Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bangkok, Thailand, 1991

In Bangkok, my cousin Daniel and I sit at a red plastic table in the little restaurant of our hostel on Khao San Road. It is dusk. A grizzled guy from Los Angeles in his fifties, who looks like he needs to wash his hair, rolls a joint and then licks the rolling paper to seal it. He's going to Patpong Road again tonight.

"She really loves me," he tells us, beaming.

A young woman from Ohio with long blonde hair, a halter top, and flip-flops runs her fingers through her hair.

"Did you know there is a store a few streets away that sells crocodile purses ? So cheap...," she says, her eyes widening.

Our hostel has many rooms separated by plywood walls, and showers in tiny stalls with flooded, stinking floors. The toilets are holes in the floor framed by slippery footrests.

The Israeli next to her, just out of the army, asks: "Is the border to Cambodia still open?"

The sweet smell of Thai weed wafts in the air. I have visited the toilets many times today. I feel weak.

Several nights ago up north, I was eating sticky rice with green, fiery hot curries from the market that had been scooped into plastic bags from metal bowls, bowls that had sat in the sun in unshaded wooden stalls all day. I sat cross-legged on the perimeter of a circle of foreigners and Thais on the floor of a wooden house on stilts, with my hands pulling off balls of sticky rice that lay in the center of the circle. The carved wooden eaves of the roof curved upwards toward the sky, and the tiny spirit house outside in the courtyard had an identically carved, but much tinier, roof.

"Come with me to Patpong tonight," says Grizzly, sucking on his joint, a thick wave of smoke obscuring the stubble on his cheeks.

Daniel and I feel conflicted about going to Patpong Road this evening, the center of the Bangkok sex trade, wondering what we'll see there. I feel repulsed by the man from LA, how he really believes that he is the center of the universe for a teenaged girl he pays to give him pleasure. He's not thinking about the sociopolitical ramifications of his actions. We don't want to feel like we are exploiting poor local girls who are paying off their families' debts by working in the clubs of Patpong.

But we are curious, and we are here, and they are there anyway.

So we go.

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