| 21st Century
News Analysis now
Reviews & stories
More Original Fiction
The International Writers Magazine:Thailand
The Khao San Street Meat Continuum
I'm back, my love. Here where the clothes are cheaper, the food is on wheels, no one is everyone, and then someone else the night after. The streets are packed with foreigners of every language. There are men, women… men-women. This kilometre strip houses one of the most densely populated groups of visitors in all of Thailand.
If you're in Bangkok and you're a foreigner, you're either on this street, have been on this street, or thinking about this street.
Flashbacks hover thick as fog in the dense, humid air this spring night. The neon sign of the Shamrock Irish Pub looms over everyone's heads and acts as an inebriated checkpoint half-way down the road. So many confused tourists learning the ropes. Vacationing couples, away with each other for the first time. Naive. Never left home before. Groups of 20-somethings just looking to screw. Some just looking to drink. Some looking to watch and others not sure how the hell they got there at all. I've seen relationships start, develop, manifest, change, and fall-over dead on this very pavement. There are bros, hos, no-go's and even your average joes. In any given half hour you can see the same person walk past any fixed place at least four times. Wandering, up and down, up and down, always looking for something and not knowing what they're looking for.
No one seems to distract a writer, though. Not even the street vendors, who provide just as much entertainment to the lucky traveler sitting and watching the going ons of the road, as the crowds and the sights do.
I'm sitting on the patio of the 7/11, a reassuring sign of safety for anyone straight from the airport, maybe just coming to realize that they had been completely ripped off by their taxi driver. It's the ding of the automatic door as you walk in, the smell of the crisp, artificial air that makes this store live up to its namesake: convenient. Finally, they must think. Convenience is mine again. Even here. Even in Thailand. What fun and comfort.
I take the last gulp of my particularly hoppy, Singha beer and continue to just watch.
A girl sits down on one of the rickety chairs of the table to my right. She needed a place to sit and eat her pad Thai, bought moments ago from a vendor hawking raw meat, noodle and vegetable in a modified ice cream cart. Beautiful, obviously. Everyone here is. I think it has to do with each and every person glistening from a thin film of sweat, the frizzy hair, and a tired but confident look on their faces knowing that there’s not a thing that can be done about it. She crosses her long legs and swipes her bleach-blonde hair behind her ear before taking her first bite, looking like she came straight out of southern California, but just as likely to be southern London. You don't typically see girls like her alone, and both my pen and my empty beer glass pressure me into making up a name for her. Allison, maybe. No, something more archaic, less common-street thing. Andréa... with the e accented.
She's waiting for her friends to finish their pedicures across the street, having turned hers down in favor for food and the chance to read a few passages of Sense and Sensibility... and Seamonsters. She's kooky like that. Loves Austen, but loves the dark and macabre even more. Plus, she thinks it pairs better with spicy food. She assesses steampunk much the same way. Not so much for the social movement, mind you, although she does agree with that too, but because of how the syllables escape her lips when she mouths the word to herself. steam-punk.
“What are you writing?” she asks, spotting the sun-burned male at the table to her left.
“Oh... just notes. You know, what's going on, on the famous Khao San Road.” There’s a pause as we both try to take in what was said.
“I'm... I'm trying to make myself a part of it, you know, trying not to forget. For memory's sake.”
She looks at me in between huge forkfuls of chicken and rice noodles.
“Okay, fine. I'm trying to take some notes for a novel I'm working on.”
“You know,” she points with her fork, “you just broke one of the first rules of writing.”
“Don't tell anyone that you're doing it. Writing a novel, I mean. Until it's done. And you just—”
A crowd at the Shamrock starts to cheer at a mounted plasma TV. Olé! Olé Olé Olé! When I turn back to look at her, it’s with incredulous eyes of the sort that disbelieves not only what just came out of her mouth, but what’s being shoveled into it, and what’s being left behind on the corner of her lips.
“Well I don't buy it,” I say, and tap my pen against my notebook.
“Then buy me a drink instead.”
Two Singhas later and we're at the same table. “You know,” she says, “there's a lot more to writing a book than meets the eye.”
That was an odd thing to say. “What about it?”
She sits straight up in her chair and whips her bangs to the side, as if preparing for something. Brown eyelashes flutter over her emerald eyes and distract from the thirty-Baht beaded necklace she must have bought this same night. She must have haggled for it, too. Probably got the best price of the forty other people that bought the same necklace, too. It’s obvious that she knows that her sexuality is a piggy bank.
