**Disclaimer: This is not a Travel Guide, this is a series of awkwardness that happens to take place abroad**
Night two in Bangkok and after a day spent melting in one of the city’s biggest weekend markets, we sought out the night market on Silom Road. Despite having seen the same products over and over again during the day in Mo Chit I was mesmerised by the bright lights set against the night. We slithered through the crowds, teasing vendors as our eyes lingered over the endless display of designer watches, sunglasses, electronics, traditional lamps and golden buddhas, with no intention of buying. Flanking the night market on both sides were the bars and dingy doorways of illicit promises, whilst sex shows were brazenly advertised above the head of the crowd. At street level men scurried by, invitations to sex shows rolling off their tongues. “Ping pong show?”, man after man suggested, inclining their head towards mine to whisper in my ear. I did not deign to reply only swatted them away with less zeal than I would a fly. An hour later, over bowls of steaming food outside a street vendor van, a strange discussion took place between two friends:
“So shall we go to the ping-pong show?”
“I guess we ought to really, we’re in Bangkok”
“Ok, really? But how?”
And so it was decided, two girls finished off their food knowing that once they were done their mission commenced. As we walked back towards the hubbub of the night stalls and bars we were instantly harangued by a middle-aged Thai man who added a banana show to the opening offer, topped off with a “Good price” promise. Before I had even thought V said, “Ok. where?”. The three of us set off for a brown building across the street without delay. The heavy silence measured the seriousness of the situation. We paid the doorwoman 300baht each (a reasonable price to enter Hell) and followed the dark stairwell that lead to the show room. I was concerned about what people would think of two girls entering a seedy establishment as this, unaware of the irony of being judged in a place that could only be maintained through lack of judgement. Instantly I felt at ease when on the other side of the mirrored room there was another female pair reflecting us: they were not us. The table ahead of ours a man and his girlfriend sat with front row seats like honoured guests in a royal house. As soon as the barman came bearing the limited drinks menu I foresaw a long night of exploitation; a spirit was 200Baht and the mixer was an additional 200baht. One full day into my Thai experience and I was determined not to be taken for a fool, or to spend all my money, so I order a whisky, straight. I don’t like whisky but I was presumably getting into character as a sleazy male much like the type I would expect to find in this very place, a stereotype I was helping to dispel. That dark room with the strange slow-dancing girls on a stage that hosted weird vaginal tricks and the banal domesticity of a mop intermittently, was a confusing place for me to be. I didn’t understand the show; on one side I was disgusted that I had come into an establishment that was essentially part of the sex trade, and on another I found myself disappointed that there was nothing sexy about it, it was a circus act.
Soon enough I had found myself an admirer; she was 22, don’t remember her name, don’t remember where exactly she came from, what I do remember however is how much I wished she would go away. She talked to me about her life, her various boyfriends, toyed with my hair, bummed my cigarettes and after all that she asked me to buy her a drink. I looked down at my pathetic glass which hadn’t held a drop for over an hour now, and then I turned to V:
“Can you give me 100baht please” (I only had 1000baht)
“Why? What for?”
“She wants me to buy her a drink. Just give it to me so she can go away!”
I gladly paid, well had V pay, for my companion to finally leave my side, anything to lessen the depression of the place. V was lucky, sitting wedged in the corner and with the good sense to look unapproachable, I on the other hand had freed the seat up next to me for my next predator. The impressive 50-something year old who had wowed us with her dexterity and ingenious use of chopsticks, a ring, and a bottle – not sure I want to say anymore about that – and who later wooed us with an offering of paper-chain people carved out using a string of razor blades extracted from a certain Nether Region which was meant to represent V and myself, had now taken up residence beside me. I tried to ignore her. I refused to meet her eyes and I knew she was trying to catch mine. I turned to my right and pleaded with V to help me but she just mocked me for not being able to say “No”. Finally she went in for the kill. She spoke in Thai and whilst I did not understand what she said, I understood what she meant. I pretended not to however and mimed offering her a cigarette. Nope, didn’t work. V was laughing at me and soon enough the Madame came along to quite loudly and purposefully reveal what we all already knew: “She wants you to buy her a drink. She only ask 100baht”. Once again I pretended not to understand and passed her onto V who until that point had been left in peace, that had to be rectified. One minute later V surrendered 100baht, she too was impervious to Thai charm. I was still so attached to the principles of money, of being conned and resented every moment of it. I knew the money had bought no one a drink that night; neither myself or V, nor the two Thai women who deposited the bills into a jar. As well as the most sincere conviction that I was going to go to Hell for this, I also left with the most surprising feeling of having been exploited. The irony was not lost on me, in fact it only served to make me feel even more violated, that I had brought it upon myself.
The walk back to the hostel was long and silent. Neither of us really knew what it was that we had experienced. The only time I was roused from my thoughts was passing through Dog Alley which made me think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death; the sight of the hungry pack of street dogs that lined the road was enough to make me pee my pants. On the roof of the hostel, safe from the street dogs and far removed from our moment of sober madness, V and I sat in shocked silence, the only conversation being had was through the whirls of smoke blown from the tips of our cigarettes. We played a game of cards and drank ice milk tea from straws desperately trying to claw back our innocence.
As I closed my eyes to sleep I could still hear the words of the showgirl who had provided me a commentary of every act each time stopping to ask me, “Can you do that?”