Below is a completely fictional account of a travel odyssey by three young American businessmen.  Although vivid in detail, what you are about to read never happened.  There was no need to change any names because no one was innocent.  In fact, I have never been to that part of the world.  So, in short.  We didn't do it; you can't prove a thing, even if you have seen the pictures, that as far as you know don't exist, we weren't there.  Honest.


Where can I buy a Thai? (Life in a Fellini Movie!) Part 1
By Dave Schwartz  davybass@dabelly.com 

It really was a spur of the moment decision.  Come to think about it, there were many decisions on this trip that were spur of the moment. But then, nothing about this could've been planned.  I guess sometimes it's better to live life staring it in the face.  And, although we had talked about it for weeks, it really wasn't until that Friday morning that we finally decided that Bangkok, Thailand was where we needed to be.

I checked my watch one last time.  It was 11 a.m. and our plane was lifting off.  I smiled at the irony of the last few days.  This was something that was going to stay with me.  I also knew that it wasn't something that was easily explained.  But then, often the briefest of moments have the most profound impact on life.  I watched "Not Young" sleep, knowing that the normal amount of hell that we put him through had just multiplied.  It almost didn't seem fair.  After all, I owed him so much.  He had installed calm in my raging world.  He even got me to smile and, in a broad sense, that saved my life.  But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself and should explain.

Not Young and I had been in Taiwan for several weeks completing an upgrade for its nation's early warning radar system.  It sounds fascinating, but the reality is we had been up and down more mountains, eaten more "grass clippings" and lost more sleep than I would care to admit.  Before this assignment, Not Young and I had only known each other peripherally.  We were friendly at work, but off-hours socialization just didn't happen.

Not Young was the guy that everything happened to.  He had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I guess that would wear on a person's nerves over time, but not him.  He always had a smile.  He always had a way to make you laugh.  And given our apprehension at being halfway around the world from family and friends for months at a time, his frivolity was a welcome companion.

We had been in country for several weeks traveling from mountain top to mountain top and reveling in the desolation.  In many cases we weren't even able to venture off the military installation.  We knew that there was a potential window in the middle of our schedule that would allow for several days of down time.  None of us relished the idea of another night at the Hard Rock in Taipei, so we talked openly about the possibility of escaping for a while.  We started passing around destination ideas, Hong Kong and Mainland China seemed like fun.  Hell, we were only 80 miles off the coast.  But given that we were working on a system to protect Taiwan from the Mainland and that we had just mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Bosnia, we concluded that it might not be our best choice.

So what's left?  Japan?  Interesting, but way too expensive for our budget.  Philippines?  I lived there for three years and to be honest, the shine was off of that apple.  Bangkok!  Yes, Bangkok was perfect. It was exotic, inexpensive and filled with all things that growing boys like.

We woke up early to meet the next team on site.  Our work was largely completed and all that stood in the way of freedom for Not Young and myself was a morning hand-off meeting.  We met in the second floor restaurant at the Howard Hotel on Fushing S. road in downtown Taipei. After the usual excitement of seeing old friends, the meeting went pretty much as expected.  The smoked salmon was excellent and a welcome change from the tofu and rice that was slowly killing us.  We warned the team about the six-hour trip "up the hill" to Tango site.  They were famous for having about the worst food we had tasted. We told them about getting out of the truck on the washed out mountain roads and looking down at the clouds.  But they didn't believe us.  Would you?

We said our good byes and headed for the phone, we had two calls to make.  First, we called the travel agent to get a price and flight times.  Second, we called Hong Kong.  Over the previous several days we had hooked up with one of  Not Young's old college roommates, "Not Benny." Years earlier, Not Benny had traveled to Hong Kong on vacation and stayed.  He was a business major and chose Asia as his place to try and capitalize on the whole dot com phenomenon. Our call to Not Benny went as it so often did.

"Hello, Not Benny?  This is Not Young.  You going?"

"What?"

"No"

"No"

"Eat me."

"Then listen to her, she's right!"

"Eat me."

"We land at 10 p.m.  You better be there.  We will wait for you in the terminal."

"No, we don't have a hotel."

"Eat me, yeah bye."

Not Benny would meet us in Bangkok.  His plane was scheduled to land about 15 minutes after ours.  He was reluctant to travel, but even his girlfriend insisted that he take some vacation time.  So much so, that she purchased his ticket for him and drove him to Hong Kong International Airport -- Chek Lap Kok.  At the same time, Not Young and I were in a Mercedes heading for Taipei's Chiang Kai Shek International airport.  In a few short hours our paths would become permanently tangled.


