Thursday, 31 May 2007

Boys boys boys

May 13
I never expected to find myself in a relationship in Thailand. In fact I didn’t expect there to be much romantic action at all, given my former disinterest in Asian men. But the longer I’ve been here, the more my disinterest has turned to interest and here I find myself in some sort of relationship with Beer.

As my interest grows in Thai men, however, of course I wish to explore that interest. I don’t want just one under my belt, as it were. So I resolve to finish things with Beer and free myself up for more adventures.

I go see him at Richard’s one Sunday evening after work. He’s behind the bar so I plonk myself down and order a beer. He’s pleased to see me. This is the first spanner in my plan. His working is another. It’s difficult to chat to him.

Instead I chat to two Thai guys sat next to me – Nom and Bird. Nom is a big queeny man with limited English but an undeniably bitchy sense of humour. Bird is buff, charming and handsome with a winning smile. I soon realise I’ve met them before – at the party where I seduced Beer – and they regale me with tales of my drunkenness. Brilliant.

Bird, it turns out, quite fancied Sean. I immediately text Sean and tell him. Sean is annoyed, what with being some 8000 miles away.

Occasionally Beer captures my attention. I tell him I’m gonna go home at one point. Maybe, I think, I can extricate myself from this ‘relationship’ by showing increasing disinterest. God, I’m lame. When I tell him this though he looks at my quite forlornly, a bit like the cat from Shrek in fact. It works and I change my mind. He then tells me he wants to take me to the village in Thailand where he was born. Dear God. Luckily I work weekends so have a solid excuse to get out of it. Though part of me does wonder if that wouldn’t be quite a good experience.

I chat to Bird a bit more. He becomes increasingly attractive as I do so. I’m totally distracted by the size of his arms. He and Nom tell me they’re going to go to DJ Station next door for a bit, and do I want to come? I figure why not and leave my stuff with Beer, telling him I’ll come back at one when he finishes.

It’s packed in DJ. We get some drinks and hang out, people watching and chatting about men. There’s a lot of older men/young pretty boy action going on in here. Bird says he usually goes for older Western men as well. I feel a bit gutted. Does that mean he doesn’t fancy me? But our conversation becomes increasingly flirty until it becomes clear that this is not the case at all.

We go and dance. Nom stays behind. He wants to find someone to take home. Bird takes his top off. I grin at him. We dance a bit, getting increasingly touchy feely. Eventually I make a move. He’s a TERRIBLE kisser, all mouth and no lips. But I’m drunk and enamoured enough not to care too much. We snog like a couple of teenagers for some time, before deciding maybe we should go find Nom. He’s approaching the stage just as we’re coming off. He’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. He’s totally seen us. Ah well.

I’m surprisingly unfazed by my own bad behaviour. I know I’m being a bit of a cunt to Beer but I feel no commitment towards him and therefore no guilt. Fuck it; I’m here to have fun so I will. This night sets the agenda for my remaining time in Bangkok.

Bird, Nom and I head back to meet Beer. He’s eating some noodles by a shop, out of the way of the rain. I feel like I have guilt written all over my face but of course he’s none the wiser. At least for now. I go back to his.

May 19
It’s Saturday night and I’m going on a date. It’s not with Beer either. So begins my initiation into the world of the player.

I meet Bird at some Irish pub. It’s really busy so we go to another one. It’s also busy but we brave it anyway. There’s some football game on – Man U vs. Chelsea – so the ex-pats are out in force, as are the Thais who love English football as much as the English.

We chat. Bird orders some food. The waitress is loving that we’re on a ‘date’ and laughs and jokes with Bird in Thai as she serves us. I’m not at my best – I’m dead tired from working and partying with Vicky (see separate entry) and find it hard to keep the conversation going. But, quite frankly, I ain’t here for conversation, and after a couple hours we head back to his.

Amazingly he’s living at an apartment block I’ve been admiring since I got here for its beautiful balconies and unusual design. He’s got a weird set-up here – he shares the one bedroom (with double bed) with a female friend. Thankfully she’s away with her boyfriend and we have the place to ourselves. I admire the view as soon as I get in there – you can see right across Bangkok and it’s beautiful. I smile at my luck.

But there’s more…

May 30
Since arriving in Bangkok I’ve been getting messages from various Thai boys on MySpace, all wanting to meet up and ‘get to know me better’. Whatever, I think to each one, until one messages me that catches my interest. His name is Ark and, not only is he a massive fan of British indie music, but he has an arty leftfield sensibility that intrigues me. That, and he is unfeasibly good-looking.

We chatted for awhile and eventually arrange to meet up one Wednesday night. That morning we were chatting online and he’d become even more interesting to me. He’s the first Thai I’ve met that criticises the highly revered royal family, in particular the heir to the throne – Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. We chat lots about Thai culture, a lot of which he feels frustrated by. He seems to have a very Western, particularly British, sensibility and the more I talk to him, the more I like him. We arrange to meet later. His friends have organised an indie night and he invites me along. I wonder what on earth a Thai indie night will be like. It’s in Club Culture, where Jess and I saw Eclectic Method, which intrigues me even more.

I go to muay Thai. I go to my lesson with Nop, who’s late home and leaves me alone for a bit so he can watch the news coverage of the impending result of the constitutional tribunal (see separate entry). I get home and get ready to go meet Ark in Ratchathewi. After leaving I’m walking down the street when I realise I’ve forgotten my passport. By the time I leave again it’s absolutely pouring down and I can’t go anywhere. I sit outside my apartment block and wait for it to stop.

This doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon but luckily I manage to wave down a cab. Then I have to get crazy lady to explain to the taxi driver where I want to go. She understands me as little as he does, but eventually we get the message across. I think.

He takes me to the wrong Skytrain station but at least I’m on the Skytrain, and eventually I get to Ratchathewi. I don’t spot Ark at first; then I discover I’m on the wrong side of the road. We shake hands as we meet but there’s immediately obvious sexual tension. He’s checking me out quite unashamedly. I do so him a little more discreetly.

His dress sense might be described as ‘kooky’ if you were feeling a little bit lazy and couldn’t think of any other words. Skinny jeans and a basketball t-shirt are complemented by some bloody awful shoes. We go for food. His personality matches his outfit as he’s quite goofy, and full of nervous energy. But he’s as cute as a button and I’m fascinated by him. His English is very good, if a little skewiff at times. Funnily he learnt at ECC as a kid – which is not long ago; he’s only 20 – but picked most of it up from hanging out with farang and watching movies.

Eventually, to my dismay, Ark confesses to having a boyfriend: a 36 year old American man. He’s keen to point out he’s not a sugar daddy, and that he’s very independent. He then counters this by telling me the boyfriend has paid for a studio to be built for him where he can conduct his work as an art student.

We get into a cab to go to the club. Ark continues talking abut his boyfriend. Maybe moaning is a better word. I ask if the guy speaks Thai. He doesn’t, despite having been here for some six years. I find this astounding but Ark says he just relies on him to translate.

