My first trip to Asia

Despite my seeming expertise in Asian culture, such as my convincing Japanese accent and my short article on “How to Thai a tie ” (and conversely “How to tie a Thai”), I have never been to the wild, wild east.

What strange wonders might I encounter there, I thought to myself as I sat in my “pod” in United First Class, sipping mimosa and salivating over my veal medallions. Imagine my surprise and horror when I arrived in my connecting airport of Tokyo-Narita when I go exploring and find a Japanese eatery called Tatsu piping out Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” from its speakers, without shame. I felt so dirty, I raced to the bathroom, only to discover some stalls have what can only be described as very contemporary-looking holes in the ground where you are supposed to “do your business,” as it were. Luckily, I found a regular toilet, washed my hands, and then reveled in the power of the dryers, which basically blasted the skin right off my hands, leaving them nice and bone dry.

My observations in Japan were limited; aside from the aforementioned, the only others I remember were that everything was spotlessly clean, like living in an episode of “Monk,” and every Japanese girl I saw looked like an extremely cute 16-year-old, even the obviously twentysomethings. After noting these, I jetted out of Japan to Bangkok. I toughed it out in a Business class seat, tossing and turning and wondering why I had to be stuck with the people who only paid $5k instead of $10k for a plane ticket.

Finally, a day and a half later (with the time change), I arrived in Bangkok, and as the fates would have it, good old Celine Dion was there to welcome me in the jetbridge as soon as I walked off the plane with her sweet serenade from “Titanic.” Once I finish basking in Dion, I head down to the curb to wait for Will to pick me up, and though all the people look the same, they seem very friendly, many of them coming up to me and saying hello. I haven’t quite mastered the Thai language at this point, but it seems “hello” is pronounced “taxi?”

Will arrives, and I can tell he has become adept at fitting in, because he looks just like everyone else too. We head back to his brother’s place and I crash for the evening.

Day 1

I wake up around 7 am, even though I went to bed past midnight the night before after a 22-hour long day. Will takes me around his project site, which at this point is basically a series of stray dog-infested slums in which I could sort of make out the rented-out mini factories that make up Will’s business. Nonetheless, the land space is impressive, and the vision Will lays out for me makes me believe he can actually turn this plot of what looks like useless land into something worthwhile.

We take a cab into the city and I learn how to actually say hello (sah-wat dee khrab ). What I should have learned how to say is “I’m frightened,” because they drive 10 times worse than LA drivers. Thankfully, everyone drives this way, and everyone else seems to know to expect it, so somehow I don’t see any accidents.

The first place we stop at when we get to Will’s neighborhood is a combination haircut/foot massage place, where Will gets his haircut and I get a comprehensive foot massage. By comprehensive, I mean that I must have feet on my arms and back that I didn’t know about, because those got massaged as well, all for about $5. With my re-energized feet, we grabbed some lunch from the street vendors for about $1 per plate, then walked downtown to the mall area, where I got the quick tour of three malls. Each mall was between 4-6 stories, one of them had an entire grocery store on top, and another had a movie theater with a Happiness World Screen, where one pays about $15 to lounge in recliners and sofas and watch a new movie on an IMAX size screen. If it was something other than “10,000 B.C.” playing, we probably would have indulged ourselves.

Next up on the tour of Thai culture: who wants a body massage? We went to one of Will’s favorite places, where nobody seemed to speak any English, so when Will said something to them and everyone looked at me and laughed, I knew it would be a punishing few hours. I learned a little bit more Thai that day: “Nok nok” is not something you want to ask for from a Thai masseuse. I got to experience two hours of strange contortions and sensations and pressures I’ve never known before, and in the end, my back was sore enough that I needed another massage. Maybe that’s how they get repeat business.

