Monday, December 25, 2006

STORIES - THAILAND IN THE SIXTIES - More of Day Two

Prior to leaving the hotel parking lot - which was in the rear off the street as many of them were in those days - Pee Dang told me that his fee for the five days was 1,000 baht plus gasoline, payable in advance. I thought about it for a minute and tried to bargain with him, but he was quite firm and clinched it by saying "Is custom with GI tour." So, I promptly paid him and off we went, back along New Petchaburi Road. I realised afterwards, of course, that his insistence on being paid in advance was to insure that he got paid at all. Many of us GI's were quite capable of spending all our money on "wine, women and song" and stiffing the driver at the last minute.
The Toyota was fully air-conditioned and we moved slowly along the street. I had placed myself entirely in Pee Dang's hands in the matter of where we went and what sort of girls I would "go see" first.

The conversation went something like this: Pee Dang, "You come Bangkok befo'?"
Myself, "No, this is my first time."
Pee Dang, "You cherry-boy??" - with gales of laughter.
Me, "No, no, no! I never come Bangkok before."
Laughing, Pee Dang, "Okay. I take you go see girl. You like, okay. You no like, we go."
Myself, "Okay. Good idea."

Since I had absolutely no clue as to conditions there in the personal entertainment industry, I decided to trust him. I mean, after all, hadn't I just paid the man $50 for just that assistance? (Ah, how naive we are at 19, even after spending over a year killing our fellow man and committing various atrocities in the name of freeing the Vietnamese people.)

Our first stop was a fairly small bar on a street whose name I don't recall. However, it was one of the streets that gave onto a bridge over that canal that runs "behind" New Petchaburi Road almost immediately after the left turn. The "Whiskey A-Go-Go" was its name, if I recall correctly, and it was dark, smelled like stale cigarettes and beer, but the Singha beer was cold, the mugs were frosted, and there was enough light to tell that I was young enough to be the son of most of the "girls" who worked there. The music was American rock and roll, from a juke box of all things. One beer and Pee Dang - shrewd chap that he was - said, "We go, okay?", to which I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!". Back out into a surprisingly bright day, into the Toyota and more air con, and back to New Petchaburi Road we went. Pee Dang was quite amused that women his age weren't my first choice, although I couldn't make out what he was saying, as it was in Thai and I hadn't learnt my first word of it yet.

Second was a larger better lit establishment called "Thai Garden", which looked to be modelled on a German beergarten with the outdoor tables, trellises, and band music playing through outside speakers. Inside was so crowded, I couldn't tell how the GI's were dancing with the girls. We didn't even stay for one beer, though I paid for it. Back outside to the car and away down the street.

Third was a place that looked like it was about as finished as the road, that is, not very. The facade wasn't complete, but the music was booming out through the closed doors. "Thai Heaven" was the name on the marquee. There was a live Thai band playing rock and roll music quite loudly and fairly well, but their rendition of the lyrics left something to be desired. The line from that Elvis song, "Onry foorls farr in roff", is just a sample. The girls were presentably dressed in mini skirts or mini dresses, young - at least nearer my age - and the tables were far enough apart to walk between them without danger of starting a brawl. I told Pee Dang, "I sit here" and pointed at a table, and he said, "Okay. I go," and pointed toward a group of tables off in a corner sort of where other drivers were sitting and having a light meal. A young lady asked me what I wanted to drink and I said, "Beer". Without waiting for me to name a brand, she left and soon returned with a 1-liter bottle of Singha and a - yep - frosted mug. "Twenny-fi' baht", she demanded, and I paid up as if it was the right price. Of course: the bars marked up everything about that amount above what the hotels and restaurants charged, except American food, which was perhaps triple the hotel cost and not worth half that much.

After a few sips of the beer, a young girl sat down beside me and gestured at a waiter. When I asked her what she was drinking, she pretended not to understand. Of course, they brought her "tea": some dark-coloured liquid that wasn't likely to be alcoholic or tea either. When I demurred, she said something pungent in Thai and got up and left.

The waitress came by and said, "Why you cheap charlie?", with palpable indignation.
After a sip or two of my beer - and she waited, believe it - I said "No cheap charlie".

"Shua, cheap charlie: no tea, no talk, GI". And the definitive put-down - in that time and place - "Watsa matter you?"

After that plaintive cry and urging to conform, how could I resist? Another girl sat down, I paid for her "tea" without a quiver, and discovered that she could actually talk English although we weren't discussing physics or international politics, as you might think. After considerable talking, she indicated she was both interested and available for the evening. I caught Pee Dang's eye and gestured as politely as I knew how for him to come over. He arrived, looking for the Indians, and grinned when I asked him how this was done. He spoke to the girl in Thai and then told me, "Short-time 100 baht. All night, 200 baht. You likey her?" I admitted that I was - temporarily as we all understood - smitten by her charms, and after a brief discussion in Thai, I was asked which I preferred and I confess I ponied up 200 baht. The waitress came over, wrote me out a ticket (I still don't know if it was a receipt or what), took my money and brought the girl back two tickets, the kind you get at raffles or old-fashioned county fairs, and we left.

I will draw a curtain over the ensuing events of the evening, but suffice it to say that I certainly got my money's worth, even after buying a meal in the middle of the night from a street noodle vendor.

More tomorrow, friends. Sometimes the memories seize me and it's difficult to separate myself from them enough to write intelligibly.

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