Songkran Sanuk

The Songkran celebration ushers in the Thai New Year as well as the coming of the rains ending the hot season. This year’s festival has been focused on Wan Parg-bpee April 14, when homage is paid to ancestors, elders and other persons deserving respect because of age or position. Traditionally younger people pour scented water into the palm of an elder, so that any past bad deeds or thoughts will flow away or they sprinkle water onto the person while uttering wishes of happiness and good luck.

In the old days young people actually helped bathe old people.

Some still bring towels, so that the elders can dry their hands.

When I had first celebrated Songkran on Koh Tao in 1991, I had never heard of Songkran and had been bushwhacked by the staff of the bungalows. Buckets of water had soaked me. Wet smiles and squealing laughter had followed as I had chased the girls for revenge. They had been remarkably fast in their flip-flops. Afterwards we had drunk Mekong whiskey and had had a good laugh,

It was all quite charming, but the tradition has undergone some changes in recent years.

Nowadays street vendors hawk squirt guns of every capacity to hooligans ready to spray the unwary with a noxious mixture of itching powder and gutter water. Industrial drinking fuels the unholy holiday madness. Playful water fights escalate from harmless sanuk or fun into vicious shootings redressing old grudges. Pick-up trucks jerry-rigged with plastic reservoirs recklessly race through unwary pedestrians and ya bah-demented motorcyclists imitate crackheads fleeing a 7-11 robbery. In other words Songkran can be dangerous.

Millions of Thais migrate to the country by train, bus, and car, creating chaos beyond imagination on the roadways. Travel time is doubled by the congestion and road accidents claim hundreds of lives around the country. The seriously injured number in the tens of thousands. Thankfully the number have dropped in recent years, as a result of an annual media blitz aiming at reducing road fatalities.

Government officials pointed the finger at traffic accidents as one of Thailand’s top three serious health problems with almost 30% of in-patient hospital beds occupied by the survivors of vehicular crashes.

Songkran can be fatal and many longtime foreign residents opt for three methods to avoid the mayhem.

The first is flight to another country i.e. Malaysia or Cambodia if the dates coincide with their visa renewals, however all Thai embassies are closed for the holidays. Back in 2008 my friend Nick and I overlanded to Phnom Penh, where we drank ourselves into a stupor. Neither of us remembered much of anything, but we didn’t end up in jail and the staff of the hotel was sad to see us leave.

The second options is to retreat within the confines of your apartment, condo, or house. Trips during the morning hours are not so wet, as the revelers are sleeping off their drunks and only children line the roads. After sunset you can travel again, though you should avoid any nightlife zones where the water frenzy continues beyond any constraints of sanity.

Lastly Thais considered any Puritan disapproval of Songkran as a sacrilege against sanuk, so if you can?t beat them, then join them.

Several years back my cousin, Griffin Bede hired a truck. The driver loaded the flatbed with three titanic barrels of iced water and we armed our extended families with multi-liter water nozzles. Overloaded by ten people the pick-up’s tires scrapped the steel chassis, as we cruised Pattaya’s main roads with the audacity of Somali tech fighters whacked out on qat.

At Beach Road and Soi 8 the girls from two beer bars deliriously chucked buckets at the passing cars. Griffin deluged them into submission with a high-powered hose. On the corner of Walking Street we unleashed a hurricane on two ranking police officers. Everyone loved that. Beers for everyone.

Songkran can be a lot of fun if you observe some simple rules.

Enter the water festival and drink as much as you can.

Don’t bring your telephone with you or any device that might electrocute you.

Just because a girl is laughing doesn’t mean she is enjoying your dumping ice water down her back. Respect the word ‘no’ or mai ao.

Wear clothing that dry fast i.e. football shirts and swimming trunks.

Sunglasses are good for keeping water out of your eyes, because not all of the water smacking your mug is out of the tap.

Leave your wallet at home. Only carry money. It will get you drunk and out of trouble if you get in an accident. If the embassy has to identify you, they can use dental records.

Do not fall in love with anyone you soak. A wet tee-shirt is just a wet tee-shirt. Act accordingly.

Keep a jai yen or cool head. Tempers to flare.

During Griffin’s and my tour around Pattaya. We were soaking everyone we could. This win streak instilled a predatory glee in our Thai friends and Griffin?s tattooed wife jumped off the truck to soak several foreigners hiding behind a tree. It was supposed to be fun, but a humorless weightlifter wrenched away Dtum’s water gun.

“Sopheni.”

Knocking down the teenager might have been an innocent mistake, but hearing the word ‘whore’ snapped a fuse and I leaped off the truck with a long PVC tube. The steroid junkie lifted his fists. He was bigger and stronger. I lashed his wrists with the plastic pipe.

