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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Hualamphong 

is Bangkok's main train station.
It's also a good landmark for this neighborhood, near the Chao Phaya river that runs through the city.

At the moment, I'm across the street from the station, for who knows how long, at an internet cafe.
Everything I own in Thailand (that's not much since my luggage was stolen a while ago) is in the Left Luggage center at Hualamphong.

D'you want to know why?!
A guy with whom I'm teaching part-time has a room not far from here and he's moved into an actual apartment so he's agreed to sublet the place for me for the next 2 weeks while I finish my TEFL course (which is coming along at a great pace, by the way).
I'm doing him a favor, and he's said he'd do one for me.

Or so I thought.
Caught a cab to the school this afternoon; we'd agreed last week he'd leave his keys there for me.
When we arrived, I begged the driver to wait for "2 minutes". He shrugged, "mai ben lai", which means, vaguely, "no problem, whatever, it doesn't bother me". A typical Thai expression; whether they really mean it or not, it's best to take it at face value.
Rushed to the teachers room, but there were no teachers there.
And no keys, either.
Only three students who were generous enough to offer a mobile phone to me.

This guy's phone was stolen last week on a crowded bus, so of course no one answered it when I rang. I had to call the man who set me up with this position (more on him some other time....he's a character) to get subletter's girlfriend's phone number.
She didn't answer hers, either.
Fingers and brain were numb as I smiled politely to the girls and strode back to the taxi.

Blank-mindedly I entered the cab, having no idea of where to go.
All my possessions were with me in the car, and I was unsure of where to spend the night.
The driver looked at me politely in the rearview mirror.
"Hualamphong, please," I said, eyeing the hot narrow streets around us, dusty from exhaust, thinking over and again, "mai ben lai".


It's all good.
Time to phone the girl again, and if that fails, there are basic fan rooms across from the station for $5/night. And a cheap sushi dinner with D. the Macedonian and his girlfriend.
More on him soon, too.

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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Kanchanaburi 

is a jungly Thai town made famous for a bridge over a river that was renamed the River Kwai.



Last weekend I got the hell out of Bangkok and got some fresh air-and a history lesson or two.

This weekend I did a visa run (tourist visas are only good for 30 days) to Poipet, Cambodia, through a visa service, which cost little more than doing it on my own.

We spent much of the day on an air-con bus, and lunch was greasy Asian buffet fare inside a sterile casino.
To get there, we walked through lanes of begging children, elderly, and land mine victims. Some of them held babies no more than a few weeks old.

I nearly stumbled, my vision blurred, as we rushed past them, unprepared with coins in hand and knowing it wouldn't be a good idea to stop and fumble for change.
Last year, I spent several days at Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat), and it was desperately poor, but it held nothing like the misery of this place.

"You should've seen it several years ago," said an Australian as we wove through traffic. Almost none of it was motorized - nearly all was human: primarily men and boys pulling huge wooden carts filled with produce and people, almost identical to the ones you can see in representations of daily life on the walls of Angkor from 800 years ago.
"There were guys walking around with machine guns," he continued. "You wanted to get the hell out of here. They've really cleaned it up since."
My feet skidded in the muddy street, and I thought that one visit to Poipet was enough for me...

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Hot days in Bangkok 

A brief review of the past few days.

The TEFL course is progressing at a pace that's quite a bit slower than I'd hoped, as the main instructor is often late, and out of our total time of 4 hours a day, nearly a quarter of it is taken up by our lunch break.
There are also a dozen students, half of whom are not native speakers of English, and four others who very much like to hear themselves speak. Which is a quality shared by our instructor, a man who at least is charismatic enough to make him interesting.

It is very easy for a western woman with pale eyes and decent - ahem - presentation (read: nice figure and clothing) to find jobs in Bangkok, as the job-seekers here are, overwhelmingly, men, for reasons recently stated. Thais have many little girls that need to be taught, and they'd rather have a female teacher for them. Western women can also be a drawcard for business/corporate training.

