Bangkok III: Chinatown. Sukhumvit Road

Sukhumvit Road, infamous for so many reasons. Cowboy Road (“Soi Cowboy”) is full of middle aged white men with their Thai girls, (s)exploiting the 3% Thai economy devoted entirely to its prostitution industry.

There are numerous “how to” books found in the bookstores here, all of them a tad entertaining:


Being an anti-prohibitionist, I don’t find anything particularly appaling about this particular part of Bangkok. For foreigners, prostitution is isolated to three key areas in Bangkok: PatPong, Cowboy Road and Nana Plaza, also in Sukhumvit. At least that concentration gives the police one thing left to worry about, and keeps the debauchery in controllable areas. We Americans are naive enough to think that we can just illegalize the oldest profession in history, and that will stop it. The Thai seem to know what they’re doing. And it’s not like the vast majority of sex work in Thailand isn’t patronized by locals themselves.

Still, walking along Sukhumvit Road, it’s hard to look at Thai women the same way. When you’re jumped by dozens at a time, all feigning interest “where are you from you so handsome blah blah” for some quick cash, it’s hard to leave that area and see all the other Thai women as sincere. Suddenly they become generalized and you become suspicious of every word they say. If only it were as easy to isolate our perceptions…

Thailand has the sorry reputation of being a sexpat haven, which I must say it is, but Bangkok is so much more than that. It’s disappointing that when white men sometimes meet Thai women, the first thing they ask them is questions about prostitution.

If you look up “Prostitution” in wikipedia, there is a picture of Cowboy Road in Bangkok. SERIOUSLY.

But they neglect to mention that the world’s most famous prostitution street has tons of elephants! Baby elephants, momma and poppa elephants. Sadly I did not wear a Cowboy hat once while on Cowboy Road…

The advice of a foreigner, his arm around so many Thai girls he could barely balance on his barstool: “Jesus’ best female friends, including Mary Magedeline, were all whores. Dirty, stinky, Biblical whores.” Sip sip.

Chinatown

Like in most cities around the world, the most carefree, cheap and fascinating area to go is Chinatown. It was better than when I went to China. I’ve ended up in Chinatown three times, each on a long journey back to my $7 hotel in Khao San. Every time was unforgettable, packed with people and incredibly small markets; Chinese food that they sometimes just give you; respectable bands of people living in dark, wallowing apartments.

Did I mention all the buildings in Bangkok are delapidated as hell? Chinatown though makes the rest of Bangkok look like a four star hotel. The buildings here aren’t just dilapidated, they’re half-torn down as if from sub-atomic blast, and are on fire! Seriously, I saw at least two of these buildings burning down as I passed, with shrugging Chinese watching and eating eggrolls, while the fire trucks went on with business as usual.

I just applied for my Visa to Laos. Exciting.

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Traveling 2008 I: Khao San

This year I’m sporting two pairs of Nikees as I travel, perhaps to run. First thing in Bangkok, I ate a big bowl of Pad Thai for only 80 cents, and now I’m staying at a nice hotel for $8 a night. The class mobility is killing me.

I’ve been traveling now for awhile, and I thought I’d start blogging my misadventures, like the last two years. If you don’t remember…

2006 – 5 months backpacking and hitch-hiking around the U.S. and Canada

2007 – 3 months backpacking around Japan, Korea and China.

In 2008 I thought I’d go see what brown people are like, so I can judge them effectively from now on, so that now when I stereotype them I can say “I know, I’ve been there. They are all like that.”

This time I’ll be in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, then back to Thailand. Depending on time, I might try to hit Malyasia and Singapore.

As with my previous traveling blogs, I will not hesitate to act like a pushy American in the way I describe my surroundings, my commentary will fluctuate from “that ain’t right” to “that done feel goood.” In other words, I will be as honest as possible in the way I revieve new environments, refusing to yield to a political correctness. My hillbilly, naive and ignorant mind will be revealed in every new setting. I’m a traveling American, some things will just look odd to me.

First, South Korea. I spent the last month there. I found some great people, great new forms of debauchery, got addicted to things like funny hats and street food. I practiced my Korean hard-core. I love Korea, I already miss it. To everyone I know there: You guys are true friends, even if you don’t know it. Travelers are all characters, we all act eccentric. Even my Korean friends were encouraging, I’ll miss everyone! Thank you for letting me be my eccentric, erratic, problem-child self.

I: Bangkok’s Khao San

Khao San is the “Backpacker Haven of the World.” But I’m mostly reminded of all the wandering hippies I saw in America, looking for the nearest dose of drugs. The hippies at Khao San don’t seem to want to leave Khao San, except maybe to the beach or some environmental area. They smell like a cattle and look totally dazed, making no such effort to meet the people here or understand the culture, except to feel spiritual while buzzed on some Thai drug.

I rode a Tuk-Tuk today, walked for extremely long distances, and met some Thai people.

The greatest new thing about traveling, is the totally down to earth “WikiTravel” website. I leave you with goodies from the “people-watching” section:

Peoplespotting

More than any other place in Thailand, Bangkok offers wonderful opportunities for just sitting and watching people go by. Here’s a partial checklist:

  • University student — Many of Thailand’s universities continue to enforce a uniform, and what a uniform: for girls, it’s a formfitting translucent white blouse, black miniskirt and straight black hair. The little shiny logo button on the blouse tells the cognoscenti which particular university she is attending. Boys wear a white dress shirt and black trousers, but ever the non-conformists, you’ll never see one outside school without the shirt pulled out and a few too many buttons open.
  • Office lady — Sharply clad in infinite variations of solid pastel shades, this human houseplant mans customer service desks and pours tea in offices across the capital.
  • Bargirl — Mostly short and dark-skinned farm girls from the provinces, a bargirl can be spotted a mile away thanks to her pink hotpants and the kilo of gold around her neck. Often found in happy financial symbiosis with the sexpat.
  • Sexpat — Fifty-plus, bald, beer belly, stained shirt, lovestruck expression and a hairy arm wrapped around a girl too young to be their daughter. They’ve found what they’re looking for.
  • Ladyboy (kathoey) — Either tall, large-handed, wears too much makeup, possesses an Adam’s apple and has large breasts… or has accomplished the art of camouflage so well that you just filed her/him as an office lady or bargirl.
  • Expat — A farang walking about purposefully in dress shirt and long trousers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s 35°C outside. For extra credit, try to distinguish between the scruffier English teacher type and the jet-setting expense package type. Or try classifying them by the old joke about the three types of expat — missionaries, mercenaries and misfits.
  • Yuppie — Like every other big city, Bangkok boasts a coterie of young professional types who are hip, well-educated and relatively affluent. Similar to the Expat, they usually sport business attire and are likely to be hurried — except they probably know a shortcut, and they aren’t sweating so profusely.
  • Khao San Road brigade — Braided hair, bead necklace, sarongs, shorts and floppy pants. Either on their way to or just back from the beaches. Dazed and bewildered when torn apart from the familiar surroundings of Khao San Road.