His watch exploded into a shower of tiny gears. A headshot propelled him over a rack of t-shirts. I kicked the inside of his knee. He genuflected in anguish. Dtum and I jumped onto the truck. She flipped him the finger and the pick-up truck lurched down Beach Road.

“Man, you hit him like napalm.” Griffin handed me a Singha beer. “Thanks for saving Dtum.”

“It was nothing. Nothing at all.” Mam’s face clouded with embarrassment. My outburst had cost her nah or face. The juice junkie wasn’t her type. My hands trembled with a fifteen year-old?s adrenaline. “I was lucky.”

This festival is about fun and that’s how I do it now.

Fun fun fun. Sanuk sanuk sanuk.

It?s all about having a good time and there?s too little of that is this world to act like Scrooge.

LOVE YOU LONG TIME – CHAPTER 4 by Peter Nolan Smith

The staff of the front desk at the Malaysia remembered my room. 203 overlooked the pool. Overweight farangs basked in the torrid sun like walruses oiled for a boiling pot. The bar girls sheltered in the shade, eating sum-tam or spicy papaya salad like the world was ending tomorrow or beginning by waking up next to a complete stranger.

After washing up I walked down Soi Si Bamphen to Kenny’s Bar. He wore my ring. The girls were older, but the beer was cold. The ex-pats told the same stories as always and Fat Pat sold me a small bag of Ma. I stayed two nights and called Sam Royalle down in Pattaya on the third noon.

“You get trapped in Bangkok?” The Englander had adapted to Thailand after one Singha beer.

“It is an easy thing to do, but I’m on my way.”

“I have your room all ready. Be prepared. It’s Songkran.”

“I forgot that.”

The Songkran celebration ushered in the Thai New Year and the rains ending the hot season. The festival was focused on Wan Parg-bpee or April 15, when homage was paid to deceased ancestors and young Thais poured scented water into the palm of their elders, who utters wishes of happiness and good luck. The practice was quite charming, but the tradition has changed in recent years and how much was revealed by my bus ride from Ekemai to Pattaya.

Traffic packed the roads into town. People bucketed water at each passing motorists. It took the taxi an hour to reach Rob’s high-rise overlooking the Gulf of Siam. His girlfriend was a teenager named Dtum. She was eager to party with her friends.

Sam peeled off ten red hundred-baht notes from a thick stack.

“Have sanuk.”

The Thais had been slaves till 1905. The Thai upper-classes treated the common people like ‘muaan’ ma noot’ and their former serfs loved nothing better than having a good time to show the elite that money meant nothing as long as you could laugh free.

Sanuk trumped money for the poor.

Sam, his workmate, Duggie, and I went to a beer bar on the Beach Road. We chucked threw water at everyone in sight. I soaked a girl. Her name was Vee. She was pretty, despite having one eye.

“I lose eye on motorsai. Lucky not dead.”

“I have accident too. I die.”

“You die?”

“Yes, many times, but only for a second.” A second lasted forever in other dimensions.

“You dead now?”

I took her hand. I invited her to dine at a small restaurant. She ate like an entire NFL football team and said she wanted to go home with me. We spent the week together and she quit working the bar. Rob and Dtum didn’t like her and said she was money hungry.

They weren’t wrong.

Farangs had supported hundreds of small villages throughout the country, as if they were charitable NGOs. Most returned West broke or jumped off their condo balcony. Few wanted to leave paradise.

Vee and I traveled up north in a rented car to see her baby in Isaan Plateau. This was the hot-season. The temperature lurked in the high-90s. We stopped in Khorat and stocked up on food and beer. Vee filled a shopping cart with enough to feed an army.

“I have big family.”

“So do I.” There were eight of us and I cut her off at $100.

She made a face like she thought I was kee-nioo or cheap. I ignored the facial insult and popped open an icy cold Singha and drove east on Route 24.

Dust devils skated over dust of the parched rice paddies and vultures ascended over thermal updraughts. Water buffalos lunged in muddy pools. Not a single human was in sight. Vee said, “Turn right.”

I had ten seconds to brake for the turn. We proceeded down the narrow road and arrived at a wooden house on stilts. At least twenty people sat underneath in its shade and cheered our coming. Her sons ran to Vee.

“You said you had one son.”

“My eye no good.”

I envied their affection. Everyone ate and drank like the world was ending tomorrow. Vee fawned on her sons. I gave them each 100-baht.

$100 went fast on the Isaan Plateau and I sent out a ‘cousin’ to get 1000-baht of lao-khao. Night dropped over flat fields like spilled black paint. Vee put her to sons to bed . We sang around a bonfire. Vee and the other women danced to ‘luk krung’. The celebrants left a minute after the last drop of rice whiskey.

Inside the house a photo of a farang was on the wall.

“He just friend?” I asked Vee.

“More than friend.” She looked to her sons.

“Oh.”

