Bangkok is definitely an intense place, it’s sort of like Sami on steroids. It makes the overdevelopment there look quaint. I check in at the Malaysia Hotel, which was recommended by a friend here, and go for a walk around the neighborhood, as I was hungry. I see a lot of sidewalk vendors, but I was looking for someplace I could read my Lonely Planet guide, see what I wanted to do here. Aside from having dinner with Alex, his boyfriend, and another invited friend, who is going to be my tour guide through the boy shows in Bangkok that night, my itinerary is free.
Alex had mentioned that I was one subway stop away from the Silom Station, so when my walking finds the subway, I go down and get on. It’s a quick trip, and doesn’t seem like it would be much of a walk but, for the price, an air-conditioned subway is better.
I find the shopping mall and head downstairs, hoping it is an international similarity to have the food court downstairs. It is. I go to MK restaurant, after seeing a big veggie platter on their menu. MK is a chain, and for all I know you can do this in San Francisco somewhere, although I never have, but the middle of the table is a hot plate, and they put a pot there, and fill it with boiling water. Then, they bring your veggie platter, drink, side of green noodles I ordered, and╔ you’re on your own.
I investigate the veggie plate, and see celery, shitake mushrooms, other mushrooms, some green leaves that seem to be herbs of some sort, tofu, carrots, beans, so I put it all in the boiling water, to give everything a fair chance to infuse the water. There is also a small dish with some spicy sauce on the table. After a while, my stew starts boiling, and there’s a slotted spoon to bring things out and into your bowl, and a ladle for adding broth. I have to say, it was a rather nice light lunch.
As I have more time to kill before meeting Alex and company later in the day, I notice there is a place offering a fish massage. I am too curious to walk by without trying it. A fish massage is basically a tank with hundreds of fish in it, and you pay $5 for 15 minutes. You put your feet into the tank, and the fish all start eating the dead skin off of your feet. For the first minute or two, it seems insane, and admittedly strange to pay to have fish basically eat you. This seems like taking veganism too far.
But they eat and eat and eat for 15 minutes (you can get 30 minutes for only $7-8), often with what looks like a minimum of 50 small fish on each foot, and when my feet come out, I have to say, a lot of the dead stuff I’d noticed on my feet lately, from all the flip-flopping, sunburning, bicycling punishment I’d put them through on Phangan, a good portion of it was definitely gone.
Of course, as this is attached to a spa, I figure I may as well get a Thai massage while here, and sign up for a 90-minute session with a guy. As this was not directly in the gay area, I figure my odds were better of getting a real massage. I have to say, this guy really gave a nice, thorough, authentic massage, heh.
I get back in time to meet everyone, and we head to a restaurant for dinner. Alex’s boyfriend saw the restaurant recently, and noted there was a line and that it looked like a nice place. We get there, and quickly realize that the sushi place a few doors down is the place with the line, and the nice place he saw above the veggie restaurant was the large second floor of the sushi place that continues over the veggie place, as well. Our place is a lot of basic tables, chairs, and not much ambiance. But they did a lot of Thai dishes with fake meat, and it was a fine meal that I really enjoyed.
Alex and his boyfriend were not going to the boy shows with us, so after dinner, we were dropped off across from the boy bars in Soi Duangthawee. To say the people outside the bars trying to get you into the shows are aggressive is putting it mildly. In fact, Wut and I ended up in our first bar nearly against our will. They said the show was just starting, and it doesn’t take long to realize this is untrue. Instead the stage is brightly lit and all the boys are there in tiny swimsuits and it looks like the drinking water backstage is spiked with Viagra.
All they do is stand, smile, get your attention, whatever, and every five or ten seconds, they rotate like a volleyball team, so that you can clearly see the numbers on the bikini of new boys. Different boys cycle on and off all the time, but it’s the sort of thing where, unless you were there to hire a money boy (which is seemingly the local term for it), then staring at young, cute guys standing gets boring fast. Especially over $10 drinks.
The show is too far off to put up with this, even though we only have to buy one drink for the show, so we’re covered at this point, but the mamasan is very clingy and asking us what we want far too often, so we leave and head away from the soi before we get yanked into another show prematurely.
I buy Wut a second drink at 7-Eleven at a much better price.
We decide to walk the long way around the block, to enter the street from the other end, to get show times for the show we actually want to see. I read about Classic Boys in a gay guide, it being different for featuring a large fish tank where boys will do naked, synchronized swimming to the music. They have two shows a night, so we head down the street.