We walk into the club night – it’s called Soma Education, for reasons I can’t really fathom. Oasis’s Rock ’N’ Roll Star is playing, which is a little incongruous. I’m so used to Thai pop and R&B and hip hop being played anywhere I go that it’s quite a shock to hear an English guitar band. What’s even more astonishing is the bouncing crowd of Thai people and farang (apparently students, given their attire), all rocking out to said music. I grin with pleasure.

Ark introduces me to some of his friends. They are all arty student types. One guy – a little Thai fella called JoJo, the gayest man I’ve ever met – knows every single word to ever single song that’s played. And what a playlist – everything from The Killers and The Strokes to Placebo and Garbage. It’s like being back at uni.

Ark doesn’t know any of the music but dances like every single tune is his favourite song ever. “I just wanna dance!” he explains. His enthusiasm is infectious and before long (and after we’ve started on a bucket of whisky and coke) I’m up there with him, rocking out like my life depended on it.

I ask Ark if he likes the music. He tells me “it’s not boring!” A Thai pop indie tune come son. Ark knows this one, and loves it. I dance like I love it as well. It, also, isn’t boring.

Later on we’re drunk and sweaty and grinning at each other like idiots. Away from the dancefloor we chat and I start to make move son him. He’s resistant at first. Maybe he’s thinking about the boyfriend that I’m not thinking about. But I keep at it – I can tell he’s into me.

We leave the club to ‘go for a walk’. We don’t get very far before he asks where I live. I tell him. He says can he come back. I tell him yes.

Walking down my soi he tells me that he thinks there’s a gay sauna round here. I tell there can’t be, there’s a school right there. He replies that this is Thailand – you can have a nightclub next to a school. He does have a point.

Muay or less

I really want to do muay Thai. I love it – I love the fitness aspect, I love the discipline, I love how they push and push the people they train, I love hanging out with these guys and getting to know them, I love how I feel after a two hour session (usually like I’ve just climbed a mountain). But as I carry on with it, it becomes obvious that I just do not have the time to dedicate myself to it properly and firstly, become any good at it, and secondly, reap any benefit from it. Once or twice a week – which is all my working schedule allows – just isn’t enough to progress. I go through the same agony every week, never improving.

My first session of the month is a shining example of this. It’s May 1st and ECC is shut due to a public holiday. It’s Labour Day – a day set aside for the employee to consider their duties and responsibility. I find it rather ironic that a day off work is given to mark such a thing, but there you go.

I take the opportunity to go to the gym and train, but it’s the hardest and most debilitating session I’ve had yet. The big boss man type bloke (to give him his proper name, I’m sure) is my first trainer and pushes me fiercely. I put everything I have into it until I’m down to my last vestiges of energy and somehow I struggle through. But it is a struggle, and an embarrassingly apparent one.

I then do technique with the chunky fella with the pale skin. He’s bloody massive but I figure it’ll be all right cos it’s just technique practice. Wrong. When I’m least expecting it he throws a kick into my chest. I fly back into the ropes, almost totally winded. To my credit I get up straight away. If I’ve learnt anything it’s to do that. Big boss dude shouts to me, “This is muay Thai.” You’re not kidding.

It’s then I realise what’s going on. I’d bought some proper muay Thai shorts a few days before and was wearing them here for the first time, as my football shorts were in the wash. To them it must seem like I’ve decided I’m now worthy of wearing proper shorts (which isn’t the case at all) and so they’re gonna put me through some proper muay Thai. The message is loud and clear. I would never wear them during my time here again.This carries on until I’m reluctant to throw any punch or kick at the pads for fear of retaliation. I should just suck it up and get on with it, but I’ve gone into preservation mode and can’t shift out of it.

I feel a little like a rag doll after. I certainly must have looked like one. I get pretty down. The usual post-session feeling of satisfied tiredness isn’t there, the endorphins unable to work their magic against a feeling of total dismay at the constraints of my physicality. I begin to wonder what the point is if I can’t improve myself. We’re fed on a diet of films and stories that talk of ordinary people becoming heroes or whatever and I realise that that’s what I’m trying to do with all this – have myself a little piece of that story. But I’m fed up of striving to improve myself and not getting anywhere. I mull and mull and forget that it’s not my fault, that life just gets in the way sometimes.

I don’t go back for just over two weeks, and then I get pissed off with myself and go. The next couple of sessions are okay, though of course there’s no improvement. The evening after my penultimate session I head to Rajadamnern Stadium to check out the professionals in action. A bunch of us had tried to go to a Thai boxing match the previous week but the price had put everyone off and we’d gone to the pub instead. But I need to see one to write about, and take some photos. Plus I really want to go, it’s an integral part of the Bangkok experience. I’ll be pissed off if I don’t.

And it really is one of the best evenings I’ve had. I have trouble getting there cos it’s pouring with rain and none of the taxis want to take me the short distance from Khao San. I eventually end up getting a tuk-tuk, after lots of bartering. I forget to lie and tell the driver I’ve not yet got a boxing ticket. He insists on taking me somewhere to buy one but I get out of it by explaining that I’m meeting my friends and can’t buy for all of them. The traffic is horrendous, and even with the tuk-tuk nipping in and out of the cars I miss the first bout. I think I’ve missed getting in but a ticket girl tells me otherwise. I’m most relieved.

She shows me into the arena, where I’ve paid for front row seats. The seating is set up as three tiers – some chairs down by the boxing ring, normal seats behind that which start to go up the side of the arena, and then, behind a fence, the cheap seats where all the Thai guys shout a lot and gamble away their money.

I’m sat down at the front and immediately offered a beer. I accept and pay for it. It’s much needed after my own training. There’s a Japanese guy sat next to me who stares at the match going on intently. Some Californians are shown in and sit on the row behind me.The first bout features two 15 year old lads taking each other on. The Californian woman sat behind me can hardly believe it. I can almost hear her processing all kinds of child protection regulations as she tries to take it in. The fact one of them gets knocked out in the third round doesn’t help her any.
But these guys train from about the age of six. They’re more than used to it and know exactly what to expect and how to combat it. Although the guy in the first event is stretchered off, a near-knockout in the second event sees the stretcher rendered useless when the guy (a little older this time) gets up and walks off himself.

Altogether 10 bouts take place and each one throws up its own entertainment.

Just when you think one fighter has the upper hand, one expertly placed move from the other one can destroy his confidence and swing the balance of power the other way. Also interesting is the little Buddhist ritual that takes place before the fight. This is called the Wai Kru and it starts with the two fighters walking around the ring. This is them symbolically ‘sealing’ the ring, to say that the fight is only between them. They then go through various moves and stretches, such as kneeling on the floor and touching their head to the ground, or stretching their legs in various positions. It’s almost like a normal warm-up, but a little more intricate and thoughtful.

Even more entertaining, though, are the gamblers up on the third tier. Even in a half-empty stadium, their loud and infectious chanting can make you feel like you’re at the biggest sporting event in the world. You can tell when there’s a lot of money on a bout as well – the chanting gets louder, and the atmosphere much tenser.

