Monday, February 05, 2007

Lady Boys and Fighting Women

I must have been the only person without a camera at the two events we attended last night, but I'd left mine back in the room. The full moon evening began with fireworks on the beach which we could see from my room. When we set out, my only plan had been to find a place to "eat rice" (the Thai expression for having a meal). Since I expressed a desire for "ah-hahn Thai," to eat Thai food, Thim decided we would go again to the sidewalk restaurant across from the square of bars around the muay Thai boxing arena. It's the kind of chaotic street scene I would probably not visit on my own for fear of being misunderstood. But, as she did a few nights before, Thim ordered for me, after I pointed out "beef in oyster sauce" on the menu which looked good. She went next door to the minimart and got us Cokes and managed to find cups with ice. Her meal was mostly noodles and green leafy stalks, and a small taste set my mouth on fire. Thais must have cast iron stomachs. My food arrived and it was delicious,"aroy mahk."

Every now and then I would notice a girl who was unusually tall and lanky with a masculine face, and I would whisper "katooey" to Thim, which was guaranteed to make her giggle. Katooeys are "lady boys," Thai men who have chosen to cross dress, or in the extreme to undergo a sex change operation. They seem quite accepted here, and in Bangkok several years ago Jerry took me to a katooey show that was fabulous, where the boys were more glamorous than most of the girls I've seen. Katooeys are also active as "bar girls" and in massage parlors, and I've noticed more than a few in Lamai Beach.

Since Thim was curious, I told her I'd heard there was a show across from the boxing area, and after dinner we went over to check it out. There were a number of katooeys out front and we learned the show began at 9. So after a stroll down the moonlit street and a bit of window shopping (counterfeit CDs andDVDs, tacky souvenir shops, tables full of beautifully carved soap, a local art form, and an ice cream shop), we took our seats at a table right in front of the stage. The room was filling with farangs, lots of old folks and even a few children (there are quite a few families vacationing in Lamai). The music was ear-splitting and the drinks nearly twice as expensive as elsewhere.

The nearly hour-long show was terrific. The "girls" were suitably glamorous and the costumes were elaborate, if a bit thread-bare. Some of the performers had obviously had silicon injections, and their private parts were either tied down so as to be invisible, or surgically removed. I didn't look that carefully. Each number featured recorded music to which the ladies mimed, and the high point of the evening was a version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," complete with army hats and fascist salutes from the chorus. It reminded me of "Springtime for Hitler" from "The Producers." There was also a Tina Turner imitator with silicon lips and a bright orange wig who was fabulous. Another performer was made up and dressed as a woman on one side and a man on the other, and she/he would turn whatever side to the audience that was called for by the song. The finale was a rousing "Blame it on the Bossa Nova" and the stage was filled with flying feathers from the Mardis Gras costumes. The evening ended when the entire cast sang "Happy Birthday" to a lady named Nadine from Germany who was invited up on stage. The affair had an intimate family feel to it.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, Thim and I walked across the street to the boxing arena where each of the eight bars had set up plastic seats for their sections and the girls were taking orders for drinks. It was women's night and most of the boxers were members of the fairer sex (but watch out for their feet). The screeching music that accompanies this sport for some reason was playing at full blast over the loud speakers. Some of the bars were sponsoring fighters, and a tiny woman at the bar near our seats was collecting money to be stapled on a garland around her neck. She looked sweet and innocent. A little later I would watch her knock another girl almost senseless.

It's too bad I'd forgotten my camera. The three matches we watched were a riot. In the first fight the boxers made up in passionate enthusiasm for killing the other what they lacked in style. The crowd was filled with partisans who stood and screamed support for their friend and unspeakable epithets at their opponent. Most of the audience were farang and, since the young crowd was whooping it up on the beach in Ko Pha-Ngan under the full moon, they were older. Elderly gentlemen were there with beautiful young Thai girls on their arm (strange that there doesn't seem to be a similar market for the older farang ladies). We saw two girls from Coco Bar with new friends on their arm. The second fight was between two good-sized men, and after two rounds one of them disabled the leg of his opponent and was declared the winner. In the final fight the innocent young girl I'd seen raising funds turned out to be a furious fighter in the ring, and she clearly overwhelmed her opponent. But by then it was midnight and I'd had enough fisticuffs and gender confusion.

This morning, after some dark clouds put my final day in question, the sun came out and remained. After breakfast at the Jungle Juice Cafe, where Ta gave me a lovely farewell card and I gave her Eric and Get's address in Pai, I grabbed my towel and suit and we headed to Georgio's Bao Bob Restaurant for a final morning on the beach. Thim fed me pieces of chocolate while we waited for the clouds to blow away. "I give you," she said, practicing her English. The Cafe del Mar next door was playing opera on their sound system, as Georgio set up his catamaran for a day of sailing. Nearby, a topless lady watched the sails go up. Vendors waved their wares at the sunbathers. Another day in paradise.

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