The next evening we drove through the sweltering heat through deep Isaan. No electric lines ran from the dirt road to the house surrounded by the only tree stand in the middle of a vast rice. Two bonfires lit the yard. Candles illuminated the house. A line of women stood on the stairs. There was a chill in the night.

“House belong Mae-mod.”

“Witch?”

“Good witch.”

“Why come here?”

“See future.”

“About us?”

“No, future me and Englishman. Men stay there.” She pointed to the right and joined the queue. “Women go see phram. Shaman.”

I joined the men around the blaze. They drank ‘lao khao’ or rice whiskey and passed me the plastic bag. The whiskey was fire. None of them spoke and watched the women enter the house one by one. An old farmer pointed to the other fire. Six old women huddled around the glow. They looked to be a thousand years old.

“Dead women.”

“Dead how?”

“You ask your wife. Look.”

A young man emerged from the shadows and walked to the women. He picked one and led her into the trees. He emerged from the forest out alone.

“Dead?”

Ban-tee.”

I understood the degrees of ‘maybe’ and ordered another bag of lao khao.

Twenty minutes later Vee exited from the house.

“You have good future?”

“Good some. Bad some.”

Once in the car I asked her about the old women around the bonfire.

“Old ladies pick number. One get 4. She go jungle. To die. Other women live longer.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I started to get out of the car.

Vee held my arm.

“No one die. All show. Magic. Red-lum.” Vee’s good eye widened, as if to better envision the candle-lit hut.

“Yeah, Red-lum.” Vee had later told me that the set-up was a scam and the same woman loses every night.

“And the fture?”

She tell future> Easy. Not hurt no one. Kill black magic. Mohn dam.”
“I not do you magic. Only magic is in my heart.”

We left Isaan in the morning.

“You scare magic.”

“Only scare nothing. You take plane before. Plane magic. Fly same birds.”

“Fly where?”

“Surprise.”

Koh Samui’s beaches were beautiful and we made love in the warm waters at sunset. I wrote a comedy about the first men having sex in Space. I thought it would make a great movie. After six months my money ran out and Vee asked, “I wait for you.”

“No, I can’t say when I can come back.” I left her enough money for a month. Her boyfriend from England was coming around Christmas. There would be no long-distance phone calls. Sam later called to say she had moved to the UK. It was better that way.

Sam parlayed his computer expertise into a corporation. He phoned with a job offer in Bangkok. A ticket was waiting at JFK. His father was getting tired of my ping-ponging between Asia and New York.

“One day you’ll find out you don?t have a job here.”

“That day will come, when I can’t make you money. Give me my commish.”

I flew to Bangkok business-class on upgrades. Rob had an office on Wireless Road. His company built websites for Asian corporations. My job was writing content. Most of his employees were paid a fifth of my salary. I didn’t deserve it and figured this was his thanks for having transferred that money from his wire scam. During the week his work crew hung at Bangkok’s trendy clubs and weekended at his beach house in Pattaya. Rob called his plan.

“Work in Bangkok. Play in Pattaya.”

Vee had married the Brit. I was free to do whatever I wanted and Rob’s wife hated us going out even more than before. I never brought anyone home other than her mates. She had plenty of those.

In truth I was getting old. My friends’ children had grown up. My nieces and nephews were attending college. I seemed doomed to spend my life in the last Babylon on Earth.

I was not alone in my damnation.

My friend, AJ, flew out from London. The cameraman and tai-chi teacher had told everyone that he was traveling to Thailand for a diving certification. Pattaya had plenty of schools for PADI courses and a lot more too. I took off the week.

One evening AJ and I stopped at a bar of Soi 8. A slender Thai girl danced on a platform to a boy band hit. A skinhead farang was obviously her date for the night. She winked over his shoulder with a mercenary mirth and I was pierced by a deja-vu arrow.

In 1970 BLIND FAITH had released an album cover featuring a shirtless blonde waif. This girl was her Asian twin and I memorized her hips walking away from the bar and heard CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME in my head. A mischievous backward glance should have warned me to watch my freedom.

ome curse are self-generated and I didn’t go out at night after that. AJ kept saying it wasn’t a problem.

“I have to get up early for my diving courses.”

I went to the bar on Soi 8 twice. The girl wasn’t there. The mama-san said she was on holiday with man from England. There were thousands of Brits in Pattaya, but I knew the Englishman, because AJ was a birddog.

After AJ departed for the UK, Sam’s wife banned him from going out with me. She had seen him with a girl at a disco. She blamed me. I moved to the Sabaii Lodge on Soi 3. It had a swimming pool and I didn’t have to listen to their fights.

I returned to the Soi 8 bar. The skinny girl wore a band-aid bra over a breastless chest. Long black hair snaked down a bare back. She hopped from the dance platform and sat next to me. She pronounced my name wrong and told me hers. I offered her a drink and Ae said, “I no drink lao, maybe drink coke.”

