This is the first two chapters of a longer work. Also please note - THIS IS FICTION! These are not real people or events.
All critiques are welcome ( esp from CENT ) Chok dee and enjoy!
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THE BANGKOK SHUFFLE
By Tom Warren
The sun rises above the Chao Phraya like a lazy dragon from slumber. At first just a glimmer on the horizon that grows into a blazing giant. It?s hazy and blurred through the Bangkok pollution like bad erotic photography. It is a new day and in every new day, lives are made, remade and ended. This tale has all of these things. Not by choice, but destiny has a way of making decisions for us. And not knowing where exactly to begin the story, we shall start at the beginning, a most logical place as any.
CHAPTER ONE: A PHOENIX RISES FROM THE ASHES
Sometimes life is a strange journey. Things some of us take for granted, experiences we have had or people we have met, can be awe inspiring to others. It is also amazing to me how much age can bring perspective to our lives. At the age of 16, I knew everything! At the age of 18, I still knew everything plus more. At 21, I begrudgingly began to accept that I just might not know everything, but I was damn close to it. At 25, my parents got a lot smarter than they had ever been. At 30, I finally began to assimilate experiences into something resembling perspective. The older I became, the more my thoughts on life, love, and happiness started to gel into one cohesive idea. It is wonderful to me when I see people enjoy things that I have had experience with. It is like sharing a secret, or giving a gift at Christmas. And Roger was a guy who was about to experience something few people in the USA have, and his perspective was about to be altered.
Roger was an unassuming fellow, not getting any younger, and his hair was not as full as it had been once, but still a respectable specimen of western male culture for his 40 years on the planet. He had been married for many years to his high school sweetheart and had by all accounts a happy life. He had provided as well as he could for his wife, but it was never enough. They had the requisite 3 bedroom house in a suburb of Indianapolis with two cars and a house full of knickknacks. It was a typical life of a typical couple in Midwestern USA. He was a good man with a good job and a good life. But all was not what it appeared.
I had met Roger while managing a showclub in Indianapolis. He was an affable sort with a pleasant personality but obviously missing something to spend so much time in my fine establishment. He was unhappy. His wife thought she could find better pastures with some other man and Roger was taking it quite badly. She had filed for divorce due to irreconcilable differences. Luckily for him it was a clean and easy split. They divided the property and assets evenly between them and gone their separate ways. Fortunately, they had no children and there was no alimony involved. Roger had gotten away quite cleanly by his estimation. He had seen many of his friends and colleagues destroyed by their divorces, not only emotionally but financially as well.
Roger continued on with his career and set himself up in a new apartment. He lived spartanly and managed to squirrel away a nice bit of savings now that his only responsibility was himself. His chosen profession was sales and he had devoted himself to his work while his home life was falling apart. He began moving up the company ladder more rapidly and collecting his commission checks at a rapid pace.
He harbored the ill feelings from his divorce for a long time. It weighed on him and the more I knew him the more I worried about it. One day he came through the door of the club with a beaming smile and confident gate. I knew something had changed.
?Hey Roger! How are you doing today?? I said smiling. I knew something was making him quite happy this day and was glad to see it. I had grown to like Roger quite well was beginning to worry about his state of mind following his divorce.
?I?m great, man! You have to see this!? he reached inside his jacket and pulled out folded piece of paper. ?I found this on the internet. I am going to go, man. I wish I had known about this years ago!? he handed the paper to me with a broad grin.
It was an advertisement for one of those Thailand sex tours. I knew what it was as soon as I opened the paper.
I was not a few years younger than Roger and had spent a portion of them in the Kingdom when I should have been in college. I had taken my college fund and decided to invest in a more worldly education than the American university system could provide me. I whiled away many of my nights in a few of those go-go bars pictured in Roger?s printout. As a middle aged man in these United States, I am sure Roger thought he had quite a grasp on world events and probably had an idea that he had seen most everything there was to see in this world. This would be one of those perspective building moments in his life.
