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Contemporary Fiction East Asian

Turning into Soi Cowboy is a full out assault on the senses. You leave the stink of noisy tuk-tuk traffic fumes and it’s replaced by hot oil cooking chili-flavoured street food. Its stirred together with beer and perfume with an undercurrent of sweat. The light of the coloured neon flickers across the bare skin of a host of girls. Rainbow tinged shoulders and stomachs and thighs. A thousand people chatter and the girls call out constantly.

“You come with me? Show you good time.”

Pay them any attention and they grab your hand, hit you with inviting smiles shooting out from behind perfectly coiffured hair. They hold on hard, tottering on their heels, squeezing harder as their smile sparkles brighter. They are the bait. “You come inside?”

The background sound comes from dance music from some thirty bars in not so many more yards. A tempting tunnel filled with the less pretty girls, lacklustre dancers on raised walkways. A number on their wrist. Some naked except for heels, most in the same bikini and heels uniform as the girls outside. The same smiles target the men, the farang, foreigners, long-range. Buy me a small flat coca cola for five quid? Take me home seventy. Spend the night, one hundred and twenty. “I make you happy.”

So you buy one a drink. I point to twenty seven, tell the Madam, “that one.” It seems kind. They have a shit job and if they don’t get three drinks a night they will lose it.

“What your name?”

“Where you from?”

“How long you stay Thailand?”

Now she knows I’m English and so probably won’t flash lots of money around, Americans are better for that. It’s better than German though, they always want anal. And she knows I come here often, so she can look at me as a long term prospect, repeat business. I might become a ‘boyfriend’. Her name is Tina she says. The madams just make their names up. She comes from Laos, no one in Laos is called Tina.

She tells me she is eighteen, they all do, many are younger but have false papers. She tells me she’s only been at the bar two months. It’s probably a lie.

Then it’s time for, “I come home with you?” She snuggles into me, hand on the thigh, stroking. She feels smooth, cool. She isn’t sweating. This is her natural habitat. I’m sweating, probably stink from the four hundred yard walk from the hotel. The first thing she will do is shower me down, get me clean.

This time I say, ‘no.’

“You not like me?”

“Yea, but I’m tired, maybe another time, here, have another drink.”

I only hit the hotel an hour ago. London to Bangkok, with a three hour stop in China. Knees cramped and five feature films in a row on the ten inch screen. Two large gin and tonics. I’m jet lagged to hell. My eyes are forgetting how to focus. The neon and high volume dance music seems almost surreal. The two beers I’ve had are already wiping me out. I can sleep now and she isn’t Hathai.

The first time I came to Bangkok, it was Christmas eve, seven years ago, it had been much the same. Jet lagged, but excited, I had headed to Nana Plaza. Same smells, same music, same girls in the same uniform. In a bar I has seen her on a barstool. Flat shoes, a black dress. I watched her for ages, messaging on her phone, until she looked up and gave me a smile. The irresistible tempting Thai smile which doesn’t mean a thing. I motioned her over and we chatted. I buy her a drink. Her English was better than the more rural girls. She’s from Bangkok worked some sort of Telesales job. Came to the bar for fun. She told me she was called Suzy.

I thought she was perfect, petite, ultra slim, beautiful. She was funny, teasing. I told her I wanted to spend the night with her.

“Three thousand.”

I was amazed. “If I give you three thousand, you will come back to my hotel and spend the night with me?” It didn’t seem likely.

She laughed, “Yes,” she said smiling.

I can remember every detail of that night, her muscles moving under dark skin, her taste, her touch, her laughter. She seemed pleased to be with me, it didn’t feel transactional, not really. She left early. “I have to go home, change before work.”

I saw her the next night and the next. She would come to my hotel after work; I’d meet her in the lounge. She was always late; Bangkok traffic. Always smiled, was always forgiven. We ate together, planned a trip to the beach. She showed me clubs and restaurants. Held my hand. I called her “Perfect Girl.” She came to the airport when I left. Seemed sad.

Two months of WhatsApp messaging and I was back. We hired a chalet at the beach. I paid for everything and bought her presents but didn’t pay for her to sleep with me anymore. I was the boyfriend now. Slowly, over the next couple of years the photographs built into an album, a story. Her in a Gucci top and jeans at the science museum. Us, with matching water pistols, in a tuk-tuk for the water festival. Arm in arm in front of a seagull swarmed sunset. In front of an elephant at the zoo. Always photogenic, always smiling.

We applied for a visa for her to visit London. Her real name was Hathai. I saw it in her passport. The visa was refused. They suspected prostitution. It wasn’t exactly true but it was hard to argue against.

