So the Thailand trip to celebrate 10 years of marriage happened and I’ve come back with rather mixed feelings about the place. The plan was to spend some days in Pattaya and then hang out with the rather mad Aneela and her delightful son in Bangkok.
It was a long and complicated holiday plan. The OA, kids and I drove half way around the country spending time with friends and family before we took off to Pattaya. I was the recipient of plenty of shocked comments – Taking kids to Pattaya?!
Yes, yes we were taking them. And we had a lovely time. Our hotel was right on Jomtien Beach and inspite of the Brat running temperature 5 days straight, we went out everyday and he lived to tell the tale. I’m glad we took the kids though, because it took us to parts of the city most others wouldn’t bother with. From the Underwater World to running in the rain around the Million Year Stone park, we saw animals we’ve never seen and generally had a great time.
Bangkok was next and I have to say I was a tiny bit disappointed by my experience. For one, it felt a lot like many Indian cities, just, on speed! Rush, rush, rush. Which is like NY no doubt, but my God the heat and humidity were not for me. I can’t stand coastal cities, so to have to rush around in one, was my worst nightmare come true. Fortunately though, we had The Aneela to hang out with and it was amazing to have an almost local show us around and take us to cat cafes and cute little local parks.
I loved the motorbike taxis and recently someone on facebook suggested that India needed them. I’m not sure if India is there yet. For one, the guys driving them smell good and look a lot cleaner than our local auto drivers - call me a snob, but if I have to hang on to a man for dear life, I’d like it to be a tolerable if not a pleasant experience. For another, I don’t know if Indian women would be happy to jump on and ride pillion with a strange man. I was most impressed to see women come out of office in their formals and hop on to a bike and zoom off home or to the tube. And finally, the traffic here is far more disorganised, making a bike ride as safe as tight rope walking over a river full of crocodiles. I certainly wouldn’t want to trust a stranger’s skill on it!
The malls were dazzling, prices were decent, but after a point I went nuts. When I got home and made a mental list of what I’d bought, I realised I didn’t need any of it. The consumer culture there is a lot more than one realises and there are huge collapsible suitcases on wheels for sale – shop, fill up a suitcase and roll it home.
I of course indulged myself with the famous massages and the OA and babies would quietly lie down on the comfy chairs with a book and wait for me to be done. I kept begging the OA to try one but he hates people touching him and has never been a massage fan. I finally succeeded towards the end of the holiday and he converted and how! Like all new converts he couldn’t stay away and was most disgusted at himself for not having given it a shot earlier.
The massage parlours also showed me how easy it is for moral and ethical lines to be crossed. The very same parlours that give you a full body massage are willing to, for a small price, give the men a ‘happy ending’. Apart from my rage at the unfairness of men being offered happy endings and women, not, I am also shocked at how easy it is to cross that little line. Unlike the effort it takes to cross a mental barrier and go over to a seedy brothel in a separate district, these parlours are safe, clean, shiny happy places, right in the middle of the regular shopping and residential districts. I could be sitting in a lazy-boy with my child reading a book by my side, while upstairs some guy is getting his rocks off. It shook me up.
I also finally saw what people meant about the flesh trade – its so in your face that you get immune to it after a point. Loads of older white men with young Asian girls, barely old enough to be out of school. The girls are picked up to keep house while ‘servicing’ the men. What an amazing deal. It’s like going back by about a 100 years or so. Young, beautiful, available, doing the laundry, keeping house, submissive, all for a price. We were chatting with the owner of our hotel who said they are called summer wives. That the men all say that this is a great break from their Western life where the women are equal, strong and expect them to help around the house. Food for thought. Where people can buy submission, they will. The desire to be equal, fair, is not a common one. And as women get stronger and less willing to take bullshit, there will be men who will hunt for other options, even if it means paying for them. And there will be women who will be happy to sell them that illusion. Le sigh.
I teased the OA that people probably thought we were one of those couples – he is almost fully white haired now and often gets mistaken for Italian/Lebanese – and I am almost always asked if I am from Nagaland. It was probably thanks to the kids that no one thought I was his lady for the night! Well that and the fact that I was in kurtis and tracks for the entire holiday, not dressed to the nines like those ladies.
What impresses one is the Thai willingness to work hard. Unlike the Western world where shops shut at 6pm and leave you high and dry, shops here are open till late night. And oh the hawkers! At any time of night or day, there are pavements overflowing with clothes, toys, quick eats. I also learnt something rather interesting – apparently traditional Thai homes did not have kitchens. Even in villages, one home was selected to be the one that cooked and fed the rest, while others were given other responsibilities. Even now, many Thai people eat out and it’s easy to see why. Hot, juicy sausages on sticks, fresh cut fruit, sticky rice and glistening chicken in little takeaway boxes – I could eat all day!
We spent a lot of time on Jomtien Beach in Pattaya and that place was the best example of indulgence and hedonism. Lie back on chairs put out by someone, eat fresh sea food grilled right under your nose and then have a little old lady sit down in the sand by the foot of your chair and give you a pedicure. This is where I drew the line. I just couldn’t stand the idea of looking out at the gorgeous blue sea while my children built sand castles and my husband took a water scooter for a spin, while I lay back, stuffed my face with delicious prawns and a lady old enough to be my grandmother, sat under the hot sun in hijab, and pressed my feet. Call me a fool, but that’s probably what I am, then.
And perhaps that is what I learnt on my holiday. That money really can buy you anything. Except the ability to stomach some of it.