I expected her to rattle off the typical list of bargirl questions; “Where are you from” How old are you? You have a wife” How long you stay” instead she sobbed out a tale about a man leaving for London. “He diver for Navy.

“His name AJ?” Girls in Belize, Manado, and Bali had also heard this tale.

“You know him?” Ae stifled a sniff.

“The very best of friends.”

“You think he come back?” She bit her lip in anticipation.

AJ was not one to fall in love during a ten-day or one year holiday. Like most men he only thought about himself.

“Only Buddha knows.”

Her cascade of tears brought the mama-san over to see what was wrong. I might not have understood the exchange in Thai, but recalled Cato’s quote, “The strongest acid in the world is a woman’s tears.

I excused myself, “I’m going home.”

“I come with you. Same I stay with AJ. Only have you.” The tears dried to a smile.

Saying no would have been easy. Ae wasn’t working the bar for laughs. Girls got 1000 baht or $25 per night to go with men. Ours wasn’t a match made in heaven, but I had money in my pocket.

“You come with me, but I can’t say it will last forever.”

“Forever same one day for heart. I happy with one day. One week. One month. Maybe more.” She bid good-night to the mama-san and we drove to my hotel.

In bed Ae faked orgasms like a porno star. The lie turned on the old fool in me. Our one evening lasted the weekend. We lay in bed and spoke of our lives.

The English father of her son had deserted her for a younger woman. Ae was 22.

Go-go dancing supported her children, although the real money came from going with men. She couldn’t tell me how many. Neither to me or herself. She wired money upcountry for her kids’ schooling, for this altruistic streak fooled most farangs into thinking they have met a saint without considering that these women have also abandoned the dirt-poor villages to forget their cheating ex-husbands and drunken boyfriends.

Neither side of the equation asked too many questions and neither did I, when Ae announced on a beautiful Monday morning, “I say good-bye to Finland friend. Not boyfriend. Friend. Go see him to airport. He give me 5000 baht. I come back. Stay with you.”

“Mai pen rai.” I recalled a story from the Pattaya Mail.

A westerner had marrying a dancing girl from t. They celebrated their wedding at the Royal Cliffs, the most expensive hotel in Pattaya. The next morning he woke to an empty bed. The hotel staff knew nothing. The police even less. A week later his wife showed up at his house and explained, “Have old boyfriend come see me. He give me 50,000 baht. You not mind?”

“No problem?” Ae was disappointed by my absence of jealousy, but in Pattaya you never lose the girl. Only your turn and I was willing to wait, because I loved drinking at a bar and Pattaya had hundreds of those.

“None at all.”

She tenderly kissed my cheek and said, “I call you from Bangkok.”

Two days passed without a phone call.

British partner reneged on the balloon payment of his investment and our company joined the Internet crash.

Katmandu was three hours away by plane. The monsoons weren’t due for another two months. A small guest house in Annapurna’s rain shadow served pancakes in the morning. Life would cost $10/day. Mustang lay to the north. A months stay in the sacred Himalayas was penance for several months in the Last Babylon. I didn’t make it out the hotel door. Ae stood in the hallway and looked at my bag. “Where you go?”

“I’m going to Nepal to see the mountains.”

“Mountains?” Her face scrunched up in disbelief. “Why you go see mountain, when see me?”

The hotel door remained shut for two days.

Our holiday on Koh Samui was a month-;ong honeymoon. She taught me Thai as a sleeping dictionary. I learned the words for love, caress, hug, kiss, and jealous. I said “Rak-khun” more than a man my age should tell a younger woman, but Senora Adorno’s love curse had been vanquished by a slender go-go girl.

On the beach fat female westerners gawked, as if I were a sex tourist.

In some ways they weren’t wrong. Ae and I had sex three times a day.

“It good with you. You not too big. Not too small.” She lay with her thighs clasped to trap me inside her. “I not finish with men from go-go. With you all the time.”

I didn’t need to hear about these other men, because my cousin Sherri had told me how easy it is to fake an orgasm. She had done so in hundreds of films and thousand more in real life.

“Yes, say, but not true. With you true.” Her hand caressed my shoulder with a tenderness absent from my life for years and I reciprocated with a gentle embrace.

“When we return to Pattaya, will you live with me a little?”

“Long as you want.” She was telling the truth, but only about that, because the truth in Thailand or anywhere else in the world is an onion with many layers.

We rented a utility apartment off Soi Boukhao. Her youngest son Dtut joined us. Three of us in one room. Our love life suffered, but not as much as when her father had completed a murder sentence at the Rayong Prison and came to town.

“We go see father.”

I only extracted 1000 baht from the ATM and drove across the railroad tracks down the end of a dirt road.
Den shared a filthy room with his son and his drug addict girlfriend. She was six months pregnant. They drank heavily and played cards.

