My idea of a good day on the road is generally confined to a stroll by the beach, a hike up a hill, a conversation in a restaurant, reading a book, chatting with strangers, sipping a beer/coffee in a quiet pub/café or taking in a monument/museum to broaden my historical, artistic and touristic bandwidth. But A & R, my Indian friends from Bangalore with whom I was traveling briefly in Thailand, tend to have more exciting ideas. So I had to put down my kindle, take a quick shower and leave the cozy and comfortable Airbnb cottage that we had rented for ourselves to go meet them in a pub where P, a Thai friend they had made a couple of days ago, worked.
The bar was one of the many indistinguishable ones in Soi Poonsuk, the alley that ran next to Wat Hua Hin – the town’s most important Buddhist temple, where after the sun sets and the monks go to sleep, all one could see was a long line of “masseuses” popping out of “massage parlors” yelling loudly for a chance to get their hands on your body and your money. The bar where P worked was run by a Kiwi who kept shuttling between Thailand and New Zealand leaving the business in the hands of his dutiful employees. There was a pool-table at the far end of the bar where an old American expat was pool-flirting with a Thai girl. At the bar, sipping generous pegs of JD were A, R and a dainty little Filipino girl.
Much cultural interaction happened while P was busy finishing her accounts for the day. On the big LCD TV above the bar, exceptionally weird Thai pop videos with kooky teenagers fighting over their boyfriends and girlfriends set to the monotonous rat-tat-tat-tat beat that Thai pop songs seem to love mingled with exceptionally awful Yo Yo Honey Singh fare. The Filipino girl must have realized that A was taken by R and tried flirting with me and another young Thai guy who was lurking around the bar. Being unaccustomed to such advances by pretty young girls, I felt very awkward and taken aback that this was happening to me. P looked at this scene from the corner of her eye and sensed, not without a hint of disappointment, that these moves were making me somewhat uncomfortable. She said something to the girl which made her smile coyly at me and go play with a German guy around the pool table.
Soon, after a few pegs of JD had made my ears immune to the assault of the mind-numbing music, it was time for P to close the bar and for us to hit the real party joints of Hua Hin. Before that though, all of us had to pose for a selfie/photograph for which the Filipino girl ran across the room and promptly jumped on the only vacant seat around, i.e. my lap. Later, I would ask P what she told the girl for her to coyly smile and go away and she said, “I told her that you were not like the other guys she’s used to hitting on.” I realised what she meant when a few minutes later while we were having barbequed street snacks on the way to the party spots, I saw the girl dragging a very happy looking middle-aged backpacker like a dog on a leash. It was a scene that made me wish I had been more switched on and responsive to her overtures.
We entered a club which was in the middle of a small complex in the nightlife hub of Hua Hin. The deafening farts of EDM drops welcomed us to a dark smoky hall full of people getting their funk on. Like every EDM club I’ve been to, the music was so monotonously noisy that the only thing to do was to finish one peg after the other quietly in an attempt to either make the music disappear completely or to somehow deceive yourself into thinking that what you’re subjected to isn’t so bad after all. Since conversations were impossible to have, I left my little group for a while and went on inebriated tours around the space weaving between shockingly young thai girls in lingerie, old white men getting some action, teenagers doing hyperactively mad dance moves, very obvious ladyboys trying to fool drunken men into believing they had a vagina, hookers on the prowl, people in backpacker costume playing drinking games in a corner and solitary women and men like myself roaming the space cluelessly in search of some company.
This aimless sojourn was then followed by a discussion outside over a smoke or two about how great things were in this country as opposed to the time-bound restrictions clubs had to put up with in India. P would then point out that what we were doing was illegal in Thailand as well and it was only because of the volumes of money that went into the pockets of the local police, military and government, that some of these places were allowed to stay open for longer hours. But because we had to prove to ourselves that the place we were vacationing in was many times better than the place we came from, we kept telling P how we found Thailand more habitable than India with its smooth roads, its friendly people, its party culture, its serenity, its cleanliness, its 7/11s, dignity of labour, women’s safety etc. etc.
P was shocked to learn that things were as bad in our country as our overenthusiastic diatribe was making it out to be. As far back as she could remember, she had been fascinated with India. One of her cherished dreams had always been to save up enough money to go travel around the country. And she thought that the very fact that we had been able to do what she couldn’t was proof that we were much better off than she was. Some of her friends had warned her about “Indian men” but she had always brushed those concerns aside by telling them that she believed from the bottom of her heart that most people in a country as great as India had to be good and they shouldn’t judge an entire population on the basis of a few bad eggs.
We went back inside for a few more drinks and at around 4, they stopped playing the stupid music. There was frenetic activity going on inside with people conspiratorially whispering to each other, putting more clothes on and getting ready to leave. P informed us that the police had arrived. Being preternaturally afraid of any form of law enforcement, the very mention of this fact sent a shiver down my spine. But the police were too cheerful to seem threatening and the sight of them laughing and joking with the people around allayed my fears. They had only come by to see how things were going and get a few kickbacks in return.
Their arrival had sucked all the energy and crowd out of the party but since A, R and P still had some energy left in their inextinguishable tanks, we moved to another place which promised to remain open till dawn. There were very few people here but because they had switched off the music, it was easy to interact with whoever was around. S, the lady behind the bar with whom I was having a long conversation about Thai politics was a staunch red-shirt supporter. The red shirts belonged to the UDD party (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship) and had stood behind ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by the military in 2006 on corruption charges. S and many of her friends had been part of the at-times violent protests in Bangkok in 2010 when the parliament was stormed, television stations had been disrupted and both people and police personnel had been killed in the clashes between the protesters and the police.
S acknowledged the fact that Thaksin, who was also a wealthy telecommunications magnate, had “done some wrong things” but in her opinion, he had done more good than bad and since politicians were inherently corrupt, if they were doing at least some good to the community then they deserved to be given a break. According to her, the unpredictability of the current political atmosphere with an ailing king and a military rule was far more precarious than a corrupt businessman running the country. She didn’t regret participating in the protests of 2010 but felt sad that she had lost so many of her friends who had sided with the party opposing Thaksin’s rule and with whom her group was involved in often violent clashes. Her political involvement had torn her life apart.
The sun was up in the sky as we stumbled out of the pub at 7 in the morning. A and R took a taxi back to the cottage. I chose to walk. The sweepers were clearing the footpaths, the early risers were doing their jogging and running gigs, the morning prayers were being hummed in the monasteries, the breakfast places were opening up their shops while I was walking towards my bed in an inebriated daze to get some sleep.