I try and film a round at one point but get told to sit down in no uncertain terms. I’m blocking someone’s view. I chat to the Californians – they’re here on holiday – and talking to them I realise I’m a little drunk. I go outside and get some noodle soup and feel a bit better.
The last round lasts just a couple of minutes. Most of the audience has gone home and there’s obviously not a lot of importance to this bout. One of the guys gets kneed and decides not to carry on. The audience’s encouragement, it seems, is as important as your training.

During the breaks between matches I chat to the Japanese guy. He tells me he used to fight but he was never good enough. He even competed once, he says, but once was enough. Nevertheless watching the fighting seems to stir something in him and by the time he leaves he seems determined to get back into it. As much as I’m enjoying watching, it fails to ignite the same reaction in me.

I make my last visit to the gym on the 30th, as much because I’m writing a column about muay Thai and need to take photos as me actually wanting to go. Kingsak takes pity on me at one point and spends some time doing technique with me. He can see I’ve got it in me to do it; maybe the others can as well. But of course it’s hard to make them understand, with their limited English, that I have other priorities.

A man moves around the gym taking photos. This annoys me considering how insecure I’m feeling about it all. I ask him what the pics are for. He tells me “for memories”. I tell him he should try it out then. He agrees in a way that suggests he’s never going to. Tosser. At least as I take pics towards the end of the session I can say I’ve done it. This cheers me a little.

These past few sessions have seen the presence of a pair of American brothers training. They’re both amazing looking and I’m a bit in awe of them; though one has a thick black circle tattooed on his chest and stomach, which looks a bit weird. But I get some great shots of him wrestling with one of the Thai trainers.

I leave happyish, though knowing I probably won`t set foot in there again.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Hey Vicky, you're so fine

May 17
Vicky’s going. I can’t believe it. This crazy ass girl is going to Australia to live with a man she spent three days with and hasn’t set eyes on for months. But she’s in love. What can you do? Apart from give her a good send-off, of course.

It’s Thursday night, I’ve had a pretty full day at work and I’m bleedin’ knackered but as it’s Vicky’s last few days here I’ve got to make the most of it. Having been in the city centre most of the day, sorting out and buying lots of stuff, Vicky drops by Pinklao to pick me up in her cab. She’s just finished being waxed apparently. I listen with extreme interest. She’s been waxed a bit too much apparently. Down below. On the under-carriage, if you like. Now I really am listening with extreme interest. Ouch.

We’re heading towards Louise’s where we’re gonna have a civilised few drinks and something to eat. No really we are. The proper leaving bash is tomorrow, which is a little annoying for Jess and I as it’s a Friday night. I’m sure we’ll be fine.

Louise lives bloody miles away. This I discover as the taxi ride turns into something of an epic trip. I didn’t realise just how sprawling Bangkok’s suburbs were.

On the way w chat about journalism. Vicky would really like to get into photojournalism and asks my advice. I warn her it’s extremely hard to get started but it is doable, and give her some tips. I don’t know whether I inspire her or not. It’s always hard to inspire people to attempt to get into journalism cos it is genuinely a hard profession to get involved with, and you don’t want to be untruthful do you?

After about an hour (really) we arrive and get some beer and food from the soi. We walk to Louise’s apartment block. Liz comes down and gets us. In the lift a really fit Thai lad flirts with Liz. She blushes somewhat but you can tell she’s pretty chuffed.

Louise’s place is on the top floor, which has a long open air area where Anna is playing a table tennis drinking game. Louise is drunk already. Sky is there looking bemused with his girlfriend. There’s also a big bald American man who I don’t know.

I go into the flat with Louise, Sky and Liz and we sit round drinking, eating and having a laugh. Vicky joins us and we talk to her about what ON EARTH she is doing She’s not entirely sure herself. She’s excited but also incredibly apprehensive. She’s going to be living with not only Ben, but his brother and his girlfriend, who are reportedly also unsure about this arrangement. Crikey.

Anna and the American come in. They have been having some sort of heated discussion about teaching and professionalism. He’s basically been having a go at her for drinking on a school night, and saying that none of the teachers he meets in Thailand are professional. This sparks a huge debate, which the American dominates because he won’t let anyone else speak to make their point. He says his idea of professionalism is his girlfriend (who’s in bed – it’s just gone nine) who gets up and basically works until she sleeps, either planning or teaching. I refrain from asking when she has time for him. I don’t feel I know him well enough, that it would be impolite - despite the fact he’s being very rude to all of us in this ‘debate’. There’s part of me that agrees with him. But his delivery of his point (ignoring everything we say and talking over us), as well as his advocacy of what sounds like an all work and no play WHATSOEVER policy seems ridiculous. Surely you can’t teach if you have no life experience yourself? Surely you need a full life in order to teach kids how to have the same? Surely there needs to be some kind of balance?

After a good hour or so, which included a lot of shouting, it comes to an end. Vicky and Anna and I get a cab home. Anna is drunk and upset. Vicky and I take the piss out of the American to lighten the mood but Anna is too drunk to appreciate it. We drop her off and head home ourselves. What a tosser.

May 18
The next night I head out to Bang Kae again, this time with Jess. Liz’s house is hosting Vicky’s leaving do and, thankfully, it’s not as remote as Louise’s place. We meet Fliss at Bang Kae’s neon-lit mall and head to a soi to grab some food with Lisa and Karen. There’s some other new teachers there – the American girl Jenny, and a couple new British girls – Rachel and Louisa.

Everyone fusses over a cat that’s hanging round on the table. It decides it likes me - probably cos I’m not cooing like a grandmother – and sits on my lap. The others look on jealously. I tap my knee to annoy it.

I suddenly realise I’m totally surrounded by women. This is not the first time this has happened to me in my life. It actually happens a lot. But this is the first time it strikes me as odd. Do men not come to Thailand to teach? Sure they do. I’ve met them. Then where are they??

The cat can stand my knee-tapping any longer and fucks off to find a more accommodating human being. We quickly fuck off as well and head to Liz’s place. As we walk down the soi I see the most ridiculous house I have ever seen in my life. Now, the saying goes that money can’t buy you taste (or something), and this house was the living embodiment of that. It looked like a life-size Barbie house. In that it was pink and plastic-looking and could have been modelled on one of those houses in Orange County that try to be ‘Mediterranean’-looking. It was disgusting. I loved it. So much so I took a photo.

When we get to Liz’s place I am envious to discover it is an actual house. With, like, stairs and everything. She is loving everyone’s envy (we all, bar her and her housemates, have apartments) and moving around crowds of people being the consummate hostess.

Anna and Vicky are already drunk. It’s half eight. Vicky is VERY drunk. She moves from friend to friend by draping herself on you, then as someone walks past she drapes herself on them. The effect is rather like a monkey swinging from tree to tree, but without the speed or style.

She tells everybody that comes into her field of vision that she loves them from the bottom of her heart for ever and ever and ever and she will miss them dearly (or words to that effect). She drapes herself on my shoulder for a good five minutes and bangs on about how I have a ‘good aura’ and she’s glad she met me. As much as this sounds like hippy nonsense, I find it quite cute and take the compliment.