I did some temp teaching last week for the first time since June, in a girls' high school.
Didn't really enjoy it, though I thought I would.
I don't know if the girls did, either, though they seemed to.
At the end of a lesson ("ear-ache!" "back-ache!" "knee hurts!" "hospital!") filled with physical and writing and listening activities, we played the old standby, hangman.

I'll return there tomorrow and Friday (it'll help pay for my visa run to Poipet, at the Cambodian border this weekend), and we're to do some sort of preparation for a big quiz show....will know more soon. And tomorrow I will have a new pair of presentable shoes. It was remarked upon by the administrators there that I was wearing sandals and inappropriate trousers (though I'd been told I wouldn't be teaching till the following week!).

"Oh, Sister So-and-so at St. ______'s wants to interview you today," said our teaching instructor. I said yes, as I was curious to see more of the school I'd walked past every day since moving into the neighborhood.
And I wanted to check out some of her interview techniques.

Sister So-and-so, a white-frocked Filipina, sized me up immediately, stiff and sweating as I was in a green silk skirt. She asked me questions about my original degree and later experiences, in teaching and other jobs as well.

Her thinking was transparent: "Where can I fit this foreigner in my school? How can I use her?" Then, when I offhandedly mentioned the boyfriend in Korea, she saw me as a potential liability. Her questioning grew more specific on teaching techniques and my TEFL course.
Told her I would be unavailable to teach till the course was finished.
Of course I had no intention of teaching for them, as their salary is extremely low, even for Bangkok, and their teacher turnover is high.
Have heard stories of this nun keeping tabs on her foreign teachers, asking them who they're dating and how late they were out the night before.

Also, one must be at the school from 7:30am-3:30pm. It's too close to the concept of a 9-5 job, which was also true of my last job in Korea. And that's the kind of life that I've never been able to maintain for very long.
NEVER AGAIN! I say, unless it's something I really, really enjoy.
And even though I will, I think, I hope to be a much better teacher after this TEFL course, unless something changes, I will not have the crucial fire and the drive for EFL teaching that I have for other interests. But teaching is, for a while, a bridge to other places, so I will continue with it for a while.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Patpong II: "I hope the money arrived you" 

Money drives the world and all of us in it, and money from sex tourism fuels Thailand's economy.

In the introduction, one author writes:
"To all the men whose letters appear in this book, I thank you all for some fascinating material. May your love lives be positive and your blood tests negative."

And a Thai woman who translates letters for the girls:
"When the man go to Patpong, he will see beautiful girl. But beautiful girl in American eyes. Not beautiful in Thai eyes....He take her upcountry or beach...they satisfy together. And he send money."

A friend's plump Thai girlfriend recently remarked: "We Thais think these girls are ugly!" And she tossed her hair at the beautiful girls across the street from us.

A Thai psychologist: "morality is not an issue here....Both sexes are exploited. You have the male filling the vacuum of cheap labor. And you have the female filling the vacuum of the sex trade."

Many Thai women support entire families - parents, children, siblings - on the money received from foreigners. Bank accounts and the like are themes running through every letter. As are the mundane jobs that consume many of these men's lives. And often, touching insecurities are revealed.

English is often the second language for both the writer and reader, but just as frequently the broken english is a result of the condescending pidgin spoken in similar relationships around the world.


German: "You are my wife, my little spoiled daughter and the mother of our baby, although we were stupid to give away our good baby...I hoped that you will have our baby in your body. I thought always, when you have a baby of me, you will never go off of me. Our baby I loved bery, very much. But perhaps I'm only stupid."

After a detailed description of the STD he's caught from the girl: "I have sent you a koala (doll) from Australia to keep you company in your room."

French: "It is true, my love: if it was not for you, I would feel a very old and tired man, a useless person, and would eventually give up everything and let myself die. I have nobody else than you...Please love me a little."