“Well, when you started writing, you must have been told by someone else, probably someone close to you who thought you writing for a living was a pretty dumb idea, that a job in writing was going to be a very lonely one. Am I right?”
“About the loneliness part? Yeah, I mean I’ve heard that before, but I disagree.”
“See, so do I! Take you, right now.” She readjusted herself and I could see the muscles in her face tighten up like she was preparing to fight or fly. “You're sitting at this table a few feet away from a chaos parade that happens every single night of the year, with just as many personalities. How could you possibly say that you're alone? Distanced. Mm, sure. But not alone.”
“Distanced…” I echoed. I was about to say something completely unimportant when an old woman carrying a case of trinkets walked over, stroking the etched back of a wooden frog. In the hands of an expert like her, the sound produced was eerily similar to the relaxed Lilly pad groan of the swollen-necked amphibian. I shook my head at her and she walked slowly on.
“Does anyone ever buy one of those?” I asked the air. “I mean, it's nice to listen to, but I wouldn't ever want to sit around rubbing a frog's back with a stick just to hear it croak.”
“I don't know…”
“You're right about loneliness,” I say. “I'm never really alone. I mean, heh, look at us now, chatting away like old friends.”
She smiles warmly. “Even writers need a temptation. All a writer has is his focus, his words, and his practice. Without temptation, where could inspiration come from? Without me sitting here right now, blabbing away and making soft eye-contact with you every once and a while you'd just go on writing notes about how drunk and confused everyone looks on Khao San, or how the vendors have hawk-eyes for the boys in board shorts, the ladies in bikini tops and sarongs. Or maybe you'd hone in on all the ladyboys pinching unsuspecting asses and winking as the victims turns around. I don't know you very well.” She smiled again before opening her mouth wide and trying to unlodge a piece of chicken from her tooth with her pinky nail.
I tried my best writer's wit to come up with a quick retort.
“You're right. You don't know me very well. And I don't know you very well either. Tell me, since we don't know each other very well and because it's late and I've had a few drinks, you don't fall into any of those categories, do you?”
“Me? Oh no, of course not.”
“What, you don't like getting your ass pinched by a seventeen year-old cross-dresser?” I was pulling for strings.
“Not particularly, no. But that's not it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you and I both know that I'm not really here, right?”
“Look. Here you are sitting by yourself outside a brightly-lit 7/11, while the dim and restless zombie around looking for a lay, and you think that a beautiful girl is just going to waltz up and sit next to you with a container of pad Thai?”
“Well, I thought that—”
“That's exactly it.”
“You thought.” She crossed her legs slowly, and I couldn't resist the urge to look down. Between her skirt was a mental exercise in linear perspective. Her legs ran into the distance of a singular point. I saw nothing.
Looking up past her neck, into those deep green eyes, she reached for my hand, extended my index finger slowly, then dunked it in her box of food and twirled it around so that the sauce made sure to make its way under my nail, then took it out and sucked the mess up to the first two knuckles of my finger before pulling it out of her mouth with a pop and a smile.
“Strange, beautiful women don't do that in real life,” she says.
“They could in Thailand!” I offered. “They definitely could on Khao San Road.”
I brought my finger to my lips and sniffed quietly, hoping to get a whiff of strawberry lip gloss and fish sauce. Nothing.
“Maybe,” she said. “But sooner or later you're going to need to learn that loneliness is only real when it's shared with the crowd. You're a writer.”
She pointed to the street. I looked past the end of her finger, past the curb, past the mob of people walking up and down the thick night, past the buildings and the stupas and the temples, past the golden Buddhas and the elephants and the forests and the mountains and saw through the horizon. I saw all of the things of the world at once. Every star of the sky, every checked bag at the airport, every porno mag and ice cream cone. Every poem and trumpet and piece of rotting fruit, and all of them were pulled back and dancing on the tip of Andréa's outstretched finger.
And I heard the sound of a chair scraping the wooden floor as it backed up. And I swear I heard a voice. Be in the crowd. Amid the techno and the fervor, I swear I heard a faint surrounding whisper. You're a writer. Get in the crowd.
I closed my notebook to the chant of a last Olé in the distance.
Graeme Lachance August 2012
More travel stories