“HIV! HIV! – Go fuck yourself!” she said. And then I woke up. Or maybe it was the other way round. Maybe a whore outside my door was actually cursing her punter and I wasn’t dreaming at all, and then, I woke up.
“Why you don’t want condom? Fuck you! I don’t like you.”
“Fuck you too,” said the English-speaking white male voice. “I don’t like either of you. Fuck off! Go on. Get out!”
Across the hallway, a door slammed shut, and the two Thai whores continued their cursing.
“You got no Willy. You got no Willy…he-he-he…Fuck you too! HIV! HIV!”
I must have fallen back to sleep because the phone rang and woke me up. It must have been about 10am, and for a moment, I had to think about where I was since I wasn’t used to a telephone being so close to my bed. I wasn’t going to answer it and had the sudden urge to pull the heavy cotton curtain that extra two inches across the crack left by the thin net curtain underneath, but sleepy laziness prevented me from rising up out of bed.
I thought I knew exactly who had called, and sure enough less than a minute later, I could hear William and Bineke’s voices outside my window. They knocked on the door three times and waited. Then I heard William mumble something in his distinctive Irish lilt as if he knew that I was inside hiding.
They had recently become my “new best friends” on a three-day jungle trek together just outside Chiang Mai. Eating roasted grasshoppers and sharing bamboo living quarters with seven others in our group, we had become close, while avoiding giant centipedes at nights our bodies covered in mosquitoes repellent. The tired-looking Dutch girl, Bineke, had been giving me the eye at first, but since William showed her more attention than I, they ended up copping off together in the middle of our first night, shagging quietly under sleeping bags beside me only revealed by their tiny breathless squeals. The two lesbians at the other end of our makeshift shack on stilts were pretty much up to the same thing too, of that I was certain, but they were a lot more successful at subtlety. In the morning, Bineka could barely look me in the eye, and William too had zapped all of his energy and strength and was practically falling asleep everywhere.
Now here was his six-foot shadow falling across my hotel window, just as I pulled over to the far corner of the bed, up against the wall, protected by thick heavy drawn curtains on this side. What’s the matter, couldn’t they believe that I’d gone out last night and got laid like the rest of this God-forsaken town? I’m a dreadlocked Rastaman from England with money in my wallet and ‘black inches’ in my pocket – what could be better than that in this phallically-challenged Asian sex city they call – Bangkok?
Despite my bravado, their doubts about me being out getting laid would have been exactly right because I just wasn’t feeling it. Hard to imagine, I know. I wasn’t behaving to type, they thought. I’d gone out with them last night for a few beers for a few hours and got bored and came right back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep. Something profound must have happened to me and my libido the moment I stepped off that plane here for the first time a few weeks ago and saw that every other person was either pimping their granny or selling their own flesh.
Now, I’m no prude. I’ve been around the block. I’ve travelled the world. But on my first trip to Asia, it was as if something had got hold of me. To others it seemed unnatural; I wasn’t behaving like the “red-blooded” males from back home, and it was beginning to bother me. In fact, everything was beginning to bother me – and that in itself was beginning to bother me.
“You want boy? You want girl? You want Thai massage? You want Ganja? Where you from? Jamaica? America? You want nice young girl? You want 12-year old pussy? What you want? You need hotel?”
Bangkok was so frantic that I just couldn’t work it out. And while I really would have welcomed a relaxing spliff (since every taxi driver wanted to give me a joint), I was still trying to abstain and didn’t want to get set-up for a miserable life in a Third World prison. I’d heard about such people before, tricking vulnerable tourists out of their cash and into the hands of equally greedy police officers. But as I questioned everybody’s motives – quite apart from the obvious – I still couldn’t understand why everywhere I went someone was trying to sell me sex; sex with his misses; his mother; his daughter; his son. While on the streets, Hookers tugged on my arm trying to drag me into “girlie” bars. Yes, I’d been to underdeveloped countries before, spent several months travelling through Brazil for example, but I’d never experienced anything like this, and I just couldn’t comprehend exactly why life was so sexually permissive in certain parts of Thailand.