"I met you about one month ago about 11:00 in the Pussy Galore club...Probably and hopefully you can remember me. It is already a long time.
That evening I didn't give you money. I feel very sorry about that. If you like I will send you money or perhaps something else. Just tell me.
I have not introduced myself. I am 42 years old, but I feel myself younger. I do a lot of sports (jogging, tennis) and I work as a bookkeeper in an office. I live in the Netherlands. It is a flat country."

"When I receive your letter I will send you some more money. So please write darling."

Finnish: "Hello my mosquito! Can you ask somebody what I have to do if I come to Bangkok to drive tuk-tuk. I am serious because it is my biggest dream in the world."

"I want that you stop to stay with a man some days before I come to Bangkok and that you check you body about AIDS and I want to see this in English language. P.S. Don't be angry my darling, I like you..."

"Is that another reason why you are unsure that you want to marry me, darking? You do not know if you want to have a baby with me? I know that I am not everything you like in a man, but I don't feel that way about you.
I know you are angry at me because I did not keep my promise to send you money."

Australian: "I cannot send you any more money and believe me it hurts me very much to have to say this. The reason I do this is because I have much financial problems in Australia and have to start a new life for myself. I am a very lonely and unhappy because of this fact. I have to get a new house because I have given my ex-wife all my property with the divorce settlement. Darling I will never stop loving you and one day in the near future I still wish to marry you. I cry very deeply to think that the only way we will ever be together is for me to do this to you. I do not know what you will have to do to make a life for yourself, but remember whatever you have to do please be aware that my 'love' for you will never 'stop'...
Darling I will not teltphone anymore but will always write letters to you...I will always love you my tiny darling...I do this for love darling...to bring you and our daughter to Australia to live with me. Yours Forever."

French: "Have you asked your doctor about the name for your disease? Remember I need this information for a more efficient cure on my side, because I do not show any obvious symptoms. Many kisses and lots of love from your faithful Frenchman."

German: "If you really want to come to me I want to help you to stop fuck...I send some money for food and I think don't make big party for your birthday...All my love to you.
I hope the money arrived you."

"I am sorry for lying to you when I came back from Cambodia and making you angry with me that night at the hotel. The girl in Cambodia did not mean anything to me, but you do.
XXXXX
I still have your black panties to remind me of you."

Australian: "I told my wife about you and now I am by myself. But I could not live with anyone except you again."

Must be English: "I got your letter today. I telephoned today as you asked.
Your friend said you were away, probably in Singapore.
You promised me that you would stay at home and look after your daughter.
It appears that you have a boyfriend. It also appears that your promises are worth nothing.
Please explain by return letter."

"Got your letter thank you. Please tell me this:
1. What bar do you work? Are you dancing?
2. Why do you say you have my baby in 2 months when I was last in Bangkok before two and a half months?
3. Why do you work in a bar?"

"Dear Darling,
Money for December.
Also for teeth.
Love..."

"To: Hotel
Can you please tell the girl, she has to go back to Bangkok today. I have to be alone the last days I am here. Say she is a lovely girl and I love her. And can you tell her I will send her a check from Denmark for about US dollars 100-200. She doesn't speak English.
Thank you very much.
P.S. She check out 12pm."

French: "I'll go back in Bangkok soon, perhaps with my wife. Don't worry for you, my wife is a very good girlfriend like you. I think you can understand."

Belgian: "Dear little Darling,
I am living here with my girlfriend, but I think of you all the time and I don't want her, I want you!...I am not the best man on earth, but then, if I had been a very good man, I would not have met you!"

English: "When I am rich, I will buy you a helicopter and BMW car.
Darling, when we stayed together I loved you - but I don't know if you love me. Many times I think you only want me for my money. I remember you say to me 100 times 'Buy me television.' Even when you come with me to the airport you said to me many times, 'Give me money'."

"That girl you met when you came to see me at NANA hotel, I didn't know that he/she were an hermaphrodite and when somebody told me about I decided not to see her again. Many kisses from your lover."