This time, Wut and I hold hands, and get hassled a bit less as a couple, but still a lot. Our roles become defined. My job is to indicate that Wut is the boss, so don’t hassle me. His job is to just say no to everyone. I do have to forcibly pull him out of a circle of four guys trying to yank us into a bar we don’t want to go into. I remembered reading that X-Boys had a good candle show, although it was mentioned in a matter-of-fact way, as though no one would possibly ask, ‘What the hell is a candle show?’ Wut goes toward X-boys, as we’re trying to get all the show times sorted out, and they insist the show is about to start, and Wut says he thinks they’re telling the truth, as he recognizes the music as being what they play right before the show. So, we head in and get front row seats at the front corner of the stage.
When we get there, the stage is filled with more young, cute boys in underwear, all with numbers, doing their rotating routine, like the most decadent merchandise display option ever. I head for the rest room before the show starts, although as I quickly come back, it had just begun.
I should point out that this isn’t a subtle show. It is also not burlesque. There is rarely a coy buildup, a glove removed, etc. As near as I can tell, this guy came out naked with a hula-hoop. At various points, he has two hula-hoops, and also uses rings from the rigging above to hoist him in the air, or the ladders to the side, but no matter what the hula-hoop doesn’t stop, nor does any of this prevent him from grabbing himself repeatedly.
I’ll only give a quick montage here for the sake of my own propriety. The candle show ended up being five oiled up guys with about 8-9 candles in each hand, with a nicely choreographed routine, with the flame providing a lot of the light. The routine as mainly about them dripping wax on their bodies, a lot of wax. One’s specialty was getting a thick coating of wax on his tongue. And the main guy’s chest and abs were coated very thick with multiple layers of wax by the time the show ended. There was a putting green at one point, where the point was to get a hole in one with a golf ball. There was no club, although most guys’ golfing stance was a one-handed push-up, you can figure out the rest. Despite the decadence of it all, there was thought put into the show, the lighting, the choreography, but it is certainly a strange night out. And if you think drag queens have persuasive ways of working the room to get tips out of the customers, you have no idea how quickly that can become mundane.
At this place, they were pretty good about not hassling us about drinks or money boys, so we just watched the show, which lasted a bit over an hour. Then, we returned to Classic Boys to see the fish tank, but were there a few minutes early, so it was rotating boy time again.
I should point out how this might sound sad and depressing, and there is certainly an element of that on display here, but the boys all look happy. One of the boys at Classic Boys was pretty young, but kept trying to get my attention. I pointed to Wut, and made it clear that we were together, and he won’t let me bring money boys home with us. A few boys indicated they were OK going home with both of us. Anyway, back to the boy, he was probably 18, barely, although you never really know here, but he seemed sort of awkward and new at this, which could be his routine, of course.
I found that he would give a natural smile, nothing forced or put on, clearly his natural smile, unlike some of the others. He had braces, which made him seem even younger, although you can have braces at any age. But he would smile and stare you down, raise his eyebrow suggestively but then if you held eye contact after that, he didn’t have a routine anymore. That was his few seconds that he’d worked out, and at that point, most people look to another guy. So, if you kept looking, he just would start getting almost a nervous laugh, making him smile more, showing his braces. And, like many people with braces, most of his smiling and such was without showing his teeth, so I think we were seeing a lot more braces than normal.
It’s all fascinating to me, and you’d almost want to talk to them all at length about things, but I’m sure it’s the same story I’ve been hearing from the non-money boys on Phangan and Samui. Literally, everyone’s story was the same. Their family are farmers and poor, so they are in a tourist area, making very little money, but also sending money home every month to help their family survive.
So, like a lot of things here, there is a subtext that makes it hard to take in what is being offered at face value. But it is important to note, everyone I met has not felt burdened by these things, or bitter, or anything else. It just is. Their family is poor, they are helping them. It’s just what you do. And the boys here aren’t reluctant. Trust me, that’s the last word I’d use. Eager is far more accurate. So, balancing all of this stuff is a lot to manage. I mean, if you needed to, it’s a short mental leap to think of yourself as helping the boy and his family out. I’m sure some people see themselves in that light. Of course, I took the less exciting way down that path, skipping the sex, and just tipping the boys with whom I’d had some non-verbal connection to on the way out.
I do think it was good to have Wut with me, though. I think a single, white farang going to these shows alone would be a much bigger target. The show starts, and it’s also important to note that work has been put into these shows. They aren’t just like bad porn scripts. There is definite, detailed, rehearsed choreography, and the same boys who were all about making eye contact and such before are now doing their dance, and very into their routines.
The second club is smaller and less attended than the first, even the few people who were there trickled out. At one point, I looked around, and was surprised the show was still happening. Shortly after that, there seemed to be some shortening of the show, as the “snorkels” used in the fish tank (the reference to, and quotes around, snorkels appear that way in the gay guide) never make an appearance, so I’m not entirely sure what it means. So, the one thing you’d never expect to happen at these shows did. It ended prematurely.