[Continued from "Smooth as Silk (Part 1)."]

We went to Bangkok.

The study abroad program for which I’d signed up was sponsored by Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s most prestigious university.  However, when we arrived we were told that our classes would take place not on the university’s campus, but at the YMCA hotel.

The YMCA in Asia is not the the YMCA in the US, at all.  Well, the original idea is the same, that young Christian men should be able to have clean, well-appointed places to stay, but in Asia that developed into very decent hotels while in North America if one is staying at a YMCA he’s a short step above homelessness.

The classes were to be held at the YMCA where most of the students happened to be staying.  The (man who would become the) Ex and I stayed in the cheaper, tackier, hotel next door.  I needed my student loan money, which was meant for one person, to allow both of us to stay the entire summer so we did everything budget.

The study abroad program organized several activities including social mixers and cultural events.  The first of these events was a lunch.  I sat next to a guy who introduced himself as Jesús.  We chatted through the meal and learned that we lived a block away from each other in San Francisco.  He was very charming and enthusiastic.

I introduced Jesús to the Ex.  They hit it off and agreed to work out together.  At the time the concept of a gym was a new thing in Bangkok, but the Ex was determined to use his abundant free time wisely.  Our tacky, cheap hotel had no gym equipment to speak of and the Y had a tiny, sad “gym.”  The Ex and Jesús agreed to try out the two gyms in the neighborhood together.

I went to class in the mornings, then we, along with the Ex, explored Bangkok.  I was most definitely experiencing culture shock.  Up to that point I had been to Baja, Mexico, and British Columbia, Canada, neither of which is all that different from what I was used to living my entire life in California.

Bangkok, Thailand, on the other hand, was so, so different.  Firstly, it was hot.  It was very hot.  And it was humid. Very humid.  The previous summer I had been to Chicago so I thought I understood “hot and humid.”  I had no fucking clue until we exited the plane onto the tarmac at BKK.

The heat and the humidity were each oppressive in their own way.  It was difficult to breathe in the moist, hot air.  The sun was strong so I slathered on sunscreen, which, along with sweating all the time, made for a lovely breakout that lasted several weeks until my skin adjusted to its new environment.  Even after that I had to accept that my skin would just be shiny all the time.

Because of the heat and humidity, businesses in Bangkok utilize air conditioning to lure in customers.  Some would say air conditioning is overused in Bangkok.  Certainly if one plans on being inside for any period of time one should bring some sort of wrap because it gets damn cold when the air conditioning is on full blast all the time.

The window air conditioning units dripped–everywhere.  When negotiating the sidewalks one had to avoid what we dubbed “the mysterious drip” because that water was black and gross and stinky.  One also had to avoid the dips, potholes, pipes, and other hazards.  I got into the habit of calling out, “Tort!” when I found something I had to avoid for safety’s sake.  This, sadly, was a result of law school torts class.  (Law school really fucks with one’s head.)

It hit me hard how different it was there.  People thought differently; the things I thought were important Thais didn’t necessarily.  It was most definitely a learning experience.  People moved slower, probably because it was so damn hot.  Traffic was horrible.  Walking was so odd that we often had cabbies pull over to ask us if we were going to the airport because as foreigners that’s where we must have been going.  The whole damn place smelled of mildew.

Those of us in the study abroad program, plus the Ex, went out often.  We broke off so that our group included Courtney, Gonzalo, Jesus, Mickey, Michael, the Ex, me, and some others whose names I don’t recall.  The Ex and I learned whom we could trust for restaurant advice, and who had palates that were less than adventurous.

Courtney didn’t like most of the food and complained that there weren’t enough black guys for her taste.  I suggested that perhaps if she wanted to be surrounded by black men rather than Asian men that she should have tried a study abroad program in Africa.  She also talked down to Thais in English in a way that was embarrassingly disrespectful.

Gonzalo also lived in San Francisco.  He also already had a great job lined up.  He was some sort of moot court superstar.

Jesús liked his food spicy, very spicy.  He was from Florida, but had moved to San Francisco for law school.  It became quite apparent pretty quickly that along with his significant charm, Jesús had an unhealthy sense of “adventure.”  For example, several times that summer he asked strangers, on the street or in a dance club, if they had any drugs, specifically pot, special K, ecstasy, and GHB.  He didn’t bother asking for Xanax or Rohipnol because those could be had over-the-counter at any number of pharmacies.

