Culturally insensitive and sexually unavailable; I had no business being in Bangkok. But still, we had seven weeks off for Chinese New Year. You gotta spend them somewhere. Thailand is cheap and it’s right there and so it practically just sucks you down into it. We flew in and found not much besides temples and Buddhas and 7 Elevens, all of which I had seen before. People don’t go to Thailand for those reasons though.
Two nights before I’d watched women shoot ping pong balls out of their vaginas and I still felt bad about it. One of them had landed on my arm. One evening some cohorts disappeared to go whip girls in cages while I went an internet café for the AC. It was February but still hot as a nuclear blast and I was getting sunstroke.
bangkok is, I gchatted to Richard, who was about to bus over from Cambodia, the Mexico of Asia and also the Mos Eisley of Earth.
you could have no deep dark secrets but the place will make you feel like you do anyway
well it can’t be that bad, the war orphans here are also sex slaves
Richard: ur gf with you?
Fred: no she went to vietnam with carrie
ill be there tomorrow, let’s go to Phuket and meet Woody to watch the super bowl in the morning
Fred: yes, PLEASE
I reached down for my bag and the zipper was open. I hadn’t left it open. I pulled out the notebook where I had hidden 7,000 baht between the pages. The money was gone.
Now I was culturally insensitive, sexually unavailable, and broke.
I figured the thief had cased me at the ATM on the west end of Khao San Road. Saw where I hid my cash. Then when I crossed to the PC café and put my bag down I became an easy target. One smooth lift and he was $200 richer and I was yet another pale moron in deep shit. Guy deserves props. Why get a regular job if you can make that much money in ten seconds.
Richard arrived the next morning and I told him about it over iced coffee on a cobblestone street by the river.
That sucks, he said, but a monkey stole Colin’s wallet at Angkor Wat.
That’s terrifying, I said. They steal for sport. How was Cambodia?
It was cool, he said. We ran into Alex and Eli and all them at the temple.
I focused on not asking any follow-up questions. I liked Alex, but my girlfriend was not Alex.
We watched the humans go by. Lots of bloodshot white people forging ahead into another odd, formless day in purgatory. Some of the newbies were still high off vice.
This is actually making me miss teaching, I said. Having something to do.
What else have you been doing here? Richard asked.
Saw some fucking identical temples for like three days straight, I said. And we ate fried frogs and spiders. And did a snorkel tour off Koh Chang. Three-deck tall boat and you jump off the top of it and land in a school of fish. The whole trip has been downhill from there.
Did you go out last night?
No, I had no money. I bought a single Chang’s and watched Inception in the hostel lobby.
Let’s leave, Richard said.
We got on the bus and he paid my fare. It was twelve hours south to Phuket.
The ride was a small eternity through tropical nirvana. I was too stressed over my money problem to enjoy the beauty. Tony Jaa movies were looped on the monitors and every hour a guy in a starched white shirt came up the aisle and served us Coke and chocolate bars. Richard had his iPod on and I read “The Lincoln Lawyer” in its entirety. We stopped for dinner at a rest area and the spicy beef I ordered made my throat bleed.
Back on the road.
Check it out, Richard said.
A truck hummed by in the lane next to us with a monkey chained up in the back. Then we crossed a long bridge onto Phuket Island and the bus dumped us on a grubby street between two strip malls.
No beach. We checked the map on the station wall.
Shit, I said.
Richard nodded. Yeah, Patong is on the far side of the island. We got off too soon.
We checked the distance: 18 kilometers. Then we checked the time: nine p.m.
No more busses, said the guy inside the terminal. Take motorcycle.
There were drivers puttering around by a banana stand. Opportunists. Their dialect had clicks in it. They wanted 250 baht apiece.
Man, I have no money, I told Richard. Let’s share one.
No good, one driver said. Too heavy, too heavy.
But he took us.
Three adult males on a scarred-up motorcycle. And Richard and I both had our fat hiking bags on, too. There’s a mountain in the middle of the island and the bike groaned and popped as it pulled all six hundred pounds of us up the thing. Ascent slow as a ski lift and then we hit the summit, three guys on a piece of tin looking down at the sandy crescents with the lights on them.
