local time: friday, 9/17/2010, 1:45 p.m.
after about 20 hours of travel, i arrived in bangkok on tuesday morning. feeling exhausted and a little overwhelmed, i splurged on a taxi rather than taking the bus to pattaya. the highway was surrounded by lush, green jungle, broken up occasionally by the brightly colored roof of a temple or a "travel center" - a small row of shops along the highway ususally containing a 7-eleven (they're everywhere here), a gas station, and a kfc or mcdonalds. though my taxi driver's tactics on the road caused my heart to skip the occasional beat, all in all it was a pleasant drive. i arrived at my uncle's condo in one piece and was greeted by his girlfriend, pon, with a beautiful smile, a tall glass of ice water, and the offer of a bed to lie down on. despite every intention of just "resting my eyes" for a few minutes, i slept like the dead for the next couple of hours until chris arrived home from work.
late in the afternoon, chris and i went off in search of a room for me. i secured one with a fan and my own bathroom (no hot water, but in this climate a cold shower does just fine) about one kilometer off the road where chris and pon live for 400 baht - about $12.00 - per night. the three of us then headed out to dinner, and i feasted on pad thai and singha beer. yummers!
riding back to my room on the back of a motorbike (one fear conquered, thank you very much!), i was struck by the sound of the night around me. it was a symphony of nocturnal birds, insects, and other creatures unlike anything i have heard before. as their songs lulled me to sleep, i couldn't help thinking, "wow. i really am in a far-off, exotic land."
for the most part, the few days i've spent in pattaya have been pretty mellow. pon showed me around the city (again, all on a motorbike) and helped me take care of a few errands. it's been lovely having some time to get acclimated with people that i know nearby. last night, however, we decided to liven things up a bit with a visit to walking street, the center of pattaya's sex trade. i figured that since i'm here, i had to check it out. my, what a spectacle.
we got there fairly early in the eventing and bought dinner from one of the vendors at the back end of the street. we sat at a small plastic table next to one of the many many beauty parlors that surround walking street where the working girls go to get ready for the night. i watched as these women - so beautiful to begin with - had themselves dyed, tweezed, flat ironed, teased, and painted up until they looked almost like charicatures of themselves or their ideas of what their customers wanted. at first i though it was too much; that they were much prettier going in than coming out; that they were way too overdone. then i thought about it and realized that maybe this transformation isn't just for the customers. maybe it's for the women themselves. i mean, if that were my job, wouldn't i want to hide behind a mask of hair and make-up? just a thought . . .
we finished our food and venutred out onto the street, a bustling promenade of neon and thumping music. one beer bar or club after another, each offering the prettiest girls; the sexiest shows; the best drinks. it was a little overwhelming - even during the low season with its relative un-crowdedness - and i think my mouth was slightly agape the entire time. girls and "lady boys" (many of whom looked more feminine than i do!) called out from doorways, inviting passersby to come in, say hello, and buy them a drink. men kept trying to hand me laminated flyers advertising the various sex shows available (believe me - there's something for everyone). we didn't actually go inside anywhere, but just wandering down the street it was clear to see that if the price is right, just about anything goes.
i left walking street in a bit of a daze and not quite sure what to think. on the one hand, as a modern western woman i find such blatant objectification somewhat repugnant. on the other hand, ideas about sex for sale are very different here, and i have to be careful not to look at things from an ethnocentric perspective. the workers/performers i saw out there were adults and, i'm told, there by choice. i know that there is also a much darker side involving children and human trafficking, but i didn't see it. that would have had me up in arms. but as far as what's out in the open on walking street, i'm left with the feeling that it's really not my place to judge. there's a reason why prostitution is called the oldest profession. it exists everywhere and likely always will. walking street just displays it a bit more flamboyantly than some other places. i'm sure that some who read this will disagree, but having seen it, that's how i feel.
today is my last day in pattaya. unfortunately i've had to cancel my plans to go to a meditation retreat at a temple in chiang mai, due to a serious outbreak of dengue fever in the northern part of the country. i will just have to come back to thailand to see that area some other time in the future (poor me, right?!). all is not lost regarding the spiritual side of this trip, however. i will be visiting other temples throughout my travels, and through my uncle's boss i have found one outside pattaya that offers retreats. they require advanced notice, so i'll be going there toward the end of this visit. in the meantime, this evening i'll get on the overnight bus to ko samui.
let the island hopping begin!