"many years in a very different country form people."


"It's more easy for you to make fuck than to learn ABCD in English. But I know, you fuck for money, I think it's really boring and dirty...I want that you think to me, too."

Australian: "Please darling tell me what you think about me. Do you like my body, am I too old for you, do you like me?"


"But, butterfly or not you are the same as me, the only difference with us is that I pay and you get paid."


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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Interlude 

You know when you've woken up at 3am, with your lights and clothes still on, at the edge of a massive hangover, that it'll be a long long time till the room stops spinning.


From a letter from the boy, called "CONFESSIONS"

I eat at Burger King almost every day. The worst thing is I actually want them to hurry up with it. It is cheap, they have air con, I am hungry.

I have started smoking so I can quit on the same day as you and at least feel something that you are going through.

I was bowled over when I first saw you, and have been ever since.

I sometimes use American grammar when I feel it is appropriate.

I pluck my eyebrows.

I try to be nice to people even when I absolutely despise them.

I used to be chronically late and a complete day-dreamer, hmm... some things don't change that much. My punctuality has improved though.

More later, need to walk the dog before class.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Patpong 

is a neighborhood in Bangkok that's known around the world for its lovely girls, its steamy clubs and nightlife.
It's also located next to the hotel where I'm staying during August and September (more on the hotel some other time, likely in the photo-blog).

And how uncensored shall I be here - of myself, that is?
Not certain. It's easy to feel I'm inviting attacks, and I'd rather not have any comments to delete.
For the moment I will just say this:
A fellow student summed it up yesterday when he said, "A friend of mine said she felt invisible in Bangkok." Though construction workers and waiters will gawp at a woman no matter where she goes.

It's how many western (ethnically non-asian) women feel in Asia, particularly in countries with high amounts of sex tourism, like Thailand and Cambodia. Asia is the first place I've lived where I've been confronted with so many unpleasant, overt stereotypes about women like me.

Sitting round a table with western men often feels like an ol'boys' club from several decades ago, with women spoken of in ways that would be unacceptable in public back home. It's common here, and not discouraged by Asian societies and their peers, many of whom are disillusioned with the changes wrought by western-style feminism.
The sexual equality professed by my generation doesn't exist here, and likely never will. Changes are happening gradually in women's education, etc., but in a region where confrontation is discouraged and responsibilities to extended family are paramount, women's advancement in Asia will take a much different form than in the west. (end of section that reads like a textbook)

This also makes me wonder, among other things, how many of my interactions with men - whether as friends or colleagues - in the west have more than a tinge of the flirtatious.
Because in the west, I'm considered by most to be a very attractive woman (if I do say so...)
In the lands of yellow fever, all is different, and that's all I'll extrapolate personally on the subject in this post, but it is something I confront and question every day.

Recently I picked up a book called Hello, My Big, Big Honey!, a compilation of love letters from foreign men to some of the bar girls who work in the Patpong area. "Love? In Patpong?" one of the authors writes. "Love is one four-letter word rarely mentioned in stories about Asia's sex industry."
(Especially, I must add, in the local books that line stores' shelves in Thailand - all of which are written by western men - further explor/oiting the sex industry, this time through words. They tend to be poorly written and two-dimensional, but then so are most of the books available, anywhere, for recreational reading.)

Honey has a different tone, because it's not an autobiography (thinly disguised to avoid prosecution) but is transcribed directly - it's written in the voices of those involved. I also wanted to understand more of what I walk past every day...on that side of the street. For Bangkok is like anywhere else: divisions between neighborhoods, wealth and poverty, and life and death can be like sharpened steel.

Here are excerpts from interviews with several women....jumbled together (with apologies) from my lazy note-taking. Themes are family and money, VD and work of all sorts, but most of all, vastly different definitions between East and West on prostitution, love, and what women and men expect of/desire from one another:

"Farang (foreigner) different from Thai man. Farang man make love better! Yeah! (laughs) I have boyfriend now, Danish man, really fucking good! I love him. With Thai man, when he lie down, he just come. Never make me feel romantic.