“You help my family.” My donations to Ae had improved no one’s lives, but I said, “Yes.”

$200 settled a gambling debt. Another $100 to buy off a police loan shark. I rented her brother and father a small restaurant. They transformed the enterprise into a ya bah or Methedrine den. Her children went shoeless. Crooked policemen came to my house for tea money. Loansharks for delinquent loan.

After this lesson in the futility of foreign aid I withdrew my sponsorship. I should have left her, but I couldn’t and I recalled the glass of beer. Everyone was angry and Ae spat, “You not understand Thai life.”

“Pom khao jai 100% and I understand not knowing is good.”

My bank account was low. My old boss, Richie, called from New York. He needed an extra salesman for Christmas season in the Diamond District. Ae said, “Go. You want leave me. Go.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Same you tell Vee.”

“No, I swear I’ll come back.”

I worked forty days in a row and sold 25-carat cabochon Burma sapphire to a well-known interior decorator, who whispered over dinner at a fancy Soho restaurant, “You?re sexy.”

Tony drove a convertible 1960 Ferrari 250 GTO, lived in a 5th Avenue apartment, and owned a house overlooking a surfing spot in Montauk. Richie said I should marry him, if only to have him buy a big engagement diamond from his store. I didn’t play for that team and called Ae every day. I didn’t tell anyone. Not even Sherri and I booked a flight to the Orient.

Ae met me at the airport and said, “I happy now.”

“I happy too.”

The only sad men in Don Muang were those drinking their last beer in Thailand.

“And Dtut?”

“Your son can live with us.”

We moved into a house surrounded by swamps. Birds sang in the trees. Butterflies danced in the sunlight. Mosquitos sucked my blood. Ae cooked triple fried fish and vegetables. One night I drank a beer. The taste was off, but I drained the bottle slick with a green liquid.

In the morning uranium spikes drummed my temples. I looked at the beer bottle. It smelled funny and I accused Ae of poisoning me.

“Poison?”
“Yeah, phit or a love potion.”

“I not believe magic.”

“Ching, ching.”Thais draped talisman around their neck, inscribed their bodies tattoos against evil, and visited fortunetellers and witches, instead of doctors.

“Not magic. Maybe house have phi.”

“Ghosts?”

“Phi Am. She sit on you in night.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“You not believe in Phi?”

“I know ghosts well.” I was from New England, although farangs derided the Thais’ belief in souls eating your intestines or a greedy man doomed to wander eternity with a worm-sized mouth. I was not an unbeliever and contracted the monks to exorcise the house, but whatever potion had been in that beer bottle lurked in my belly and its spell was bound to emerge from hibernation at a moment of weakness.

Life settled down after that episode. I woke with the dawn to re-edit my novel on pornography in our air-conditioned bedroom. Thai bar girls were Olympic sleepers and Pi-Ek, the owner of Hot Tuna on Walking Street, theorized that these bargirls preferred the world of dreams rather than a half-translated life with a farang.

“Same you live in a foreign movie and only hear language farang. Jep hoo-a.”

His conjecture was worrisome, since Ae was sleeping fourteen hours a day or night.

On each occasion she had arisen from these comas demonized by a tigress in heat. Once I rolled off her sweat-drenched body and she murmured, “You love me?”

“Rak khun.”

My heart was pumping too much blood to my head and the twenty-four year-old smiled quixotically. “You write book sound like monsoon rain. Why you love me?”

She knew nothing about the Red Sox, the coast of Maine, or CBGBs in the East Village. I had incorporated her breastless body into my novel without explaining my original attraction was based on a supergroup’s album cover. I winged my reply.

“Because I feel young with you.”

“You my khun garh.” She snuggled into my like a stray cat after a long stay on the streets.

I was neither the oldest or youngest farang in her life. I was somewhere in the middle and replied, “Yes, I’ll always be your old man.”

She resumed the sleep of the dead and I read Peter Hopkirk’s THE GREAT GAME.

Outside the distant hum of cars mingled with the buzz of mosquitoes beyond the netting. The night air was scented by jasmine.

I rested the book on my chest.

Pattaya was so much different than my life in New York.

There I worked. Here I wrote. There I slept alone. Here I made love to Ae every day. She would tell me about her lovers. They were many. In some ways it was like listening to Sherri. The two probably shared the same adventures. I was getting to think Pattaya could be home. Mrs. Adorno would never miss me.

The hot weather melted off my winter gut and daily swims at Jomtien Beach toned up my muscles.

A few friends from New York came out for a visit. We toured the go-go bars and discos. They wondered how they could stay here for the rest of their lives. I did too, since I had no money coming in.

In late March my cousin arrived from Boston with a Red Sox cap and a skimpy red dress for Ae. My mother had sworn me to take care of Bish. Ae modeled the skin-tight sheath.