?That looks great Roger! How long have you been planning this?? I said.
?I just saw it the other day at work. Man a month in that place will be awesome!?
?A month?! Are you sure about that?? I said with some concern. A month was quite a while for someone who had never been there and I was concerned that Roger might run into some trouble. ?Come with me, Roger. I need to talk to you about this.?
We made the way to the office and I aired my concerns with Roger.
?Have you ever been out of the country, Roger??
?I?ve been to Canada once!? he said with that same grin.
?Roger, you don?t have any idea. Canada is like USA light. Thailand is a whole different animal.? Now I was more concerned.
?It?s going to be great! The tour group takes care of everything.?
?I don?t think you understand. When are you going??
?In three weeks! I?m so excited?
He was like a little kid at Christmas and there wasn?t much I was going to be able to do to convince him otherwise. I dug through my address book and found the number of an expat I had buddied up with during my younger years. We had kept in contact through e-mail and the occasional phone call. I knew that if I asked he would help Roger find his way through the teeming streets of Bangkok. I gave him the number and some more internet sites for him to educate himself with while he waited for his departure date.
?Don?t worry, Joey.? Roger chirped. ?The tour takes care of everything. What?s the worst that could happen??
?Nothing and Everything, Roger.?
And with that we quickly changed the tone of our conversation to more pleasant things. I regaled Roger with stories of my adventures in the bawdy nightlife venues. I was aware of not making it seem too fantastic as well as relaying some more cautionary tales that would hopefully give Roger some perspective. I wanted him to understand the dichotomy of the culture and the illusion that can be wrapped around an unsuspecting farang?s mind if he allows it. He would soon find out many of these things for himself.
Roger continued planning his trip and I would occasionally advise him about small things; toiletries, clothing and such like that. He seemed to grow more and more excited as the day neared. I can?t say that I blamed him. Bangkok has a strange pull on people, and I am no stranger to it myself.
On the day, Roger asked if I would take him to the airport. I was more than happy to oblige. I provided him with a Jake Needham and Chris Moore book for his flight, to whet his appetite a bit and to give him a crash course in Bargirl 101. I saw him into the terminal and gave him instructions to give me a call while on holiday so I knew he was alright. He almost skipped through the automatic, sliding doors to the counter. I smiled and gave a final wave. I knew he was going to have the time of his life. How right I was, I would only find out later.
CHAPTER TWO: THE BIG MANGO
?Joey! Wake up!? I heard the voice on the other end of the phone. It was Roger. And from the thumping music and catcalls in the background, I could tell that he was enjoying some of Bangkok?s finer adult entertainment establishments.
?Hey, Roger! How are you doing??
?I feel like a rock star, Joey! This is the greatest time of my life! I?m never coming back!?
?Don?t get ahead of yourself, Roger. Just have a good time and come back in one piece.?
?I mean it Joey, I am never coming back!?
I knew exactly how he felt. During my stint in the Land of Smiles I had the same feelings. Bangkok is like a narcotic. It can make an average man feel like Superman, and a better man feel like a God. But there was always another side, when the money is gone and the party ends, perspectives change. I hoped Roger could keep himself at least reasonably sane while there.
We talked several more times. He had met my expat friend Charlie and was truly considering a long term stay. Charlie was helping him arrange it. I made a few calls for him stateside and Charlie was helping him on the other end. I had hoped Roger would not get bitten so hard by the exotic life, but it was his life and who was I to spoil it for him. Both Charlie and I gave him as much advice as possible to make his life their free of complications. If Roger was determined to do this, then all I could do was help him as much as I could. And let?s face facts, if I had the means would I have chosen a different path myself at some point? Perhaps it is a question best left to my dreams.
