A middle-aged American, struggling for months with the text of a book he’s trying to write about his conversion from the life of a western businessman to a resident of one of Southeast Asia’s most undeveloped countries, decides to head to a coastal Thai beach town for some peace and quiet and to write.
Salt, sand, wind and ocean air – the quintessential writer’s allies.
He chooses Pattaya as the antidote for his writers’ block.
This place is notorious for its anything-goes culture, for parasailing and water sports and, for countless guys my age, hooking up with girls often young enough to be their granddaughters. It’s 24×7 romper room for fellows with prolonged mid-life crises and, judging from some of the clowns in the troupe, more than a few septuagenarians determined to prove that the party ain’t quite over.
Yeah, sure you’re here to write, read the look on many faces when I responded to their inquiries about where I was headed, where I was from and why I was in Pattaya.
Like the guy who flashed a menu of sex acts in my face not far from my hotel and was on me like a shark to the chum when I stopped with open mouth.
“Hey, you like?”
“Uh, no. I mean, hell, no. I just have never even thought of something involving a live fish and a woman.”
“Oh, we have good show. Ping pong. Fish. Everything. You like? You come see.”
I scrambled away as fast I could, entering the seafood restaurant that had been the goal of my quest and quickly making my way to a table far away from the street and overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. My views having been altered by the items on the guy’s street side menu, I ordered the prawns.
This place is rife with absurd extremes, and the lines are blurred between who is the exploited and the exploiter. As if it weren’t enough to come here with the express purpose of pounding out our book on moving to SE Asia, I arrived in Sodom and Gomorrah along with Thai Buddhist Lent. Which means alcohol sales were suspended.
Now, Pattaya without alcohol is like Vegas without gambling. Trump without a comb over. Faux News without a conservative agenda.
Overnight, this haven of stumbling, drunken fools who zig zagged their way from one beer garden to the girlie bar next door morphed into a mildly active beachfront town which grew eerily quiet around 10 p.m.
The sign outside my restaurant read “No selling alcohol today”, and as is typical in this region, was not to be taken literally. Countless tables around me were piled high with beer, wine and whisky bottles. A Russian guy with shoulders twice the width of mine abandoned his wife at a nearby table and appeared moments later with a bottle of wine and two glasses.
Sipping my soda water, I hailed a waitress.
“Excuse me, the sign outside said no alcohol, yet……”
“Oh,” she breezed, “we not sell alcohol today. Big Buddha day.”
I nodded to the table next to me.
“Oh, yes,” she acknowledged. “We just sell little bit. You want?”
That was Monday night. The next morning brought a new day. In between long walks, weird encounters with enthusiastic lady boys getting a jump on the day’s business and begging me to have “just one drink” with them and endless hassles from street vendors, sangthiew drivers and touts of all kinds, I had decided to pursue a round of golf at one of Pattayas famous links.
And thus ensued the downside of two extremely funny and weird conversations that nicely sum up my time in Pattaya.
First, the ridiculous:
Tourism agent in booth near my hotel: “Where you go today?”
Me: “I want to golf today.”
She: “Ok. You come look (directs me to a map inside the booth).” (Extended conversation between her and another Thai woman lounging in a folding chair outside the booth.)
Me: (after a few minutes of trying to figure out distances from my hotel) “I think this one (pointing to the map).” (much more conversation)
Her: “You say. English.”
Her (pointing): “You say, English.”
Me: “Oh. Greenwood.” (much more conversation, followed by a look of acute consternation on the face of the woman who had greeted me)
Woman sitting on the chair: “No go.”
Woman: “No go. No golf. Rain today.”
I stare up at the blue sky, then back at her.
Me: “It’s OK. I play in rain (Note: It is very important to drop words like “will” and “the” to make oneself more understood in a land where you speak zero of the language. It’s almost as valuable as shouting…higher pitch and volume helps communications, too.)
Woman: “Rain hard. No go. You go tomorrow.”
Me: “OK. I go tomorrow.”
Woman #1: “You book now.”
Me: “I no book now. Too much rain,” and walk away.
Entering the lobby of my hotel about 20 minutes later, I smile briefly at the woman behind the desk. She calls to me as I pass her en route to the elevator. Enter the sublime.
She: “Excuse me, sir?”
She: “About hot water in your room. Still the same?”
Me: “Yes, still the same. Still no hot water.” (I had called to ask for an engineer to take a look at the water heater serving my room just a few hours after I’d asked them to restore electrical service to the room. It seems the infrastructure was a bit challenged. That’s an understatement, as it turned out.)
She: “I am very sorry. We are having big problem with main boiler. Same throughout hotel.”
Me: “It’s really OK. I’m fine with cold water. It’s just not good for baths.”
She: “I am so sorry, sir. I would like to upgrade you to an executive room. It has a separate living room, bigger bedroom, bigger bath. OK?”
Me (in jest): “Does it have hot water?”
She (not getting the joke, a bit horrified): “Oh, no, sir, I am sorry.”
Me: “I am joking. That would be wonderful. Thank you.”
The entirety of both these conversations was conducted with smiles, gentle speech and warmth. I do so love Southeast Asia, as frigged up as it can be.
And so, as I sit in my expansive suite, pounding away at my laptop and laughing at the past three days’ experiences in this odd retreat, I find myself thinking of where I’ll go for dinner tonight. It’s my final night here and I’d like something tasty.
Maybe I’ll go for the fish.