We stumbled out of the massage place into the afternoon heat, and Will took me to see what the Thai bath house was all about. We walked into a fancy schmancy place, darkly lit and drowning in black marble that made it look like a scene from "Scarface," and a man in basically a pimp suit quickly approached us and ushered us over to a black leather couch. There he started speaking to Will in Thai and writing numbers down on paper, and I looked around uncomfortably at the scantily clad women sitting everywhere. Finally after what seemed like decades, Will said “Let’s take the tour.”

We got up and walked around, and surrounding the couch we had been sitting on are big open areas lit with black and dim white light, stacked with stadium-style seating, and on that seating were numerous young women in various states of undress, smiling and leering at us and tapping on the big red buttons pinned on them. Each girl had a number on the button, and it’s my impression that a seasoned veteran to this practice would simply walk in, tell the suit a number or two, and be ready to ride. Neither Will nor I being interested, though, we took a few minutes to walk around, then told the suit nothing looked interesting and ducked out of the dark and back into the light.

The neverending day continued with an Italian dinner with some of Will’s friends, who were all young professionals and chatted about expense accounts and working remotely. Afterwards, we took a cab down to a club called Hollywood, described by most people we mentioned it to as “seedy,” and we paid our admission by buying a bottle of vodka. Since neither of us were drinking that night, we sat and watched the “show,” which consisted of more scantily clad women, this time with Mickey Mouse panties on, dancing to pop and rock music. I guess that’s the Thai perspective on what Hollywood is like. I suppose it’s not too far off. Around 1 a.m. we finally got bored and headed home to crash.

Day 2

I caught up on a little sleep and rolled out of bed around 10, then we grabbed another cheap meal from the street vendors. Will had a meeting with his brothers, so he turned me loose on the city and I took a cab down to the Grand Palace to see some of Bangkok’s wonders. No sooner had I arrived, though, than I was informed the Palace was closed the entire day for some sort of celebration. I was offered a ride to another temple in one of the little tuk-tuks (the motorcyles with the cabs attached to the back) for less than a dollar, so I hopped in and was on my way.

We went straight to the temple, and it was very ornate and interesting aside from the construction going on, but when I was done, the tuk-tuk driver took me all over the city, stopping at suit and jewelry shops everywhere, explaining that he would get a gas reimbursement if we stopped at all of them and the ride would be free. It started with the promise of only four stores, so I said sure. Eight stores later, I had to convince him to drop me off at the nearest temple, I gave him much more money than I should have, walked around an interesting street market for a little while, and then caught a cab back to Will’s place just in time to grab dinner and head out for some fun.

Friday evening’s festivities had us meeting a friend of Will’s who we had just met the night before at the Italian restaurant for a party. The draw: Will had been promised there were Singaporean girls there, who are reputed to be very cute and very well off. We arrived and were greeted by none other than a Singaporean girl who was cute, and who was working for a company that put her up in an incredible apartment, thereby assuring she was also well off. Mission accomplished.

Throughout the party, which included some time spent at the indoor pool on the 6th floor, I met girls from Hong Kong and from Thailand, and guys from France and from Germany. And that’s not including the Singaporean girl, or Big, the guy from Thailand with whom we came to the party. There were probably more countries represented at that party than types of booze. At any point, if I listened with a discerning ear, I heard 4 or 5 different languages being spoken. Eventually, we felt like we had left our mark, and Will decided we should go meet up with some of his friends at a club called Santika, his usual haunting grounds.

We rolled into the club, caught an earful of a band playing some outdated Limp Bizkit song, found some people Will knew and mooched drinks off of them. Big and I chatted a little while Will tried to hit on a cocktail waitress. When that didn’t play out, he moved on to another group of girls, and I headed to the restroom, where the two bathroom attendants made me sufficiently uncomfortable by first flushing the toilet while I was still using it, then giving shoulder rubs while I washed my hands, followed by an offer of a warm towel then a paper towel then baby powder. I smiled and tossed a thank you their way (“korb kun khab ”) and got the hell out of there as quick as possible.