Farang boyfriend is more easy life. Farang have more money. Lady like me, a prostitute, can't get a very good Thai man. He just want the lady to help him make money. If I stay with Thai boy, I never go to big hotel eat food, or go holiday. Never.

I want shirt, he buy shirt. I want jean, he buy jean. And tape cassette, big, he buy for me...I want somebody hold me, and I think he like me sometime. He say, "I like you". Never say love you. I say "I like you too."

If your [regular] customer goes with other girls, are you angry?
I angry. But I cannot make fight, because man can say, "I come here holiday. Can have any lady."

I see many girl cut arm because they angry about the man have other lady. But me, I never like that because I love me more than man.

What advice would you give a new girl who's thinking about working in a bar?
If she lady, I tell her, "Never work this." If she already fuck around, I say, "Yes, go to work. Better. You enjoy, get money too." Why she make fuck for free?

You have to sleep around. Sometimes man look like shit, have to fuck him.

What attracts foreign men to Thai women?
Some man say, "Want different sex." When he come here, he free.

A lot of farang women, after married, get fat.
Thai women are prostitutes to take care their families.

I think he like lady Thai because beautiful, take care him and good love, good heart. I don't think lady farang same. Lady farang not take care of him and think about herself. Or she butterfly [butterfly = sleep around].

They say, "Farang women, big smelly pussy. Too fat! Too much hair! Breasts long. Not faithful." [After hearing comments like these, whether in person or in print, I'm always tempted to retort, to thin air of course: "Believe me, I understand...most white men's members leave plenty to be desired, their hair falls out of their heads yet grows thickly over the most obscure parts of their bodies, and a post-25 year-old belly is something my eyes must skip over while searching for other things I find attractive about him."]

When they're in their country, they can't get a girl friend. They're very lonely. Work, work, work and come back home.

Have any of your friends married foreign men?
Lady stay with man one week, two weeks, go to foreign country. I think for work, not for love. Many young farang men come to Bangkok looking for lady, like gigolo. Handsome. Take lady for working. I look, I know. Good sex! I have friend marry farang. Happy. Why not? She go Sweden. He send money to family...She will marry. She say quickly "Yes," because she working for family.

When he send money, he has some feeling. Maybe not love, but he cares. Now I dream about find a very, very good man who is true to me because it's all bullshit.

What is Thai society's reaction to your work?
Maybe think ugly.

Do you say you love the men?
I say, "Love! Love! Love!" but not. I feel nothing. I say "love" for money. Money! I working because I looking marry the man. Good man. Because I don't like Thai man. Thai man like money from the lady. I look good man. He wear nice shirt, not smell bad, not tell lies and not a drunk. Old men, 35-40, are good. Young men want to fuck for free.

She tell him anything to fall in love. She say, "I not butterfly." Farang men say, "Farang lady don't take care. Big hole." Like that.

What did you think your first time like with a foreigner?
What will happen? What to talk? How can you have a feeling when you don't know the man? After it is OK. For some it's bad, but it's for the money. Bad for the body. Bad for the heart. But it's for my living.

What do you think about when you make love with them?
I think about shopping. Shopping for gold. Or I think nothing. I don't like. I have house, buffalo, but now I want money because I want to stop work.

Why do some girls take drugs?
I tell you the truth? Because people want good sex. Because the tourists like. They have money. Say, "Come on, we have good fun together."

Any bad experiences with men?
Crazy man want make love like here (she points to her rear). I say cannot. I not like boy.

Sometime farang crazy...I just lie down on back and he write on my back. "Fuck me my daughter," and then fuck me.

Swiss man say "Lady from Europe like a man hurt she." Wow! Picture he do with lady. He make lady hurt sex. Another, my friend lady go with Korea man. He tell lady, cut her arm. He want to look. He happy to see blood. He Korea.

