A word or two about Pattaya, Thailand - Puerto Vallarta on steroids with sex, Las Vegas with sex, Miami Beach with sex, Acapulco with sex, and far more neon, and transvestites, and gay guys, and outdoor bars, and weird old white guys wandering around, and huge crowds, and more sex. Of course, you needn’t go there, and frankly don’t want to, unless you’re looking for sex, or for another perspective on that which is authentically Thailand, which Pattaya clearly is, whether you like it or not. Being there with Sam, of course, changed everything, and we both struggled hard with our emotions and our judgments. There is something very sad about Pattaya, but who are we to judge we say, something disgusting about Pattaya, but who are we to judge. Pattaya is a modern Sodom and Gomorra, but then why expect the passage of a mere 3,000 years to necessarily wipe out something some humans obviously quintessentially are, and want … whether I like it or not. Hey, if it’s good enough for McDonalds, where the Thai statue of Ronald bows ever so slightly in respect for the passerby, his hands in prayer at his chest, good enough for 7/11, good enough for KFC, good enough for Starbucks, and Auntie Annie’s pretzels (not quite the Bretzel Koenig of Zurich, but good), then who am I to judge. You don’t like it, don’t do it.
What was actually most fascinating about Pattaya was watching Sam struggle with and experience of his own attitudes and judgments, his repulsion, his compassionate heart. It reminded me in a pale way of the shock I felt when encountering Lawton Oklahoma as a young soldier stationed at Fort Sill, of my New Yorker’s naiveté about life outside the Big Apple center of the universe, and my shock in discovering the world as it was, whether I liked it or not.
Two Pattaya vignettes and then no more: one of Sam uncovering his respect for the tribal (?) women walking up and down the beach selling trinkets (which I think were made in India) and how he wanted to support them because they were not sex-workers and bought more bracelets than he needed or wanted, and even wore a simple woven bracelet the woman said she made herself, and two, of my conversation with an older … and totally gorgeous … sex worker.
Whereas most of the young sex workers in Thailand are just flirtatious, over obvious, and undiscriminating, calling out to me, “Hello, grandpa, I want to go out with you,” this woman saw me staring at her and said quietly, in rather good English, “Your son is very handsome.” Naturally, I walked over to chat with her. “Are you having a good time,” I asked. “Not so much,” she said. “Me neither,” I told her. “You see,” she said, “that’s my job.” And although it wasn’t even a bit tempting, I definitely did “like” her, wanted to know more about her, and found her personally appealing … which is what I think the Thai sex workers are really selling, not just the sex, but the notion they will somehow find you desirable, that they will be kind to you, that they will not exploit you as much as escort and accompany you, that they will give you what you think you want, and then give you something you didn’t even know you wanted, the comfort of another lost and lonely soul. Which is when I smiled at the woman and said quietly, “No thank you.” And she smiled back at me and said, “Have a good night.”