There’s something about the coolness of an early Bangkok morning, in January, which should be savored. It’s like a small oasis of respite away from the stifling heat and humidity which is encountered most of the time.
It was just after six am. I looked out over the balcony of the apartment and took in the quietness of the moment. The clear surface of the pool below was smooth and inviting. Ning, my girlfriend, placed a cup of hot filtered Lavazza on the table and then moved in behind me to massage my neck. I reached for my morning cup of ‘joe’ and smiled the smile of a contented man in Asia.
The apartment building was situated just off Sukhumvit Road and I’d been staying there, from time to time in between work commitments, over the past few months. Ning lived there full time. The monthly rent I paid worked out to be a lot cheaper than the cost of a few days in a reasonable standard Bangkok hotel. I provided her with a monthly stipend on the condition that, whenever I returned to Bangkok, the fridge was stocked with meat and beer. So far there hadn’t been any dissent with this arrangement.
I took a gulp of my Lavazza and reflected on a few things that I’d picked up about the residents of the apartment building, over the few months that I’d spent there, and wondered if the same stories were being replicated in dozens of other apartments across Bangkok.
Ning finished massaging my neck and went back inside to prepare a plate of sliced mango for me. In the room to the right of ours I heard the first stirrings of the couple that occupied it. The farang, an American chap, was another of the endless number of ‘Walter Mitty’ types that seem to be attracted to this city. He, and his Thai girlfriend, had been living here for more than three years. Most of the Thai ladies that occupied the apartment building were in complete contempt of this particular fellow because he was, according to them, a ‘falang keeneow mak maak’. During his time in residence the rumor bandied about was that he was a multi millionaire. Whether this was true or not was difficult to prove because he kept his cards close to his chest and rarely mingled with the other occupants. The fact that he hadn’t worked in all the time he’d been living here certainly added a bit of credence to the rumor. The thing that had got all the Thai ladies, residing here, hopping mad was that his girlfriend, a university educated lass, had left a good office job to be with him and, after putting up with being given one hundred and twenty baht per day to live on, for the past three years, was now selling som tam from a ‘chuck wagon’ somewhere down on Sukhumvit every day. Why she would continue to do that was certainly baffling. Ning set me straight by telling me that the Thai lady, in question, was holding out for the big pay day. I had a feeling she might be waiting for quite a while.
After polishing off the plate of sliced mango, I was still feeling hungry and decided that a decent breakfast would be in order. Unfortunately for me the restaurant, next to the pool, wasn’t going to open until eight am. The restaurant was another interesting tale of lies, deceit and stupidity. The farang that had bank rolled it, a decent sort of chap from the U.K., was an old Asia hand that should’ve known better.
After a good dozen years, or so, of supporting the children of a local hi-so lass, the penny finally dropped when the children’s Thai father started to appear on the scene more often than what would’ve been deemed reasonable to do so. Not to be deterred, our good hearted English chap, jumped straight into another relationship with a lady, of questionable background, from somewhere up north. Nit’s story was that, at the age of thirty seven, she’d been thrown out by her Thai husband and given five hundred baht for the bus ride to Bangkok. The sob stories they come up with never cease to amaze me. The real story is more likely to be the standard Thai cocktail of confusion and duplicity. Another thing that never fails to amaze me is why seemingly intelligent western blokes would ever believe any of that garbage.
Nit and her generous English chap were now happily married. Unfortunately, her demands for money have seen him head back home to work for a while in an effort to prop up the poor profit margin on their business venture. According to Ning, he may have to spend more time away working because Nit’s gambling debts, incurred over the past few nights, are heading into the multiples of Sen Baht. Knowing this gives weighting to the real reason why the ex Thai husband put her on the bus to Bangers in the first place.
Despite the confused behind the scenes machinations of the management, of the restaurant, it was the night time gathering point, and local watering hole, for most of the apartments’ residents. The majority of the farangs, residing at the apartment, were just your average type of bloke trying to make his way in the world. Most of them had a steady job, in Bangkok, and would regularly gather after work to down a couple of cold beers while discussing the nuances of life in Thailand. Last night, being a Saturday, was a bit of a rowdy affair, as it usually is, due to the fact that the football was on. I was down there for a couple of hours enjoying a few bevies, with some of the other occupants, when Joy had made her grand entrance and set tongues wagging again. Joy, originally from Laos, was a kept piece of pussy that lived her life between sunset and sunrise. Her most redeeming feature was her well endowed cleavage. Aside from her fit chassis, she was one of the most crass ‘working girls’ I’d ever set eyes on. The poor fool, back in the U.K., sponsoring her to the tune of seventy thousand Baht a month, obviously saw something beyond her tattooed limbs; the tobacco induced rasping voice; her penchant for using four letter words as consistently as an NCO and the ability to consume large quantities of hard liquor. Even so, despite the hard and fast nocturnal life she lived, she still possessed one of the best looking bodies I, and most of the blokes at the apartment, had seen in the LOS. Joy enjoyed being the center of attention and last night was certainly no exception. She’d turned up at around nine pm with her latest farang toy boy in tow.
