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Published: August 20th 2007
Entry 53 - Nov. 29, 2007 Sex, naked ladies and blue diamonds on Soi Cowboy
Soi Cowboy, Pattaya and Patpong are the focal points of Thailand's sex tourism. Soi Cowboy
is the most notorious red-light district in Bangkok. A short street with some 40 bars, it caters mainly to tourists and expatriates.
The area is named after T. G. "Cowboy" Edwards, a retired American airman who opened one of the first bars here in 1977.
Topless and nude dancing remain technically illegal. Most of the erotic dancers are also sex workers and will join a customer if he pays a "bar fine" to the bar and a separate fee to the girl. Sexual services usually take place in the tourist's hotel room. Soi Cowboy bars switch off their outside neon lights by 1 am and usually close at 2 am.
How, you may ask, does a morally upright Ajarn (professor) and pastor end up in a compromising position on Bangkok's infamous Soi Cowboy? Indeed, it is easier than you may think.
It actually began soon after Miranda and I arrived in Bangkok. We were returning to Asok Skytrain station by taxi, when our driver told us we
must exit his cab because he had a "regular fare" to pick up at a certain time.
Miranda snipped, "You have not yet taken us to our destination as we requested."
"Too much traffic jam," was his reply. "Asok is over there," he instructed, vaguely waving his arm and nervously glancing at his watch.
Miranda refused to exit the cab. A crowd gathered near where I stood on the sidewalk. I asked them where the station was located. "Not far," they answered, eyes transfixed on Miranda, still sitting in the back seat of the cab.
The cab driver started to shout at her (very un-Thai), but Miranda remained calm and unperturbed, lecturing our driver on the basics of contract law. Then she calmly told him she would exit the taxi ... if he gave her ten Baht.
As the crowd watched in fascination, the unthinkable happened. The driver reached into his pocket and gave her the ten Baht. Those on the sidewalk began giggling, tittering and outright laughing.
"What's so funny?" I queried.
They explained, with glee, that it was rare for a tourist to "shake down" a taxi driver.
ten Baht, it was clear we had no real idea where we were. After walking a short distance, Miranda spotted the PM Pharmacy and we "dropped in" to ask directions. The owner explained in very clear English that all we needed to do was continue down Soi Cowboy and turn left at the end of the street.
We became good customers of the PM Pharmacy, due to the fact that the pharmacist: a) spoke fluent English; b) was very knowledgeable; c) kept his pharmacy air-conditioned and clean; d) did not require a doctor's prescription from us; and e) had great prices. We actually became friends. It turned out that his daughter was a student at Thammasat University where I taught.
Several years later
Recently Miranda and I felt a sense of uneasiness. It was not just the pre-election cycle of intimidation and bombings. I actually sensed I was being followed. It was late afternoon when Miranda contacted me to tell me she had to work that evening. Feeling lazy, I decided to walk the short distance to our local restaurant, which we referred to as "The Slab". A very simple design, The Slab was literally a
raised slab of concrete with heavy oak tables and chairs positioned on it. Unenclosed, there was a small kitchen at the back and a kiosk for noodle soup at the front, facing Soi Kasemsan 1. The staff was made up of very friendly servers and cooks who seemed to enjoy the multi-cultural array of customers that found their way to the place; half a block from Wendy House where we lived.
As I sat down, I was immediately joined by a balding man with an Australian accent. About 5' 9" tall and fifty years of age, he was wearing a plaid shirt and sunglasses. At first he was quite pleasant; charming even. However as he drank, his mood turned dark. He began to ask me all sorts of questions. Our conversation felt more like an interrogation. Then something very strange occurred. My hand was resting palm side down on the table. My 'friend' pulled out a Swiss Army knife and placed it on the lower joint of my little finger and stated, "If you are a real priest let me cut off your finger." I remained silent, not having seen this coming.
The man, eyes flaring, explained that
People of Soi Kasemsan 1, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok
he had been an agent with the Mossad, and, pressed the knife against my finger, repeating, "If you have faith, let me cut it off." I remember thinking that I knew many "real priests" with a strong faith, none of whom would want to lose part of their finger in this manner. I was in excruciating pain and the knife was starting to draw blood. In a loud, firm voice I asked him what kind of person comes into a restaurant and pulls a knife on a priest!