I, unfortunately, start to really enjoy myself. I say unfortunately because I have to work at nine the next day. There’s gonna be no going, ‘Oh fuck it’ tonight. Firstly, Jess is here and she is the sensible one of the pair of us and will definitely go home at a reasonable time. Normally this would not be enough to stop me going, ‘Oh fuck it’, but there’s the added danger of me being MILES away from home and work. After James’s goodbye weekend it’s just not worth risking another phone call from an irate Thai girl at half nine tomorrow morning.
So I enjoy myself in a more civilised way. I chat with Jess, Lisa, Fliss, Karen, Joey, Rachel, Jenny and Louisa. I have a laugh with Anna. Rachel starts taking furtive photos and so I start playing up to the camera. I must admit there was enough beer in me to start getting a bit lairy.

But when Vicky starts wrestling with Nick in the garden I laugh from a distance rather than queue up for my go. I do take the piss out of Lisa relentlessly for a good 10 minutes at her denial that she is in Bangkok. She rarely eats Thai food, finding Western where she can. She lives in a fancy block of flats down the road from Jess and I with all the creature comforts. She has a package sent from the UK every month with biscuits and women’s magazines. I don’t know why she bothered coming and say as much. I keep muttering in her ear, “I’minLondonI’minLondonI’minLondonnotinBangkoknononononoLondonyesnotBangkok.” This goes on for quite some time. Thankfully she is in fits of laughter.

I chat to a fit as hell and very handsome Canadian man. He has dark cropped hair, an enticing chest and what you might call a Gallic face (ie big nose). I’m amazed by his belt, the buckle being a large X. I tell him as much. It looks a bit like the X Factor logo but I don’t tell him as much. He’s Canadian, that can’t be it. No, the reason, I discover, is much better – his name is Xavier. XAVIER. How often do you meet people called Xavier?? Amazing.

I turn and see that Vicky is leaning on the barbecue. Worse than that, she seems to be TALKING to the barbecue. I vaguely hear her saying that she loves it from the bottom of her heart for ever and ever and ever and she will miss it dearly (or words to that effect) before I call her over. We’re distracted by Anna’s gay friend Matt. He is a drunken nutter and Anna vaguely tries to matchmake before seeing the glare on my face.

But I never get the chance to catch up with these drunken party-goers and really join their fun. Before long Jess is tapping my shoulder and giving me that resigned look that tells me we are going to be working ALL FUCKING WEEKEND. Goddammit. That would’ve been an excellent party.

Friday, 18 May 2007

A lively night

Paul Oakenfold. A man who’s music I have been listening to since I was about 12 or so. He produced Happy Mondays’ Pills, Thrills ’N’ Bellyaches; man that must have been a tough job. He remixed everyone from U2 to Massive Attack through the 90s. Then he became the most successful DJ on the planet. (Quite literally - the Guinness Book of Records says so.)

I interviewed him once. He was grumpy and untalkative and a bit of a nightmare. It was all hugely disappointing. Somehow I had to make a feature from his monosyllabic answers, which wasn’t a pleasant job. But we’ll gloss over that.

I’ve danced to his DJing a couple times before, most memorably at a Gatecrasher New Year’s Eve party in Birmingham with my sister. Now I’m doing to be doing it again. In Bangkok of all places.

I was more than excited when Jess told me he was DJing here. I’d been getting a bit bored with the routine of working, eating and going to the cinema. Now there was something to look forward to again. Something genuinely exciting.

Although I cancel Nop’s lesson to go, I still attend my muay Thai session. Which is a bit silly cos I’m bloody knackered when I meet Jess and we go to Lisa’s down the road. Nick’s there, looking at a place in Lisa’s building. We chat as we wait for Lisa. I tell him about my plans to do Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in a month. He agrees it’s doable as he did it. He gives me some tips, such as fly as much as possible cos overground travel is painfully slow. Of Laos he says Luang Prabang isn’t really worth doing – it’s just a pretty town with a nice wat to look at, and he’s sure I’ve seen enough of them. He has a point. He says Vang Vieng in Laos is fun – you can go tubing (sitting in a rubber tube and floating down the river, ostensibly). Of Vietnam he tells me Halong Bay is stunning, and that Hanois is better than Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), but HCMC has the Cu Chi tunnels, which are worth a visit.

We head to Sukhumvit, where we meet up with Joey (who is REALLY excited!) and then Fliss (typically laid-back). We go to the club to buy our tickets – it’s early but we wanna make sure we get in. Just walking up to the place is exciting – drapes and lights make it feel like a swanky celebrity haunt. It’s all very ostentatious. We love it.

In stark contrast, The Ship Inn is not ostentatious. It’s a Thai attempt at a British pub, and not a bad attempt at that. It has a dartboard.

We order food. All I want is a burger and chips so I have one. Lisa orders a chip butty. It’s bloody massive when it turns up. She seems a bit scared by it.

After we eat the others play darts while I chat to Joey. It’s the first time I’ve chatted to her properly I think. She’s a cool girl – I like her unbridled enthusiasm for things.

Jess goes out for a fag. She comes back in laughing. “I almost forgot we were Thailand for a moment,” she says, throwing a dart. “Then I walked out and saw an elephant going past.”We can delay no longer. We head to the club, taking pics of the swish entrance before we go in.

Inside it’s pretty quiet, we’re still pretty early. It’s fairly small as clubs go – a long room on lots of different levels. We navigate podiums, cross the dancefloor and find ourselves a table under the DJ booth.

The music is good, though Oakie’s not on for awhile. We dance a bit, drink a bit, take photos a bit. I discover ‘Night Scene’ mode on my camera and go a little crazy with it.

I’m excited. I miss clubbing. We talk about drugs. A pill would go down nicely right now but it’s not going to happen in this country, not for me anyway. You need to know the right people and tread a whole lot more carefully than you do back home. Drugs are heavily frowned on here, to understate it somewhat.

Joey goes off to chat up farang men. We watch her talking to a man who is as tall as she is short. He seems very bemused by her. Times passes. Still no sign of Oakie. The girls get a little impatient. They have to work tomorrow so don’t want it to be crazy late when they get home. Midnight comes and goes and still no sign. He was due on at 11. And then suddenly the girls’ panic is forgotten. He’s here.

The place erupts. I suddenly realise just how full the place now is; a total contrast to when we arrived. Well-dressed Thais mix with not as well-dressed farang. All have big grins on their faces as podgy Paul kick-starts his set.

He plays some thrillingly energetic trance music. Lisa and I run to a podium the moment we hear the first strains of Faster Kill Pussycat, which he plays early on. We laugh at a guy dancing on a stage above us, as he pulls some funny rave moves with his glow sticks, all the while wearing sunnies. I keep hitting a guy sat beneath me but I don’t care. This. Is. Amazing.

I dance on and off. I’m shagged from muay Thai, but the music keeps me getting up for more. The heat doesn’t help. I go and hang out by the fan where some crazy Thai lady starts flicking her hair at my chest. I look around and notice I’m surrounded by pilled up Thais. A little jealously I wonder what the ecstasy is like here. I ain’t gonna find out though.

