Me Love You Long Time

There’s a scene in the film Full Metal Jacket where a group of American soldiers are propositioned by a group of Vietnamese prostitutes. Several times, the women say, “Me love you long time.” The scene is iconic, but not because it is a great moment in cinema. It’s funny, but it’s also a bit racist, and sometimes when I watch it, I feel sorry for the actresses that acted it and for what follows. [side note: I’m not going to go into what follows, but it takes the scene to a whole other level of stereotypes-end side note] I feel bad for the actresses because I know the film was completely shot in the UK and I can’t imagine the conversations that must have gone on with the director, Stanley Kubrick, to convince them that the entire scenario was a terrific idea.

However, the reality of history isn’t always one that is easy for our 21st century sensibilities to make peace with. The simple truth is that while American soldiers were in Vietnam, prostitution was extraordinarily common, both there and in Thailand, which became the hotbed of rest and relaxation for our soldiers. In Bangkok, where most of the soldiers traveled, several streets were lined with bars that catered almost exclusively to their tastes. They sold American beer, played American music, and were full of women, who for the right price, could keep you company all night. The greatest of these streets was and is Patpong.

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This time last year, I found myself in Bangkok, at a hotel just a few blocks from the historic street. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I knew I at wanted to go for a stroll and see what all the fuss was about. I’d been to New Orleans numerous times, and I figured it would probably be on par with Bourbon Street. There’d be loud music blasting from the bars, some hawkers, and the occasional scantily dressed woman standing in the doorway attempting to lure the drunk tourists inside.

How wrong I was. Patpong makes Bourbon Street look like a mecca of sophistication and class. This isn’t to say Bourbon is sophisticated or classy, or even clean, but Patpong needs some help. Most of the bars haven’t really been updated since the 1950s and 1960s, and they definitely show their age. The music is modern but the bars are not. Women mostly stand outside of doorways of the bars holding menus of the types of shows the bars put on in the back rooms. Almost all of them involve a ping pong ball, and a good old fashioned mobster beat down at the end of the show.

No, we didn’t order from the menu.

If that failed, the women typically would attempt to solicit the people they were talking to- men and women. They were particular, and this was even stranger, because in many ways it was though Full Metal Jacket had come to life before our eyes. Their English wasn’t very good, but they tried to explain what their services would entail. Sometimes we could understand, and sometimes we couldn’t. When we couldn’t they would resort to an X rated pantomime, which was just bizarre, and bit depressing to watch.

The granddaddy of Patpong nightlife bars, though, is “Kings Castle.” It’s a legendary nightspot that’s one of the original G.I. haunts, and it’s just so very wrong on so many levels. This is also the only time in my life that I was actually fearful of being beaten by an angry mob of transsexuals.

Let me back up…..

King’s Castle is actually three bars. They are identified as “King’s Castle I, II, and III.” The main draw of these establishments is their dancers. Get your mind out of the gutter. No, they aren’t strippers. Stripping is actually illegal in Bangkok. These women are dancers, though there is very little “dancing” that goes on. We stepped into King’s Castle I, and were immediately overcome by the smell of 60 years of cigarette smoke. The bar itself was long and narrow with seats arranged on tiers going up the walls, and had long rectangular bar in the middle of the room. Above the bar on a narrow platform were the “dancers.” They were dressed in cut off blue jeans or shorts and t-shirts, and swayed back and forth like zombies sort of in time to the music. Every once in a while they would turn and look at the mirrored wall behind them. They would fix their make-up, re-arrange their hair, and then check their phones, sending texts and emails. I can only imagine what they were texting:

WYD?

On the bar. Swaying.   HBU?

Dinner?

Sure. Not in mood for Thai, though.

 

If one of the dancers caught your eye, you could call them down from the platform, and buy them a drink. The rub though, and there is always a rub, is that their drinks would be ten times more expensive than yours. As long as you continued to by them drinks, they would sit and talk. We knew this going in and didn’t fall into the trap when the bar’s hostess asked us who we would like to meet. We also refused to give her our credit cards when she repeatedly asked us to sign a blank receipt and hand over our card. That’s the thing about Bangkok, EVERYTHING is a scam.