I was overseeing a research project at Thammasat University. I visited often and after more visits I started to imagine a future with her. We are more of a couple now. We bicker more. I know what seafood she will order. I learn about her childhood. I show photos of my children.

Then she bought her apartment. Clearly, no plans to leave Thailand. Then there was COVID. No visits for two years. And when I finally got back it was different. She hadn’t spoken English for two years. She had work. She didn’t have time. She was meeting friends. She didn’t like the way I touched her. I got angry; she stopped smiling. Bickering wasn’t fun and fiery anymore, but cold and resentful.

That last night in the restaurant it was stilted, uncomfortable. I buy expensive red wine, but she doesn’t want any. I think she still wants the boyfriend, but not me. I had realised I had fallen in love with her, but she was too young, a professional and didn’t love me. Was I even sure she liked me?

“I see you next time you come Bangkok?”

“I don’t think I will come again”

“Why.”

“I only came for you”

“I’m sad you won’t come again.”

“I don’t understand you, you don’t have time for me, you don’t want me to touch you anymore, why will you be sad?”

She didn’t reply.

Later she sends me a message saying it was hard to talk.

“One thing when I was with you I cannot conversation to you a lot. That very big problem.”

I ask her what she wanted to say.

“I mean when I speak English you don’t understand, when you speak I don’t understand also.”

Then she sends a video of ‘Like my father’ She wants a love like her Father loved her mother. Someone to grow old with and slow dance in the living room.

For a year or so we send gifs at Christmas and birthdays. I think about her a lot. Now and then I WhatsApp a hello and she will always say she was just thinking of me yesterday. It’s been a few months since the last message. I tell myself to be sensible. We don’t have a future. She was only with me for my money. I tell myself she has become small enough in my memory for me to let go of anything she meant to me.

After I say goodbye to ‘Tina,’ slipping a hundred baht into her hand, I head back to my hotel, walking slowly through the thick heat, past the tuk-tuk drivers vying for business and the Ladyboys who smile at me hopefully. The six lanes of solid traffic and trucks on Sukumvit road still roar at two am. A mother and her grubby kid asleep on the hot pavement under the steps to the SkyTrain.

The Indian girl at reception smiles and looks behind me, seems surprised I am alone. I lay in the hotel room, 804. Curtains drawn, its dark. The fridge and the air conditioning hum and I push the covers down. Lay with the artificial cool air running over me. A faint smell of air freshener. I can’t sleep. I get up and draw the curtains. Look out at the cityscape, pulling on another cold bottle of Chang.

I feel emotional, but it’s the jet lag, the lack of shuteye and the alcohol. I’ll be fine when I’ve had some sleep.

November 14, 2023 12:25

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10 comments

Paul Littler
14:54 Apr 06, 2024

Excellent, you’ve got a real gift for the ‘noir’ style of US writers from the 1930s and 40s. Atmospheric, propelled by characters, love it

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Blue Scarab
05:02 Nov 22, 2023

It was a nice read!

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Vid Weeks
20:39 Nov 22, 2023

Thanks Blue

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Graham Kinross
08:59 Nov 21, 2023

This is a scary thing to read when I was certain from the outset she was under age. I’ve read a lot about the trafficking and the ways young women and girls are manipulated in that horrific industry. The demand for it really says something about humanity. I met a guy who went on holiday to Thailand while he was a teenager and spent years there without a visa until he was deported. He said he won a farm in a game of poker and had kids with a few women there. People seem to get up to crazy things in Bangkok.

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Vid Weeks
19:50 Nov 21, 2023

Thanks Graham. I love Bangkok because it always has so much going on, but some of it certainly isn't good.

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Graham Kinross
22:10 Nov 21, 2023

I suppose any big city will be like that.

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Mary Bendickson
18:40 Nov 20, 2023

You stepped me into this unknown world. Very vivid. Overall sad. Thanks for liking my 'Hang it on the Moon'

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Vid Weeks
19:47 Nov 21, 2023

Thanks Mary, glad it was vivid for you, writing sometimes allows you to travel to new places. And yes, he is a sad character. Loved your story

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Vid Weeks
19:12 Nov 15, 2023

Thanks Tom, definitely fiction, but I did live in Thailand for a year and have worked with a charity that supports underage sex workers and no stranger to jet lag! - so a good deal of reality to feed on.

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Tom Skye
20:55 Nov 14, 2023

Great read Vid. Setting for this was very nice. You captured the essence of 'non-starter' relationship very well. It seemed very personally written. I actually checked to see if it was non-fiction. Enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing

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