Bangkok, Thailand: P is for Ping Pong

My single plain white walled room housed a tiny window opposite the door which allowed little light to come through even on the brightest of days. However, a sheet of corrugated iron that had come loose from the roof outside blocked the rest of any sun that could penetrate, which made the place feel a little like a prison cell. A narrow bed ran against the wall with the headboard below the window. For 200 baht ($7 US) a night I wasn’t expecting the red carpet, although that’s exactly what I got as a used Tampon sat next to the bin. Lucky for me I wasn’t on a Bear Grylls challenge so I didn’t go over and investigate what uses and nutritional value it could prove.


I showered, and changed into some fresh clothes, and then smelling terrific I went and knocked for my new found friends Jonny and Steve who were sharing the room opposite. It was a similar room only slightly wider that housed two beds that ran parallel to each other down either side of each wall. We walked outside our hostel and found a small restaurant and ordered some food.

We sat in the early evening heat, drinking, eating and idly watching crowds of people walk past in every direction. The streets seemed to narrow and become more confined and intimate as day became night. The dirty, unmaintained daytime facades of buildings that had chipped exposed brick and rotting woodwork took on different complexions with the lights emanating off of the buildings they occupied and neighboured. It was like a scene from a Rut Blees Luxembourg photograph and gave the place character and charm. The air around us smelt damp and moist with Asia’s dreaded and unrelenting humidity. Breathing harder through the nostrils aroused warm smells of spices, and meats that mixed with the damp air that my senses wanted to follow. Admittedly a scrawny grey dog with large patches of fur missing that I saw pissing against a tree opposite us, took a little of the magic away from the place, but already I was loving my first glimpse of this little Asian Mecca.

After our meal we took a walk, ready for the unexpected delights and illuminated advertising nightmare of the Khao San Road. Immediately we were bombarded from every angle, the cries of imitated almost Hollywood style British accents shouted, ‘hello mate, where you from, England?‘ made us all smile. ‘I got a nice suit for you, very cheap price, lovely jubbly.’ We strolled on past market sellers and suit makers that smuggled their cheap business cards into our hands. Young girls shouted, ‘Sa-wat dee’.  Hello in English, trying to lead us left and right into their bars, no doubt their night-time job was one of several they worked each day. I was told by a Thai man I’d met that the average Thai earns around 500 baht (US $16) per day which hardly seems worth it. I’d pack it in and go traveling.

 

A large open fronted Irish bar with raised outside seating overlooking the strip was our first stop for no other reason than to get out of the constant traffic and bombardment of tourists and sellers alike. I felt like an old man, I’d only walked down the street for 5 minutes and I was sweaty, dripping mess. Immediately a cheerful young waiter took our order, and even had the ability with his limited English to up sell us the Giraffe beer tower. A special he pointed out on a laminated menu. The Giraffe was a long cylindrical tube with its own tap. We nodded and asked for three. He raised an eyebrow, a little confused and unsure of our request, ‘three?’ but we duly sent him on his way. On reflection we soon saw why when our Giraffe’s arrived with three waiters each carrying giant towers of our amber goodness. Placed on our table they overwhelmed us, and we struggled to make audible conversation, had I been completely pissed I could have believed I’d landed in the Serengeti.

Relaxing, and enjoying the atmosphere of a busy and vibrant bar, I was taken unawares when I was prodded rather violently in the shoulder from behind. I turned in my chair with a grimace to see a small, elderly and dishevel led woman that was perhaps a distant relative of ET staring back at me. The woman was draped in a pink headscarf, homemade beads, and bracelets, which she held up and muttered, ‘400 baht,’ in a croaky devil like voice. I raised a hand apologetically ‘No thank you’.

‘300 baht’. She came at me again. Stephen then made the fatal mistake and asked if he could try one on. I wouldn’t have minded looking at her merchandise I was just a little put off by her leaning over me, and as much as I try and to forget it, the feeling of her saggy breast that pushed its way into the middle of my back still haunts me. I wanted this ET to go home. People from several tables nearby began looking over feigning slight interest, which set off a beacon to every woman and child selling crap from the street, and before you know it, you’ve bought 6 bracelets and a phallic shaped novelty lighter, none of which you needed.

With the mob almost satisfied, and retreating to other tables a young girl came towards us. She was different; speaking almost perfect English she introduced herself as India. ‘How old are you?’ I asked her quizzically, almost impertinent. It’s a question I’ve learnt not to say to women in general but this was a particular one off, as the girl looked like she should have been tucked up in bed by 8pm, not on a chaotic street surrounded by a mass of pissed foreigners. ‘I’m Seven.’ She replied. ‘You want a game of thumb wars?’ I was sitting in a bar, in Thailand, quite pissed, and several hundred baht down after ET and friends had just pillaged me, and I was now being offered a duel by a tiny girl. I was going to prison for sure.

