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Thursday, December 25, 2003

Bangkok Report II: a Buddhist Christmas

Well, it is official. The metamorphosis has completed. I am back to being one of Bangkok's bowing birds. I hardly even noticed.

At lunch today, a decidedly odd Christmas lunch considering it was entirely among Buddhist family members, one of my aunts commented how great it was that I hadn't lost my Thai-ness even after so many years abroad. Just like yesterday, with the opposite comment, I was startled at first. Me, Thai, still? Then I realized my shoulders were not in the same squared position it was yesterday. I found myself oddly slouching, being entirely polite, and, yes, deferential. Damn! It came back to me so easily I hardly noticed it coming back.

Damn!

Our Christmas lunch was a (gasp) buffet at the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel, one of the fancy hotels in Ploenjit area. I was happy to see that there was some Thai food for me to eat. I'd been planning to go on a hunger strike were there none.

I won't say much about the meal itself, as I won't recommend it. The Thai food they served were pretty good, especially the sticky rice and mango, but the bill was far too expensive for what you get. If you paid for the buffet ticket, expecting to eat only Thai food, you'd be subsidizing all the other people eating the mediocre but expensive smoked salmon, dodgy grilled lamb chops and other fancy western food items.

My older sister and I went for a little walk after the lunch. This being Bangkok, our “walk” was taken at a fancy mall, called Gaysorn Plaza. The mall is literally across the street from the hotel, but, again, this being Bangkok, my sister pronounced the day far too hot to make the 500 meters trip on foot (in her oh-so-English wool twin set, yes, it indeed was) and insisted that we took the car.

So in we went to the car, the driver took us from the lobby of the hotel, made a little u-turn to set the car to the appropriate direction toward the Gaysorn Plaza, and there we waited, in traffic, for at least 15 minutes. My sister thought I had gone stark raving mad as I couldn't stop my giggling fit in the car. I simply couldn't help it, it was absolutely ridiculous.

During the 15 or so minutes that I sat stationary at the Ploenjit intersection, I must have seen at least twenty older white males with younger Thai companions, whom they have obviously purchased. Once, I saw two utterly plain vanilla Midwest couples in their late 60's. They were accompanied by a small, dark skinned Thai girl who could not have been more than twenty. Her manners and clothing, or the lack thereof, rather, were obviously those of a rented woman. What they intended to do with her I could hardly imagine. She was but a size of one of their thighs!

Seeing these old men (and women, apparently) with their rented girls, I couldn't help but stare at them disapprovingly. Generally, my view on the issue of prostitution is one of apathy. It is simply another profession, not unlike many others. The parties involved are usually consenting adults. I have no say in their private matters of trade.

For Thailand, however, my feeling is rather different. The “industry” is so ripe with corruption and abuse, I have trouble maintaining my intellectual view of the matter. It is difficult to argue for Agency when it is evident that my society provides those girls precious few alternatives.

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