“Go out, have fun. I meet later.”

Bish loved the food, the weather, and the wide-open nightlife. We ate at a seafood restaurant on Beach Road. The hostess greeted us with a shy smile. Only a month in Pattaya Nu didn’t speak a word of English and Bish was impressed with my rudimentary Thai.

“I learned it from Ae. My Sleeping Dictionary.”

No Thai bargirl encouraged her sponsor to learn their language in fear of losing the advantage of a communication chasm.

“In the States every woman we know would criticize our going to go-go bars.”

“Anyone of them donate money to the ballet?”

“No.”

“Well, then your tipping these girls after a show is more charitable than a donation to the Boston Ballet. These girls come from the end of the road. Their farms grow one rice crop a year. They have big families. Usually a brother kills someone and to avoid going to prison, they pay blood money to the cops by sending the prettiest girl to Pattaya, Bangkok, or Phuket to make money off some drunken beer lout.”

“And is there any salvation?”

“Only if you are lucky.”

The next day I bought a medallion of a desiccated Thai monk. The Thai charm seller swore Lop Ngern would protect me. NO one else would. Ae was a ticking time bomb. It was highly unlikely I could walk away from the explosion intact.

“You used to complain about not having served in the Peace Corps after college. Guess you are in the Peace Corps now.”

“Volunteer donor.”

We clinked glasses and after a long stay at the Happy-a-Go-Go, we crossed Walking Street to the Marine Disco. The Chicken Farm was loaded with free-lance girls looking for a short-time date. Most of the farangs were drunk enough to think these girls actually considered them handsome. Ae was dancing with Sam’s wife. Bish and I stayed on the other side of the bar. He asked, “Isn’t this spying?”

“Not if my back is turned,” I replied, knowing I only trusted Ae in her sleep. She finally spotted me and arrived in a huff.

“No fair, you see me I no see you.”

“And I see you don’t have a boyfriend and I don’t have a geek.” The red dress clung to her body like a boa.

“Only have you, khun garh.” She dragged me onto the dance floor.

Dtum asked Bish to join her. I became Brad Pitt and Bish was Clint Eastwood. Sam showed up from Bangkok. He had settled with his investor for a few million baht and we celebrated with tequila. The police threw us out at dawn. Standing on Walking Street amidst the flurry of transvestites, off-duty go-go girls, and short-timers, Bish said, “This place is Garden of Eden.”

“More like the farm league for Hell, but I’m not religious.”

“For me Hell is a suburban mall. Lots to buy. None of it will make you happy. Not like here.”

“I’m in no position to argue, counselor.”

When Bish left, tears touched his eyes. He wasn’t looking forward to life in America.

“All my life I work. I have money. I have a good job. But no woman. What is wrong with me?”

“The same thing as me.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know, but maybe you should move back into Boston.”

“I am where I am.”

Several weeks later Ae’s cellphone rang around 3am. Her hand snatched it from the night table with the speed of a cobra attacking a fat rat. She closed the bathroom door. The word tee-lat muffled through the wall. When she returned to bed, Ae read the murder in my eyes and flashed the number on the mobile’s LCD.

“Sorry, have friend call me from Italy. He old boyfriend. Now finish.”

Friend never finish. He have money. He come. Mai pen rai,” I said, as the love potion tightened every vein power with jealousy. I almost threw her mobile into the swamps. Dtut shook his head. He liked playing games on the phone. He was a good kid, but Thais know how to play farangs at birth.

I smiled at him and asked, “So when is your teelat coming?”

“Not boyfriend. Friend.” She pounded her fists on the pillows and rolled over, revealing the naked gap bewtween spread legs. “You not trust me. I never go with man. Only with you.”

“What about Finnish man?”

“You are the one I want.” Ae might have possessed a grammar school education, but she played my emotions with the virtuosity of a concert pianist and onceDtut was in bed, we made love with an urgency shadowed by an impending Armageddon.

Pizza and pasta were banished from the menu. My jealousy painted a portrait of a young Italian with greasy long hair. He wore a Juventus football shirt and chain-smoked between bottles of wine. Anyone speaking a romance language was suspect, but there was an escape plan.

The Italian.

I took Dtut for ice cream. He liked chocolate. The sun fried the sun. I had a vanilla cone and pulled Dtut to my side. He was a good boy.

The Italian was next on Ae’s list. He was the answer, especially since Songkran was coming soon and Songkran was the crazy time of the year for the Thais and even more so for a man lost in Asia.

STINKY’S RETURN by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in 2007 Nik Reiter and I decided to avoid the madness of Songkran by leaving Pattaya for Cambodia. My wife was up-country. She was seeing family. Things weren’t good between us.

Nothing like a road trip to cheer up a man,” Nick said and he booked a van for the border.

