial looking bracelet. Like many girls if she has money she buys gold. As always when hard times inevitably come around again the gold finds its way, piece by piece, to the nearest pawn shop. She always says that if it was money in the bank she’d spend it. Tied up as gold its not as tempting.
Although I met her in The Thermae even then she was only on the fringes of the p4p scene, Wan is as sharp as they come. Streetwise yes, but not in the way that some hard faced girls have of nailing you with a smile while their eyes look over your shoulder for the chance of bigger fish to fry. With Wan there was often some kind of scam that she’d be quietly involved in rather than working the bars. Nothing bad, nothing where people were going to get hurt, but usually something just on the wrong side of the law all the same. The most successful for a while involved the Telephone Authority of Thailand (TAT). From what I could figure out someone on the inside, at TAT, would sell certain numbers to someone on the outside. Wan, who had a special type of phone for this operation, would then pay a middleman B3000 to have the number plumbed into her phone from his. I went with her once to The World Trade Centre where a meet had been arranged with some dodgy Chinese character who sold Wan the number. He eyed me suspiciously. It only took a few seconds. Wan handed me the
phone to test and slipped him B3000. I called home for free. She rented an apartment in Bang Rak that housed, at the time, many Nigerians. By undercutting the official phone rate by B5 per minute for international calls there were Africans queuing up till all hours waiting to call home and arrange their own shady deals. Don’t tell me they were all there on holiday. Once she had recovered the B3000 she’d paid out the rest was profit, that’s when she’d often call me at home in the UK to tell me how things were going. The only problem was that there was no way of telling how long the number she had would last before it was cut off by TAT. For a few short months she made some serious money. Enough to buy gold, of course, and enough to build on to the family home in Si Saket for her alcoholic mother and two kids. She showed me the photos. But, over time, too many people got in on the scam. The number would be cut off before she made the B3000 back. TAT even called my home in London to ask if I had been receiving calls from Thailand. All knowledge was denied. The game was pretty much up by then anyway.
In another piece of good fortune for Wan she married an old Swedish guy who was not in the best of health. It wasn’t for love, at least not for her. “Him same like Papa for me,” she would say. Her future, and the future of her kids, were what mattered. I don’t know what he was getting from it. Three or four times she went to stay in Sweden for several months at a time. She would call me from a cold and snowy Stockholm wishing she was back home in Thailand. On a couple of occasions she managed to get to Denmark on the pretence of meeting an old friend who had married a Dane. I flew in from London and we had a couple of wonderful long weekends together in Copenhagen. On bright sunny days in spring we saw the sights. We walked hand in hand through flower strewn parks, lost in our own Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Bells rang out across the city on Sunday mornings as we looked out over red tiled rooftops from The Round Tower at countless church spires and domed cathedrals. It was beautiful. In the evenings we drank till late at candlelit tables in a local pub. As though shackles had been removed Wan would dance just for me as the music played. Every bloke in the place must have stole a glance when she did this. It was good to see her smile. I got the impression it had been awhile since she had. Arm in arm we would huddle against a chilly wind wandering the night-time streets back to our hotel. Snuggled under a warm duvet with her there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be at the time, not even Bangkok. The marriage faded soon after the old boy moved to Bangkok. After deciding that this was not what he wanted he went back to Sweden alone, but not before Wan had secured a piece of farmland out in Si Saket. “Name him not on paper,” she whispered as if unable to believe her luck while she showed me the deeds to the land in The Londoner Pub on Soi 33.
It’s the cool season in Bangkok. I know that because soi dogs are wearing T-shirts. Always a pleasing sight. On my way to Country Road that used to be on Soi 19 I’m running late. Wan calls, “Where you now?” She asks. I tell her, “Two minutes,” and ask, “Is it busy?” “No not busy, but have many people,” she replies. We meet upstairs overlooking the dance floor and the band. We play pool, Wan dances around the table. We drink and chat and laugh. We look on amused at the dance floor below. A shapeless wiry haired Farang girl dances alone. Her strange jerky movements make her look like a demented ostrich. Old Farang men, who should know better, shuffle around with girls more than half their age. I ask Wan, “If I get old can I live with you on your farm?” Her dark eyes hold my gaze, “Okay,” she replies softly.
“And you’ll take care of me?”
“Mai mee pan ha” she assures and squeezes my hand.
It’s my last night in Bangkok and I’m welcomed in the usual way at my favourite little bar on Soi Cowboy. Three of my regular girls have gone home for the New Year yet five of them pin me down all the same. They all seem to know my name. Years ago I told a story in there of my backpacking days when, after a few beers, I went back to my cheap little room in Banglumpoo. Feeling good I did
something that every bloke has done at some stage when left alone. While getting undressed I kicked off my underpants with the intention of catching them on my head. Forgetting about the overhead fan they got caught up in the blades. The whole unit began to shudder as it swung from side to side and
started to pull away from the ceiling. I cowered in the corner with visions of Black Hawk Down as the rotors cut the air at dangerous angles. “How did he die?” they would ask.
“Well, somehow his underpants became entangled in the ceiling fan, which then
decapitated him,” would be the puzzled reply.
Certainly a more memorable death than the usual overdose or the ever popular leap of faith. Luckily before the whole thing collapsed my pants hit the wall with a splat and things calmed down. For some reason the girls I told the story to have always remembered it and passed it on to others. Even now they still bring it up on a regular basis. Colas and Tequilas keep on coming for them. Beers keep coming for me, sometimes I’m told they’re free. Slumped, dishevelled, happy, sad that I’ve got to return home. I pay my bill. Someone tells the boss that I’m leaving. He comes over just as one of the girls is stuffing her knickers into my shirt pocket. “Him very good man,” she tells him as he shakes my hand. He loves me. Why wouldn’t he? I spend a fortune in there.