Disclaimer is defined as such: a statement that denies something, especially responsibility. A disclaimer is precisely whats required to begin this day in terms of not taking responsibility for how it has unfolded; it also applies to the reading of this days adventures. So mums, relatives, colleagues and friends; don’t judge, as the disclaimer says, we deny all responsibility. But what’s a disclaimer without declaring what we’re actually denying? The answer there lies in our location; Bangkok, where everything is for sale, particularly sex. While strip shows, prostitution, even selling sex toys is all illegal in Thailand, sex calls out to us from every available space to solidify Bangkok’s reputation as a crazy and liberal town where any sexual kink you might have is not only catered for but it’s probably not kinky enough.
But this day didn’t start in the gutter, we arrived at Bangkok train station well rested after catching the sights of the Thai countryside in our own sleeper carriage from Chiang Mai. The morning passed on a boat up the river and had a look around Wat Pho, one of the biggest temples in Bangkok housing the worlds largest reclining buddha. Through a maze of ornate buildings and more Buddha statues than we can count, Wat Pho continues the upward trajectory of temple grandeur we’ve encountered in Asia. With a dazzle that begins to leave behind the humble presentation of buddhist temples we’ve seen so far it feels a little more like a church than a temple yet still there’s no space to preach from, no pulpit from which to rain down holy fire. Despite the grandeur this defining characteristic hasn’t changed, buddhism doesn’t sell to anyone, choose to buy it; or not.
It’s all very genteel, very civilised so far until we meet Sparky, an old friend in town for a few days and an old stager of Bangkok. Our evening begins benignly enough with a few drinks at a bar as regular as can be. Regular except for the wait staff all wanting a grope, I look back now and the signs were there that this night could only go downhill but we’re in Bangkok and this is what the place is known for so we don’t judge, just go with the flow. It’s great to catch up, we haven’t seen Sparky for years and over a few beers and a couple of jugs of sangria it feels like no time has passed at all when the wicked glint comes into Sparky’s eye. ‘Wanna have a local tour of Bangers’? Never ones to shy away from jumping into a bit of cultural immersion we blindly opt in. Yes at this point it’s just that, a bit of cultural immersion, but in Bangkok that isn’t a clear cut box like you might expect.
We’ve all heard of the ping-pong girls in Bangkok, and if you haven’t it’s probably best you don’t try to find out but safe to say that sexy shows are far more than a prudish suggestive veil dance in Bangkok. It seems we’re about to get the men-only equivalent, this can only be interesting. The bar is packed with two types: steroid abusing guys in g-strings and guys of conservative restrained sexuality in buttoned shirts looking a little too eager. Correction, the third type is us, a bit drunk already and restraining back laughter at the thought of the outrageousness we’re about to see while being chatted to by some of the g-string commando’s gunning for a free drink.
The show starts, it’s all shaved down caricatures mashing together tough guy shapes with teenager prettiness; masculinity just got feminine. Safe to say that as the smoke machine shrouds our body-sculpted protein warriors any chance of this being sexy is out the window, amusement is the only commodity on offer here tonight, for us at least. Not sure if we’re disappointed or relieved. The smoke clears and the Egyptian styled idols exit the stage with a drastic lack of outrageousness leaving us somewhat disappointed.
Disappointment doesn’t last long. In no time it’s show number two and sure enough the tackle is out of the fishing box and the rods are fishing for dollars. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough the fishermen get a bite and it’s oral-sex on stage; oh dear. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough oral-sex is just the precursor; who knew sex could be so acrobatic. As if that wasn’t outrageous enough it doesn’t stay on the stage, I have a hooded guy leaning over me as the ‘show’ commences on him. I’ve never fumbled out a bit of cash so quickly to get him off me. I could say ‘as if that wasn’t outrageous enough’ quite a few more times but I’m not sure my disclaimer is strong enough to emancipate us from the incrimination of the last few shows. We’re pretty open minded people, not too squirmy at a new experience but by nights end we’re thankful that we’re not in the front rows, no amount of tissues could clean that up. You’ll have to use your own imaginations for that part.
Walking out into the still hot night air telling ourselves that voyeurism in not participation, we are in Bangkok after all and like cigars in Cuba or steak in Argentina we’ve just seen a Bangkok institution. It’s sounds so matter-of-fact when put that way and in truth it is, but that doesn’t stop us from being shocked and dazed, what the hell did we just see? Of course in a minute or so there’s a guy calling to us ‘ping-pong girls’. I burst to laughter, ‘buddy there’s nothing you have that can top what we just saw’. Back through the street market packed with belts, cd’s, food and dildos in equal measure we tell ourself that we should have known, the hints were there. Would it have stopped us?
As fun, hilarious and eye opening as this night has been it’s time to pull the plug and get a tuk-tuk home, there is only danger ahead. Warm air races past us as we zoom through the streets of this modern metropolis that from here looks so neat, so gentrified. Bangkok takes less than 24 hours to take us through spirituality, grand architecture, dazzling city lights and a dubious national institution. So far Thai culture has presented calm, fortitude, strength and grace among other virtues and tonight we are introduced to another side to the story. Far from feeling dirty or corrupted our night had no unwanted advances, no solicitation, no one apparently on drugs no sign of victimisation and no one looking under-aged; it was in hindsight just a bit of fun shared by, as we like to call it, consenting adults.
I think back to the apprehension so thinly veiled in that club when I looked across rows and rows of people finally being given an outlet to something so obviously restrained. Without delving into the psycho-babble of sexual denial it seems that everything we saw tonight, as crazy as it was, avoided the often stated pitfalls of the sex industry. From girls in the massage parlour, the sprukers, the performers and the ladies selling sex toys we saw no hint of drugs, desperate measures, victimisation or abuse. I’m sure these elements are there, but they’re also behind the closed doors of aristocratic homes, these streets seem as emotionally clean as anywhere else once you look objectively.
Bangkok threw it in our face, or it would have if we were in the front row, and as the hotel door clicks shut on our gentrified world nothing the other side of the door is any different from any other city in the world; any city. All of the debauchery, the lewd suggestion and the kinkiness exists anywhere but in Bangkok a civilised maturity prevails, it’s not denied, made dirty or victimised. All this sex is easy enough to avoid, just don’t go to certain areas, but if you’re a human being with a sexuality in Bangkok there’s no reason to hide, apparently you’re just normal; what a novel idea. We still carry a bit of our own social immaturity, in fact tonight shouldn’t be a crazy sight at all. We permit all sorts of jarring behaviour on the basis of respecting cultural differences but not ones that are universal to nearly all of us and not a cultural difference at all. Bangkok we shouldn’t snigger, poke fun or laugh, maybe we should all just grow up too.