Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Penang Portraits I: Young Men 

The train ride from Bangkok to Penang, Malaysia, was 21 hours.
Each way.
You read that right - 21! For a two-day stay in small colonial Georgetown on a little island with no decent beaches?!

Trains are my favorite mode of travel; they relax and lull you to sleep as scenery rolls by, next to rather than under you, far-far-away, as it does in a plane.
Though the boy and I have each had our equivalent of the mile high club in the train fantasies, train toilets are always too slick with something-or-other to really encourage any fun aside from smoking.
And I don't smoke anymore. Well, I haven't for two weeks or so now.

Anyway, on to the characters, before I forget all about them.

After a brief morning sojurn through Thai, then Malaysian, immigration:
English-boy (EB) was first flirting with a pair of Japanese girls, giggling as they tend to do from nervousness (though western men take it as proof of their captivating charm).
EB had one of those open-mouthed, nasal accents that makes it difficult for North Americans to determine its origin. South African or southern English, I thought. Perhaps from New Zealand, though their voices tend to be more melodic than his, which, wherever EB was from, sounded like spoiled privilege personified into a pudgy, thick-lipped, faux-confident form.
He'd been selling real estate in Thailand for several months, and was headed to southern Malaysia, near Singapore, to meet his father and explore other job possibilities. Or perhaps he'd spend some more time in Borneo...how easy it is for those with credit cards or trust funds to tick off cheap destinations on smooth, dilettantish fingers.
Ran into him outside during a morning cigarette and he proceeded to talk my ear off, now that he had one fluent in English.

Thanks to EB, though, I soon met Trevor, or perhaps I've misplaced his name somewhere in the chaotic confused morass of grey that passes for my memory. After tilting pints of beer down our throats that evening, he told me his story, and if any of it was true, Trevor - or whatever - wasn't his real name.
This lovely boy with a brilliant smile had golden freckled skin, peeling shoulders, and ginger hair with green eyes. And transparent lashes. Did I mention his perfect smile? He looked more Californian than Canadian.
He was on the run from his old life, Trevor said, after stories of volunteering at homeless shelters in Vancouver, and lengthy descripions of his family and friends, all of whom still lived in his small hometown, and had never left.

"On the run?" I asked, staring helplessly at all the Tiger beer that remained in the jug in front of me.
Then out came the rest of his story. He'd been one of the biggest pot dealers in the region, and had supposedly been earning tens of thousands of dollars every month. "It's too easy in Canada," he said sorrowfully, "they've been relaxing the laws on pot growing for years. I'd buy a home or two, and we'd grow thousands of marijuana plants in it, then we'd sell it after a while."
I swallowed my flat beer and idly lit one cigarette after another, mildly interested yet barely credulous. Wondered if it was really the government's fault - as he insinuated - that he dealt drugs.
"I want to leave it all behind and start over," Trevor said, yet he was living off of the proceeds of his dealing, and had planned a brief return to Canada to discipline a pair of "kids" who weren't handling the distribution effectively. That is, if his tough best friend hadn't convinced them to shape up in a few weeks.
"That's why I volunteered at the shelter, and gave away some to charity, to make up for what I was doing." But he was still doing it by having it done for him, even as he travelled in Asia.

This golden boy was a liar, a loser, or both. I was reminded of why I rarely trust pretty, straight males.
For many people, one appeal of long-term travel or relocation is the ease of remaking your past and future. No one knows or really cares where you come from, and invention is easy. Many begin to believe their own stories; it helps when convincing others.

He seemed desperate for a girl, a western girl, a relationship to tether him to the life he wanted. He had strategies for initiating productive conversations, and had determined that the best environment for captivating western girls was the beach rather than the bar, Malaysia rather than Thailand.
"I'm looking for a wife," he admitted towards the end of the evening.
Beer nearly sprayed from my nose. Instead, I choked.
He smiled sheepishly, and we left for our separate rooms at the hotel.