I was oddly captivated by the entire situation. The dancers who hated dancing, the constant attempts at ripping off the customers, the smell, the neon, the sleaze, and the very strangeness of it all, got the better of me. I’m still not entirely sure what came over me, but I suddenly got the urge to take a picture of the entire scene. I had walked in with my camera around my neck, so as subtly as I could, I reached down and removed the lens cap, flipped on the camera, and snapped a few clandestine pics. It was simple. I had no idea what I took, but at least I had something with which to remember the place.

After a few more minutes, we decided to move on. We walked into the street, and I immediately looked at my pictues. I liked what I saw, and I showed my friend. I was feeling pretty good about my spy work. We moved on down the street, when we saw King’s Castle III. The King’s Castle franchise, you see, offers a little something for everyone. In the original, the first, the zombie dancers are young women in their late teens early twenties. When they age out of I, they move to II. The third, though, is probably the most famous. It was the most crowded, and looked the nicest. King’s Castle is home to the transsexual dancers.

Bangkok has a reputation as an “anything goes” town, and justly deserved or not, this night club’s reputation is legendary. Immediately inside was a wall full of famous celebrities’ photos surrounded by stars of this show. The set up was similar to the other, but the entertainers were arranged on a platform that surrounded the edges of the room, and the patrons sat at tables and low slung chairs on the floor. The dancers actually moved in time to the music and had tremendously more interplay with the audience. They called out to people, joked around with them, and walked around the room, generally laughing showing everyone a good time. There was no bossy hostess wanting to commit international credit card fraud. It seemed much a more relaxed and a more entertaining venue. We both could see why I and II were nearly empty, and III was standing room only. We decided to snag a seat and watch a bit of the show, and escape the oppressive heat outside for a few minutes.

It was a bit of whirl, and it all became a bit dizzying. I was looking at the dancers on stage, the people working the crowd, the European tourists, and the Chinese businessmen who seemed to be in love.   After a while I noticed a few of the dancers were saying something I didn’t understand and pointing in the general direction of my friend and me. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I ignored it and went back to people watching. Then more of them started pointing and speaking loudly. Then several of them came down from the stage, and stood in front of my friend. They were pointing to his camera. Apparently, inspired by me, he had decided to take a few pictures.  Then he decided to take a video. When he switched the camera to video mode and hit the record button, a small red light began to blink slowly. As moments ticked by, the camera began to warn him that he left his camera on by blinking the red light faster and faster. This in turn, caught the attention of the folks on stage and down they came.

Let me tell you, that there is NOTHING scarier than a transsexual shouting at you in a mix of Thai and English. The peacekeeper in me instantly wanted to work this out and calm things down. However, the diplomat in me decided to lie, lie, lie, lie. I played stupid about the entire situation. My friend quickly explained the situation to me, and I tried to keep a calm look on my face, and I actually said to him, “Do you want to order another drink?”

His response to me was “Hell NO! I want to get the hell out of here!” Then he turned and ran for the door. This left me standing in front of the growing mob. Again, I decided to play dumb, and I actually asked them where he was going. They looked at me like I was crazy and I think this is what saved me. I then appologizeed for having to leave them, but that I had to go find my friend. I just couldn’t imagine where he went. I may have even said that he might have gotten sick. I bolted, and bumped the table sending drinks and a bowl of peanuts into the floor.

Oy!

As I tried to walk by, one of them grabbed me by my ear, (and if you’ve seen my ears, you know that’s not exactly a hard thing to do), and tried to pull me back. I backhanded the hand away, and kept moving forward. I ran out of the door, quickly moved a block down, all the while the angry mob was screaming at me from behind. I was rattled, but knew that I had to find my friend. I made a quick pass up and down Patpong, but never saw him. After looking for nearly an hour, I decided there was nothing to do but go back to the hotel. The entire time I was afraid he was on his way to a Thai jail, or that I was going to be headed their shortly myself.

Luckily though, when I got back to the hotel, he was sitting in the hallway outside the door. I had the key. We both looked at each other, knowingly. We didn’t talk about what had just gone down for a while. It was too raw, too traumatic. We had a touch of PTSD.  We had done things and seen things we weren’t proud of that night in Bangkok, but slowly the reality began to set in. We now had one hell of a great story to tell.

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Categories: Asia, My View of Things

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