I’ve had maybe one or two thumb wars in my time, but it was a game for children on the school playground, or at least for people with relatively equal sized thumbs. Now I’m no thumb giant by any means, nor am I Tom thumb, but I am pretty much a fully-fledged adult and I was being offered to enter into a war against a tiny lady, People began staring at me, I felt hot, and couldn’t concentrate. She hit my shoulder, ‘Mr, best of three yeah?’ She said. ‘If you win, you get a bracelet.’ She showed me a selection of bracelets that were tied around her wrist. ‘And if I win, you have to buy one from me. Deal?’    ‘How much?’ I said with perhaps a little too much petulance than was necessary, considering the three foot person stood before me. ‘200 baht.’ She barked. Already I was a beaten man, because I began to question such a price and immediately tried to haggle the extortionate figure this little bitch was proposing. ‘Okay, okay, 150 baht Mr cheap.’ She retorted. ’50.’ I said back. Why had I been sucked into her game? I was bartering for something I didn’t want, in a game I shouldn’t been preparing to lose at. ‘100 baht, come on, you are Mr rich man.’

I looked at Johnny and Stephen for advice, but they were too busy getting the attention of girls on a table opposite us. ‘Okay, fine 100 baht, if you win.’ I said to her, finally giving up resisting the inevitable. I think she’d been watching too many Hollywood movies, because she rolled her hand and made a come here gesture with her fingers and said, ‘Show me the money.’

I won’t bore you with the entire 3 game duel that ensued, but I will point out that it did indeed go 3 rounds, of which I won the first. India however, is the world’s craftiest little seven year old, and is able to manoeuvre her thumbs in ways that bamboozle the most opposable man. I gave her the winnings and told her to keep the bracelet and sell it to someone else and she walked off to her next unsuspecting victim.

Leaving behind out empty Giraffes we walked to the remainder of the street and approached two guys sitting patiently in their Rickshaws, or to give them their Asian title Tuk Tuks. Small carriages built around a motorcycle chassis, these backpacker favorites sat 1 driver and 3 passengers at a squeeze in the rear. Stephen and I climbed aboard, as Johnny barked orders at happy faced man in white cap by simply shouting ‘Ping Pong Show.’ With a huge grin our driver turned to us and made the sounds of a ping pong pop. Pup pup ‘I am Charlie Schumacher.’ He said. He kicked his starter motor and bought the Tuk Tuk to life. ‘I’m fucking Charlie Schumacher.’ Sitting in the back of our three wheeled shopping cart we tore around corners, swerved through night time traffic and crossed the bridge that ran over the Chao Phraya River.

The lights of the city were behind us, the rush of the Khao San road seemed a distant memory, and we suddenly realized that the streets had become very dark and empty.  Dirty crumbling brick buildings with broken windows came and went either side of us and for the first time since arriving I needed a poo unrelated to something I’d eaten.

Charlie pulled our Tuk Tuk in front of a long low building at the end of a way one street. It was grey and dirty in the dim light. A Loud bass pulsed from behind a closed door, a slither of light crept out from a crack beneath it and flashed in time with the music. Five or Six Tuk Tuks sat silently with ten or so men chatting, most of whom stopped and stared at us as we pulled up. We paid Charlie extra and headed a little sheepishly for the door. Several girls in another Tuk Tuk had no such reservations, falling out of their ride flashing their lady gardens to all in their way, their loud approach made me feel a little better. Perhaps the killers behind the door would chop them up first and I could escape before I too was in the next rice dish.

Inside, a large man sat on a stool, behind him was a set of double doors with black paint that stopped light non-paying customers from sneaking a cheeky peek. After 5 minutes light negotiation we managed to get our 500 baht a person cover charge down to around 200 each. I’ve heard many stories of horrible and violent incidents involving clubs such as this but far too pissed to remember any of these at the time, but eager to see some serious ping pong action, I waltzed through the doors and into the abyss beyond.

I walked to a short bar on my left and ordered a couple of beers from an old and unattractive woman, and hoped to god she wouldn’t be part of the night’s entertainment. The room was dark. Black walls made the place feel confined and crowded. The edges of the room were filled with men and scantily clad Thai women in what looked like some casual sexual negotiations.

An empty stage sat in the centre of the room. Three rows of chairs circled its perimeter, sporadic groups of people sat drinking and talking. Two thick metal poles stood either side of the stage, lights shone down from the ceiling illuminating only a few empty chairs in the front row. We took our seats quickly as a bright light from the ceiling blazed to the right hand side of the bar and lit up a woman waiting. It followed her as she made her way to the stage, whistles and cheers briefly drowned out the loud music emitting from the speakers.

