The Pobaans happen to have a vacationer staying with them right now. As is my habit with visitors from other lands, I give our guest my standard lecture on the history and economy of Pattaya, my intention being to orientate him in the cultural milieu, to help him latch on to the zeitgeist and allow him to make sense of observations which otherwise might lead to confusion. Why, for example, when meeting a mutual friend for a drink and conversation last week, did we find our party unexpectedly expanded to four persons, the interloper being an attractive lady none of us had laid eyes on before? Each of my friends thought she was with me, while I knew she wanted to be with any one of us, it didn’t really matter. It took an obvious shortage of drink to pare our group back down to three.
As such things go, the lecture is brief, but no less useful for all that. Actually, if you’re interested, it wouldn’t take a moment to run though it for you here.
Oh you’d like that? All right then. The lecture is normally delivered in two sections with a break in between for informal discussion and the serving of tea and biscuits. Perhaps you could ensure such refreshments are available where you are before we proceed.
The History and Economy of Pattaya.
Part 1. The History of Pattaya
Town with beach + GIs = Fleshpots.
Two sugars for you? I’m afraid we have no Hobnobs; a chocolate digestive perhaps? If we could now return to the auditorium...
Part 2. The Economy of Pattaya
Fleshpots + Tourists = Cashflow.
Please leave by the doors clearly marked ‘Exit’.
After the lecture I suggest to our guest that, for the practical work, we take a walk on Walking Street one evening.
‘I don’t think so.’
Our visitor is a single man. By all accounts he has red blood in his veins and can stand upright, at least at the start of an evening, so has all the characteristics usual in the sort of human who would usually jump at the chance of a stroll on Pattaya’s most famous thoroughfare.
‘I’m quite content as I am.’
Mr Pobaan’s mouth drops open like the doors of a roll-on roll-off ferry. How can being quite content as you are be an argument against experiencing the wonders of Walking Street? Would the same chap decline a free visit to Easter Island, the Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China or the Sir John Soane Museum on the same grounds? These are sites that represent significant levels of achievement by our species. They transcend contentment by expanding the mind and elevating the soul.
Just like Walking Street.
‘No, I’m fine.’
He’s beginning to remind me of Father Stone, that famously boring character in an episode of Father Ted, whose main script line was ‘I’m fine’ repeated so many times that you began to hope it wasn’t true.
I clearly need to go further, so in desperation I snatch a quote from the archway through which people pass to enter Walking Street from the Beach Road end: ‘But Walking Street is the Passion of Colourful Paradise,’ I say, trying to hide the embarrassment I feel in reciting these tragic words.
Our guest sees right through that. ‘All the same,’ he says, ‘I’d rather not bother.’
After a few more days of teasing him with the experiential possibilities being missed, he eventually capitulates and we cadge a lift to Bali Hai, with a view to wandering north along Pattaya’s most notable traffic-free avenue.
We play a game of pool in one of those cavernous bar areas where small groups of girls scream at you to come to their little pens. They remind me of gangs of schoolgirls at a netball match.
Grasping the nettle, we then proceed to Baccara where we sit at the bar and drink a beer. The feet of the dancing girls come quite close to our bottles, but my friend doesn’t flinch. I’m sure he can see the platform soles because he moves his bottle a couple of times to prevent an accident, but he doesn’t look up at the rest of the dancers.
‘There’s another stage upstairs,’ I point out. ‘It has a glass floor so you can see up their skirts.’
We finish our beer more quickly than is strictly healthy and return to the street. Next stop is the Iron Bar. This is a big barn of a place, which doesn’t make for an intimate atmosphere, but it does allow for some trapeze work by skilled performers. One of these combines soaping herself with swinging about on chains attached to the ceiling. There are times when she is passing overhead that suds fall from her person and fall on my friend.
He doesn’t seem impressed. A glistening, naked woman is looping the loop a metre or two above his head and he’s not impressed.
‘She must get quite clean by the end of the evening,’ he remarks.
I realise that the evening calls for desperate measures, so we repair to the Windmill. How could anyone fail to be impressed by the enthusiastic staff in this justifiably-renowned Pattaya watering hole? The girls put on a good show and I occasionally have to remind myself of my duties as a guide. But the ice in the heart of my friend refuses to melt.
‘They look bored,’ at last he announces, though I think he is projecting his own feelings on to him. I give up and we walk out.
As we make our way back home, I ask about his reaction to the best that our funny little town has to offer.
‘I just wish I were fifty years younger,’ he says, quite meaningfully, I think.