Monday, August 15, 2005

SAIGON, 1962 VS. BANGKOK, 2005

We live in the northeast part of Bangkok. If you know the town, we’re not far from the Grand Hotel. It’s an area not frequented by westerners. I have gone a month without seeing a westerner in my part of town. In my previous 16 months in Bangkok I have spoken to perhaps 4 non-Asians, only one in my area. I haven’t moved around very much.

I knew about, and have written about, the massage establishments in my area. Because they are not frequented by westerners, I thought they might not be of much interest to readers. So I decided to explore the touristy areas. I’m glad I did.

There are parallels between Bangkok now and Saigon in 1962. In some ways, for me, it’s like going back in time.

Saigon in 1962 was like a paradise to a normal American male, sexually repressed as we all were and continue to be. There were dozens of bars which were heavily populated with what looked to be the most beautiful women on earth.

A friend of mine said, “Liz Taylor would be just one of the girls in those bars.” And he was talking about Liz Taylor in her prime.

Were they available? Only if you had the equivalent of $5.00 in piastres (the local currency).

Of course we were victimizing them. So sue me. It’s not like we out and recruited them.

They were sweet, sweet ladies. Americans were much liked and respected. But in 1962 there were only about 2,000 Americans in the whole country. Over time, it became horribly corrupted

I can’t help wondering if that will happen here. “Here,” of course, is Bangkok in 2005. I suppose there is little chance of that happening. From my observations, the American presence here is miniscule.

Before I arrived, the Saigon government had already enacted some morality laws. For one thing, dancing was prohibited. No, not lap dancing, just ordinary, man and woman dancing.

That law inspired a wag to comment:

It’s OK to take a crap in the middle of the street, but if you dance around it, in celebration, you’ll be arrested.

I had heard Saigon described as a provincial city. While I was there, I sort of resented that. When I came to Bangkok I understood and agreed. Saigon in 1962 was a provincial city.

There are morality laws here in Bangkok also. There is no nudity allowed on TV, even cable TV. I’ve heard there is no nudity allowed in theatrical movies either. Smoking on TV is censored. They blur the image of whatever is being smoked so that often an actor’s face is not visible. Some violent scenes are also censored.

(Next: The Bangkok bar scene.)


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