Joey is lost in the music. Lisa is loving it.

Even more so when Oakie waves at her a couple times. Fliss and Jess dance happily. I get up and dance on stage for a bit, getting a good view of Oakie at work and the crowd bouncing beneath me. Oakie seems to think he’s the wizard of Oz, doing lots of funny hand movements like he’s actually making the music with his hands. Weirdo. But hey, he’s still pulling off an amazing set.

Just as it seems to be finishing I clamber down and head over to the girls. But then he plays another one – the anthemic The World Is Mine – and I rush back to the stage.

And then it’s over. Unbelievable. The girls are relieved – it’s nearly three and they have to be up in a few hours. But I could have had some more of that. It was awesome!

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

total:spec - Songkran

On New Year’s Eve in Bangkok revellers spent much of the evening, as one unfortunate friend of mine put it, “running around the city trying not to get blown up”. Not by rogue fireworks, of course, but by the eight bombs that went off in the city and the nearby Nonthaburi Province. That’s going to ruin anyone’s evening.

So it’s lucky then that the Thais save their real New Year celebrations for a whole three and a half months later, in mid-April when they celebrate what they lovingly call Songkran.
Taking place every year between April 13th and 15th, Thai New Year was the official start to the new year up until 1888, after which they used April 1st. It wasn’t until 1940 that they joined Western society with January 1st.

But Thai New Year is still celebrated much more whole-heartedly here than the Western New Year’s Eve. And like much of Thai culture, it’s a seemingly contradictory weekend. These devout Buddhists not only take the time to ‘make merit’ (bring good karma) by pouring scented water on Buddha images and paying respect to their elders, they also go all out in what must be the biggest water fight to take place on the planet… ever!

The water fight aspect originates from the New Year tradition of pouring a small amount of lustral (cleansing) water on other people’s hands as a sign of respect. New Year in Thailand, like the rest of the world, is seen as a time for cleansing, renewal and starting anew. But this gentle practice was given a new spin by the Thai youth and now a bucket of water over your head is more common.

The festival takes place all over the country and, while it’s officially only three days, in some rural areas the water-fighting can go on for a few weeks. I head to Chiang Mai – Thailand’s big city in the north (its Manchester, if you will) – where I’m told by the locals in Bangkok the festival is embraced the most whole-heartedly.

They’re not kidding. The centre of the city is surrounded by a square moat, around which Songkran revellers line up with buckets, bins and water guns and continually spray water at every human being that walks anywhere near them (including and especially those friends and loved ones they are stood next to).

I buy myself a five nozzle water gun which is able to cover ten people in water at a time. I take my top off in order to catch some sun. Although I feel like Rambo, I look ridiculous. But it doesn’t matter. The term ‘drowned rat’ could apply to anyone in the city of Chiang Mai during the five days (five days!) of water fighting that occurs over Songkran.

Nowhere is safe (unless, of course, you’re one of the revered monks). I take a minute at one point to sit on a bank by the moat, away from all the water-fighting, so I can take some pictures. As I’m doing so a Thai man comes up behind me, says “Excuse me” in my ear and politely pours a bucket of water down my back. My reaction? Why, I thank him of course, and wish him Happy New Year – “Sawadee bee mai.”

Songkran is a fertility festival, the throwing of water done with a view to bringing on the rains for a good harvest of rice and other foods - though you do wonder about the logic of such a massive waste of water at such a dry time of year. But it’s this dry and sweltering hot time of year that has influenced the growth of the festival into one big water fight as well. Normally in April the sun is at its hottest and a bucket of ice cold water in the face comes as blessed relief.

For my first Songkran, however, global warming deals me some bad luck. The rains have anticipated the Buddhists’ sacrificing of so much water and come early. Much of the weekend is overcast and drizzly, with the sun only making rare guest appearances. Not that we notice the rain. It makes no difference when you’re soaked to the bone by buckets and water guns every other second. For the comparatively cold weather makes no difference to the Songkran revellers and I get squirted with so much ice water I have to go back to my guesthouse and put more clothes on. (They’re soaked in a matter of minutes, of course, but at least I’m warmer.)

I see the gentler side of Songkran as well, when on the second day a parade of golden Buddha images is marched down the street in the middle of Chiang Mai and people approach the statues to pour scented water over them to bring good luck. People paint each other with flour mixed with water as well, a practice that originates from Buddhist monks doing the same thing to mark blessings.

I get the odd bit of scented water poured over me, which is apparently even luckier than normal water, so again I’m very thankful to the Thais responsible, and I emerge from the street with a few white stripes on my face as well. They don’t last, of course, as I head back into the throng.
The religious aspect does pale into insignificance next to the crazy water war going on around it, however, and you really have to get on board with it, otherwise you’ll just suffer.

One European woman who stormed past me at one point had obviously missed this point. I saw a Thai woman reach out to her to paint a white stripe on her cheek with some flour. The European wiped it off angrily and smeared it on the t-shirt of another Thai woman. I got the feeling she wasn’t enjoying the festival. But then she didn’t have a five nozzle water gun and an inspiring motto to follow – don’t get mad, get even.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

April showers

Time for another round-up of the life and times of myself in Bangkok. This entry is brought to you by the month of April.

This month I have mostly been…

I get a new private lesson on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons: an 18 year-old lad called Karn. Never have I met someone who can talk as much as him. What’s amazing is that he chatters away in a language that’s not his own. With a new student I use this conversation prompts game that helps me get to know the student and get to know what level of English they’re at. It normally lasts about an hour. With Karn it lasts FOUR HOURS. This is over a period of two lessons I hasten to add, not four hours straight. But still. FOUR HOURS. Luckily he’s immensely likeable, funny and very, very open (as you can imagine, being such a talker).

He tells me an amazing story the first time we meet. He wants some advice about a girl he’s met and I tell him I’ll do my best. He’s already told me he’s recently split up from another girlfriend who broke his heart so I’m already in Dear Deidre mode. He tells me he kept seeing this girl on the bus that he really liked and eventually he plucked up the courage to go and talk to her. They got on well and spoke each time they saw each other and eventually they swapped numbers. Karn was happy. They chatted on the phone a bit and he felt like he was getting over his ex. He went out with this new girl, who he tells me works in The Pizza Company near ECC, and has a great time. Then she tells him she has something to tell him. He pauses at this point and it’s the first time I see him stuck for words. I’m on tenterhooks. What on earth did she say?? Then he finally spits it out. She told him she’s not actually a girl.

Only in Thailand.

He says he’s gutted. “I not gay!” he proclaims. “I like her but I not gay!” He now doesn’t know what to do and wants some advice. I think he’s expecting me to say just drop her and looks a bit horrified when I tell him to meet up with her or call her, explain you just want to be friends, or something; let her down gently. He’s very confused cos he still thinks she’s hot – he ays you really can’t tell. We have a long conversation about it and he resolves to do as I say.

