I have been in Thailand for eight days, and throughout the extended week I have gained a wealth of knowledge about this foreign state through an array of experiences. I spent many nights enjoying the eventful to borderline ludicrous nightlife Bangkok has to offer, and recovered sleeping through the heavy heat in essentially equipped air-conditioned hotels. I ventured to a lesser-visited island, Koh Chang via VIP Bus – the Thai bus service equivalent to economy class. I narrowly dodged the Mini-Bus bullet, a means of transportation that has earned a reputation for allegedly robbing its commuters with sleeping gas and children hiding with the luggage. I have learned the ropes of bartering, and picked up enough of the Thai language to ask the essential questions should the rare occasion occur that no one around speaks English – which earlier aided in my narrow escape of a $250 fine for littering by men in miscellaneous uniforms who threw the torn up ticket in the street. I have also met my share of Thai girls. There have been the extremes of assaulting prostitutes and friendly bystanders offering directions, and there was the twenty-one year old dance instructor who expressed her aching desire to live with me in New York City. None of these vital experiences meant anything when I stepped through the doors of the club Hollywood.
That evening I met up with 7 friends who just arrived in Thailand; six American college students I met while studying in Perth, Australia, and Paul, our Australian Education Abroad advisor. He has experienced the Thailand nightlife on his five previous trips and tonight chose to head home early, but not before introducing us to an ex-student of his – Jay – who in turn introduced us to Hollywood. The cover charge for eight Westerners entering their club was the purchase of two bottles of Johnny Walker Black at 1500 Baht each – approximately $37.50 – the most inflated prices I found in Asia.
We went through those bottles fast, which may or may not have influenced Paul’s early departure. I’d like to attribute our intense whisky consumption to my friends’ eagerness to get wasted in a new country, however just as much credit goes to the employees of the club. In their formal serving attire, they surrounded our party, waiting for their moment to shine. That moment came when a drink was less than half full. They would then take it upon themselves to mix you another full drink. Their close monitoring of our remaining mixers meant whenever it appeared we only had enough for perhaps a dozen more drinks, they would bring a fleet of varying sodas to the table. Because Jay and I were the most desensitized to our surroundings, we took care of the first couple bills for mixers – which inevitably meant we received most of the bills throughout the night.
The ornate décor of the building was surprisingly impressive. The stage spanned half the width of the room on the far wall, and a walkway extended out to the center of the club. One full story above us balconies lined the walls perpendicular to the main stage, running parallel with the walkway. As the performances began, these balconies were lined with dancers in skimpy outfits, who rarely left their positions except to dance on the main stage. The opening performance by one of three headline singers was Eminem’s “Let’s Get Down to Business.” Throughout the evening they varied between American and Thai hits. The bathrooms – titled ‘Actors’ and ‘Actresses’ combined both the fantasy motif of partying in the entertainment capital of the world with the hands on service of the wait staff. After you take care of your business the bathroom staff provide a standing Thai massage while you wash your hands, offering both warm and dry towels, and are insistent on tips. When the first of us came across this spectacle and reported it to Jay, he said that in many of these posh clubs they even massage you while you stand at the urinal.
It doesn’t take long to realize we are the only Westerners in the club, or that we’re dancing harder than everyone. It takes even less time to order our third and fourth bottles of whisky while half the group has spread to the surrounding tables of Thai girls. The term ‘surrounding’ is an overstatement – the tables are so close, if you sit at a stool it is hard to determine which table you are a part of.
I got to know Jay while we watched my boys in action. With the theme of our conversation as obvious as our American counterparts’ pick up attempts, we discussed the culture of Thai women. In traditional culture if you sleep with a Thai girl while dating, it is considered a very serious commitment with potential implications of marriage. But nowadays, Jay says many Thai women live much more open-minded lifestyles, and do date in a more Western fashion. Jay’s girlfriend is one example of this cultural liberalization.
As bottle number three falls victim to American alcoholism, the mental line between the obvious respect for a different culture and the assumption that most girls in a club called Hollywood are the more contemporary breed Jay speaks of – blurs. As do most objects passing in front of my face in a more than relaxed pace. Joe gracefully excuses himself from the group of girls he was flirting with and wraps his arm around my shoulders to verbally and physically express his delight at the array of beautiful clubbers. Joe is the man on the fishing dock who laughs at the other fishers complaining about nothing biting, while he directs his U-haul full of ice into position to load his catches. It is during this playfully profane conversation we both notice the proverbial beautiful four foot bass swimming with the comparatively sexually unappealing trout. Right in front of us stands a beautiful Thai girl – the first word that comes to mind is voluptuous – who likes to be called Britney Spears. Her real name is Tet as I am soon to learn, but asking me to call her Britney Spears was her playful way to say she didn’t give a shit about our inability to communicate verbally. After that first recognition, Joe had set his sights. I sat back as he pursued his newfound goal, and repeatedly got show down. When he gave up and moved on, I subtlety worked my way into a position to let my intoxication take the reigns on making a move.