The next morning the van stopped at my house on Moo 9.

Nick was already inside and looked unhappy.

“What’s wrong?”

Take a whiff.”

I inhaled the air.

Damn.”

“Someone stinks.”

“That Dutch cunt in the back.”

Stinky was a young backpacker.

We hated travelers.

And they hated us ex-pats.

“Where’s he headed?”

“Sihanoukville.”

“Same as us.”

“Damn.”

The Thai driver thought the same and drove with the window open.

We opened ours too.

Stinky complained.

Nick and I told him to fuck off and slept with the warm wind in our faces.

The mini-van skipped the food stop and we ended up at Trat, the last big town before Koh Klong, the Cambodian entry point.

“This stop,” announced the driver.

We got off and Stinky asked, “How do we get to the border?”

We walk. It’s only a half-mile.” I wanted rid of Stinky. ” But we’re going to have some beer, so piss off.”

The mini-van driver was complaining to the other Thais about the Dutchman’s smell, but stopped upon hearing the tone of my voice.

“Piss off?” asked the blonde Dutchman.

Stinky got the message and wandered off toward the border.

It was another fifteen miles away.

When I explained that to the driver he laughed and we drank a quick beer before continuing to the checkpoint at Cham Yeam.

We saw nothing of Stinky.

At the crossing we tipped the driver 200 baht.

Passing through the Cambodian frontier was easy.

$25 for a month-long visa.

A young boy wrote out the particulars and offered to drive us into Koh Kong for $5. We bought 4 beers and got into the car. Nick laughed to himself.

“What’s so funny?”

“You throwing Stinky off the bus.”

Ï didn’t throw him off. I just gave him the wrong information.”

“Same result. We’re breathing normal air again.”

The driver paid the toll for the bridge over the river. I had stayed in Koh Kong before. It’s a sleepy border town. No beaches. No go-gos. No tourist attractions. Just beer drinking. Not a bad thing, but the driver could arrange forward travel to Sihanoukville.

5-6 hours on a mini-bus, but we needed one other passenger.

“Wouldn’t it be funny, if it was Stinky.” Nick chuckled under his breath.

“Yeah, funny, but not ha-ha.”

We drove into town. Cambodians were splashing water, yet without the viciousness of the Thai Songkran. The driver tried to entice us into a visit to the Chicken Farm. “Have many girls?”

“How many?”

“50.”

Nick and I shook our heads.

Most of the girls would be sleeping off the last night’s labors. Plus he’s faithful to his girlfriend and me mine. Not that we’re good guys, but unlike Bill Clinton we don’t make exceptions to the rules of monogamy.

Except in cases of extreme discretion.

We arrive at the guest house. The mini-van was waiting in the driveway. So was Stinky.

“That wasn’t nice.” He hadn’t changed his shirt and smelled as bad as before.

“What wasn’t nice?” I acted innocent.

“Telling me the mini-van didn’t go to Cambodia.”

“I didn’t tell you that.”

“Yeah, we were wondering why you got off the bus.” Nick backed me up. As an English football fan he hated the Dutch. “And you still smell.”

“I can’t help it.”

Nick looked at me. His eyes said he couldn’t stand 5-6 hours with Stinky. The driver spoke Thai and I said to him, “We pay more if only two people.”

The driver could smell Stinky too and agreed to the deal.

We loaded our bags onto the bus. Stinky tried to get on. The driver stopped him. “No go Sihanoukville. Go casino. Two men. Come back for you 30 minutes.”

Thirty minutes later we were speeding over a red dirt road.

Stinky nowhere to be seen, heard, or smelled.

And we were very happy men

Happy Buddha New Year.

DA CHICKEN FARM IN SIHANOUKVILLE by Peter Nolan Smith


In 2007 I was losing my mind. The mother of my daughter has deserted me to live in the hicks or ‘bannok’. I had given up everything to move to Thailand and be a father. Angie’s mom was scared that I was planning to kidnap her. She was stupider than a bucket of mud. I would do nothing to hurt my daughter, but it was too late to make things right. I was lost in Asia.

My good friend Nick Tottenham suggested that we leave town for Songkran and head over to Cambodia. I rejected the trip at first, but Nick recognized the depths of my depression and said, “Mate, nothing says you’ve fucked up like a binge through Cambodia. Beer, pussy, and me will cure your ills.”

It was worth a shot and we took off two days before Songkran to Sihanoukville.

The beach resort had been a nothing town for decades. The Khmer Rouge had seen to it that beaches were off-limits to the masses. A major pollution spill in the 90s had scared the most durable of backpackers, but beachfront property was a seller in the 2000s and we pulled into a forgotten town on the verge of a boom.

I had been here several times and we booked rooms at the Angkor Arms. The hosts were two Froggies named Roland. Beers, the Who, and ganja killed the early part of the evening, but Nick was used to spending his nights with women.

