If I were to see a portly Thai in England, I would not dream of running over, poking him or her in the stomach and saying: “You’re a fat bastard.” So why is the reverse acceptable in the Land of Smiles?
It has to be said that I am not the man I once was. I look at my wedding photographs of 20 years ago and see a handsome man. Now I look in the mirror and see a fat, bald 50-year-old who drinks too much. The march of time is relentless and unforgiving.
The great thing about living in Bangkok is that, provided your wallet is reasonably stocked and you are not visibly insane or incontinent, you are Robert Redford, despite your age or appearance. The only difference is that you have greater access to gorgeous women than Robert Redford. Welcome to paradise.
In this upside-down world, stunning women chase extremely unattractive white men, some of whom are so revolting that I really do feel like Robert Redford in comparison.
But the hunters have some unusual chat-up lines. “You pompooey (fat),” is the usual observation of 25-year-old Isaan supermodels desperate to get me into bed. A slight variation is the ultimate in backhanded compliments: “I like pompooey.” The conversation generally then moves on to how bald and old I am, not to mention “kee neeow” (it means tight-fisted but literally translates as “sticky shit”, meaning your money sticks to your hands) after only buying them three 150-baht Bacardi breezers in half an hour. It is a good job I have the sensitivity of Mike Tyson in a bad mood.
Having softened me up with such sweet words, the hunter then moves in on its prey with the words: “You pay bar me?” Sometimes I agree. After all, I don’t know when I am next going to meet a woman who likes fat, bald, old, deep-pocketed farangs.
I actually enjoy this slightly childish banter and even the very personal enquiries about my finances, the reasons behind my divorce and even how often I have sex. Thai people, not just bargirls, are much less reticent than Westerners about asking for intimate details of people they have known for only a few minutes. But not everyone sees the funny side.
Some years ago, I was sitting in the Golden Bar outside the Nana Hotel. It is a great place to observe the lunacy going on over the road around Nana Plaza. I was chatting to an American at the side of the bar nearest the road when an elephant approached us. It had a harmonica in its mouth and proceeded to play “When the saints go marching in” without a note out of place. That scale of surrealism only happens in
Anyway, back to the American. He was stick-thin. In fact, he was so thin and wasted-looking that I thought he must be terminally ill. Suddenly a bargirl appeared from nowhere. She poked me in the stomach and said “You have baby” before doing the same to the American and saying “You have HIV”. The bloke went ballistic. He screamed at the girl, paid his bill and stormed off. Perhaps he did have HIV.
An English friend and his wife had their first holiday in Thailand last year. They stayed at an upmarket hotel in Cha Am. As they were collecting their key at reception one evening, the receptionist said to Tony: “How is your baby?”
“What do you mean? We don’t have a baby,” he replied, perplexed.
Giggling, the receptionist pointed at his admittedly impressive beer gut. Unaware of how pompooeyness is a huge joke in Thailand, he went crazy and demanded to see the hotel manager. Peace was only restored when the receptionist was disciplined and a bottle of wine was sent to his room as compensation.
The odd thing about the whole pompooey issue is that Thai girls hate it when you turn it on them. Most are convinced they are morbidly obese even when they barely tip the scales at 40 kilograms.
I used to have a girlfriend in Koh Samui who would hold a cushion over her stomach at her bar so that people could not see her fat belly. This was ridiculous. If anything, Wan was underweight, but nothing could convince her that she was not plump and unattractive.
One night we were at her bar when a farangette waddled past who was so fat that she must have been American. She was living confirmation of the power of McDonald’s advertising. “You same same farang lady,” I quipped to Wan. OK, it was hardly wit of Oscar Wilde proportions, but it amused me at the time.
Nothing could have prepared me for her reaction. She started wailing and sobbing about how she knew I was telling the truth and that she would never be able to find a husband unless she lost a lot of weight. It was unbelievable.
I had dug a hole and kept digging. “Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I like pompooey.”