Monday, July 26, 2010

Pints of Tiger, Rivers of Whiskey, part 2

Back at the table another round has arrived. The jukebox blares Pearl Jam. I am thinking about sleep, about my bed and joints and TV when Clarissa asks if I want to go to a concert tonight. Ska, she says, a bar called Saxophone. They’re meeting at someone called Andy’s, a room in my building at 7 o’clock. I say yes, and it’s six already so I say goodbye, see them soon, and go downstairs to pay my bill. The owner, a large Australian man who’s always on his computer downstairs, watches the Thai girls tally my tab. I pay four hundred baht for four beers and open the door. The warm, salty welcome of the hot air is more like an invitation to sleep than a wake-up call, and it makes me smile, lazy, soft and wet. I stutter forward on rubbery legs, walking home drunk, happy, and hopeful.

At home I take a quick, desperately-needed shower. The school I was at today didn’t have air-con (as the English call it) or soap in the bathroom. When I got back to the office and washed my hands the sink turned black with grime, the detritus of dozens of dirty hands clutching mine. It feels so good to be clean.

Deciding it’s too hot for the dryer, I toss my wet hair into a braid. CNN plays in the background as I dress, something about the U.S. torturing Iraqi prisoners. Great. But the story switches quick enough, so that I don’t have to change the channel. The speakers on my age-old computer don’t have much range, so this rubbish is the best background noise I have. And it makes me hate America.

My pink corduroy skirt from Anthropology doesn’t fit quite right and makes my hips look bit, but I wear it anyway, hoping a skin-tight Jack Daniels tee will make up for it. Really, though, I’m too buzzed to care. I hurry to get ready because Clarissa should be calling at any moment, but my room phone sits silent. I don’t have a cell yet, but the girls told me that you can call by room number to any apartment in Cham Chan. It’s a little single woman community over here. Dressed, I wait, perched on the end of my bed, sneering at the news, at the President, hating the President. I wait for the phone to ring but nothing happens. Fifteen minutes later, I wander into the hall, leaving the door open behind me.

My bare feet pad down the tiled, open-air hallway until I see a door cracked, hear girls’ voices speaking English inside. I knock and wait, considering the possibility that my new friends deliberately neglected to call me. Seems more likely they forgot and anyway I don’t really care. I’m not going to sit alone in my room on my first Friday night in Bangkok. I’m drunk now, and I’m stubborn. I’ve been promised a night out and a night out I will have.

A tall white girl with long brown hair, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, opens the door wide. “Heya. How yeh going, mate?” I think is what she says, but her Australian accent is so thick I’m not sure.

“Uhhh, good,” I mumble. “Is Andy here?”

“She sure is, mate!” the girl bellows good-naturedly. “I’m she. She’s me! Ah, whatever the fuck. Come in!”

The studio apartment is exactly the same as mine except she has a blue refrigerator, instead of green. It seems like everyone is smoking. Everywhere large green bottles of Chang are lifted in white hands. Laura, the black English girl, is on the balcony with a cigarette, and Carolyn, Edmond’s girlfriend mixes a vodka drink on the dressing table. Clarissa sits on the back of the bed with her back propped against the headboard. Two other girls introduce themselves as Amanda, from Louisiana and Sharee, from Alabama. Andy pours some Chang into a glass from the bottle in her hand and offers it to me. I’ve been told she’s the only person anyone knows who’s been fired from Fun English. Supposedly this is because she was a “real” teacher back home and wouldn’t conform to the “Fun” method. Now she has a better, more lucrative job here, though I can’t imagine how this is possible since I need a translator to understand her. She stands barefoot, smoking, in the middle of her bedroom with a wide smile and a hand on her hip and she talks to each person in the room individually, though they are all having different conversations. She seems to thinks she’s keeping up with all the streams of discussion, though that can’t be possible. Perhaps she’s just pleased to be here, in her room with drinks and fags and all these girls. Judging by everyone’s friendliness (and drunkenness) they didn’t mean to not call me.

We drink for a while in Andy’s room and a little while later leave the building, walking towards the temple and Seven-Eleven, past mangy stray dogs, wild Thai men on motorbikes, women and children carrying clear plastic bags of food. In front of the temple vendors sell pots of food, frogs and squid roasted on sticks, huge plastic trays of deep fried insects. My new friends are raucous and confident and in their midst I feel strangely small and unexciting.

We stop at a bar just past the temple with an outdoor patio, share a few big beers between us. More people join and I’m so drunk. I know I should have water, it’s so hot, but then we’re off again, piling into a taxi, four girls in the back and a funny Englishman called Knotty, who we met at the bar, craning his neck at us from the front seat.

Saxophone is famous, red, wood, dimly lit and full of people, farang and Thai. The band does not play ska, but blues. We sit at long wooden tables. The walls have velvet pictures on them, landscapes, music notes, beer posters. The waitresses wear tiny black dresses with Johnny Walker logos in white. I make more new friends – Americans, Russians, Canadians – I remember countries but not names. We buy a bottle of Johnny Walker to share and we talk and drink, clink ice from a bucket on the table into our glasses with tongs, and the music is nice and the singer is crooning and the whiskey tastes so good and all is well and good until it is gone, until I am gone, until it all goes blank.

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