My husband films abroad for most of the year and if I am to maintain any degree of familiarity, I do the same. I have travelled to North America, Europe, Thailand and Africa in his wake and all have been voyages into the great unknown. Generally speaking the visits have been fabulous opportunities to see wildlife and people otherwise only glimpsed at through media or zoo.
I have visited Bangkok on several occasions, discovering a world where sex is currency, street food should be avoided by delicate western stomachs and a trip in a local taxi could be your last.
The Thais are predominantly Buddhist, their philosophy being that no amount of Health and Safety regulations are likely to interfere with or prevent that karmic moment when your number’s up. So, no seat belts or helmets are worn, though ironically the cabs have little shrines on the dashboard that will help to modify the bad karma imported into the car by unlucky foreigners! There is a horrible sense of impending doom everywhere, bundles of live electrical cables droop heavily onto pedestrian walkways, Rats and cockroaches skitter over street-side food counters, to the dismay of no-one, and motorcycles often bearing more than two passengers, zip along the wrong side of the road and take short cuts along the pavement. This is not a city for the faint-hearted or unwary.
Bangkok, renowned for it’s easy going approach to underage sex, transgender prostitution and open brothels is tempered by its less than relaxed view of drug taking. Getting caught with drugs on or in the vicinity of your person, can result in a long stay in the Bangkok Hilton. This is apparently an ironic title for a prison closer in standard to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell.
However, pushing aside the obvious risks posed, I ventured into ‘Nana Plaza’, the city’s sex mall. It was heaving with Western men of a particular age, education and girth. They sat at numerous open bars, sipping beer and waiting, what for I had no real idea. It could be that the choice was too great, or the constant sexual indulgence was taking its toll on clogged arteries and libido. Whatever the cause, having purchased my entry ticket in the form of a gin and tonic, I was ushered into what I could only consider to be a marketplace. The interior was filled with a central arena, where topless girls, all holding a card with a number on, paraded clockwise, while we (me and a number of paunchy male customers) walked round anti-clockwise. The system had an impeccable logic. You spent the minimum amount of time viewing and, having nominated the lucky girl, wrote down the number and handed it to one of the helpful administrative types that prowled the periphery.
I observed but declined politely.