When I got back, I shimmied to some music for a few minutes before Will called me over. “Her friend wants to meet you,” he tells me, and I’m immediately introduced to several attractive Thai girls. We spent a few minutes shouting some chit chat over the music, but truthfully I couldn’t tell you what the heck they said, what with the accent and the noise. In fact, I didn’t even get their names, though I think one of them might be called Apple. Nonetheless, my nodding and smiling apparently made them enamored with me, and I quickly found myself surrounded with women all dancing up on me. Perhaps it was my stunning facial hair. When it seemed likely they were interested in more than just a harmless shimmy or two, Will and I bounced out and headed home.

Day 3

We both woke up pretty early and decided to have a go at Thai Monopoly. Will, being a crazed Monopoly enthusiast, had purchased the version for a heftier price than the original goes for in the States, and that’s including the exchange rate. Still, I’m a lover of the game as well, so we both agreed it was worth it. Pretty soon, I had three houses each on Silum and Sukhumvit (the Boardwalk and Park Place equivalent), but I had some bad rolls and landed a few times on Jom Thian (one of the Orange, near Free Parking) and that was the end of that.

My only request of Will during my trip was to ride an elephant, so Will had worked out a ride—one of his lady friends named Pla—and a destination—a city about an hour and a half north of Bangkok called Ayuttaya. Ayuttaya is the old capital city of Thailand, and it’s packed to the gills with ruined temples and elephant droppings, as well as the respective owners of those droppings. We arrived and hopped on our elephants, Will and Pla on one and I on another. It was amusing, and admittedly I found it quite a riot when they led us all to a dirt patch where there was a sort of elephant pow-wow going on and all of them unleashed their bladders and bowels in torrents of 2-3 gallon puddles and 3-5 softball-sized deuces. After that, the novelty wore off pretty quick, which was good because the ride was only about 20 minutes long.

We walked around and explored some of the temples, and I had the pleasure of paying for entrance to each one while Will and Pla got in free. Thais apparently aren’t very welcoming of foreigners—either that or they just know we’re all suckers. It was still quite an experience, though, and the surrealism of sharing the road with an occasional elephant can’t be understated.

On the way back to Bangkok, we got to “X” on the alphabet game. Pretty good, I thought, considering most of the signs were in Thai. We probably could have finished if we hadn’t been stuck on “Q” for so long, but such is life.

We headed out to dinner once we got back to the city, and while there was talk of eating snake, the idea never really grew legs, mostly because nobody knew where to find a restaurant that would serve snake. Instead, after dinner we headed to a grocery store in one of the gigantic malls and introduced Pla to sake bombs, which she promptly lost a taste for after almost vomiting. The drinking finished, Will took us to an area of the city called Nana, where he said all the “vampires” live. Exciting as it sounds, “vampire” in Will’s dictionary is a materialistic woman who shows interest in a man just so she can “bleed” him of money and gifts.

The so-called “vampire den” turned out to be mostly strip clubs, so we headed back to a bar near Will’s, had a drink or two, some casual conversation, and then went home to sleep so I could be up in four hours for my flight.

I made it back safe and sound with little hassle or fanfare, aside from the customs agent in the US assuming I was smuggling back child pornography since I was a young man returning from Thailand. I found that fairly odd, though at the time I was sporting a burgeoning goatee, so perhaps that added to the suspicion.

As for my Thai language skills, I’m sad to say they didn’t develop as much as I thought they might, but perhaps you can learn something about my guide based on the phrases I did learn:

  • “Sah wat dee khab” – Hello
  • “Kau foon dai mai khab” – Will you have sex with me?
  • “A-roi” – Delicious
  • “Na faan” – Sexually enticing
  • “Khab pom” – Indeed
  • “Khab wat dee khab” – Okay goodbye

So, while it was a short trip, it was a great time, and fantastic to see a close friend becoming so immersed in the city. I know I’ll have to go back, but until then, I’ll just have to take a page out of Celine’s book, and know that “My Heart Will Go On.”

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    glad to hear you still remember your key Thai phrases. no mention of the cage match though huh? that's a memory I hope to never forget...

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