Roger kept in contact occasionally through e-mail and Charlie kept an eye on him too. Roger was exploring much of Thailand; he had been through Issan and across some of the southern islands, as well as visa runs to Cambodia. We made arrangements for me to visit him, and Charlie as well, in October. We continued to exchange e-mails and my departure date grew closer as well. The e-mails stopped three weeks out from my trip. This concerned me, as Roger had sent at least one a week. I am sure he had many more pleasant activities to fill his days than to send messages to me, but it still concerned me slightly. Charlie was ?in communicado? as he had taken a small trip to Japan to investigate some ?get rich quick ?scheme. For a man that seemed to have quite a grasp on the Asian way of life, his one weakness was these schemes.
My flight date had arrived. I boarded my plane and promptly decided to get myself tanked. I never could stand flying, and the only way I can do it is to drink myself into a stupor. It is probably not the healthiest way to cope with trans-continental air transportation, but it works for me. It makes the flights seem shorter and to be truthful, I could care less when I have a stomach full of beer.
The flight was tremendously uneventful and I was only too glad when the final screeching of jumbo jet wheels was done, and the Northwest jet had touched down at Don Muang Airport. I head down the aisle and towards the departure stairs. The air hits me like a fist, first the heat and then the smell. Most people dislike both. To me it is like an old friend saying hello. It is comforting and brings back memories, not so much complete memories but details. It fills in the holes that I have lost over time. I trundled down the steps and into a waiting tram that would take me to the main airport facility. I reminisced while on the ride and smiled to myself at the flashes of my youth running through my head; glimpses of accommodating Asian faces, bright lights and debauched nights.
Immigration in foreign countries is somewhat unusual when you don?t speak the language. Communication is limited to hand gestures and verbalized salutations. It is quite funny really, to see the Thais and various visitors gesticulating and saying over and over ?hello? in their native tongues. I wander through the surreal immigration desk and pick up my belongings at the baggage conveyor. I sprint through the doors and into one of the waiting taxis.
?Rorem Nana hotel.? I tell the cab driver. The Nana hotel is a legendary hotel in Bangkok. If the walls in this place could talk they would probably never be silent. The place is smack in the tourist red light district and is not shy about this fact at all. The place runs 24 hours a day and is one of the reasons its legend is so. The driver hits the accelerator and off we go. I plan to setup operations there as this is where Roger is staying. It?s cheap and clean for the most part, and is extremely convenient for the farang tourist. I will have to give Charlie a call when I get there so we can get together and reminisce.
The expressway wanders through the heart of Bangkok and as you come off of it and into the city, the dichotomy of this city is readily apparent. Driving down Sukhumvit Road, one can see on one side very well kept and manicured gardens in front of very elegant residences, while directly adjacent are tin roofed shacks built under and beside the self same expressway. Half finished buildings butt up like scaffolding next to beautiful high-rise condominiums and millennia old temples. Small children hawk flowers and gum in the middle of busy streets while Mercedes and Benzes, as well as a few lower end motor vehicles, narrowly avoid these urchins as if they were not even there. You just don?t get this kind of view in the States. It is part of the charm and amazement we westerners feel when we see a place like this. So different from what we are used to at home. These are more of those perspective building moments.
We arrive at the Nana Hotel, and it is very late in the evening. The driver pulls into the driveway and parts the deluge of bargirls, drunken sex tourists, and hangers on as if the taxi were a modern day Moses and this his Red Sea. We pull in front of the doors and I throw the driver two hundred baht and make my way into the hotel to check in. At this time of night, the lobby of the Nana is something more akin to a surreal carnival than it is to a hotel. Swimming through the legions of painted Thai women and the inebriated westerners that accompany them, hearing the chatter rising from the 24 hours restaurant, and the throngs emanating from the hotel disco I make my way to the check in desk. The staff is terse and to the point with the check in process. I take my bags in hand and head for my room. I drop the bags and take a quick shower. After the last 24 hours of dealing with various airports and jumbo jets I am grateful to have a moment to clean away all the canned air and recycled exhale that I have been surrounded by. The shower rejuvenates me and I put on some fresh clothes and head for the Bangkok night.