Ning had taken an instant dislike to her because Joy, in her estimation, was ‘big action’. I was fairly certain, however, that Ning’s dislike of Joy had more to do with the fact that, until Joy arrived on the scene, Ning was considered the queen bee in the beauty pecking order at the apartment building. Ning now had a competitor to her position and, as such, was engaged in a daily war of one upmanship with Joy. If anyone thinks that what they see on Thai TV soapies doesn’t mirror what’s actually happening on the ground, then you need to pay closer attention. Beauty and the pecking order of beauty, in any community in Thailand, is serious business. The only thing that’s given a higher rating of importance is eating. Even though a short lived truce can be declared, while sharing a large helping of som tam boo pla raa, the protagonists will still be conscious that others will be watching to see who gains more face while seated together at the same table.
In this regard Ning had gained the upper hand two days ago by paying, in advance, for the mid afternoon smorgasbord of spicy Isaan food that Joy, and a couple of other ladies from the apartment building, had been invited to share. To compound Joy’s relegation to second place, Ning turned up, a few minutes after Joy and the others had started tucking in, wearing some seriously large chunks of gold around her wrist and neck. The praise and admiration, Ning had received from the other girls, made Joy’s discomfort more complete. In keeping with the norms of the unwritten Thai code of always showing coolness and good manners (Suparp), Joy tempered her negative feelings towards Ning with false smiles and the occasional little snipe.
Ning, in true ‘working girl’ tradition, was an opportunist. When someone, usually a wealthy farang, offers to buy something expensive – you know the rest of the story. When she’d first shown me the necklace and bracelet I’d queried her ability to be able to purchase that amount of gold – about ten baht in weight. (The Thai weighting system for gold is Baht – not the local currency – and one Troy ounce is about equal to two Baht of gold). Her answer was that, in the not too distant past, a previous farang boyfriend had purchased it for her (it was valued at about 150 k Baht at the time of purchase). Not only that, this incredibly generous fellow had also purchased a 3 million Baht house for her, over in Pattaya, for which she now received 15000 Baht a month in rental income. I’d reassured Ning that she really didn’t have anything to worry about; that she was, by Thai standards, financially independent and Joy wasn’t even in the same league as her.
She was placated but not entirely. Her rivalry with Joy had taken on more of a personal tone after she’d seen me talking with Joy, down at the poolside, a few mornings previous. It didn’t matter that I’d just finished grinding out a few laps and, after leaving the pool, had engaged Joy in a very brief morning greeting while toweling myself off. The fact that Ning had spotted us talking together was enough to raise the venom stakes. Ning’s jealous petulance, when I arrived back in the room, was something I told her was out of order and unwarranted. The thing was though, her concerns weren’t completely unjustified. Joy had already managed to put the cat among the pigeons, with a lot the other Thai ladies living at the apartment, by allegedly shagging one of the boyfriends’ residing here. Nothing could be proven of course but the story was that, while the chap in questions’ girlfriend had gone north for a few days to visit the family, he’d had a big night out down at Cowboy and come home with Joy.
I looked back into our studio and noticed Dao’s unpacked bags still sitting on the sofa. Dao was one of Ning’s old ‘working’ buddies. She’d arrived in town last night, having been away working in Australia for the past few months, and was now going to paint the town red. The nine hour flight, from Sydney, hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm to get out to some of her old haunts and meet some young farangs. She’d dropped her bags at the apartment, put on the clubbing gear and war paint, and strode out into the night. After she’d gone, Ning informed me that Dao’s mission was to fuck as many young farangs as she could in the next three weeks. I wondered what Dao’s husband, still in Australia, would make of this enlightening bit of information. Indeed. After going through the full western marriage thing with Dao, back in Australia, I wondered what he’d make of the news that Dao’s real stated intention, for going there, was to work for five years, get an Australian passport and then ditch him.
I nodded towards the bags. Ning just shrugged and said that Dao was probably asleep in Meow’s room upstairs. Meow was another old ‘working’ buddy, of Dao, and also a very enthusiastic clubber. Although in her early thirties, and a bit past her prime, Meow was another kept piece of pussy that frequented the Bangkok night club scene on a regular basis. Her mission in life was also to bang as many young farangs in as short as time as possible. Meow’s keeper, a young Australian chap, was currently back home and working hard to provide a reasonable lifestyle for her. No doubt, blissfully unaware of her night time adventures.
My early morning contemplation was interrupted by the reverberation of a slamming door and the echoes of Thai voices yelling at each other along the apartments’ internal walkway. I looked at Ning. She just casually shrugged again and said ‘Lela’. The story of Lela was another confused web of lies and duplicity. Lela was walking proof that, when it comes to bar girls at least, ‘sponsorship doesn’t work’. According to Ning the monthly retainer that Lela received, from her boyfriend back in the U.K., was something similar to that which Joy received. Lela didn’t work. In fact, she did very little at all except sleep most of the day and hang out at late night karaoke bars. Her monthly retainer was used to entertain, and keep, a steady stream of Thai boyfriends. The latest one of which she was now engaged with in a heated dispute. Ning advised me that it would be about money. It was nearly the end of the month and Lela’s resources would be finished. Ning new the routine well; a few days before the end of each month Lela normally approached her for a loan. The other part of the routine was that the Thai boyfriend, of the current month, would look for greener pastures when the money for whiskey, and other mind altering substances, ran out. This suited Lela though because she had a rich Japanese gik who, when the coast was clear, would be back on Lela’s doorstep to help her through the last financially challenging days of each month.
The sun was inching its way higher into the sky and beginning to evaporate the coolness of the morning. As Ning placed another cup of coffee in front of me I looked out across the skyline of Bangkok. There were lots of other apartment buildings in the process of being built.