At the end of the lesson I’m already looking forward to the next one (first time ever??) to find out what happened. And what happened is very sweet. He did exactly what I said – met up with her, said he can only be friends, had a nice evening at the cinema with her, and then bid farewell. They probably won’t speak again, but hey, no harm done. God I’m good, he he.

Lessons with Nop, the 27 year old I teach at his house, get better and better, though I always dread them for some reason. I think it’s because I can’t escape. Like, at ECC I can wander out the classroom on the pretext of getting a resource for use in the lesson. I can move around a bit. But there I’m stuck. Plus there’s still residue of the bad start we got off to as well, I think. But the lessons work well now, I know what he wants and how best to teach him.

My private students get younger and older as well. I get given a seven year old girl called Jaa to teach. She’s very cute and a little mischievous, but won’t speak a word unless heavily prompted. Again I get the impression she’s here to be looked after, that I’m a glorified babysitter once more, but it’s not too bad.

And I get given a 39-year-old woman for conversation practice. She’s really interesting, not in that she’s a rich housewife married to a gynaecologist, but in that she talks about Bangkok before it became the urban sprawl it is now, when it was much more bucolic and had a greater sense of community to it. Living in it now, it’s hard to imagine.

Mine and Muang continue to be an entertaining challenge. All I do now is play games (involving English) with them, and in the process try and get them to use as much English as possible. One evening their father sits in the room with us and it’s brilliant – he won’t allow them to speak Thai and they pretty much speak English for the whole hour and a half. Of course the following week all is back to normal with their constant Thai chatter and bickering with the occasional allowance of my presence. I just have fun with them though, and they’re not hating it and neither am I, so that’s the main thing.

…having unwelcome dreams.
The most pleasant thing about heading around the world and leaving behind your life back home (and the reason most people do it) is that you are so completely distracted by your new life and surroundings you can easily forget any problems or issues or memories from the past you had back home.

But while you think about those things less, those old feelings still linger in the depths of your brain and occasionally resurface to bite you on the ass. Early one Wednesday morning I have a dream about a man from my past, someone who hasn’t been a part of my life for years, but it’s so vivid and heart-wrenching that it lingers horribly throughout the day. I can do nothing. I just mull. It ridiculous, but what goes up must come down, it seems, and this must be a side effect of the immense joy and freedom you experience in getting away from it all.

It only lasts a day. I suffer one day of dealing with old emotions I thought were long buried before life reminds where I am and what I’m doing again.

…hanging out with the girls from Bang Kae.
So there were Jess and I innocently playing pool in Gulliver’s 2 last month when three crazy ass girls by the names of Anna, Felicity and Vicky walked into our lives. Our burgeoning friendship with these infinitely lovely Westerners who, like us, are here in Bangkok teaching, introduces us to yet more friendships as the month unfolds.

I spend a lot of time with them this month, as you’ll see as you read further on in this blog, but there’s a particularly memorable drunkfest that occurs not long after Sean has departed for New Zealand.

It’s Thursday evening and I’ve just finished my evening adult class. We were revising for a test and they all looked well nervous, bless them. But they’ll be fine.

Anyway, I head over the river to meet Jess on Khao San Road for a planned drinking session (apart from Jess of course, who doesn’t drink). We meet in the big Irish bar where I find Jess has ‘pulled’ once again. This time it’s a Norwegian woman called Hanne who was looking lonely so Jess started chatting to her. Hanne, I discover, is on a two month trip taking in Kenya and Thailand. A bizarre pairing, I think, but she was apparently invited on the trip by a friend who organised it and then pulled out. So here she is, having done Kenya, on her own in Thailand. She’s enjoying herself but is obviously pleased to have some company.

I eat some food while they chat. I can barely hear what Hanne’s saying, the music’s so bloody loud, but we have a bit of a chat about Norwegian pop music. I like Robyn (who she tells me is Swedish, oops) and Annie. She’s not impressed. She’s more of a Royksopp and Kings of Convenience girl.

We invite her along with us and go and meet the girls at Gas Station – an outside drinking hole that is a petrol station by day (see what they did there?) and a boozer at night. My mate Justin told me about it before I came and so I text him when I get there, telling him I finally made it, but bemoaning the fact they are playing a bloody Mariah Carey concert video on the big screen. Who needs that when they’re drinking? Justin texts back to tell me he’s sat at his desk waiting for the clock to reach five o’clock (maybe suffering Mariah Carey ain’t so bad) and to have a Sangsom whisky and coke for him. I oblige.

There are some new faces sat around the table: a Canadian called Rachelle who’s nice and chatty, and a couple of girls from my neck of the woods in London – Khilna, who’s from Twickenham, and Lisa, who studied in Kingston. The three of us bond over south-west London until Vicky brings out a water pistol filled with Sangsom and things start to get a little raucous. (Did I just use the word raucous on my blog? I think I did. Oh dear.)

I drink beer. Mojitos. I get slowly pissed. We head to a club on Khao San Road called Lava. It does what it says on the tin; before we arrive Vicky describes the interior as ‘how you might imagine an interior designer doing up a place to look like a volcano’. She’s not wrong, and it’s bloody awful. Not just the interior, but the relentless R&B and hip hop (do they think Westerners listen to nothing else??) and the VERY expensive drinks. Even poor Jess has to pay top dollar for some fruit juice.

I’m feeling self-conscious cos I’m in my shorts (dancing in shorts just ain’t pretty, I’m afraid) which make me look like I’m on safari or something. Though truth be told there’s plenty of wildlife in here, of the Westerners on holiday kind.

I have a boogie with Hanne, but she makes me even more self-conscious because she’s bloody amazing at dancing. Then she tells me she used to work as a professional choreographer. That’ll do it.

Lisa and Khilna get chatted up by some English boys. One of the lads is pretty as hell and Fliss and I can’t take our eyes off him. He’s wrapped up in Lisa though so we get away with it. But then a drunken Fliss goes over and chats to him and his mate and asks if they’re gay cos I fancy him. I have no idea what’s happening at this point, I can just see Fliss talking to them and them looking over at me and I get worried. Turns out they’re cool and jokingly pretend to be boyfriends, but God knows what she was saying to them cos they were giving me funny looks for a while.

We go and dance a bit; I dance with Khilna. She can’t dance for toffee, bless her. Hanne gets loads of attention, inevitably. She’s thrusting away like Britney Spears in a porn video. I go back to the bar (I just can’t dance in shorts) and chat to Jess. She’s having loads of fun, laughing at everyone’s pissedness. This is how she usually entertains herself on nights out like this – remembering what everyone else forgets.

Eventually she decides to go home. I know I should go with her, I’ve got class at nine, but I don’t. Instead I stay and chat with Fliss about boys. And get more drunk.

We go to another bar when the club shuts, leaving Hanne there with some bloke she’s pulled. We go upstairs in some bar on Khao San and the girls get chatting to some lads playing pool – one of them lived in the same small town as Lisa. None of us have heard of it but they both get excited! Fliss is talking football with some other lads. One of them asks me what football team I support. I tell him any one with good-looking players in it. He says, “Are you gay?” and I turn and look at Fliss, asking, “What have you been saying now?” She denies all, and the guy says it was my comment, which of course it was. I don’t know why I was being a knob. Might have been something to do with the booze. Possibly.

