The Queer, The Exotic & The Melancholy

I wrote this when I was in Phuket about 3 weeks ago when I was on holiday. We were at Patong, the most popular tourist beach area in Phuket. It’s akin to Batu Feringghi but with lots more flavour.

We’d stayed at the southern and quieter stretch of Patong but from our hotel, it was only a 10-minute walk to the infamous Bang La Road. During the day, this stretch of road is harmless but after 9pm, the road becomes a throbbing night life full of people and gawkers. I wrote this piece as a means to figure out the conundrum that is Phuket, Thailand.

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Phuket is a mishmash of all that’s queer, exotic and erotic.

Yet it is also a face of some indescribable melancholy, in the way the nubile Thai girls (the real ones at least) shake and gyrate listlessly with their arm slung over the pole they’re supposed to slide against.

Russian girls who look like they wished they were anywhere but in Bang La Road, dressed in swaths of pink chiffon holding out placards advertising a good time with Russian girls. Or the garishly painted showgirls with cleavages too deep and g-strings too tight tempting tourists to buy a chance to take a photo with them. I wonder how many innocent tourists know that these gorgeous and almost too perfect women are just men?

Katoey. That’s the word for the lady boys. The ones the too-new tourists tend to gawk over. The ones that make tourists wonder, “are those real?”

And of course that age-old question – “How do you know a lady boy from a real woman?”

I read somewhere that you look at their elbows. I still can’t bloody figure that out.

My first impression of the famous seedier side of Patong Beach.

All the kitschy, tacky,cheesy tourist stuff is nothing compared to this side road where I call it the Disneyland for adults.

For a few dollars, you can take a photo with a bald-bellied lemur which looks as pitiful, if not sadder than the dance girls on the bar counters. Coyote Ugly this is not. It would be comical if the lemur wasn’t fed sugar in the shape of a glistening red lollipop.

It would also be funny if the iguana they drape on your head wasn’t such a bad display of how animals are used and treated as playthings for the over excited tourist who thinks the iguana is an oversized lizard with bite. But you can also say the same about the nubile Thai girls.

Then again, this is Patong Beach where you can expect such mad behavior. It is a given that anyone traipsing this area is like a hapless mouse scuttling into a cat’s den.

I wonder what the local Thais think of tourists – gullible fools who can’t wait to tuck into a seafood buffet and watch a cabaret style extravaganza while ogling transvestites (Phuket Fantasea or Aphrodite, anyone?) or genuine wide-eyed tourists exuberantly clapping because they appreciate the splendor and charm of showgirls?

“Chan mai chob ka” is a fine phrase to drill into your memory. It means “I don’t like it”.

I wished I remembered this phrase when we were conned into stepping out of our van when we were on our way from the Phuket airport to our hotel in Patong because the driver reasoned – “we want to check tickets”. That’s a pretext to get you seated in a tour office before the middle-aged Thai woman in front of you tries to sweet talk you into buying the island hopping packages to James Bond Island, Phi Phi or any of those snorkelling, diving and day trips they think all tourists hanker for.

The insincerity is obvious. The moment her upsell falters like an intoxicated fly, her face falls. The happy mask falls away and in its place you see a sullenness that makes you wonder, is this the Thai hospitality they’re famous for?

One day I would like to learn a Thai phrase that translates to “Your king would be so ashamed to see you fleece visitors to Thailand.” The Thais’ devotion to their king is unparalleled so a retort like that would poke her conscience if only for a good 10 seconds.

And yet, this is a Buddhist country.

For me, Buddhism is about refraining from greed, hatred and delusion. A big no-no is perversion and the sensual pleasures of the body but therein lies the greatest irony – the girls think nothing of selling their bodies and sex and money can be spoken off in the same breath.

I am trying to figure out this conundrum – and trying to emphatize.

Maybe poverty and a hard life make it easy to demarcate what you believe in and what you need to do to eke a living.

Tough.

* Despite the reflections, I had a good holiday doing nothing. I was also sick on one of those 5 days but maybe it was just the heat and my overeating (or was it food poisoning?). Will probably update on the less seedier side of Phuket in the upcoming posts. A few of you noticed that I have been rather irregular in my blog posts. Yes I have. I have been busy with lots of things, business-wise at least. A typical day in Redbox Studio is all about planning the future and improving our systems and making our clients’ lives better. So yeah, I have been doing a lot of that plus working on some projects that need my serious attention. I hope to be back to regular posting.

0 thoughts on “The Queer, The Exotic & The Melancholy

  1. Couldn’t agree more, the Thais especially the ones dealing with tourist are no longer what they were 10 years back and Phuket is not as bad as Krabi and Hatyai which are more obnoxious as compared to the former. They seem to only smile to ang mohs and koreans and japs.

    The local Thais however are still friendly especially towards kids when i was in Chiangmai last month.

    • Hi Kristen: Thanks for leaving your thoughts. Hatyai is typically too “Malaysian” on the weekends – hordes of Malaysians especially Penangites go up to Hatyai for the weekend anyway. I think tourism sometimes can be a double-edged sword. It brings prosperity but it also toughens up the locals who deal with too many tourists. Some tourists are fine but many are demanding and perhaps this makes them wary. The hotel we stayed in was fine and the staff were friendly. Of course there are one or two staff who were either shy (didn’t make eye contact) or just indifferent. Still, I’d go back to Phuket again if only to enjoy the sun and the sea 😉 and avoid the sideshow that is Bang La Road.

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