I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for my flights back home. This pattern happens to be occurring 2 hours south in a dense and busy city on the Gulf of Siam, known for, well, let’s leave that for later. I’d never been here and didn’t do very much research on how to be here or the nearby alternatives. I just wanted simple and accessible. Anywhere but Bangkok.
In some ways this could also be anywhere, anytime. Low tide is the same everywhere. In fact, I would still be at low tide were I at any inland location. A deep pull away from shore, recession once again away from every known anchor, every landmark, safe house or familiar face. The walk to the water’s edge becomes longer. The temptations of the roving vendors selling food, massage, pedicures, jewelry, tattoos, statuary, even live birds, which you pay to release, even less appealing. The brightening influence of random conversation, jocularity and especially intimacy are ever more remote.
I have also survived 5 months in asia without the expected, if not dreaded distraction of intestinal distress. Now, suddenly, in a place that is much safer in general than Nepal, as if receiving a latent gift from Kathmandu, I am visited with a short-term bug, purging, as it were, the vestiges of persistent gut-tightening apprehension I carried with me here: the cleansing of the root chakra. I am re-establishing my connection to the earth. How one person might effect that change may be very different from another. For me, the desire to be anywhere other than where I was is giving way to becoming more present in the place where I am, Pattaya.
I have been alone now for 9 months since moving out of the house I shared with a partner. I chose to pursue a different and solitary (un-partnered) life for the sake of all the things I have found along the way, the expected and the unexpected, the illuminating and spontaneous, the awakening, the profound and the mundane. I have made new friends and met inspiring people. Sometimes I have missed the validation of companionship and intimacy. Sometimes not.
Here, all forms of stimulation are available, but satisfaction remains out of reach. I feel instant and conflicting pulls about that, the rush of excitement and the repulsion from superficiality, not to mention the exploitation, and limited interest in bridging the language barrier. But it is happening all around me. Couples seem not to be a significant feature of the tourist landscape–and definitely not families.
Plenty of geezers here, though, overweight and tattooed, drinkers and smokers in tank-tops, fawning over, schmoozing with or walking around with kill-me-now eye candy in miniskirts and platform heels — everywhere and at all hours of the day and night. I am left scratching my head. I may be one of them, but I don’t want to look like them. At the same time, there is the fun of low cost–and low risk–conversation/flirtation. Seated in a bar, one is plied with cigarettes, sunglasses and the latest innovations in male potency drugs including the new fast-acting oral gel form of viagra. Thank you, India.
All Thais carry government IDs. If they accompany a tourist to a hotel, the hotel registers their presence and holds the ID card until they depart. I suppose it’s a security measure. Although there are paper laws against prostitution, the government officially looks the other way and commercial interests have every intention of fostering the practice since it has been so good for business. There is also the interest in health and safety. Thailand has a high population living with HIV.
As it is, laws against prostitution are merely a symbolic gesture when measured against the deeply embedded common practices of Thai men outside marriage, the patriarchal nature of Thai culture and the burdens placed on women to support their families. I don’t know if I mentioned this in a past entry, but I was once solicited by a Thai cop at a traffic stop in Chiang Mai who offered to procure women for me. That’s how deep it goes. To Thailand’s credit, however, trafficking laws are aggressively enforced. I’ve had casual conversation with a number of bar girls by now. Every one of them I’ve asked has children—one, two or even three—staying with grandparents or siblings in a village somewhere. Who knows what to believe, but it isn’t fun that draws them here.
If the law were strictly enforced, a very significant sector of the local economy would not exist. This is only a somewhat educated guess, but if that were to become the case, the insufficiency of educational opportunity, elder health-care, living-wage jobs, accessible family courts, child support laws, retirement security and unemployment benefits would become so obvious as to potentially throw a place like Thailand into a transformational crisis. Many more people would be much poorer than they are now.
As for the natural scenery, it’s nothing special: random high-rises, hotels, eclectic ultra-modern (Dhubai-wannabe) architecture combined with simple concrete boxes reminiscent of eastern Europe, shopping malls, franchises, traffic,…beach town schlock. There is not much that distinguishes this place culturally, really, except the “entertainment.” There are a surprisingly high number of signs in cyrillic, indicating a high number of Russian tourists.
There are swimming areas pontooned off from the rest of the strand, but very few people are in the water in the middle of the day. There are beach umbrellas with chairs and a table, all close-packed, creating a shaded “village,” available at 40Bt per day. But the water is warm and too shallow for swimming except at high tide in the early morning and late afternoon. A bathtub-ring of trash appears at the high-tide level when the water recedes. There is trash on the bottom and more floating or suspended. Speedboats pulling parachutes, ferries and jet-skis ply the waters. I have not visited the nighttime Walking Street yet.
Yesterday I went south to Jomtien, a less congested and lower key version of Pattaya. But the beach scene is the same. Further south the sky is dotted with construction cranes, with unfinished roads leading to unfinished high-end condos ($600K-$800K). There are small Thai village enclaves, but I suspect their days are numbered.
Today I will try north. Beyond these two explorations, there isn’t enough to see that even warrants renting a motorbike. Tomorrow I’ll take a ferry to Koh Larn, a 45-minute ride from the very busy Pattaya pier. It’s small, with a few nicer beaches. I expect it will be a nice respite from the density and pace of Pattaya. But the heat; there will be no escape. I’m not sure how that will be.
One thing Pattaya does have is sunsets:
And another thing I have learned upon returning to Thailand: The Nepali/Indian head-bobble does not translate–at all.