On the way, he stopped for a quick late-night dinner of fried curried noodles. Penang food is a gorgeous combination of Indian and Malay and Thai cuisines. Indian predominates in street food stalls.

He slipped the last noodle between his lips as he asked me how kinky I liked it.
"Y'know, till recently, my repertoire was pretty standard," I said, "aside from a weekend or two." I gazed into the street where a rickshaw squeaked past us. My eyes skimmed over colonial buildings haunted by streetlamps.
"But it seems with this one, we're going places where I never thought I'd want to go before. And that's all I'll say," I grinned and rose to leave.
"Oh, you're going to go back and masturbate now, aren't you?" he said peevishly.
"No - we've actually agreed to abstain for a week before we see one another." Beer had me speaking unconsciously. I had no reason to flirt with him, and had found being flirted with tiresome while travelling.

He chattered on as we walked back to the hotel, and I said good night, and that certainly, we could meet for breakfast at noon.
As I unlocked my door, he said quickly: "You know I'm going to have to masturbate in my room now that you've told me all that." I closed the door, turned on for a second, but not very, and thought that no, we wouldn't have breakfast together tomorrow.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Planes and Photos 

Back in Korea, in Seoul this time, and ready to pound (or would that be hit? depends on how much wine I've had) the pavement for jobs tomorrow.

The boy's ecstatic, and I am too, especially after we stumble out of bed, grinning, on weekend afternoons. He's got a very large, sunny 2-bedroom apartment for the two of us in the center of the city.
Seoul's a definite improvement on the city where we were living before. A cliche we seem to be spouting these days is: "If you've got to be in Korea, you've gotta be in Seoul."

New photos:

~ The above: Taken for the boy in my hotel room in Bangkok, to model a secondhand blazer I'd bought that day. To illustrate what a professional english teacher I'll be. Unfortunately, the "Sassy" printed on my then-favorite pair of underwear was reversed - of course - in the mirror, and I neglected to switch the image around when I posted it.

~ Above right: Taken in the tiled bathroom of my motel in Lopburi, Thailand. Side view with blue skirt-turned scarf. Though perhaps not explicit as the boy would've liked, it reminded me of some of my favorite paintings.

~ Right, below: Taken in Bangkok, on Sukhumvit road. We never made it inside, though it looked to be a typical Thai street-side bar: wooden planks and rickety stools with lovely anxious companions waiting inside for sunburnt clients.

Walked for 4 hours today around Mount Namsan, not far from our apartment, planning to explore trails and listen to headphones and have some time alone.

As so often happens, it was not to be.
A hottie Korean personal trainer - Jesus, what an amazing body he had! - overtook me for conversation (read: free english lessons; [I want to try for around US$40/hour when looking for private work]), and though we had a nice chat while strolling up and down hills, walking both forward and backwards, as the sun set I craved time away from pidgin english and mentioned that I had to go to a PC room to email my mother. Family always works well as an imperative in Asia.

He accompanied me to the PC room.
He sat next to me as I opened 2 of my email accounts.
He diligently wrote down my email address when I pointed out to him what his eyes sought on the screen.
I said pointedly that I might be here for an hour or two.
As I began to type, he rose. I shook his hand goodbye and said that yes, we could go to Olympic Park sometime.
He returned a minute later with a card for the computer next to mine. I tried not to sigh audibly.
An hour later, I was still typing to family and friends, and he rose. Said goodbye again.
A minute later he returned, asking if I wanted dinner. I smiled a negative, and he finally left me to my pixels and prattling.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

11-9-2001, Manhattan: I was working on a 40-something storey of steel and glass near Grand Central. We saw the second plane crash, and were not evacuated from our building till noon. I walked the long route home to Brooklyn, as subways of course weren't running. We had whiskey and valium on the roof and watched smoke plume as tears couldn't be controlled any longer.

11-9-2002, Boston: A 9-11 memorial meeting with my travel company. I decided to attend, even though it was my day off. The event that had polarized the nation, and especially the travel industry, had indirectly gotten me the best job of my life, after package travel rebounded at the end of 2001.