I wander off, knowing I’ve been a twat, and set up the pool table. I play doubles with Fliss against these two lads. We’re awful. Anna is having a heart-to-heart in the corner with Vicky and when we decide to leave I go off to find them. Some Dutch guy is with them and, it’s all a bit vague, but for some reason I got really arsey with him. Anna is as drunk as hell and needs looking after so I take her downstairs as the men who own the place try to usher us out as quickly as possible. They even turned the lights off about 10 minutes ago but we’re still here!
On Khao San I keep an eye on Anna as she keeps wandering off and no one else is paying the least bit of attention. She’s been crying, and is upset about something. On the road I see Hanne with some bloke. She’s also crying. I go and see what’s up. She says she’s okay, it’s just she’s been chatting to this guy she met who’s a psychologist and he said some things to her that got her a little upset. What bad luck, to pull a bloody psychologist in a club! I ask her again if she’s all right and she insists she’ll be fine.

We all get in a cab. Anna is still upset. How she’s going to get up for work tomorrow is beyond me. But then I have that problem to deal with as well. Oh. Dear.

…watching some films.
Jess and I were bored one evening and decided to go and see Primeval. It looks like a trashy monster flick about a big croc, and so we were expecting it to be a bit shit. But surprisingly it was a whole lot more than just a monster flick. Not only do the American journalists sent to capture said big croc on film have that very croc to fend off, they also spend half the film navigating Burundi’s violent civil war and the gangs with guns that that throws in their path. It’s a real thrill ride and doesn’t live up to your expectations too much (though the black best friend does get eaten).

Jess didn’t come with me to see Hannibal Rising. She’s not a fan of psychological horror. Blood and gore she can handle, but anything that might mess with your head a bit and she’s not in. I love the character though, so couldn’t wait to see another film with him in, and it was good. The guy playing Hannibal was weirdly sexy and, despite yourself, you felt sympathetic for old (well, young actually) Hannibal. It’s quite action-packed from the outset as well, which is unexpected for an origin movie. They did good with it.

…hanging out with the other teachers.
One evening, after heading over to Pizza Company to see if we can see Karn’s ladyboy (we have no luck, it could have been any of the waitresses or none of them), Jess and I sit with fellow teachers Vanda, Ian and Ricky in the drinking area next to the market by the cinema. It’s just a place that serves drinks and food, surrounded by a few tables, where you can watch the traffic go by on the freeway and breathe in the lovely smell of petrol fumes. We like it.

It’s a fun evening but nothing much happens to recount here. We spend pretty much the entire evening firing movie quotes at each other and in the process frustrating each other immensely. It’s great fun, just the kind of evening you’d have with your mates in the pub back home.
We do similar a couple of times this month and again I feel lucky to have such a nice and sociable bunch of people to work with. Touch wood, that’s always been the case so far.

…buying my first CD in A Very Long Time.
Before I left I was getting quite excited about a new band called Enter Shikari. They’re a hardcore band that use trance riffs in their songs, bringing together two wildly different genres in a way no one would have ever thought possible.

I promised myself I’d have a break from music a bit this year, take the opportunity to enjoy all my old music instead of obsessing about new stuff all the time. Well I caved this month. I knew Enter Shikari’s album was coming out and kept looking for it on Khao San Road. With iTunes on the computers at work I knew I’d be able to get it onto my iPod as well, no problem. As soon as I saw the CD I bought it, 100 baht. Amazing. And it is amazing as well. To say it’s Lostprophets remixed by Faithless would be doing them a disservice but it gives you and idea of what they’re about. I played the album non-stop for two weeks. I always do this with music I love, play it death and almost kill it for myself due to overexposure. But I can’t help it, if I love something I want to hear it again and again.

…doing some Muay Thai.
But not much. I only go three times this month. This is a problem. To get the level of endurance you need to do it properly you need about six or seven weeks intensive training. But I find myself with very little time to dedicate to it. This month, between working, going to Chiang Mai, Paul visiting and me getting ill (see below), Muay Thai takes a back seat. But I keep promising myself to spend more time doing it, so we’ll see.

…getting ill.
Three days of water-fighting, alongside four nights of solid drinking in Chiang Mai, take its toll and upon my return I come down with a bout of what my female friends would no doubt describe as ‘man flu’. But still it’s not pleasant and mars Paul’s visit somewhat (I find myself unable to get drunk with him). Once he’s gone, however, I rest up and it moves on its merry way.

…having some roast dinners.
Anna tells us about a pub they know in Sukhumvit called The Londoner, which is a mock English pub that plays football, sells bitter and, most importantly, does roast dinners. Not having had such a delight since I left the UK I am understandably keen to get my arse down there and sample said culinary treat. Of course, we’re in Thailand, it might be awful. But still, it’s worth the risk. And it is. Man, I’m so happy and content with the roast pork in front of me (the only reminder I’m in Thailand? We’re not sure what fruit the ‘apple’ sauce is actually made from), I don’t notice the minor row that nearly erupts between Fliss and a male friend of Vicky’s. Something about Jews, I don’t know. Who cares about anti-Semitism when there’s roast potatoes to be eaten?

It’s so good we go back a couple weeks later when Fliss’s mum is here. I’m sat with the pair of them and it’s quite funny watching Fliss in ‘behaving around the parents’ mode. It’s almost like being with a different person. I never bother personally. Both my sister and I behave around our folks much as we would around our mates (with a few concessions, of course, they are our folks after all).

This second stint at The Londoner is also memorable for the Canadian girl, also a teacher and a friend of Rachelle’s, who thinks that Jess and I are married. Not dating, but MARRIED. I tell her to keep her mouth shut and not to ruin the surprise, which defuses the weirdness a bit.

…hanging out with Beer.
There is, it seems, no such thing as a one night stand in Thailand. I had to fend off the last Thai bloke I slept with after he was sending me text messages saying he missed me and calling me baby less than ONE HOUR after he’d left my room. Now I have Beer on my hands. But this time the keenness to keep in touch is less frightening and so I go with it (I quite like him), in the process acquiring what you might call my Thai boyfriend.

I use the word ‘boyfriend’ in the loosest possible sense, as that suggests some kind of commitment. Given that I’m off in a couple months and that I have absolutely no intention at all of not sleeping with anyone else while I’m here, I certainly wouldn’t consider him my boyfriend. But we end up spending a few evenings together after our first meeting during Sean’s visit.

First time we meet on Khao San Road and have something to eat. He tells me his real name is Supachai Chachum, which is much better than his faintly ridiculous nickname (I’ll get into the whole Thai nicknames thing in another entry). It’s nice to talk to him in a normal state, not be either rip-roaringly drunk and trying to get into his pants, or so hungover I can barely keep hold of who I am let alone him. He tells me he wants to go to England. This might ring alarm bells in another situation but he’s not interested in me for that; he’s aware I won’t be back there for some time. He’s going over to stay with some friends there somewhere in Essex and work in a Thai restaurant.