Both the foreigners and the locals in the restaurant looked shocked, and the eatery fell quiet. All eyes stared in horror at the man and his knife. I spoke loudly, "Thai people have great respect for priests of all denominations," my right hand now clutching my knobkerrie (heavy, wooden walking-stick). "If you assault me with your knife, I can guarantee things will not end well." The man looked at the 30 or so people staring at him, released the knife, and I pulled my hand away.
I left the Slab but kept an eye on him from a discrete distance. He next approached an attractive blond lady. The more they
talked, the more upset the petite blond woman became. Finally she exited 'the Slab', heading in my direction. As she approached, I could see tears welling up in her eyes. "He is such a jerk," she declared angrily.
"Yes," I replied as we walked toward Wendy House. When I told her about the incident with the knife, she was incredulous and obviously wanted to talk to someone.
At Wendy House, we sat at one of the tables near the window in the corner. "Do you always position yourself with your back to the wall so that you can see everything?" she asked.
"I do not want any more surprises," I replied, ordering a Chang beer. She had a cooler. It became clear that he had been playing 'mind games' with her. More unsettling were the questions she had been asked about me...
The PM Pharmacy
Now here is the really strange part...the next morning I met my 'friend' who seemed to have little recollection of the night before. Now sober he was back to his friendly charming self. He knew a great deal of local history and was actually good company...go figure?? In any
event, my finger was causing me real pain as I tried to work on my computer. Also my TravelBlog account had crashed...it was gone! Not only mine but all of them. Everyone was upset!
At about noon I set out for the PM Pharmacy, hoping to get something for my finger as well as our regular prescriptions. "Good Day, Ajarn Bryan," said the pharmacist. "How are you?"
"Not so good," I replied, telling him about my sense of being followed and the knife attack the evening before.
He looked carefully at the knife wound, asking if it was a paper cut.
"No," I replied.
Smiling, he explained: "Such a cut, because of its location can be very painful." He rubbed in an antiseptic ointment with anesthetic, and immediately the pain was gone. Then he applied a bandage that immobilized the injured joint, confident that he could save the finger.
For the rest of my meds, he told me I would have to return in an hour, as his supplier was caught in Bangkok traffic.
While walking down Soi Cowboy, wondering how I would kill the hour, a "pub" with a Guinness sign caught
my eye. I enjoyed Guinness, which was hard to find in Thailand. Therefore I entered this establishment -- a big mistake.
The pub was empty. At the far end was an actual film-screen. "North by Northwest" with Cary Grant was playing. I must say I was relishing the movie and my Guinness. Then I felt something odd ... a petite hand on my thigh. It was definitely not my imagination, nor my hand.
I looked right and there was a sensuous, scantily-clad Thai girl in a short skirt and see-through top. "Oh dear," I muttered.
"You're a dear," she replied.
I explained, in a manner befitting Cary Grant, that I was waiting for my prescriptions -- prescriptions for myself and my wife. She explained how sexy my beard was and how I reminded her of Kenny Rogers. I looked into the big mirror opposite us. I saw a sixty year old man sitting next to a twenty year old girl. It was very unlikely that she had a gray beard fetish or that she was turned on by geriatric sex.
This was like a scene in the movies where the sexy young girl coming on
to the old geezer turns out to be a female "hitman". If she was a hired assassin; I wondered where she kept her gun. Then I thought of something even more scary: maybe she was a katoey (กะเทย lady boy).
She grabbed my hand, placed it on her thigh and started to run it up her leg. A couple of minutes later I was able to rule out two concerns: (a) she was definitely not carrying a gun, and (b) she was no lady boy. Beads of sweat glistened on my brow. I now knew what I must do -- run away.
In a hasty but dignified fashion, I exited the bar. I stepped out onto the soi, then collided with two men, knocking one to the ground. As I walked away from the bar, it occurred to me that the men seemed very familiar. Suspicion and fear welled up inside me. I looked over my shoulder and what I saw filled me with terror ... the two men were gone, but swiftly moving toward me was the Thai girl. I now moved with more haste and less dignity.
Moments later I entered the PM Pharmacy with
great haste and no dignity. The other customers were starring .... my lady friend did not pursue me into the drugstore.
