by Marque A Rome
(Note: The following was written last summer, when still I had a home; and though next-door neighbours are no longer a problem, precisely, I thought the essay might amuse readers of this site. I sent it after writing to Phuket News, the editor of which asked if he might print it for free — so this is the first time it will reach a wider public than myself and him.)
A member of Phuket’s worshipful guild of small foreign exchange earners has moved next door my apartment. She is tall, svelte, well-featured, and embroidered by the tattooer’s art.
Her arrival bodes ill for my early morning peace, for we share a wall: the demi-mondaines who infest the little community wherein I dwell see nothing sacred in pre-dawn quiet. They roar home at 4.30 or 5.00 AM, bantering noisily, clip-clopping on the tiled walkways, Johns in tow, evincing no concern for the sleepers within earshot.
Some are drunk — in a foul mood after striking-out in the disco — and find no solace in five-baht Romein noodle dinners. They need a shoulder to lean on, and call friends or relatives back home, yapping on the balcony till dawn. My last neighbour had a young room-mate who called her mother nightly. Finances, she said, were bad because she could not tolerate the “weird, unconscionable sexual demands” of “foreign perverts.”
I trust her mother could relate.
My new neighbour didn’t disturb me last night — didn’t come home, afraid of ghosts, I suppose. That’s in line with the last, who rented the apartment, then didn’t sleep there a fortnight till she’d found the afore-mentioned room-mate.
I moved here last October. It was wonderfully quiet then, and verdant, just off the main road yet charmingly rural, with chickens, large shade trees and a lawn. I live upstairs in a six-unit building with nice views of the sea and offshore islands. Mosquitoes almost never make it up my way, where breezes mostly keep the atmosphere cool.
I thought myself the luckiest fellow.
Since then, however, the drug dealer downstairs picked up a bevy of noisy bargirls to keep company; the quiet old German who lived next door decided Phuket no longer his cup of schnapps and moved to Udon; the girl whose foreign boyfriend pays the rent and seems permanently off-shore has acquired her own crowd of noisy ghost-busters; and new construction on neighbouring plots shatters our day- and night-time peace.
I still like the place, but not as much.
It’s fate. Thailand’s economic, political and social templates pretty much ensure extinction of whatever pristine spot I find. That’s what happened at my last house. The first year I lived there it was notable if a car came down the road.
Thereafter ensued roughly 16 years of more or less constant construction (and that’s to say nothing of the teenagers who couldn’t listen to music save at disco decibel-levels).
But I stuck it out. Without wherewithal to wall-off a private chunk of paradise, I must perforce adapt to my environment.
This is the first I’ve had to live around bargirls. I can’t say I like it. They’re rude, vulgar, sullen, sloppy, incontinent in behaviour. “Too much, or not enough!” might be their motto.
Imagine, four of ‘em in brassieres, seated outside on the deck-rail, having risen in the early evening, gossiping in bad Thai and plucking their underarms. Alas! My lovely garden!
They’re remarkably insular. They associate with no one outside their peculiar business. Others hereabout — the normal ones, who mostly sleep at night — are friendly enough, but the bargirls? They save their smiles for their fellows.
I suppose they feel the general opprobrium. Heck, they can’t escape it, it lives inside of ’em. What bargirl hasn’t told me frankly: “This is an evil business so I’m evil, too.”
Such statements, I know, result from religious teachings that condemn alcohol, nudity and promiscuous love. That’s why bargirls are always keen to make merit, because their profession violates deeply-held moral strictures. So they line-up every morning, along with the millionaires, to give alms.
An economist might view circumstances differently. Gambling and prostitution typically produce nothing while diminishing the substance of those who spend money thereat. But Thailand, as we’ve all heard, is atypical. The women of Patong and similar places are among this country’s chief foreign currency earners — maybe the most important. Foreign money flowing into the hands of wealthy hotel operators, agri-business owners, airlines, etc., trickles but slowly from the hands of a privileged few. The earnings of bargirls, nearly all of which originate abroad, are widely dispersed, and they retain little themselves beyond a bare subsistence.
This phenomenon is well-attested, by both the girls and visitors to Isan, who remark on the new houses, fish-farms, tractors, etc., purchased by foreign boyfriends of the region’s surplus daughters, divorced women and widows. For the folks back home these girls are not evil, they’re heroines.
That can’t be admitted, of course, at least not publicly, so those who toil in the Floating World must abide a society that brands them as morally reprehensible; as the lowest among men; in a word, as Fallen Women.
So I can well understand the bad humour, especially among those with earnings too small for a manse on Easy Street.
I’ve tried telling them they’re not bad, that evil is as evil does, but they won’t believe me. Have you been naked with a man not your husband? Well, the Book says it’s evil — and that’s an end to argument.
So they’re bad, bad, bad — till they get out of the business, go home, and then, their past forgot, they can dwell in an odour of sanctity, having paid for it all with their feet in the air. In the meantime, I’ll try not to increase their misery by carping about foul habits.
Anybody know where I can pick up some earplugs?