I had been to many.
In 1997 a friend in exile from the UK off-suggested a visit to the Last Babylon. Pattaya offered love-lost western men a chance to meet a girl of their dream. Past and present are unimportant. Most men are astounded by finding someone who thinks that they are handsome or law. They spend an idyllic vacation on Koh Samet.
The disgust of fat western women on the beach rivaled the envy of these obese cows’ husbands. The Thai-farang couple make love five times a day, mostly to compensate for years of abstinence. Upon his return to Pattaya, she doesn’t mind accompanying the older man to go-gos. His and our blindness is almost comical, since we can’t see that she doesn’t trust he out of her sight.
Pattaya has to be paradise and two weeks into the honeymoon his beloved says, “I want see my family. You come with me?”
Her offer seems like an innocent proposition and the old geezer agree to this journey to Ban Mai-mee-tee-nai.
Hearing these plans his bar friends exchange a knowingly glance.
“What’s wrong?” The newby really want to know.
“Nothing.” They smile like he brought a blind donkey “Have a great time.”
“Thanks.” The western man rents a car for several days and leaves Pattaya on a great adventure. Ban Mai-mee-tee-nai is not on the map. He asks his sweetheart for directions. She is about a minute from a semi-coma and points north. “Isaan.”
The mythic plateau of Northeast Thailand which has figured into his friends’ countless jokes about the sick buffalo, blind aunt, feeding whole communities of bankrupt Thai farmersdrinking Lao-Khao whiskey till dawn. The farang suddenly realize that he doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into and his tilat isn’t explaining either, because she is scrunched against the door in a state of exhaustion.
Oblivion comes easy after two weeks of making love to a Viagra-crazed farang.
The highway turns into a two lane road. At one point his darling opens an eye and indicates a dirt road. By the time the car hits the first pothole, she has lapsed into another coma.
The electric lines disappear and dry fields stretch to a hazy horizon. Buffalo laze in a torpor. No cars. No people. Crossing a bridge over a muddy creek and his girlfriend opens her eyes.
“My home.” She beeps the horn, as he pulls into a forested complex surrounded by bone-dry rice fields. Rain drops on the Isaan Plateau with a miser’s wish for less.
A horde of Thais surges from several wooden houses. The old farang haven’t seen any place this ramshackle outside of a National Geographic magazine, but everyone smiles a greeting. He smiles back. Kids pull on your leg. An older man greets the farang with a bow. He wais back as directed by his girlfriend. Everyone laughs. He smiles.
Food appears out of nowhere. Everyone sits down and eats on the ground. The old codger thinks this isn’t too bad, until his legs cramp up and everyone laughs at his uncomfortability.
His girlfriend’s ‘brother’ gets a chair dating back three centuries. Sweat pours from his skin. They offered beer with ice. He’s never drank it like that before. Now it’s perfect. The heat is stultifying. More food is eaten. Some of it he doesn’t recognize. He tastes a little. Your mouth is on fire. He drinks more beer. Soon it’s gone.
“Need more beer.” His girlfriend holds out her hand.
He reaches into your pocket. The girlfriend grabs 2000 baht and jumps on a dilapidated motorcycle with the ‘cousin’. “Be back soon.”
The remaining crones clear the food and he’s left to drink Lao-Khao whiskey with the male family members. They insist on his drinking, even though he’s passed triple the legal limit for DWI an hour ago. His girlfriend hasn’t shown up and the farang peaks his ears for the sound of the motorcycle, only to hear the buzz of the early evening’s mozzies.
Several hours later he wakes on the floor of a house with three men aromatized by lao whiskey. He has no idea where he is. His wallet is still in his pants. Thais are very honest. Female voices babble under the floor. Nothing they say makes any sense. The farang climbs over the pile of sleeping men and descends a vertiginous set of stairs to the ground.
Over head stars blaze in their billions. A fire burns in the yard. Some of it is plastic. His girlfriend is sitting with a gaggle of women. She smiles at him. He smiles back, wishing a doctor could shoot him with an injection to get rid of his throbbing hangover.
Footsteps sound behind him. The men are carrying plastic bags of Lao-Khao whiskey. He protests against being offered a glass. His girlfriend frowns. The Lao-Khao goes right to his stomach and the farnag rushed into the bushes to heave like a girl scout drunk from sherry. Everyone laughs and that’s the last he remembers before waking to the sound of roosters cowing. It’s dark. He’ll, it’s night.
His girlfriend is asleep and so is everyone else.
The farang tries to go back to sleep but his feet have been chewed by flocks of mozzies hungry for a taste of new blood. Soon dogs are barking and the sky is getting light. Before the dawn a loudspeaker crackles to life. For the next hour a man rants on in Thai. No one stirs from their slumber and the farang wish that he was back in his hotel room.
Air-con. Cable TV. Swimming pool. Mobile phone service. Western food. Chairs. Beds. Beaches. Go-go bars.
Of course his girlfriend doesn’t respond to any hint about a return to Pattaya other than to say that tonight is a big party, which ends up a repeat of the first night only with more family members. Everyone is having a good time and why shouldn’t they? No one has put a hand into their pocket since his arrival and he mentally calculates that he could have flown to Bali for the price of the last two days ie bar fine, car rental, and expenses.
And his girlfriend hasn’t as much as kissed him, as she has reverted to a village girl. Food, friends, family, everyone having a good time. And she knows how to play a man, farang or Thai, because at the night’s end, she comes up to him and says, “Everyone like you. Me, I love you, because you not make face.”
“Yes, make face same dog, because you spend too much money.” She sneaks a kiss and everyone laughs. He too and he decides to stick it another day.
On the fourth day he wakes up and pack the car. Everyone waves good-bye, except for the three family members joining them for the voyage south.
Back in Pattaya he drops off the relatives without a word of thanks. He delivers the car three hours late for a half-day penalty. The farang is glad to be back in civilization, but his girlfriend cries, “I miss my family.”
They make love for the first time in four days and she cries throughout. He feels like he’s having sex with a war widow and almost stop, except those years of abstinence have create a monster and he completes your mission, after which he leaves her in the hotel room watching TV to meet his friends.
The farang is happy to be missing them and later that night the gang at his favorite bar ask, “How was it?”
“It was great.”
And they nodded in unison because they’ve said the same thing too.
We all do to save face.
When in Thailand.