11-9-2003, Cambodia: Only while fumbling through international TV channels, many of them with flashbacks of crumbling buildings, did I remember the anniversary. I was at Angkor Wat for several days during Chuseok, Korea's thanksgiving celebration. In a gigantic, cool room, lined floor to ceiling with rattan mats, I opened a beer and raised a solitary toast to those who had died and the many public misleadings and mistakes that have since been made.

11-9-2004, Malaysia: Dressed in appropriately modest longish-sleeved top and trousers, wandering the colonial streets of Georgetown, Penang Island, I wiped away sweat from brilliant afternoon sun. A motorcyclist grabbed my ass in a gentle, contemptuous swipe.


Sunday, September 05, 2004

"Ecrivain en Herbe" 

is how an Israeli/French girl who goes to school in London (and is currently in Beijing travelling with her parents after a recent visit with me where we went clubbing on Khao San Road then spent all night drinking on the curb with a Maori friend of hers and some South Americans - we did the salsa at 7am with beer and chocolate in hand....ah these have been great weeks)
described the tone of my last email: "You're a natural writer," she said, laughing.

Here goes:

The Thai guy (P) did call on Sun, the evening flower market was a trip, my camera died, we went to a great minimalist outdoor restaurant docked on the Chao Phraya river with a brilliant nighttime view of Wat Arun [temple], a cute pair of gay guys insisted that we help them finish their bottle of rum, P. became critical and jealous of my boyfriend and said all sorts of presumptuous things about him, he drove me home and spouted a bunch of righteous Buddhist quotations about love (he'd spent a year as a monk, as he reminded me), essentially saying that if I REALLY loved the boy there would be no conflicts between the two of us, the next day I wrote him an email saying I didn't want to see him again as apparently we weren't able to be civil friends, the following day I moved into the new room [as described below], that evening P. interrupted a stuff-your-face for one hour for 200 baht sushi dinner and came back later with a bottle of whisky, obviously intending to drink it all in sorrow afterwards. I was unmoved.

A friend from Korea (crazy creative Canadian) is in BKK and last night we went to some girly bars on Sukhumvit road, he wanted to buy one for me to watch me with her, I said no, she was hurt (he should've tipped her 20 baht [50 cents] at least), another mischievously lifted her thong under my chin during a routine (couldn't help but giggle back), got some ideas on using the boy as furniture, why don't they sell those stripper poles for the home in Korea? oh, right, they don't have strippers there - or AIDS, either - met a half-thai/half-brit named Trajan (that'd be the emperor, not the condom) who claims to go to Oxford (don't they all?) whose father owns lots of girly bars - and also happens to have been a classics professor, hence the unfortunate name - so we went to one of his venues nearby and rode a mechanical bull (today my thigh's all bruised, actually my legs are completely sore: feel just like I've had a wonderfully sex-drenched night) and closed the bar with lots of B-52s on the house. Went to his giant place its parquet floor covered in cat-crap to smoke a cold joint and though I arrived home at the entirely reasonable hour of 3am I somehow didn't make it to class the next morning.

It's the side of BKK I'd avoided before, but dipping into it now and again's ok. No "ping-pong" or "smoking" shows for me, however many menus are waved under our noses in Patpong (where, I've since found, that underwear we bought is hopelessly overpriced). I hope to go to a katoy (lady-man) bar with the Canadian before he leaves for Vietnam.

All the above sounds more exciting than it is, I think. Have had a great time with just the right amount of company (I'm kind of a private person...like time alone).....It was GREAT to hang out with you in BKK, and we'll have to do it again, whenever we can, wherever you and I are. You seemed to have changed during your time in SE Asia, more sure of yourself, with more bravada, too, and that'll balance out....likely you'll be hit with the changes more after heading to London: a changed person in a familiar environment.

Time to watch some Indian/Chinese/Thai melodramas in my new, apparently spic/span room with its mouse droppings I've inherited near the window, and an occasional bathroom roach for company, for an early night.


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