It's good to be back on the Soi. They say familiarity breeds contempt ... but not here.
The throaty rattle of the tuk-tuks, the sing-song chatter of Thai housemaids doing the laundry next door ... and the smells ... coconut cooking oil intermingled with stagnant water in the klong, incense burnt at shopfront shrines, wrapped up in a humid pall of exhaust fumes. A cacophony of noise, sights and smells that assault, nauseate and arouse in an instant ...
Like a drug, Bangkok overwhelms and seduces, its finely tuned madness offering insight, clarity and pleasure in a single hit. A hit that allows you to taste, but never leave fully satisfied ... and when it's over you start thinking about the next time. It's a beast that fucks with your head!
I used to hate "Hotel California" ... whining American West Coast pap I thought. Then, about a decade ago I stumbled into the Country Road bar on Soi Cowboy, seeking respite from the craziness outside and an opportunity to share a beer with Spud, not fight off the hordes of bar girls offering pleasures known and unknown along with demands for 'lady drinks'. About a dozen tables, mostly empty (the action has always been in the GoGo bars down the soi), some hosting middle-aged men steadied by clusters of beautiful petite Thai women, fully clothed...straw bales, a buffalo skull with redlight eyes, pool tables, a stage with musical instruments, no mirrored floors and poles and not a GoGo girl in sight. Then the band cranks up ... Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee"
... fuck me, where am I, what is this place? The band is made up of geriatrics belting out the same set they have done since the 60s when they were entertaining GIs on R&R from Vietnam. The Doors, Otis Redding...
... and then, just as Spud and I are drunkenly reliving the past fortnight's hedonistic madness ... "Hotel California" ...
"Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
They livin it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said we are all just prisoners here, of our own device
And in the masters chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just cant kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
relax, said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!"
Suddenly these words make sense, and looking at the other men in the bar I see it makes sense for them too. Bangkok IS Hotel California...
10 years on, and Country Road is still there, albeit slightly rearranged. Pun, the manager is long dead ... along with some of the band it seems ... new younger faces on some of the instruments ... but a couple of the geriatrics are still there, belting out the same songs
I take comfort in this. Safari Bob is arriving tonight, and I can feel the beast is twitching.