With a poker face, she clambered up onto the stage and began a dance, using the whole stage and both poles, working the room, giving each section of the crowd just a glimpse of her full repertoire of moves. Faces around the crowd were almost expressionless, people laughed and carried on conversations with one another, many continued to sit back casually in their seats not fazed by anything thus far.

For the sake of confusion we’ll call the first lady Tracey, for authenticities sake. Tracey began by taking her panties off of one leg and then tucking the remaining material into the rest that sat around the top of her other thigh. Holding a large thick black pen to the crowd she placed it between her legs, and manoeuvred it into position, allowing her to grip it firmly without the use of her hands. Squatting over a piece of plain paper that lay flat on the stage she very awkwardly both physically and for the on looking crowd, most, including myself were now sat forwards, mouths half open wondering what on the fuck Tracey was playing at, began moving the paper around with her hands several times, standing occasionally in half squats to re-position her-self facing another side of the crowd, making sure everyone got a glimpse of the secret garden. After several uncomfortable minutes, for everyone involved she stood and removed the pen, her face remained one of limited expression. She held up the paper and began showing it towards the crowd. The page lit by the lights showed a cartoon face, with the words Welcome to Thailand written underneath. More cheering, claps and wolf whistles came as Tracey popped her pants back on and walked off stage with her soggy Sharpie.

Almost immediately artist number two, arrived, who for the sake of argument we’ll call Sharon. Performing the same dancing ritual and dignified pants trick. Sharon brought onto stage with her a sealed bottle of beer. I think you already know where this is going. Handing it out to a few in the crowd she instructed them to confirm the bottle cap was sealed and unopened. With conformation, she summoned a man from the mob and used hand gestures to instruct him to hold onto the main base of the bottle that was placed on the stage, and importantly not to let go. With his hands inside her legs, she positioned herself over the bottle and wriggled until she felt comfortable, a word I use loosely. Just a subtle shuffle of the hips and she was ready. What the view must have looked like from behind to anyone walking in is almost unfathomable, but they could be forgiven for believing that a young surfer looking Australian dude had just helped deliver the very first beer baby.

Sitting on the right hand side of Sharon I saw an almost professional athlete like gaze, staring into an invisible marker beyond. A violent twist, an almost immediate quiet from the room, until a high pitched yelp from Sharon as the bottle tipped sideways and the volunteer stepped backwards hands in the air, making an I didn’t do it pose. Sharon winced and made her feelings clear that he hadn’t held on tight enough.

Foolishly back for round two, and with almost the entire room leaning forwards in their seats, mouths fully agape, eyes wide like rabid dogs, girls burying their heads into one another’s shoulders like a cinema scene from a scary movie, she moved into position once again. Another violent twist and the room went silent, the loud music from the speakers made no impact. Sharon leapt up quickly as white foam spilled out from the top of the bottle, and a gradual cheer of confusion and relief circled the room, no one quite sure of how to react to such a stunt. The volunteer reluctantly drunk the vagina beer and sat back in his seat exhausted.

I didn’t know what I expected of such a show in truth. I thought it would be a stage show, like at any typical theatre. A host would present it, and although out of the ordinary bright lights, wacky costumes, women with smiles would perform unnatural acts to the whoops and cheers of an entertained crowd. Being in factory warehouse in Thailand, the actuality was very different. The women didn’t enjoy what they did, working in an industry built off of tourism and ever gaining popularity shows no signs of stopping. The girls here work for almost a month straight, most only acquiring 2 days off during that period, and are governed by strict guidelines for lateness in which they are fined for every minute they are late, and at the end of the month are paid around 6000 baht, ($200 US).

Several more ladies came onto the stage and performed routines that included shooting makeshift darts and popping balloons, another smoked a cigarette, with her lady parts, which cannot be good for you,  ironically it’s probably better than having black lungs, and some men love a black vagina. The lady that shot ping pongs across the stage that bounced into a small wooden basket opposite was almost an anti-climax, considering the shows namesake. The show itself held around 12 routines which rotated on an almost continual loop, and once we realized we were seeing Tracey draw us another picture we decided to make our exit.

No one said much on the way back, at least not about what we had all just witnessed for the past 40 minutes, having not slept for well over 20 hours I was soon ready to hit the sack, ready for the morning to come and ready to continue tackling Asia’s finest. Until next time….

March 30, 2011

2 thoughts on “Bangkok, Thailand: P is for Ping Pong

  1. You are such a creative writer!!! OMG you should write your own book on your travels it would make an amazing read! keep up the good work Mr Boyle

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