Pillar III: The Party
Sin City Waves and Women (A personal tale in Thailand)
You must look at the elbow," says the old Thai man at the bar. "If girl, only one bump. If boy, have two bump. You must be very careful. Many beautiful ladyboy in Thailand."
"Kop-khun krup," we say. "Thanks." Steve orders the man a cold Singha and he gives us a thumbs-up.
Steve and I are in Phuket on a surf trip. At least, that's what we told ourselves when we left Bali. We came to catch a late season monsoon swell in the notoriously fickle Andaman Sea. But after four days in Phuket, we've surfed a total of two hours. If Steve has his way, tonight will be our fourth night swallowed up by the squalid streets and endless bacchanalia of the infamous Patong Beach.
"You're on your own tonight," I say.
"Don't be such a pansy," says Steve.
The bartender brings out our lunch, two sizzling plates of panang curry and spicy papaya salad. I let the curry cool and watch a bloated tourist couple bobbing in the mellow waves out front. Steve motions to the bartender for two more beers, saying, "I guess we could take a night off."
Leaving the restaurant, the old man at the bar waves us over and hands us a pair of tickets.
"Good show tonight," he says. "Number one pingpong show in Patong!" He flashes a sinister grin.
"Free passes," says Steve. "It's on."
It's small again. Small and chaotic. Steve and I emerge from our hotel's landscaped gardens onto the sugar-white sand of Kata Beach with low expectations and lingering malaise. The monsoon wind has been howling onshore since our arrival, and today is more of the same. Out in the water, swimmers from landlocked countries dodge kamikaze beginners riding oversize rental boards. Goatboats and sponges. Inflatable dinosaurs and waterwings. No craft is too kookish. A short-period windswell blinds everyone from everyone else…until it's too late.
We paddle out. Join the circus. Soak our sizzling noggins. A greying expat teeters through the soup on his SUP. Drunk teenagers race Jet Skis in boxers and imitation boardshorts. A Russian seal floats on a longboard.
"Where are we?" says Steve.
One of the local Kata surfers is actually ripping. He weaves his way artfully through the human flotsam. We ask him if there are any other surf spots in the area. He tells us the waves are always bigger and better at the next cove south. It's a wave magnet, he says. And it's usually empty.
So why don't you surf there?
He gives us a quizzical look. "Because Kata is where everyone surfs," he says.
This is where we are.
The Flaming Kitten Klub. The No Excuses Bar. The Pussy Penitentiary. It's nearly dawn and I'm wandering past an endless stream of neon lights and dubious clubs along Patong's main drag. The street is clogged with people. The clubs glimmer with shiny stripper poles and the slender limbs of young girls in tight clothing, siren-calling with their animal dance. Children sell bracelets inscribed with cute little messages: "I Heart AIDS." "I Love Black Pussy." "Rape Me." I lost Steve hours ago.
The monks make their way slowly down the road in red robes, blessing the streets of Patong. One of them is holding his hand up to the sky. As he passes, he nods in the direction of the sea and winks at me. It takes a moment for the light bulb to go off in my head. The monsoon wind has died.
I race home by motorbike as the first light begins to creep over the coastal mountains. Flying down the beach road, I'm greeted by a beautiful sight. The waves have organized themselves into playful ramps as far as the eye can see, and yet it's too early for the kook-circus' first performance. When I burst into our hotel room to grab my board, Steve is lying in his bed. Water is running in the bathroom.
"Who's in the shower?" I ask.
"I think I f–ked up last night," says Steve. He looks scared.
"Did you check her elbow?" I ask.
Steve stares at the roof.
She comes out of the bathroom wearing a small blouse and Daisy Dukes. Nice rig and a strong jaw. As she wraps her arms around Steve's shoulders, I can see two distinct points on her dainty elbow. S/he plants a kiss on his cheek, gives me a wink, then slips out the door.
"What do you think?" Steve asks.
"I think we should go check that next cove south," I reply.—Leo Maxam