"My Kingdom for a..."

I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes as I stood in line at Customs.  The flight was largely uneventful with the brief exception of looking down on the city of Danang, Vietnam.  I wondered how many other Americans had seen the city from my same vantage point-- it's funny how obscure thoughts occupy your mind when you have time to kill.  So I'm standing in line with Not Young and I'm beginning to notice the number of white males standing in the line next to me. Each was alone and impatient to successfully negotiate Customs. Their destination was as apparent as the overnight bags they carried.  Bangkok has long had a history of being a sexual candy store and I was seeing first-hand the results of that reputation.

The customs agent offered the usual flurry of questions that made me wonder if he understood any of the responses I returned.  It really didn't matter, ten minutes later Not Young and I were standing on the arrival concourse wondering if  Not Benny's plane would be late.  As we looked around, the realization that we had actually done it, we had gone to Thailand, actually sank in.

"So where are we going to stay tonight?" Not Young asked.

"I dunno," I replied.  "I'm sure we can find a place somewhere."

"I'm not going to sleep in a bar tonight!" he continued.

I reminded him that we came for the adventure and that there wasn't time for us to book a hotel.  Besides, we really didn't know where we were going, all we knew was where we wanted to go.

Moments later, up walked a thin Asian man with a Cheshire cat smile.  It was Not Benny.

"Not Young, how are you doing?" he smiled.

The two embraced as introductions were made.  A few minutes of catching up on the old times revealed that at least Not Benny had his head in the game.

"Hey, did you get a room yet?"  Not Benny asked.

Embarrassed we replied, "Umm, no, we thought that we would just rough it. We didn't even try to set something up."

"We scored!" Not Benny exclaimed.  "My girlfriend hooked us up with a room online. We're staying at the Sheridan over on Sukumvit Road.  It's booked for the three of us!"

This brought me a flurry of ridicule from Not Young, "You see, that's why he's MY friend.  He's not going to make me sleep in a bar!  But you don't care.  You don't care about me!"

We all laughed as we made our way down to baggage claim.  We hired a driver at the airport to take us to our hotel.  Since none of us had ever been to Bangkok before, it would've been ridiculous to rent our own car.  We piled into the Mercedes and were off through the unfamiliar city streets.  Darting back and forth until we made it onto the freeway.

Bangkok is a large city by anyone's standards.  More than 15 million people crowd into this culturally diverse modern metropolis.  Although dominated by Siam mores that have remained stable for centuries, there is also a large representation of Chinese and Indian traditions.  The melding of these influences makes for a dynamic and beautiful city.  The excitement of our arrival made the trip to our hotel seem to only take minutes, but it must have been closer to an hour.

We got our room and, as we waited for the elevator, we debated how we would find the nightlife this city was so famous for.  But there was no need for that tonight, we had all had a very long day and we ended it with a beer down in the lobby.  A toast to friends, both old and new, and the anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.

Our first morning in country was welcomed with excitement.  As I was quick to learn, there was a morning ritual that seemed to date back to college days gone by, Thai Boxing.  I hardly had my eyes open before Not Young and Not Benny had squared off.  For the next hour the two battled for supremacy, but all they achieved was a stalemate and lots of laughter.

It wasn't long after that we were on the streets adjacent to the Sheridan.  It seems that our hotel was perfectly situated in the "American" part of town.  The reality was that large volumes of tourists frequented this area, so the streets were filled with wandering merchants trying to sell everything from ivory trinkets to silk shirts and robes to swords.  There was no shortage of entertainment as we tried to make our best deals with the locals. The air was permeated with the smell of barbecued grasshoppers and tame elephants being lead by their handlers.

As we roamed the streets, we also kept our eyes open for a district called Soi Cowboy.  We were hesitant to ask at the hotel for fears that we would appear to have only traveled to Bangkok in search of a good sex show.  All right, maybe an element of that was accurate, but in hindsight I don't think asking would've been out of the ordinary. After all, we were adventurers!  We came to look diversity (or was that adversity?) in the eye. We came to discover and, along the way, we discovered that we couldn't find Soi Cowboy.  What were we going to do?

It was almost childish, but there really wasn't much we could do other than gaze out at this city in search of our destination.  So there we were, on the 17th floor of our hotel waiting for the elevator and staring out of the window hoping to catch a bird's-eye view of something, anything, that even remotely looked like a place to party.  Then something caught my eye. Way off to the right there was a sign. I could hardly make out the writing and, as I pressed my face against the glass, I could only wonder what the people in other buildings must have thought.  But there it was, several blocks over we got first glimpse of our destination of the evening -- Soi Cowboy.


Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy was a district not far from our hotel.  It was only a couple of blocks in fact. Debating the logistics of it all, we decided to just grab a taxi.  This is where we learned that there are two phrases that an American can utter in a Thai taxi cab that is guaranteed to put a smile on the driver's face.  The first being, "Here's my wallet, take all the money you want!" And the other you ask?  "Soi Cowboy!"

Before leaving the hotel, I had a talk with my cohorts in crime.  I explained, down in these clubs what seems like a woman isn't always a woman.

"Well then what the hell is it?" Not Young asked.

"It's a Katoy," I answered. "It began life as a man."  Katoy in Thai means either transvestite or transsexual and often you won't be able to tell what they are, what sex they have or even which parts of which sex they still have or which they have had removed.

"Wait a minute, you aren't taking us to go see some dudes are you?" Not Benny objected.  "I'm not interested seeing some guy up on stage shaking his thang!"

"Listen, you don't understand."  I continued, "I'm not saying that these are all guys. I'm not saying that any of them are guys. I'm just saying that you never know."

With a look of terror on his face Not Young asked the next obvious question, "So how do you find out?"

We all began laughing as I replied, "I don't know, but you sure as hell better check under the hood!"

It wasn't long before we were throwing a few bot at the taxi driver and climbing out of the car.  There we stood under the blue arched banner that said "Soi Cowboy."  As we walked into the district, it was like entering a Fellini movie.  Although world renowned as one of the hottest night spots for the single male, Soi Cowboy is actually very small. It's only about a block long with nightclubs lining both sides of the street and, contrary to its name, Soi Cowboy has very little to do with the country and western lifestyle. As we walked the length of the street, a bounty of young women all competed for our attention and... well... dollars.  After all this is little more than a business, in fact it's the oldest business known to man. We understood it and they lived it.

We finally settled on a club called the Long Gun.  The Long Gun is the most famous and one of the oldest clubs in Soi Cowboy.  We selected it based solely on the floorshow. After all we came to this country to see, to watch and most importantly to renew old friendships and laugh.  Not Young and Not Benny were completely blown away by what they were seeing on the streets in Soi Cowboy.  For me, it was little more than a flashback of walking the bar districts of Angeles City in the Philippines. I knew that once they went inside and the show began, that I was going to have my hands full.

Not Young, Not Benny and I were seated at a table just off the rail.  It was bench seating, so it was a bit awkward for conversation.  Moments after sitting, the mama-san arrived to take our order -- and she wanted to know if we wanted anything to drink too!  The bar was filled to capacity, but then this was a Saturday night in Bangkok, it's hard to imagine it not being busy.  The stage was relatively small, yet large enough to hold more than 50 women all in various stages of undress.  As our beers arrived I overheard Not Young and Not Benny's conversation.

Not Young began pointing and said to Not Benny, "Dude, dude, oh that's got to be a dude."

Not Benny eager to join in on the fun replied, "Hey look at that dude over there!"

Both of them were so paranoid with the stories of Katoys, that I felt safe that neither of them would be tempted to taste any of the opportunities offered.  I interrupted the "dudefest" just long enough to toast the start of the evening and a good friendship.  But it wasn't long after they were back at it again.

"Dude."

"Dude."

The mama-san took a real liking to us.  She spent a good portion of the night chatting with Not Benny and getting to know what the rest of us were interested in.  She repeatedly brought girls over and introduced them to each of us.  I guess eventually she understood that we really hadn't come to Long Gun to meet a girl, our interest was in the floorshow.  But still that didn't stop her from one last attempt.

As Not Young, Not Benny and I chatted with the mama-san and laughing at the surreal nature of our evening, an attractive young woman in a very short skirt approached.  Without saying a word, she climbed under our table and crawled up onto our laps.  It took only a matter of seconds and suddenly the three of us were looking down at a pretty young woman laying face up across all of our laps. We tried asking what was going on, but the girl spoke no English and the mama-san just laughed.  As it became evident that this girl was in no hurry to move we just decided to leave her there. Let's see now, cold beers, warm women, girl lying across our laps, halfway around the world from home. Yeah, this was a normal night!  The only thing missing was the penguin in a clown suit-- but perhaps that was yet to come!

As the evening continued, I was interested to hear that Not Bennys and Not Young's "dude" to beer ratio was improving.  The more beers they drank, the less dudes were on stage.  I hoped that this wouldn't lead to trouble. Little did I know that this Fellini movie we were in was just about to take off.

 

"A woman and three men walk into a bar..."

