Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day of the Two Ta's

Sukhumvit Night Market

Thai people have two names, a family name given to them at birth and a nickname, usually of no more than one syllable, given to them based on some characteristic the parents see in the child. Yim told me that she was given the name for smile because she was always crying and her grandfather thought the name would help her to be happy. Ai was so named because she was always coughing (the literal meaning of "ai"). For some reason I've yet to determine, Porn is a very popular name and it has nothing to do with the English meaning. Other women's names I've encountered include: Pat, Dada, Bee, Jar, Toi, Pim. Fa, Ploy, Nat, Pink and Tom.

On Thursday I had dates with two women, both named Ta. To make matters more confusing, I have another new friend named Sa who I had invited to dinner on Wednesday night. My hearing is bad enough normally. But trying to understand Thai-inflected English over a cell phone is difficult at best. Thinking one of the Tas who called me to be Sa, I gave her the address for the restaurant. Comparing phone numbers, however, I soon realized that I was about to have two guests for dinner, and quickly called Ta to apologize and cancel. A little latter Sa called to cancel because she'd just come from an appointment with her acne doctor and "didn't look very good." So far I'm batting about .500 in the dates canceled league.

The next day I met the first Ta (let's call her Ta One) at the Phrom Phong Skytrain stop next to the Emporium Mall, and apologized for the mixup. She took me to a restaurant on the corner of Soi 33 that looked like a British pub and was named The Robin Hood. It was hard to hear over the recorded American country music (I recognized Merle Haggard). Ta One had a good job working in an office, had bought her own home, and had a 15-year-old daughter that lived with an aunt because it was closer to her school. She almost married an Australia but for an unknown reason he broke off the engagement after two years. Tall for a Thai girl, she had a punk rocker kind of hairdo and painted designs on her nails. From the way the conversation lagged, I suspect I was out of either her style or age range. Back at the Skytrain, we said goodbye and Ta One went into the Emporium to shop, I suspect one of life's simple pleasures for her.

Ta Two and I had planned to meet on Monday night, but after cooling my heels for a half hour at the Starbucks opposite the Marriott Hotel, I went off in search of a blanket for my new bed. Turns out she had to work, and called an hour later. So we rescheduled for Thursday night and she entered our Starbucks assignation point only ten minutes late, both of us verifying by cell phone the other. How did strangers ever meet before the invention of the mobile phone? She was hungry, and took me to the passageway between Soi 5 and Soi 7 that is packed with bars, restaurants and massage parlors. She ordered for us, a dish of ground pork, and a soup with shrimp, plus rice. It was tasty: a-roi maak. We ate Thai style with a big spoon in the right hand and a fork in the left to push food onto the spoon. Over dinner she told me that she sold clothes at a morning market in Samut Prakan, a southern suburb of Bangkok, and had to get up at 3:30 every morning. She had a 4-year-old son that lived with her parents in Khoen Kaen. Through ThaiLoveLinks, a dating site, she had met a man from New York who took her to Phuket for the weekend ("too fat," she said of him), and a young man from California who had professed his love for her ("but he was black and I don't like black men"). While she said her life was hard, she laughed often. And when we walked through the crowded streets, she held my arm to make sure this dumb farang did not walk in front of a motorcycle taxi.

Here is a spirit house in front of the Raja Hotel across from the Nana Entertainment Complex. Both the Raja and the Nana Hotel next door serve a clientele primarily of sex tourists whose idea of Bangkok is a naked girl dancing to rock music in a bar. Here at the business end of Soi 4, the sidewalks are packed, the smog from traffic strong, and the music coming from the bars deafening. Moveable stalls serve every kind of food, and I'm becoming fond of fruit in the afternoon. Yesterday it was watermelon which was sweet and messy.

I make no moral judgments about the male tourists who come here or the industry of of pornography and prostitution that has grown up around their visits. I've read stories that say that prostitution is an old Thai tradition, given new impetus by R&R expeditions to Bangkok during the American War (as the Vietnamese call it) in the 1960s and early 1970s. And most of the clients are Thai, not the fat old farang you see on the sidewalks of Sukhumvit holding the hand of a tiny Thai girl. The industry draws its work force from Isan, the land to the northeast, where agriculture is suffering from globalization and global warming, and jobs that pay a living wage are few. Most bar girls support children and families back home, and a reduction in bar hours, often threatened, can mean economic chaos in the hinterland.

You have to like people to come here. The streets are crowded and it is often difficult to walk. Crossing the street at the busy Sukhumvit Soi 4 intersection is harrowing. Lights do not seem to matter. Motorcyclists scoot across on the red if they think they can get away with it. Since traffic flows on the left, English-style, the American must be on his toes to look in the right direction. But it makes little difference if the cars, buses, trucks, taxis and motorbikes are coming at you from both directions. It's hot and its humid; deodorant wears off quickly. Often my clothes are dripping when I get back to my 7th floor apartment. Thank God for the pool! I'm now taking a daily dip. Last night I had a tasty dinner of curry Indian style at the counter of Foodland and bought a toilet bowl scrubber. Such is life in the Far East.

This evening my first weekend guest arrives from Isan. Apple (her mother named her for unknown reasons, the fruit being called ep-pen here) decided that email, Messenger chats, and web cam views were not enough to determine our compatibility. I told her to bring her bikini. Perhaps she will help me master the pronounciation of Thai vowels. I have been studying the sound and the script for the long vowels and I continually get them mixed up. The "aa" sound can be twisted and stretched in numerous ways, all given good use in Thai. I bought another instruction book which promises to teach me to write and read Thai. At least the letters are bigger. Most of the Thai script in instruction manuals, like the Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook, is so tiny that I will need a magnifying glass to read it.

Both Ta's gave me advice about my extravagant ways. Apartments can be had for half the price I am paying, if I were willing to take buses and motorcycle taxis to get around. Ta Two rents a place for 5000 baht a month that includes a bedroom and free cable and internet. Ta One bought a house for 700,000 baht. Ta Two assured me that many farang live in her neighborhood which is some distance from the end of the Skytrain at On Nut. I think I'll be able to keep my housing expenses to under $500 a month if I'm careful, which is good by comparison with costs in California. But the dates will kill me. Lunch and dinner with the Ta's was 500 baht each, about $15. I'll pay the expenses for my weekend guest and, depending on what we do apart from swim in the pool, it could be pricey. But then what price can you put on good company?

1 comment:

L!nsay H! :) said...

Hello :) Sa Wat Dee Kaa!!
wow i like urs thing