In December of 2008, a fine young gentleman, Chai, was riding with me on the songtaew (aka baht bus) back to Pattaya, Thailand. He had just spent the day showing me around the infamous Dongtan Gay Beach.
Passengers on this songtaew get drenched at Songkran, the Thai water fight festival. Songtaew means two rows, they’re the blue pick up trucks with two rows of seats in the back with an open air roof covering. They cost ten or twenty baht and follow fixed routes on the main roads. They tend to have at least half a dozen passengers, often crammed at rush hour when a dozen or more squeeze on.
No Touching Please
Public displays of affection are considered impolite, gay or straight, in the Kingdom of Thailand. Yet I noticed in Pattaya, Phuket, and other high tourist areas, PDA’s are quite common between farangs (white foreigners) and locals. So I was tickled, flattered, and embarrassed at the same time when Chai placed his hand on my knee during the ride. What a sweet man, I thought.
I found out later, the hand on the knee thing was about something else. Especially in Pattaya, the world capital of sex tourism. There’s more hookers and moneyboys here than noodles in China! On the surface it appears to be an endearing, charming gesture of affection. It’s really about marking territory, warning potential rivals to keep their fangs off of this mealticket!
Spoon Feeding is OK
I was only crushed for a minute or two. Chai was such a delightful gentleman anyway, showing me around, opening doors, carrying heavy packages for me. He introduced me to new exotic foods, spoon feeding me with delicious mystery chicken and shrimp dishes he’d bring from his favorite street vendors.
That happens to me a lot here, the spoon feeding thing. An editor and travel buddy still talks about the dinner at the famous Babylon bath house in Bangkok. There we were, three of us newspaper muckety mucks, and a gorgeous bombshell on the half shell I had met in the “Garden of Secret Delights”. Live jazz tickled our ears. The waiters, fully decked out in formalwear waited on us hand and foot, the four of us just barely covered with bath towels. My geisha of the moment didn’t speak English, or even decent Thai. But he compensated by peeling and spoon feeding me succulent prawns. It was quite the performance.
Why just today, Ran, my current on and off again main squeeze for five years now, spoon fed me some delicious tom ka gai. That’s mushroom, chicken, and several other non-edible to farangs tree stumps, grasses, and spices, swimming in a coconut and chicken broth, sweetened with palm sugar. Aloy aloy (yummy).
Let Sleeping Dogs Lay
The boys do tend to hover and wait on you, hoping to keep you “happeee happeee”, and undistracted by all the other moneyboys vying for your attention. Chai was doing a wonderful job keeping me happy until we had an unfortunate misunderstanding about, money. I won’t bore you with the details, it was five years ago and it’s best to let sleeping dogs lay, right?
I’ve seen him in Sunnee Plaza on every trip since then, but it was on this trip that we finally sat down and spoke. I was cruising Sunnee again and saw him lounging in one of the beer gardens. He looked great! I waived and wai’d and then moved on, as I had before.
Honor The Good
Five, ten minutes later and I’m still thinking about Chai. Mostly about all the nice times we had. Wouldn’t it be nice to honor that, and let go of the one unhappiness that ended it all? I turned back, almost racing, to see if he’s still there. He was! I gave him a big smile, and a big hug. And offered him a drink. He graciously accepted, and seemed glad to see me, and that I finally spoke.
Still Looks Great
Did I say he still looks great? There he is in a red Ralph Lauren shirt (probably fake), more manly, a bit more filled out, five years has been kind. He still doesn’t speak much English, and my Thai is even more limited. But he did share that Howard’s Guest House was gone, Replaced by a high rise luxury boutique hotel that caters to Muslims. Howard’s was where I stayed and he worked, and where we met five years ago. Here’s Chai back then:
The Hand On The Knee Thing Again
There’s not much more to talk about after a minute or two of exhausting our miniscule shared vocabulary. But we did sit rather close on the pillowed rattan love seat, looking and smiling at each other a lot. And then the hand on the knee thing, lol.
Five or ten minutes of hands on knees, with a few grabs here, there, and elsewhere, and our drinks are done. I pay the bill, and give him a fat tip. Neither of us brought up the past, nor the future (meaning I didn’t book him for a date, and he didn’t give the sales pitch). A nice long, affectionate embrace, a hand shake, many thank you’s, and I’m out of there. Mission accomplished: I can now think of Chai in a much nicer way. I really enjoyed myself, I hope he did too. All is forgiven (but not forgotten).
More of Jimbo’z Fairy Tales From Afar
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Krap khun krap,
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