Thursday, June 28, 2012

Perils of the Free Zone

from Idleness, Bangkok section


Chai Pinit, whose life story of sexual abuse and deep suffering is portrayed in the book Bangkok Boy, now works as a manager at the Scorpion bar in Soi Twilight, where he serves also as the bar’s chief offering and display.

Chai Pinit is in his mid-forties now.  He still has a jaunty haircut and does one-armed push-ups.  He wears eight Buddhas around his neck, each in its own plastic case.

His nose is obliterated, his eyes are slits, and he remains somehow adorable -- perhaps by sheer force of will -- which suggests to me that, contrary to what you have heard, beauty is maybe the most durable thing in the world.

Chai Pinit immediately offers to be my boyfriend.


Chai Pinit is, above all, a businessman.  Or aims to be. 

“I got to make some money.  Everybody they know my book.  I could get a bar – Official Bangkok Boy – or a disco!  He opens his notebook, shows me a plan for the sandwich board he wants to put out front, which will read:

Bangkok Boy!
Buy his book!
Meet him here!

I want to buy his book from him – but he charges double what it costs in the store.  Instead I buy him a drink when he asks – and hope to god it’s a virgin cocktail, as the doctors have said his next bender will kill him.

It seems unfortunate that he works in a bar.

Chai Pinit puts his arms around my neck and offers to show me the sights and the shows.  He promises he can find me a very nice boy. 

Chai Pinit is wholly uninterested in starring in the tale of his own redemption.  He wants cash.

Who blames him? 


Depravity in a monastic setting – that’s Bangkok’s Malaysia Hotel.  Like a cheerful hospital room, suitable for bodily emergencies.

This, too, is compassion: the intelligence which recognizes that this is no place for a carpet.


I have always esteemed the tenderness of bathhouse doormen.  The unexpectedly gentle smile on the face of the man who greets you as you slouch in from the street, and smiles again, at the end of the night, when you pass him the keys and stagger back out to the street.

It is the same reverence I feel toward the staff at the Malaysia Hotel, who cheerfully do a job that would make most people stark raving mad, and treat us all like ladies, ladyboys and gentlemen, as we proceed from one mess to the next.

Bless them, they speak to us with tenderness and respect – though they know well what the laundry looks like.


Who am I kidding?  Not just the laundry.  Also the walls, the floors, and not infrequently the ceiling, or even the halls, which are popular, from time to time, for naked screaming relays.


In the locker room at Babylon, I meet the giant.  He’s all finished, and now is getting dressed.

“How was it?”

“Pretty quiet.  One hairy Pakistani.  One Brazilian.”

“I’m glad you’re leaving.  We’re competing for the same audience.”

He grins, then taunts, “I got the Brazilian’s number too.”

I glare – but just then the Brazilian stops by for one last kiss.

Now – it is well-known that fully 80% of Brazil is porn! star! hot!  But this guy – he’s from the other 20%.  Not that he’s so bad, mind you.  It’s just that I get my hopes up when I hear Brazil.

I always think that I would do so much better, if I were a giant.


I have always thought it useful and important that there exist “free zones”, where people can go to do as they choose.  That cabin in the woods.  The house where the Mom lets the kids smoke pot.  The home of your courageously sleazy friend.  Montreal, Amsterdam, Bangkok.  It is instructive to see what happens.

How is anyone supposed to learn about the nature of desire – if desire is not, from time to time, fulfilled?

The free zone – ideally everyone would have a turn.  Which is, of course, not remotely what happens. 

In a just world the cleaning ladies would be queens on Tuesdays and ride the sex tourists like burros, up and down the halls of the Malaysia Hotel.


I should note, too, that I think it would be extremely challenging to live in a free zone – but then, self-control is not necessarily my forte.


Walking around Patpong Night Market, trying to choose exactly the right t-shirt to wear home for the next family gathering.

My choices include:

a)      No Money No Honey

b)      Clockwork Orange

c)      Little Miss Bossy

d)      I Was a Mistake


I have warned my husband it is inevitable.  It is as certain as death and, however regrettable and embarrassing it may be, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it.

One day at home in Tokyo, at tea with respectable people, perhaps while spooning clotted cream onto a jam-smeared scone, one of those estimable high quality first-class gentlepersons is going to say, “I just don’t know how people do it – sell their bodies” and then, so help me god, I am going to explain it to them, I’m going to spell it out with so much vigor and thoroughness that their scones will be reduced to the texture and consistency of volcanic ash.  

I tease my husband that it is his own fault.  He ought to have run a background check before he brought me home.


One thing that always strikes me is the abiding uselessness of respectable people.  So-called respectable people.  They are so good – you’d think that they’d be good for something.  But no.

Evidently it takes very nearly all their energy, just to pretend nothing untoward is going on.


“Gosh!  I had no idea how sheltered my life has been!  But it’s OK, I guess, since most of what you write about is just pretty much disgusting!”

This is yet another service I provide: I help the wives of Big Oil feel even more certain that they are truly respectable people.

Shock is a form of vanity.


There it is again – the unfortunate tendency to be shrill.  The result, perhaps, of growing up with a more-than-half-mad single parent, a man so fully encased in his own world that he was unable to hear anything less than two inch headlines.

I could not say, for example, “Hey, Dad, what’s for dinner?” 

It had to be: Child!  Starving!  Near Death in NH!

Which does not in any way serve to excuse me, or render me charming.


My favorite duck-for-a-buck shop is gone.  The big one at the start of Silom Soi 4, where I used to order plates of duck one after another.  Perfectly delectable duck on little pastel plastic plates, with greens and sauce.  It has been replaced by another of those indistinct a/c tourist restaurants, one of those places you can be sure will be something else inside six months.

Anyway – when the reporters ask exactly why I doused myself with gasoline and set myself on fire – do not neglect to add this to the list.


It is possible, almost, to pity them: sex tourists in the electronic age.  They came to Bangkok to be wild and debauched, mad and depraved, leashed and unleashed – and what they would up with instead is heavy secretarial.

In the old days (the Nineties maybe?) it was possible to get out and see the palace, maybe do a little shopping.  Not anymore. 

Everybody’s online now at planetromeo, gaydar, adam4adam, manhunt, daddyhunt, recon, or checking on grindr and scruff to see who’s nearby, uncircumcised and hung.  Texting a 132 times for every fuck, wondering, Is that guy in the Spiderman costume at recon ever going to get back to me or not?

I remember how liberating it used to feel, to be out for the night on Silom Soi 4.  Now the boys at the Balcony bar stare all night into the phones.  They do not even wink across the street to the boys at the Telephone Bar – they text instead, after checking profiles first to make sure they are compatible.

It is a wonder they have time for anything, those gay sex secretaries, jacking off with one hand and texting with the other.

A man beside the pool at the Malaysia Hotel waves his phone at me and asks, “Can you send a picture of your cock?”


The giant has been here for weeks.  For weeks the giant has been meaning to leave.  The giant has been coming here, on and off, for 25 years.  He always returns to the 4th floor.  Any higher than that, you can’t cruise the pool.  Any lower, the pot smoke floats down.

He possesses an enormous inheritance.  And dong.  He is thinking of buying a house in Sitges.  We’re beside the pool at 10 a.m. and he says to me, “I blew my load early.  What the hell am I supposed to do now?”


A hatchback sedan has just pulled up in front of the Malaysia Hotel.  Now nuns are pouring out of it.

A caption has just appeared above their heads.  It hangs there like the Holy Spirit.

The Mother Superior, it turned out, was NOT infallible.

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