Thursday, January 26, 2012

"I can feel the devil walking next to me..."
Day 33 of our Southeast Asia Odyssey

Coming to you from Bangkok now...this is one of those epic cities, with one of those epically associated songs, i.e., the one from which I took the title of this post, that gets stuck in your head the entire time you are here. What's a person of my generation to do? You spend years of your life listening to the song on "Flashback Friday" lunch hours and the odd dance floor, and then here you finally are - of course "One Night in Bangkok" is going to be stuck in your head the entire time. You only wish that you could actually get a verse, or a bridge, or even the rest of the chorus stuck in there. Something besides "One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster...da duh duh da duh-duh..." and so on. Because, news flash: that "night in Bangkok" is actually depressing. Ain't no pearls in the nasty nightlife scene, and precious few oysters. But I will get to that in a second.

First, I must report that earlier today when I posted as my Facebook status that my generation is cursed to have that song play in our heads when we finally travel here (high five to those of you who quickly felt my pain with your Likes and Comments), Brian's response was not appreciation for my wit or sympathy for my predicament - oh no! His response: "It's not my generation."  My god. What a difference a few little years make. He is so not of the 80s in the way that I am. HOWEVER, I maintain that it has less to do with the actual age/few years than the fact that I have an older sister, but he has a younger brother. So on top of the few years, I skew older in things like music (having been influenced by, say, my sister's Whitney Houston-Wham!-Cyndi Lauper-cassette-buying ways) and Brian skews younger (90s rap, mostly).

We also have this conversation all the time when I reference The Brady Bunch  - because, yes, I do that all the time, as there is an appropriate Brady Bunch quote/anecdote for every life situation - and Brian reminds me that he and his brother did not grow up watching Brady Bunch reruns, to which the only sane reply is, naturally, their loss! - right? Somehow Brian doesn't quite understand how very much he is missing there. But he is in turn surprised that I didn't watch Saved by the Bell. Which, no. Not even the same league, OK.

ANYWAY. Back to Bangkok. Yes, I think the devil is walking here, and just down the street from where we're staying, in fact. OK, kidding! There is no devil, just the unfettered depravity of my fellow man. Wait, you ask, am I calling the old men who retire/visit/"tour" here,spending their nights purchasing bar girls and/or bar ladyboys, evil? Why, perhaps I am! Is that judgmental of me? Why yes, I do believe it is.  Soooo OK with being judgmental of these men. Soooo all kinds of OK with that.  I was actually horrified by what I saw last night in Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy.  And of course, it's not really the blatant or weird things that horrify you - it's the little things, like when you sit talking with your friends enjoying your beer, supposedly on this ironic "exploration" of the seedy randomness of Bangkok's red light district, and in your line of sight are the five or six young Thai women of the bar across the way, doing their thing, namely, waiting for foreigners with money to walk in, and then soon enough one does walk in, say, a 50- or 60-something man, white polo shirt, shorts, casual, and then he's taking her hand and smiling and they sit at a table, and ewwww! ewww! eww! the same things is happening thousands and thousands of times to all these young women and behind the curtains of these bars' doorways the "shows" are going on and the girls/ladyboys are wearing numbers so they can be picked out and requested like cattle or slaves in an's quite horrible. I wanted to be dutifully amused by the seedy part of the Bangkok scene, as one who grew up listening to "One Night in Bangkok" is supposed to be, but instead it really made me hate humanity. I mean, you know, more than usual.

The whole situation reminded me of something that happened in the 90s, back when I used to still hang around Mormons (instead of watching Saved by the Bell). So, when Schindler's List came out it got a lot of buzz, and then a lot praise, and then a lot of Oscar nominations, and so, you know, people wanted to see it. Even Mormons. Slight problem: Mormons aren't really "allowed" to watch R-rated movies. I mean, some don't really care, but some prophet or other said not to and it's a rule that a fair amount of them stick to, ESPECIALLY at BYU, which is where most of the ones I hung around at that time were. Specifically, this one fabulous English professor at BYU, Cecilia Konchar-Farr, who was questionably fired/not given tenure. Her last semester teaching there happened to be early 1994, as Schindler's List  was marching toward its victorious Oscar night, and many a curious BYU student really wanted to see it - heard it was so good - but it's rated R. So, then, the discussion always turns to why the movie is rated R. Like, is it full of the f-word? Violence? Naked people? Nudity is really a no-go for lots of these rule-abiding Mormons. (Have I mentioned that BYU's on-campus theater edits the R-rated movies before they are shown there for students?)  So Cecilia reports that yes, she did see Schindler's List over the weekend, and yes, it was great and fantastic and moving and meaningful and important and all that. Then, she says, in a moment filled with the logic and clarity that escape so many religious people so much of the time, that all this fuss about "Is there nudity? Is there a sex scene?" in it really seems to miss the point.  "It's the Holocaust," she says. "It is the murder of hundreds and thousands and millions of innocent people. Of COURSE it's a mature theme. Of COURSE it's rated R. But you're not worried about the savage, systematic persecution and murder of millions of people, you're worried about seeing someone naked?"

I mean, she makes a really good point, yes?

That's how I felt last night. Because, no lie, I got really kind of pissed off at one point and I kind of yelled at my drinking companions. I wanted to discuss endlessly just what motivates men to come to Bangkok and be horrible and depraved and purchase other humans, and at some point they got tired of my fascination with this subject that I could analyze and scrutinize for hours, and I was yelling and weeping and wailing and gnashing teeth (well, 2 or 3 of those anyway) and I looked like the jerk. Which, probably I was a jerk, because I was frustrated and furious and appalled and also just plain sad. I mean, I literally would just get tears in my beer when I stared across the road too long at the scene playing out in front of us. And nobody likes it when their drinking companion starts wailing and draws the other happy drinkers' attention. But part of me wanted to shout, "What's wrong with all of you [tourists/backpackers/business travelers/police/guidebooks]?! You're missing the point! Of COURSE I'm upset and volatile and crying and screaming and angry in a public place and embarrassing my friends. Why aren't all of YOU? You're not worried about thousands of young women who face such a dearth of life choices that this is their better/only career option, and you're not offended by the desperation emanating from these despicable men who buy the women, but it bothers you if I cry and rant about it in a bar, because that is unsophisticated and unbecoming and uncool?"

Yeah. Bangkok.

But I am actually really enjoying Thailand! Tomorrow I will blog about happier things!

"Not much between despair and ecstasy..."
- good ol' Murray Head and the ABBA guy and Tim Rice, who wrote the song


Anonymous said...

1/26/12 USA date. Hey Linda, good to "hear" from you again. Bit of a gap between Siem Reap on 1/3 and Bangkok on 1/26. Would you share some info on the Habitat project? And your foray into China? As for the encounter you had in the "red light district", that is another side of life that you fortunately haven't had much to deal with. It adds to your portfolio of life experiences. Quite a wide spectrum, your boldness to do things has afforded you much more than from life than probably 99% of people will ever get. Dad

linda said...

Backdated blog posts to catch up the rest of January will appear soon - they are half composed or resting in Blogspot's draft form right now to be finished and then posted.

It was not really my first encounter with the horrors of menkind, but it was my first time in Bangkok.

Are you calling me the 1%? Ha ha!