Pattaya. City of Eastern European tourists and hoards of burned-out freelance Thai prostitutes. It’s January, and I’m just trying to find a nice stretch of beach with pure white sand and very few people. I’ll find it, eventually, but not here.
This is Part Two of a multi-part series. Part One can be found here. Please be advised that this story contains mildly graphic depictions of things one should never see, and should not be read by those under 80.
I’m standing on a beach in Pattaya City, Thailand. It’s dusk, and the tourists are moving from the beaches and starting to crowd the boulevard that stretches along the waterfront. I do not want to be here, I’m telling myself. The beach is a mess, the tourists wear a perpetual scowl, and things are starting to seem sketchy as hell. But the bus has already departed.
I head off the sand and start heading away from the waterfront. It’s time to find a way out of this city, hopefully to an island where it’s quieter, and cleaner.
As I wind my way aimlessly through the streets, I realize how low on cash I have become. So I head into a shopping mall in search of an ATM. There’s a string of banks on one of the upper floors, and I insert my Korean bank card into the machine. Declined. Strange, I think to myself, there’s definitely more than enough money in my account. I try a different branch. Declined. Another. Declined.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone working in the banks with a working knowledge of English. Which is unfortunate, because Thailand in general is quite an English friendly country. One woman finally offers to help me, and she knows a smattering of English words and phrases. From what I can gather, my card won’t work because it’s not usable internationally. Which is not at all what the Korean banks told me before I left.
So now I’m broke, trapped in Pattaya and utterly starving. The simple cover phrase from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy echoes through my head. Don’t Panic.
It’s time for a last-ditch move. In the back of my wallet, half-cracked and worn down, is my Canadian debit card. I haven’t used it for almost two years, since I left Canada to teach in Seoul. Is there a chance it might work? As I slide the card in the machine, I’m sweating profusely, in part because of the heat, but also in sheer terror at the prospect of not being able to get back to Bangkok to fly home to Seoul in a few days.
As the cash slides out cheerfully, I quietly praise the Canadian banking system.
With cash in my wallet, I head out feeling much relieved. Now I can get out of here. Only I can’t. As I briskly walk from shuttle service to shuttle service, anxiously watching the sun setting, one thing becomes apparent: you can’t get out of the city at this time of day. The earliest possible departure is the next morning. I slowly resign myself to this fact. Only now I need a place to sleep.
Mercifully, this proves to be much easier. I find a small hostel owned by a British expat who happily takes me in. It’s not so much of a hostel, as it is a semi-converted home. We chat for a bit, and I’m relived that I won’t be spending the night on the street. Feeling a bit more relaxed, and resigned to my fate that I’ll be spending the night here, I venture back out into the city.
Pattaya’s most famous district is its walking street. And I had no idea. But as I walk along the beach, the call of vivid neon lighting makes it apparent that this is a place where something is going on.
I had visited Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, so a strip of gogo bars (no pun intended) is not something that surprises me. Except that it doesn’t end. It goes on, and on. And it’s busy. A chaotic heap of bars, clubs, ladyboys, and bar girls. A Muay Thai match in full swing, with two sweaty, lean fighters pounding each other with fists and feet. And–families?
As you walk along any tourist-oriented street in Thailand, you’re bound to be heckled. Custom suit? Weed? Viagra? Ping Pong show?
The mythology of the Thai ping pong show is known around the world. Perhaps it was the 1970’s softcore porn flick Emmanuelle that brought it to the mainstream consciousness the in the infamous smoking scene. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. It’s not the sort of thing I really would consider, only a few months back a female friend had mentioned that she’d gone to one and that it was…an experience.
So the next thing I know, I’m being led by a complete stranger, through the pandemonium of gogo bars, and up a long, unmarked staircase. To be honest, at this point, my fists are balled and ready for action. Something about the sketchiness of Pattaya and unmarked bars tells me that this might turn into a fight or flight situation. Thankfully, I’m wrong. As we enter the bar, it’s relatively quiet. Club music is playing, flashing lights threaten to induce seizure, and a half-dozen foreigners sit around the stage in the middle of the bar. I’m relieved, for some unknown reason, to find that there are men and women who are here to see the show.
I suppose it shouldn’t make any difference. But for some reason, I feel like less of a creep if there are couples here.
And it begins. It starts off rather mundane. A girl on stage, dancing. Then stripping. And then she gets out a banana. I know where this is going, I think to myself. I am wrong. She peels it, makes the insertion, and then launches it across the room where another girl holds a bucket. I’d say about 5-7 metres. Impressive, even if the catcher had to lunch to make the catch. This is followed by a blow-gun, which she uses to pop several balloons.
Oh, and all of this is done with her vagina. I’m sure there were ping pong balls in there somewhere, but that was the tame part. Many things went in, many came out. Let’s get something straight before I continue. I fully support women’s rights, and the feminist movement as a whole. While this entire scene is undoubtedly degrading, it happens. So I’m not saying that this is in any way okay. But I’ve seen it, and I can’t un-see it.
An older lady then takes the stage and then…smokes an entire cigarette, Emmanuelle-style. Down there. Which cannot be healthy.
This is followed by her pulling a string of needles, and then a string of straight razors from the same location. By this time, I’m eyeballing the exit wondering if she’d be upset if I left while she was degrading herself. But thankfully, with an awkward, stunned round of applause, the show is over. And I stumble out on the street wondering if a part of me has just died, and if I’ll ever have a daughter that will one day ask me, “Daddy, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?”
Because I’ll have to tell her a lie. I’ll tell her it was the beach.