There are a few stories I've been thinking about whether or not to post all week, and here's one of them. It's not entirely inappropriate, and speaking of "innocent veneers" a of couple posts ago, I wasn't pretending not to be keeping one up myself, so for the sake of transparency, I'll share it. This wasn't my worst moment, but, still, I'm not entirely proud of it! It was written in an email to friends a few years ago...
Most of the month I spent exploring around Bangkok, and every few days I would venture further out for a bit. With a month to relax and tour around I didn't feel any pressure or rush to get anywhere, so I decided to just go with the flow. So, here's lesson #1 in Bangkok... if you go with the flow, you end up at a ping-pong show!
The year before, with Joe and Josette, a tuk-tuk driver asked us where we were going, so I shot back, "Ping-Pong show!!" and a dozen faces spun around to give us a ride. I was only joking, and never thought I would actually go, but as I said, I decided to just go with the flow. Tuk-Tuk drivers will receive gas coupons for bringing "Farang" (white people) to jewelery shops or tailors, so they'll usually drive you around for maybe 20 baht (60 cents) if you agree to stop at one of these places. Apparently, the commission for bringing "whitey" to a ping-pong show is enough that he drove me for free. I argued with him several times that I would go to the tailor or someplace but I really didn't want to go there, but in the end the tuk-tuk driver's determination (and my curiosity) won over my own ethics.
All I knew about ping-pong shows was what I had read in a Tom Robbins novel, but no amount of reading could have prepared me for the real thing. The room is too dark to see much except the counter where you enter and the oval stage in the center of the floor, light with black lights, veiled by cigarette smoke, and circled by a couple rows of tables. The few customers there for the early show were mostly old men, fat East-Asian men with their wives, a few Arabic looking men and a table of young American jock types. Pretty much, I knew this wasn't a place I belonged...
The show started with some 70's/80's chick-a-baw-wow music you'd hear in a porn and a girl would come out, a top short of a bikini, do a little dirty dance, grind with the pole a bit, then perform her specialized urethral stunt. The first was, of course, the pin-pong girl set up a row of beer glasses and would "pop-out" ping-pong balls into them as she danced over. She only missed one and as it bounced to the floor the ping-pong girl and a few other women rushed over with tissue, but the old man sitting closest to the stage had no problem picking it up with his bare fingers and handing it back to her.
The next girl's act was to start pulling a chain from "herself" that was long enough to lock up all the bicycles in Bangkok. The next carefully pulled out a chain of about a dozen razor blades, and proceeded to slice up a sheet of card board with each blade to show how sharp they really were. Some less exciting acts were girls blowing whistles, or smoking cigarettes, popping balloons with a dart shooter, etc.. My favorite was the girl who inserted a black marker and drew a relatively good portrait of the King and wrote "Welcome to Thailand" above his face. Maybe the most interesting act, the girl emptied a bottle of water inside herself, next emptied a bottle of Coke, then peed out only the water back into the bottle.
Apparently, any respectable ping-pong show isn't complete without a final sex performance on the stage, but really, that was the most boring act. Part way through the show, a girl started coming over ever few minutes and sitting with me to chat, and I couldn't figure out why she looked so familiar. At one point, she told me she'd be back in about 10 minutes and went off. When the last act was finished and it was time to start the show over again, out came the ping-pong girl, and I realized it was my new friend. When she was finished, she came back to sit with me and basically asked if I could wait for her until 1am when she finished work. I tried to think of any advice my father might have given me and immediately disregarded that, then considered the stories I could tell my friends about going home with a Bangkok ping-pong girl, but then realized it wouldn't be the best story to tell my grandchildren (though, my best friend, Joe, ended up being very disappointed in me!), and concluded that the short-term effect on my wallet and the potential long-term effect on my immune system wasn't the type of conversation topic I desired to have with another human being. I told her that regrettably I had a friend waiting for me at 12 in Banglamphoo and I hoped she wouldn't be lonely the rest of the night. She said she might be a little sad but assured me she'd get over it before long... haha! I thought it was pleasantly diplomatic, assuming that she was a prostitute. I really didn't want to ask.
The very first day I spent in Bangkok, I met a girl who I ended up having a back-and-forth relationship with, stretched over about three years, four trips, and a lot of email. Through her, I learned a lot about life in Bangkok for a young woman. Some of her friend had worked in the sex-trade and now found better work for themselves in the hotel industry. The feeling I got was that these girls weren't judged for their past, but there was more of a recognition that they did what they needed to survive. But my friend often mentioned her one close friend who had been a prostitute. The experience still affected her and she drank a lot. There was no way she wanted to go back.