As I have mentioned in passing in my previous posts, we had spent the last part of the World Universities Debating Champs in the city of Pattaya, east of Bangkok. I would normally not dedicate an entire post to a city as small and unexamined as this, but some things really do bear a mention.
I had heard from the others who had ventured into the town (our hotel was some way distant from the center and beachfront. That Pattaya was something of a den of iniquity – a story supported by my brother’s colourful recanting of a story about a gentleman known only as Vegas Dave. This delightful man had shared a tuk tuk with my younger and generally unflappable sibling and in between frank discussions of the availability problems of good blow (cocaine) in recent days and the number of young Thai girls that he had, erm, toured in recent days, on the philosophy that he was not 46 and at that age, frankly, what else is there to do? I could, I am sure, have supplied Dave with a rather lengthy list, given but a few seconds and a napkin, but this encounter truly does sum up the revolting, lonely, depravity that is Pattaya.
Touring the beachfront some days later with my now-flapped brother and friends, it is in your face at every corner (and on most of the straight parts too) that Pattaya is some sort of closet home for every fat, sleazy over-50 who would like to buy his way into the sexual company of young, uneducated Thai girls (I cannot use the word women, as it would imply – incorrectly – that the objectives of said fat sleazy europeans were anything other than cradle snatching). While I generally take something of a whatever-floats-your-boat attitude to the existence of such places, the sheer lonely, desperate sadness of the place merits a mention, as truly is the dominant emotion that one takes from the place.
Everywhere that you look (and we looked a lot) there are European and American tourists that a vice cop anywhere in the world would get edgy about. Not simply overly large, but downright obese, crammed into tiny swim shorts, with more gold jewellery and tattoos than the most successful gangster, they plod the boardwalks and cram the benches with entourages of hired holiday women, for whom they will buy a few nice toys and take for a dinner or two, before taking them back to whatever manky accommodation they have rented and do things which would most likely be legally uncertain in a number of jurisdictions.
We had wondered, in discussions while we walked along the seaside, what the view of the Thai must be towards such people, and John related that he had spoken to one such lady earlier in his trip here and she had recounted feeling actual love towards the dick that had picked her up and had recounted, in tears, how she had been so casually bumped around on more than one occasion by men that she had genuinely fallen for. While I would certainly not make the case that all of the women running around lining their pockets with fat, tattooed eurogold are of a similar perspective, the fact that these self-serving sex tourists are causing immense psychological and emotional damage in the name of selfish fun, cannot be denied.
Just walking around the place as a white, european male made me feel dirty, as I would appear on the outside to be a part of what is a largely emotionally abhorrent scene. The sadness of the whole enterprise was highlighted even further by the presence of benches and statues from a time long gone, when the beach was the preserve of families and children, now overrun with dirt as the Thai meatwagon roll son in the summer heat. I cannot help but wonder about how these tourists reconcile what is effectively tropical whoring and using their money to buy love and affection which I suspect would be utterly denied them if it were based purely on their worth as thinking, emotional human beings with the fact that, wherever they come from, they must presumably have friends and family, possibly wives and sons with which they must interact on a caring, gentle level at some point in their lives.
I could expound at length about the emptiness of the place, but the truth is that I am more interested in the questions of emotion and dignity that these people must have to negotiate in order for a place like Pattaya to exist. To such questions, however, there is unlikely to be any quick or altogether sensical answer. The fact that places like Pattaya exist is testament to the bottom end of the range of human achievement – and my desire to understand how such an existence comes to pass is tempered with the sad realisation that such empty places do indeed exist in the world. Places where I am ashamed of how westerners must be seen and what we represent to these people, from whom we take only sex and exact pain in exchange for a few baubles.