It didn’t seem to faze the mainly white European and North American males who were largely here for their sexual gratification and hedonistic pleasures. Most other foreigners seemed to positively welcome the added attention they got from the locals, and even they began to infuriate me too after a while. Men that I could tell wouldn’t get much sexual play anywhere at home were suddenly walking the streets like the number one stud and all the time flanked by a bevvy of Thai prostitutes, young girls, and boys, and everything else in between.
That was the most disturbing thing about the place, every other woman you saw wasn’t born a woman at all, but was some immaculately reconstructed “ladyboy” almost indistinguishable from the real thing until it opened its mouth. And since that was more often than not around the end of some bloke’s knob, it was usually much too late before the unsuspecting dude realised that he’d just been…well, not that most men on holiday here were that bothered by that stage.
“If it looks like a chick and sucks dick like a chick, and swish like a chick, then it might as well be a chick for all intents and purposes,” Mr Cosmopolitan, a well-read and well-travelled American, was saying in the bar last night, <em>”and nobody here really gives a shit. That’s just the way it is and that’s why we come here.”
In reality, there were so many transsexuals around that after a while you began to think it perfectly natural that there were, in fact, three distinct genders – males, females and shemales. And that’s assuming you could tell the latter two apart, anyway.
So, according to the Yank in the bar, last night who saw himself as a benefit to the local economy, sex tourism in Thailand could trace its roots back to the presence of American troupes on leave in the country during the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. Today, of course, it is part of a rapidly growing sex industry that includes prostitution, online and offline pornography, bars, brothels and human trafficking. But while local males are said to make up the majority of punters paying for sex, it is the economic power of foreign tourists that continually fuels the lucrative trade and drives sex workers from across the country to major tourist destinations like Bangkok.
Rumour had it that convicted paedophile, Gary Glitter, had been living for a time not too far from where we sat drinking cocktails in a corner of Chinatown known as Phahurat, but you couldn’t always believe the tales people told you in a transient city like this one. What was true in fact is that around 30,000 to 40,000 children under eighteen years of age are exploited as prostitutes according to available estimates. Given the hidden nature of child sexual abuse, reliable figures are always hard to compile, but it is said that improvements in the economy, educational opportunities, citizenship rights and legislation have reduced the numbers to some degree. Nonetheless, the pitiful sight of it all had tugged at my mind so desperately that after the first week in the city I was back on a plane heading home to England, despite having booked a three-month tour of Thailand, including all the usual tourist traps like Patpong, Phuket and Pattaya.
Things at home for me had hit rock bottom. In the months proceeding my first trip to Asia, my business collapsed, my relationship ended, and if it weren’t for some creative accounting I wouldn’t now be in this hotel room complaining about my new best friends or the prospect of sitting around in glorious sunshine doing nothing for three months. After less than a week back in England, I had boarded another flight heading back to Thailand.
The intention, originally, was to get away for a while; to put some distance between me, my creditors, and the shit hitting the fan. I had actually fancied visiting Tibet. I had had this crazy feeling like I wanted to be in a remote Buddhist retreat somewhere, up there in the sacred mountains of the north, away from it all. The end of an affair can do that to a man.
Anyway, after checking up on Tibet on the Internet and realising that China probably wasn’t going to entertain any of my wishful thinking, I ended up in Thailand instead, after a major wrong turn at lastminute.com. Not exactly the Buddhist retreat I’d been hoping for now, is it? But maybe this second time around I’ll be able to cope better with over-sexed foreigners and exploited children and adults who are forced into helping their families by prostituting themselves.
I was just about to drift off to sleep again, but another knock at the door woke me, and then the telephone rang. What the hell were those two still doing banging on my door like the LAPD? Go away, please, will you, and leave me alone! Pulling the sheets up over my head, I snuggled up under the covers and held my breath.