It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, but to be honest, it looked like more of an ending.  The four of them were escorted over to a table near us. Judging from the look on the woman's face, this wasn't her first choice for an evening out.  As I looked over the group, each person's role seemed obvious, the woman was there because she felt she had no other option, two of the men were completely engrossed by the girls on stage from the moment they walked through the door and the last man, the guy with the "I'm going to get my ass kicked when I get home" look on his face, he was the woman's husband. Nicely dressed, it seemed clear that the woman had hoped for an evening of respectable entertainment, but she was forced to settle for an evening at the Long Gun. And from the looks of things, I suspect her husband would be settling for a good crack upside his head before the evening was over!

Schweppes Tonic Water. It's as harmless as it is confusing why the bar girls would be bringing a half dozen, one liter bottles of tonic water over to our table. We asked the mama-san what was going on, but all she would do is laugh and say, "Shhhh, the floor show is about to start."

Soon the music stopped and, for the first time all night, all of the girls left the stage.  The lights were dimmed and show begun. Yes, we knew that many of these bars featured rather outrageous performances by the girls, but we had little idea of what we were about to get into. For the next hour, Not Young, Not Benny and I were amazed as the girls performed one extreme act after another. While most played on the edge of erotica, several were as hard to understand, as they are to explain.

I see little benefit of outlining every demonstration we witnessed, but rather, I will leave that to the theater of the mind.  I will however comment on two of them.

The first one-- vaginally blowing darts and popping balloons on the ceiling. In what drug-induced college spring break party was this considered a good idea?  There were darts flying all over the place. The mama-san should've handed out safety glasses to insure our health, but all she did was laugh. More than once we found ourselves dodging the projectiles.

And then there were those bottles of Schweppes Tonic Water. Not Young took a close look at several of the bottles. They were one liter in size and had crimped tops. As the two young ladies danced around the stage, the mama-san began handing up the bottles. The girls shook them well as they made gestures toward the crowd. It was a matter of time before both took position on the floor and... well. with a gush of excitement they opened one after another.  No they didn't use their teeth.  No we didn't see an opener.  It was a scene that would horrify even the most hardened gynecologist!  We had many questions, but there was no way we were about
to ask!

The morning came earlier than usual.  It was either the many days I had deprived my body of sleep before to coming to this wondrous land or the endless rounds of drinks from the night before. It didn't really matter, either way it hurt to open my eyes. Since I was the first to rise, it only made sense to sneak into the bathroom before the others. After I finished soaking my head in the delightfully warm shower, I discovered that Not Young and Not Benny had also discovered the pain of morning.

So what do three guys so far from home do on a Sunday morning? Well, aside from Thai MTV and viewing the cityscape from our hotel window, it was time for our morning rounds of Thai boxing!  As I strolled from my merciful warm shower, I found Not Benny already getting the best of  Not Young. Apparently there was an old college debt that had been lingering for years and it was time for Not Young to pay up. Laughter and the sound of brotherly combat filled the room for hours as the two struggled for dominance, only stopping long enough for one or both to catch their breath.

As the two eventually beat each other into submission it became painfully clear that our mission here had just expanded.  We were in Thailand and we needed to go see a real Thai boxing match.  Well, that and we needed to get some suits made.  It was doubtful that we would ever get a better chance.

After showers were complete we hit the streets.  A quick stop at the Internet Café to check our company messages and we were off.  We had already discovered the many shops that line the Sukumvit road sidewalk. Today we hoped to travel a little deeper into Bangkok life.  We planned to search out the "road less traveled" and see what we would find.  We also wanted to find our destination for the evening, Nana Plaza.

As we traveled up Sukumvit road, we wandered into a mall.  The mall was as nameless and faceless as any other mall in the world.  The one distinguishing feature to this one was Mr. Roon's tailor shop.  We were in by 11 and back at 3:30 for our first fitting.  Some minor adjustments later and we could pick them up the next day.  Now that's service.

Not only did Mr. Roon supply an excellent selection of wardrobe, he was deep in local information. Overhearing us discuss the evening plans he interjected, "Nana Plaza, that's just across the street." Our problems were solved!  We now had some time to kill before the evening's festivities, what better time than to try some authentic Thai Pizza... Hut?!  Pathetic you say?  I have no defense. I wanted to try some Thai food, but we kept running into the barbecued grasshoppers. After weeks of the frog stew and tripe we were eating in Taiwan, we defaulted to recognizable food.  Pizza Hut was safe and good and didn't come with frogs!

To Where Can I Buy a Thai Part 2

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