Gravity caught us and threw us down the mountain. The bike squealed and cut around the tour buses and we kept sliding off course into the opposite lane, going faster, faster, forever faster.
Use the brake! Richard screamed, pointing to it. The driver nodded; he already was. Smoke from the burning brake mixed with bus exhaust. The bike slithered on gravel patches and we knew it was over. We’d hit the guardrail and be impaled on bamboo. We’d be popped open like grapes by the bus tires. The panic was so absolute we were laughing.
When the ground leveled out by the Patong resorts we bailed and walked to Woody’s hostel. Took an hour in our flip flops but that was fine. Being alive was enough. Patong was awnings, neons, Burger King, whores, and patrons unashamed of being seen haggling with whores. Same shit as Bangkok but this time with a view and an ocean breeze to push the garbage smell off the streets.
We got up to the party, on this big balcony with the backpackers, with their tanktops and identical backstories. Boozing was in full effect.
We should buy some Chang’s at 7 Eleven, Richard told me.
I have no money, remember. You got me?
I hoped my pickpocket was, at that moment, having the night of his life, fucking the whore of his life and having the nut of his life while doing so. You do you man. This one’s on me. I’m white and get paid to be so; I’ll bounce back.
This British girl said she’d go shopping with us. We went on down the hill. I was thinking how broke, culturally insensitive, and sexually unavailable I was, cursing two of those three things.
One a.m. The whole gang was at the beach. Hammered and wading, heckling the yachts as they glided by. This guy Dave said he was off to go ‘stick it in an asshole.’ A guy from Detroit passed out in the surf and we had to pull him onto shore. Then I was out by the dock with the British girl, trying not to cheat.
That drowning guy said earlier that he’d had 25 drinks today, I told her.
Drinks and burgers all day, she said. I get sick just thinking of all the chemicals.
I said: Did you know that the American soldiers who died in Vietnam didn’t decompose as fast as they should, because of the preservatives in their diets? Freaked out the locals.
I did know that, she told me.
No, you didn’t, I said.
OK, she said, I didn’t.
Are you going to watch the Super Bowl with us?
Do you think I’m going to watch the fucking Super Bowl? What is a Super Bowl? A really uninteresting superhero?
OK, I said. What are you going to do instead?
I think I’ll drink.
Sexually unavailable, I thought. Sexually unavailable.
Five a.m. and we were sitting on the twin lion statues outside the hostel. Twenty-two hours awake and floating in a haze. She was coming over to my lion.
I thought: You gotta run, man. You shouldn’t be here.
I told her: All right. I’m gonna go watch the game at the bar. I’ll lose my citizenship if I miss it.
Come up, let’s watch it in the lobby, she said.
Look, I have a girlfriend.
Just a kiss goodnight then, she told me, using one of my tricks.
That still counts, I said, and thought about sliding off the lion and down the hill, but didn’t.
Where’s your girlfriend? she asked.
In Vietnam with her friends.
Ooohh, you miss her. You love her.
No, I hate her, I said. But I couldn’t dump her because we already had this trip planned. Flight and the first half of the trip.
So, you hate her…
Yeah, I said, channeling Lincoln Lawyer courtroom tactics. She’s a rude American, really rude. But I believe in karma a little bit. If we do something then I believe tonight she’ll do something too.
Well, she told me, then maybe it’s—
No, because then even though I do hate her, I’ll magically care all of a sudden if she cheats. That’s how it works.
Do you think she will? she asked me.
It’s vacation, who knows. Everyone’s a slut on vacation.
Heh, she said, and started backpedaling.
Heh, I repeated. Good night Tess.
Time to go. I wasn’t used to working so hard to not get laid. That was a new one. Probably the first man in Thailand to ever do so. I want a medal.
I went to bed instead of watching the game but Green Bay won. In the morning everyone thought I’d just hooked up so I had to deny it, which was again the opposite of what normally happens. A day later we headed off to see my Peace Corps buddy in Lang Suan. Got caught out in a monsoon and hitchhiked our way out of it in a semi truck. Then after a week on the beach we had to bus back up to Bangkok for our flight to Hong Kong. Back in China I broke up with my girlfriend and got paid. Now instead of being broke, sexually unavailable, and culturally insensitive I was only the last one. But I’m an American, so what do you expect.