Which of your two farang boyfriends will you choose?
I have to wait. Now I play a game, two games with two boyfriends. Some people have to show me they love me and my daughter also.

A 28-year-old transsexual: Operation cost 45,000 baht for cut here (she gives a sharp karate chop to her genitals), 25,000 baht for breasts and 8,000 baht for nose. I have to sign my name so if I die [the hospital] have no problem. If [a client] ask [if I am a transsexual], OK. If they don't ask, they don't know. Of 100, about 10 people know.

[Interview with a "mama-san", a woman who supervises the bar and takes care of the girls. The interviewer - a western man, of course - asks her again and again why she doesn't sleep with foreign men.]
Me? No. Only friend, take care. I don't know, I tell them, "Just you very good friend." Because I don't like. I think I have enough money. I don't want to give my body for some farang for some money. I don't like.

What are your criteria for a new bar girl?
First, what shape her skin? Fat? Or slim? Fat cannot dance. I don't like. If she can speak English, good. I look the face, nice?

Sometimes, maybe she go some boy [go-go] bar. And money she give the boy. For what? I tell her.

[Interview with a bar girl who works with a human rights group and has lectured at AIDS conferences around the world. Most audiences don't know what she does for a living.]
In Thailand, if someone have AIDS have to go to hospital or some people have to go to jail. Police take there, stay there. And no see family.

What if your customer refuses a condom?
If I tell customer "use condom" and they not use, I don't know how to do. I lose money. If sometime we need money, I think it very difficult for girl to say no. Men they say, "If I need condom, why I take you? I not need you."
Mean if I tell customer "Use condom," if he need condom, he not need woman. If I have no money, I will do. I don't care he don't use condom.

When I in Canada, I see many girl work like me. But more difficult than me. If they have to work on the street, they have to stand up on the street in the cold. They have to buy more coat.

What would you like to see in the future?
I want fair for woman, everything fair.
Maybe fair more than men."


Walking to the internet cafe down a busy Bangkokian street, (my palate satisfied from fresh coconut milk) at the tail end of rush hour traffic: Patpong on the one side, and convents on the other. One must stroll in the street, as sidewalks are covered with stalls vending piled raw meat, fish packed in shaved ice, meat smoking over coals, pirated DVDs, fresh spring rolls, and hair accessories.
Occasionally, when descending the SkyTrain in late evening, we'll see an elephant, its bridle held by a tiny man whose head barely reaches my nose.
Bangkok is a great city in every sense of the word.

(part 2 will be some hilarious/awful/poignant letters from western men....if I'm not reprimanded sometime by the authors, whose names I'll look up tomorrow)

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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Flash-Forward to Bangkok 

where I'm taking a 6-week Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course.

The boy recently visited me here for several days while he completed paperwork for his new job in Korea.
I, on the other hand, am postponing my return there and am doing what I should have done before I ever walked into a classroom with the invisible title of "teacher" plastered somewhere on my forehead: taking a crash course in EFL teaching. It should fill in some important gaps remaining after a year of teaching students of all ages, in many settings.

But most of all, it's getting me enthusiastic about teaching again, a quality I'd lost sometime in my first few months of hell with a private institute in Korea.

Even as I signed up for this course online - while travelling through Laos - I had no idea how I could pay for it.
But thanks to help from a friend and family member (more about that soon), I'm able to do this at a crucial time.

I've begun a retro-active photoblog of this trip called Misadventures of E., and will update it in my spare time. It's mainly for family members and those who know ME but from whom I'd rather keep clandestine certain aspects of my personality - like my monk fetish, for example.

If you haven't already noticed, I've got a fascination for them.
Saffron robes over lithe frames and lickably smooth skin in gorgeous shades of brown.
Shy glances and repressed sexuality.
They hunger for it.
A woman can sense it straight away from the way they look at and away from her body.
It's delicious.


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Monday, August 02, 2004

two Lao women watching the Mekong ferry to Chiang Mai 


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