“Ou est les femmes?” Nick asked the straight Roland. The other Roland was asexual.

“Les putas ou les filles?” Roland understood Nick’s query.

“Whores.”

“The best place is the Chicken Farm.”

“I know where it is.”

On my three previous solo trips to Sihanoukville I never ventured over to its infamous ‘Chicken Farm’ or street of ill repute near the harbor. Red light districts are never really fun, unless you’re with a friend.

“You ready?” Nick paid the bill. $5 for five beers and cheaper than Pattaya, which was why many farangs on a budget had offshored their retirement to Cambodia. Money went further. Rent was cheap, but due to a fatal accident a year ago the governor prohibited westerners from riding motorcycles in Sihanoukville, so we stepped into the street. Two motorcycle taxi guys appeared as if they were beamed from the sky.

“Where you want go?”

“Chicken farm.” Nick and I said at the same time.

The drivers knew the way to ‘Phum Thmey’ or the new village.

As we rode down a dirt road, my driver explained that the port expansion had wiped out half the shantytown of working girls. The remaining brothels exuded an aura of authentic seediness untouched by trendy travelers. The offerings were mostly older women and they were fat.

Nick’s driver said, “New Year. Many girl go home.”

They drove up to BIBA.

The hottest disco in the Chicken Farm.

Nick and I entered the dark karaoke lounge. Girls snapped to attention. None were under 30. It was a horror show. The girls smelled of bad food. No one wanted them home for the holiday. We bought them a round of drinks. It cost us $20.

One of them begged me to go into the backroom.

“I do everything cheap.” She probably had worked sailors for $2 a go. Her breath stank of rotten teeth. I guessed her age to be close to mine. The red light made her 30. I gave her $20. Tears warmed her eyes.

“I do more than everything.”

“I don’t want anything.” Sex was a destination a long way from the BIBA.

“You no think I pretty?”

“No, my wife leave me. I have a broken heart.”

“I sorry.”

“She is not. You want some tequila?”

“Yes.” She understood broken hearts better than a professor of romance languages at Harvard. “We forget.”

“Forgetting is everything.”

After three shots Nick and I fled the BIBA and told the drivers to go to Victory Hill for drinks. They detoured by every possible knocking shop in Sihanoukville, hoping for an extra pimping charge.

We blanked every one of them.

The drivers dropped us at the Angkor Arms. The Rolands were waiting in the bar. Two girls sat at a small table. They were better-looking than any of the girls from the Chicken Farm. Nick booked them both. I wasn’t in the mood. Angie’s mom had put me off women. He went upstairs and I ordered a Tiger beer for me and the Rolands.

“What about your friend?”

“He’s English. He shoots quick. He’ll be here soon enough.”

And that was the truth.

Stumpy’s New Home

Serendipity 3 was a famed ice cream parkor on East 60th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Stephen Bruce and his two associates, Calvin Holt and Patch Caradine, were the smiling headmasters for the fey waiter and busboy staff, who served the best sundaes in the world as well as a frozen hot chocolate drink to a clientele in love with Bruce’s epithet, “Life is delicious.”

Famed stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O regularly frequented the lavishly decorated restaurant.

Andy Warhol was a welcome guest before he was Warhol.

Everyone working there in the 1970s loved the Joan Crawford movie MILDRED PIERCE. Their given names were abandoned in favor of female appellations. I was hired as a busboy. The boys called me ‘Pebbles’ after the Flintstone scarlet-haired daughter. Bird, one of the longtime waiters said, “You look so Neanderthal.”

Upstairs lived a gang of Hillbilly queers. We were all good friends. The night of the 1978 Blackout a troupe of us failed to liberate a gold lame Elvis suit from the disco emporium Fiorucci. Sadly I lost most of them through the AIDS epidemic.

Andy Reese was a brilliant writer, thief, and hustler as well as a gifted ballet dancer, although he once blamed me for one of his theft. The gang turned against me then, they never really trusted ‘Bam-Bam’.

Upon his death he bequeathed me an elephant’s foot. Stumpy resided at my East Village apartment for decades. I tried to sell it once to a curio shop and the owner sneered at my possessing such a relic. Stumpy and I have together for almost forty years.

Last month the curator of the Fort Greene Conservatory said, “MY wife says it’s time for Stumpy to find a new home.”

I understood her request.

Stumpy had always been a little gnarly.

I carted Stumpy down to my storage place underneath the BQE.

He rested on a wall.

Stumpy was taking his time.

No one sad anything about hi,

That part of the world had never seen elephants or parts of elephants.

Stumpy was ready for a rest.

I tenderly lifted him into his 5′ by 5′ residence.

“I’ll be back one day.”

It was no lie.

I only wish I could say the say to Andy Reese.