I waited half an hour before purchasing my drugs, as I wanted to make sure she was gone. I got back to National Stadium without incident. Then as I stepped out of the Skytrain, I looked down and saw four shoes. Looking up I saw two men standing, waiting for me. I must have telegraphed my horror. Shaking my hand, thumb pressed against my knuckle, the gentlemen explained in a pleasant fashion that they were not nefarious dudes. "However," they warned, "it is good to be cautious."
They invited me out for lunch and before long we were all at the Sizzler on the top floor of the MBK.
Strange as it may seem, they were merely fans of my travel blog. Over a couple of bottles of wine we discussed it at length. . .
"I have no difficulty with your suggestions," was my reply. "Besides, I would like to see Travelblog up and running again. Furthermore I most certainly I don't want another visit from your friend with the knife."
This is a picture of me waiting for the shuttle to the Rangsit campus. (Fall 2006 FotoetimePhoto CR)
not one of us!" they replied. "We are the good guys. He will never bother you again."
"How can you be sure?" I asked.
"Don't worry. He is gone. Bangkok has him now."
The York Family
As the referendum campaign began in earnest, Miranda and I decided to travel upcountry during the 'University Break'. One of the nicest things about teaching at Thammasat is the amount of holiday one gets. Miranda was also entitled to generous vacation time. Our friend, Mike, and his wife, Jai, invited us to visit them in Phetchabun.
We stayed at the Kosit Hill resort, as Mike and Jai were renovating their house. This resort had many acres of property, a luxurious swimming pool, and well-kept grounds, but most impressive was the decor. Artwork from all over Thailand was used in decorating the resort in a whimsical but tasteful fashion. Miranda was taken by all the collections on display: coins, bottles, cameras, Royal family memorabilia, lanterns, dolls, toys, etc., etc. Everything was clean and well-maintained -- all for the total price of $24 a night.
Kuhn Mike (from the USA) suggested that we
take his new vehicle for a run and explore Thailand's first capital, Sukhotai, which flourished in the 13th century. The Sukhotai kingdom is viewed as the golden age of Thai civilization.
As we were driving to the old capital of Siam, a minivan cut in front of us and nearly caused an accident. Mike was upset. He honked his horn three times, then fired a glob of windshield wiper fluid onto the front screen which was flushed away by the broad stroke of his wiper. It appeared to be a powerful Thai insult, sending the message that the offending driver was worth no more than a bug on a windscreen that need to be washed away.
The passengers in the offending van clearly looked perplexed and insulted at the gesture. A little later, the episode repeated itself, but this time when Mike gave "the wiper," the driver of the vehicle became so incensed that he tried to run us off the road. It was only Mike's evasive manoeuvres that saved us from disaster.
I asked Mike the significance of the rude gesture of giving someone "the wiper,"as I was not familiar with it. He explained that in
Island of Ko Chang, Thailand
Our beach house by the ocean.
the United States when he got angry with another driver he would honk his horn and flash his lights. Unfortunately, in Thailand the wiper lever was in the same location as the American head-light lever. The result was that every time he felt enraged he unintentionally gave someone the wet wiper, causing great confusion among the offending drivers. Knowing Thai people the way I do, Mike may have indeed started a new trend.
Sukhotai's dynasty lasted two hundred years, and it was during this time that Thai script came into being. As we walked around the ancient ruins, I reflected upon those who had made their contribution to this country. Miranda was having a good time, the ever-interested tourist, joking and taking photos with our new digital camera.
On the way home we stopped off at one of Jai and Mike's favorite restaurants. We had some amazingly fresh shrimp and fish and discovered that they were farmed on the premises. Jai had ordered for us; it was the best fish I had ever eaten.
Back to School
I really enjoyed my holiday but was looking forward to the start of
Island of Ko Chang, Thailand
Jungle tour to the center of the island.
classes. I was teaching a practical business course. It started with how to: compose a resume, prepare for a job interview, etc., and covered all the difficult situations likely to arise in the English-speaking business world. My favorite topic was "When things go wrong". I also enjoyed the section on "How to sell a product or idea". I threw in the Basic English vocabulary,
the 850 most useful words which allow one to say anything in a clear, understandable way. This gave the students the confidence they needed. Great fun.
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