His English is really good. He says he’s never been taught but learnt from watching movies and TV. It’s hard to believe him, he speaks it so well, but he insists it’s true.

When we finish eating he takes me to a gay bar near Khao San. I wasn’t aware there was one but it’s apparently a bit of a local secret, not for farang like me. It’s for what Beer amusingly calls the ‘sticky rice’ gays – the Thai gay guys that only like other Thais.

We get in no problem though and head to the bar to order some beers. It’s a bit of a dive, and looks more like the stockroom of a shop than a bar, the black walls probably hiding a fair amount of sins. The clientele are everything you’d expect ‘sticky rice’ gays to be – Thai from wall to wall. I’m the only farang in the joint, but to be honest I’m quite happy about that. It’s nice to experience something a bit more ‘local’ than bloody Khao San Road.

I’ve got an early start the next morning so we don’t stay long, just long enough for a beer and to enjoy the boy dancers that appear on the rickety stage at one point. They are followed by a troupe of screechy drag queens (even more screechy than British ones thanks to their Thai accents) who are filthy (apparently, according to Beer, who blushes he’s so shy) for 15 minutes or so before tottering back up the stairs.

I see Beer again a couple weeks later, after my sojourn to Chiang Mai. This time we meet down in Silom, where he takes me to Telephone Bar. Now there are probably bars like this across the globe but I’ve never been in one before so it was quite a novelty. By each seat, whether you’re at a table or sat at the bar, there is a telephone. If you spot someone you like across the bar you can pick it up and call them, chat them up across the bar without even having to leave your friends. Amazing.

Beer’s phone rings while we’re sat at the bar. He chats in Thai for a while and of course I’m dying to know what was said when he hangs up. But he won’t tell me. He changes the subject as soon as he can and is resistant to further enquiry. Bastard! I wanna know!

After we’ve finished eating Beer takes me up to Chatuchak, north of the city. There’s a row of bars there - some gay, some straight – and he’s meeting some friends of his at one of them. Again it’s packed to the rafters with Thai gay boys, but this time there’s less of a mix – most of them are whippet thin and camp as Christmas. The music reflects that with its mix of frenetic Thai pop and diva-esque R&B from the likes of Gwen Stefani and Fergie. I hate it but grin and bear it.

Beer’s friends are more of the whippet thin crowd. I really can’t believe how skinny these guys are; they make me look fat. There are three of them, one a lot bigger built than the others, even towering over me.

They kindly offer me a drink and I take a whisky and coke from them. They’re drinking from a bottle of Spey Royal, which I’ve not tried before. It’s the first and last time I do. It doesn’t sit well in my stomach and as soon as I’ve got a polite amount down I switch back to beer. Thai whisky is dodgy as, man.

We stand around and I watch the queenie gay boys do their little dance routines and pose and rubberneck at all the other gay boys who are doing dance routines and posing and rubbernecking. It’s amusing but really not my scene.

Beer dances a bit though and I notice he’s pretty good. He tells me he used to be part of a dance troupe at a bar down in party capital (my words, not his) Pattaya. Pattaya is like Thailand’s version of Newquay, just with more go-go bars.

I look at Beer funny and he’s quick to assure me it was nothing dodgy; he wasn’t stripping or selling himself or anything. I believe him; he’s too damn shy for that.

We eventually bail, me being a bit of an old man, and head back to his. But I’m starting to wonder if I can keep this up with him. Do I like him that much?

…celebrating Thai New Year in Chiang Mai.
See separate entry.

…being a terrible host to my friend Paul.
See separate entry.

…hanging out with Jess.
We eat together, walk home together, work together, all that. But as much as it’s situation that has thrown us together like this, I’m sure neither of us would encourage it if we didn’t like each other’s company.

Jess is very cool and chilled, never loses her temper about ANYTHING. If I’m ever a bit of an idiot, she just takes the piss. We give each other space as well - there’s only so much time you spend with any person – but it’s all unsaid, instinctual. We’ll sit there in perfectly comfortable silences as well, no problem, before the conversation starts up again in some new, totally random direction. It’s an entirely different relationship to that with Mengly, from whom, weirdly (or maybe not), I’ve not heard from since she left. The only thing I can put that down to is that her time in Thailand was that bad she just wants to forget about it and move on. Which is fine, you know, that’s her choice.

But I digress. Jess is the kind of friend you can wander round with randomly, with no direction, and just chat shit. As we do one evening later in the month, when we’re bored and wander round Central shopping mall, looking at the expensive cars on display and deciding what kind of person would buy each one and whether we could afford one on Thai prices (the answer is no). It’s a random forgettable evening but all the more memorable for that.

…saying goodbye to James.
See separate entry.

…amazed by the rain.
Seriously. It pours buckets and buckets. You literally cannot move when it’s raining because if you walk into it you will be soaked to the skin in about two seconds (maybe three if you’re lucky). And then, just moments later, it’s sunny and hot again, the only evidence there was rain being the puddles that form on the badly built pavements. (Is built the correct verb? Do you ‘build’ a pavement? Answers on a postcard please.) The pouring rain is usually preceded by (literally) cracking thunderstorms. The brightest lightning followed by the biggest, loudest thunder you ever heard. I enjoy these storms from the safety of my room’s balcony; they’re not so much fun when I’m out and about.

But monsoon season has come early this year. It’s normally sweltering hot right now. I mean, it is hot anyway, but it’s normally hotter and without the storms. I’m preferring the rain to be honest.

...reading some books.
I borrow a trashy thriller novel off Jess, she loves them. It’s called Gone For Good and is by a guy called Harlan Coben. It’s a bit like watching one of those TV films they show in the afternoon. You know you’re not going to like it, that it’s going to be terrible, but you slowly get drawn into it and by the time you’re half way through you’re sticking with it just because to not know what happens would leave you distraught. Well, not distraught but definitely annoyed.

I get hold of the second His Dark Materials novel, The Subtle Knife, in Chiang Mai. It’s amazing, even more exciting than the first one. Though I’m not sure about the relegation of the main character, a girl, to second place by a boy. I think that was a little sexist. Maybe it’ll all sort itself out in the third one.

I read a trashy vampire novel set in Bangkok called The Vampire Of Siam. After reading Bangkok 8, which details the city so vividly, I found Jim Newport’s book very slight and lacking. He just seems to name streets here and there rather than give you any idea of what Bangkok’s actually like. And the story itself is a bit predictable and, I think, not very believable. Yeah, I know, it’s a vampire novel. But what the vampire does at the end doesn’t ring true to the character to me. Not a great book!

Which brings me to Bangkok Tattoo, the sequel to Bangkok 8. Once again Bangkok itself is the main character and John Burdett takes you even further into both the shady and shadier parts of the city. And it’s nice to get back to characters I know and like in another complicated and exciting story. They’re wicked books.

I also plough on with Anne Frank, which becomes more and more like a Judy Bloom novel – ie snogging and talk of periods. I’m sure it’ll hit me with the tragedy at the end and I’ll feel awful for slagging it off, but it really is like that!