As I rocked out on my personal dance floor between the tables, Britney sat blatantly watching me. I introduced myself, and tried to spark conversation, but we struggled to communicate. I am not typically aggressive with women; my general theory is if they are interested they will show interest. And if they would prefer to play games, I’d rather buy them monopoly than a drink. My instinct with Britney was that she wanted the travel version. As I continued to dance and invite her to join me, she would dance for a few seconds and then sit back down. She would escalate her subtle hints to eventually dance close to me, progressing further to hold my hand, only to push me away harder than before and return to her previous voyeuristic position. Her dark penetrating eyes feigned being completely unreadable, yet obviously deceptive. Sobriety was nowhere to be found. My thoughts rolled around in an out-of-control hamster ball. I despised the game she was playing and simultaneously credited my response to cultural misunderstanding; my concern for her family maintaining a conservative value system was discounted by her accentuated cleavage and fiery gaze.
Although her routine continued, like a hippie settling into a pharmaceutical bender, she gradually acclimated to her situation. She would hold my hand even when she was sitting and dance up against me for extended periods. She more confidently gripped my hand in her seat, and pulled me close. She reserved pushing me away for the moments when she would lean in close as if for a kiss, only to separate us as I attempted to reciprocate. Our physical communication expressed a desire to continue enjoying each others company, and I decided what I saw as playing hard to get was a cute cultural characteristic – not the repulsive American-perfected attempt to feign disinterest in order to disguise desperation and imply one’s high standards – and thus worth pursuing further.
Our newfound camaraderie led to Britney’s playful stealing of one of my bracelets to wear and an introduction to her sister, whom my friend Trip promptly took a liking to. As two American friends joked with each other while dancing with a pair of Thai sisters, I finally allowed myself to accept this situation at face value and to stop overanalyzing everything. Britney responded to my thoughts by offering a toast – with my drink – for only me to drink. She handed over my glass and flashed the international symbol for chug. I downed the four gulps of my whisky and coke, only to have her grab our bottle of whisky and pour an equally large drink of straight liquor. She handed it to me, repeated her previous gesture, and I took down the whisky in the style of a boyfriend winning his girl the big teddy bear at the local fair. Only this carnival game’s victory included an intense blast to an already overwhelmed brain and a momentary flash of white across my line of vision; my body’s hint that I was approaching my final memories of the evening.
Britney responded in excitement to her imaginary teddy bear, and the next thing I knew she took my right hand in hers, turned away and began sensually grinding up against me. She then firmly placed my right hand on her chest, fastening our bodies together. In this surprising turn of events, my response was anything but expected. For reasons of which I am unsure – perhaps in my approaching blackout I was merely securing my possessions . . . or maybe I was second guessing my acceptance at face value of the situation without telling myself . . . or maybe I just acted on instinct – at that moment with my right hand on this girl’s chest my left hand dove into the baggy front left pocket of my shorts. My hand was met by another hand. Confident of the location of my right, it didn’t take long to realize that it was Britney’s – and that she was holding my cell phone and credit hard. I gripped my belongings and was met with no resistance. She slowly removed her hand from my pocket and unlocked our bodies from one another. Not dancing, facing away from me, she just stood there.
As I slowly processed this information, I thought of my Israeli friend Noam. He was a soldier in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and offered me a place to stay for a couple days with his family while I traveled his country. Right before I left, he gave me a bracelet of his because he thought it fit my style. A year later I still wear that bracelet every day, and am now currently staring at it on Britney’s arm. Noam was a ladies man and a special unit intelligence officer and would never have been lured into such a situation. And he definitely wouldn’t have let this girl steal his bracelet. As I firmly gripped her wrist I was again met with no resistance. I removed the bracelet and put it back on my wrist. I then turned to Joe, who was happily bopping to the music and watching the dancers. I yelled, “Hey Joe, this girl just tried to rob me!”
“This girl just tried to rob me!”
“No shit. Well then lets get out of here!”
With that, we rounded up our friends and promptly left the club. Realizing we left a man behind who had apparently blended into his table of Thai girls well enough to hide from our quick retreat, Trip offered to get him and stumbled back through security’s pat down, hands in the air as if his roller coaster was about to take the plunge. With all in tow, we crammed into a cab to make our way to the hotel. Having lost all trust of the Thai population for the rest of my concluding evening, I consistently whispered to Trip in shotgun through our unnecessarily loud drunken conversing, “Tell him Khao San Road!” to make sure the driver was bringing us straight home and not trying to rip us off. Trip responded by aimlessly shouting the destination we had already told the driver half a dozen times, with a pronunciation record of roughly sixty percent.
We got dropped off a few blocks from the hotel so I could point out some quick sights as we walked home, and explain my story to the guys as they inquired as to why I left without the gorgeous girl I spent my night dancing with.
I was right about one thing; it did turn out to be a cultural characteristic, or at least a disguise – she was actually playing American because she thought that was what I wanted, and that was exactly what I didn’t want, which is what made me want her. Maybe this all implies that this is what I want, and I just don’t like to give girls satisfaction that what they’re doing works.
At least there are two accurate conclusions to be made; I have no idea what I want, and I drink far too much whisky. This evening was a perfect way to conclude my solo eight day run in Thailand as our group prepares to spend the next 4 nights in northern Thailand hiking around and sleeping in the hill tribes. Hiking through villages of 200 people in a culture completely devoid of modern luxuries such as mattresses and toilet paper will be a much-needed break from, if nothing else, whisky.