Sunday, August 02, 2009
Visitors to Soi Twilight
from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2008)
In Tokyo you can ride the train all day wearing a Santa hat and no one will even smile. The other extreme is Bangkok and what happens if you show up in Patpong wearing a Superman t-shirt.
"Superman!" shout a bevy of girls in white bikinis from the doorway. They catch my arm as I walk past, their shapely strong hands studded with kryptonite nails. I smile apologetically and extricate myself. "Sorry!" I mumble. "I'm gay."
And, in unison, the girls scream, "SUPERMAN IS GAY!"
The boys in Soi Twilight don't take it any more calmly. Hey, Superman! Yoo-hoo, Superman, over here! Rescue me Superman!
One confident lad reckons I belong to him. "Superman?" he asks, then beams, and aims a thumb at himself. "Superboy!"
Ordinarily, of course, I prefer to keep a low profile. I sit at Dick's Cafe and people-watch and keep an eye out just in case, you know, somebody needs to be rescued.
You may or may not consider the activities of Soi Twilight morally reprehensible--a dozen bars with fucking shows and young men with numbers on their underpants--but it has got to be one of the best places to people-watch in the universe.
I notice first the thirty-somethings, out on a lark with a gang of friends, off to see the fucking shows. Few of them are buying boys--or if they are they'll come back later, alone. We are the well-to-do white promiscuous horde. We've done everything else, we might as well do this too. In this group I place myself.
The first time I ever went to Soi Twilight was in the company of an Englishman named William, an admirably funny and compassionate sleazebag. He noted that in Soi Twilight there are those who stroll, laughing, smiling and looking around, and then there are the "businessmen" who walk as quickly as possible, eyes straight ahead, jaw clenched and William mimicked their internal dialogue in a quick peevish whisper: "I'm here on business, yes, very important business." As if the Swiss Embassy was at the other end of the alley and they simply had no choice but to walk down it.
When in fact what's at the end of the alley is a bar where boys swim buck naked in fish tanks.
"Very important business!" hissed William. "Highly confidential international business. I've got very pressing top-secret big business in my pants, in my pants, in my pants!"
Other visitors: there are the standard decent tourists and those who wish to appear as such. They've seen the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha, the Amulet Market, and now they must visit the alley of men for sale. Just for, you know, well-roundedness.
Particularly satisfying are the gleeful wives dragging reluctant husbands who have just this moment learned something new about the woman they married, as in: "I just sat through the Ping Pong show, buster, and now you are going to watch Men Get Fucked!"
There are packs of straight men who come to joke and mock and in every group of them there is one man shot through with undisguisable yearning. We'll be seeing him later.
Once I even saw a family, Scandinavian I think, who walked through holding hands with their young son and daughter. I had to get off my bar stool and peer down the street after them.
Now, I'm sure this doesn't happen every time, but this family moved inside a cloud of pacification. As they neared each bar the barkers, boys and doormen stopped shouting and hassling and stood smiling, as amiable and harmless as Disney characters, little white underpants not withstanding.
And now we come down to business. The preceding groups do not contribute much money to the soi. Money comes from men who are—I could say old. Most of them are old. I could say fat. Many of them are fat. Certainly I could say scowling. Their faces are remarkably sour. But this is not enough.
Watching them my mood turns. I am repulsed.
They have shrill voices, poor posture, comb-overs. Skin conditions. It is not enough, clearly, to be only old, or just fat. To only have just an unpleasant personality, or just bad teeth. These men are accidents involving multiple vehicles. These men are paying for sex. Certainly they will not be having it for free.
How effortless it is to condemn them, these nasty old queens, to go on condemning them—as I pray never to pile up enough negatives to be one of them—and meanwhile I condemn them, as I imagine they have been condemned all their lives.
(Because time is less an issue here than is generally supposed. I am confident that many repugnant old men were recently repugnant young men. They simply got tired of waiting and decided to go shopping instead.)
Among all of us who condemn them, I would like to call a meeting. I am calling for a meeting and asking for volunteers. Since buying sex is wrong, I would like to see a show of hands--
Who is willing to love them for free?
Who'll volunteer? To love for free?
Hey, Superman, will you?
(March 16, 2008. Bangkok, Thailand)