Mickey was gay.  Gay.  Gay.  But hated queeny gay guys.  He was at least ten years older than the rest of us, and had been practicing law for years, but was looking to get an LL.M. and change his area of practice.  Mickey had an appetite for young Thai boys.  Not boys, but very young, very sweet men, including prostitutes.  He was a vegetarian so he was a great dinner date to some more interesting restaurants.

Michael had gone to college in Hawaii.  He had been to Thailand before, during Army Ranger training.  He was always dressed very well.  Michael had a thing for high-class Thai women from good families.  When we went out dancing he was always the driving force behind “taking it to the next level,” i.e. moving on to the next huge, classy, expensive dance club.  He always arranged for us to have bottle service at a table with a good view of the hotties on the dance floor.

There were some other folks in the program, one of whom I recall was apparently from South American money.  Money that bought neither manners nor cultural sensitivity.  At one point she said, when the issue of getting receipts for goods so the VAT could be refunded at the airport when leaving the country, “How do we get receipts?  These people don’t even speak English.”  Uh, duh, they speak Thai.  A few of the ladies fell under Jesús’ spell, but they were just as crazy as he, but not nearly as interesting.

We went out drinking and dancing a lot.   Most days in class involved being a bit (to a lot) hung over.  I developed a taste for Thai whiskey “on rock.”  There were several ice cubes, but since the Thai language doesn’t have plurals, most people who served us simply did not add an s to the end of the word they knew meant ice.  I began drinking Thai whiskey because it was cheap, and I drank it over ice because it couldn’t be watered down, something that often happened when getting mixed drinks in bars.

One day the Ex, Courtney, and I were hanging out together.  It was some sort of official holiday so many businesses were closed.  The three of us were bored.  Courtney asked us if we wanted some Xanax.  Neither the Ex nor I had had it before; Courtney assured us it was fun.  Sure, what the fuck, we had nothing better to do.  So we popped some pills, and drank some whiskey.

We spent a lot of time around the Patpong area of town.  It was close to our hotels and it had a high concentration of street food, bars, and shopping.  It was fascinating to see the two Patpong roads open to traffic during the day and completely packed with merchants’ stands at night.  Each evening a sophisticated system of street carts was set up, and each morning they were taken down.

As foreigners we were targeted by the merchants, the touts for clubs (both sex and otherwise), scammers, and anyone else who saw us as stupid sources of easy money.  It was annoying at the very least.  Mickey, who had been to Thailand several times before (when he developed his taste for Thai boys), taught us to say, “No, thank you” in Thai, which helped a bit.  However, walking through the area was still extremely irritating.

Until the night we took the Xanax.  We didn’t care about anything.  Oh, you want us to buy some cheap knock-off watches?  Oooh, they’re pretty.  But I don’t want one–oh, what’s over there?  That’s shiny.  Everything was just fine.  We weren’t even bothered by the incessant shitty pop music blaring from clubs.  Normally, we avoided certain areas because the competing music grated the nerves.  Not so with Xanax.

I found myself less cranky with everything when I took Xanax.  And it was a lot of fun to mix with alcohol.  No, kids, mixing pharmaceuticals and alcohol is not a good idea.  It is irresponsible and stupid.  And fun.  But only in a place where both alcohol and and such substances are dispensed without the need for medical supervision, of course.

Other than pharmaceuticals we had fun experimenting with food as well.  There were outdoor food courts, food carts, cheap restaurants of all sorts.  The Ex and I had a favorite cart that sold Chinese noodle soup.  We liked a cart that sold tiny pancakes with robins’ eggs and little Vienna sausages to students as they got out of a Catholic school.  I really liked salad-plate sized very thin crepes that were sold with sugar in a form that can only be described as hairy–in long, thin strands.  And the curries.  Oooh, and the spring rolls.  Mmmm, meat on a stick.  Fish balls. Not to mention all the packaged food at the convenient stores–we tried a lot of chips flavored for the Thai palate including lobster and shrimp.  We ate a lot of really good food.  And some shitty food, too.

The Ex couldn’t go for very long without eating Mexican food, something about which I was unaware until we were in Thailand.  Despite the similarity in ingredients in Thai food and in Mexican food Thais cannot make decent Mexican food.  We tried, well after we should have given up, to find a restaurant that had tasty Latin-inspired food.  We even tried places near the Mexican Consulate thinking that staff there would want to eat something from home.  We didn’t realize at the time that the Consulate had its own kitchen staff who could not only bring important ingredients like cheese into their kitchen, but actually prepare it properly.  Thais just don’t know how to use cheese.

And of course there was the sex … for which I paid.

[To be continued.]

I swear.  True story.

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