It was a cool Monday night at the Patpong Night Market and I was itching for an experience. Maybe it was written on my face? It didn't take long for the middle-aged Thai woman with marker-thick, stenciled eyebrows to prop herself on the stool right next to mine and ask me for my name. Then she wanted to know where I was from. Then she motioned her eyes towards the long stick nestled between my legs and for a moment I panicked. "Was she about to steal my brand-new selfie-stick?" I thought.
It was an evening of twists and playful misdirections. I didn't expect to walk down metropolitan Silom Road and turn a corner into an alleyway full of colorful knick-knacks, illicit knock-offs, and titillating "night clubs". Earlier in the day, when I discovered the alley while searching for a bus stop, it was barren and everything was closed. But I did note the business signs and I had a hunch that this place would come alive at night.
Back home, or even when I'm in Mexico, when I browse through bazaars or street markets, I have a very simple rule: only buy food. And even then, the rules change depending on all sorts of health or craving-related scenarios. But c'mon. I'm in Bangkok! I'm ready to break some rules!
The first rule I broke was that I bought a selfie-stick. It was a very difficult decision to make because I knew I would become a hypocrite if I started waving one around during my trip. That same afternoon I silently admonished all of the tourists that took selfies with the statues and spires of the Grand Palace. In retrospect, it was probably jealousy and bitter envy, so I bit my tongue, I put on my haggling hat.
Am I Sure I Want To Become That Guy?
What I realized last night is that I am a horrible negotiator. I'm either too nice, too greedy, or too lost to even know what the value of something is. When I picked up the selfie-stick and started fantasizing about how awesome it will be to take pictures of myself eating Pad Thai the experienced stand-owner started hitting me hard with her incredible sales skills.
"This is a bluetooth stick, this is a cord stick, this is just a stick." she motioned to her inventory.
"How much for the bluetooth one?" I responded.
I paused, furrowed my brows, and looked indecisive. It wasn't because of the price, I just kept thinking about how much my friends would make fun of me for a couple of minutes once they found out I did this.
"580 baht." she lowered her price. Mind you, 1 U.S. dollar is 33 baht. She knocked off 2 dollars.
"What would Romeo say about this?" I thought to myself.
"Okay. You name your price!" she blurted out.
Despite being knee-deep in a mental crisis, I somehow stumbled my way into the superior negotiation position. "Eh, whatever." I told her I would be back and made a trip to the ATM. While waiting for my money at the machine, I did some price research and found out I could haggle her down some more. So I went back with some knowledge and asked the stand owner again: "How much?"
"You tell me."
"WHAT?* ONLY 40 BAHT?!"
Did I mention I sucked at haggling? But I had a selfie-stick and I was very happy to get such a practical souvenir from the Night Market.
So when the middle-aged woman at the bar kept eyeing my recent purchase, I was getting antsy.
Almost everything she did made me feel a little weird. As she talked to me, she would laugh at every exchange. As she picked up my empty bottles, she would run her hand from my belly to one side. As she danced to the computer speaker music, she would kick at the rats that scuttled around our feet.
It felt like there was some secret understanding or agreement that I unknowingly filled out when I entered that alley bar. On the other side of Bangkok, on Khaosan Road, the bars there were just like the ones back home where tourists and families and people mingled as they drank. But this was a bar next to the Patpong Night Market, which was near notable establishments such as KISS, Super Pussy, and Dream Boys. Sitting down at one of these bars meant you were looking for a certain kind of interaction that I did not want at all.
I tried to think of ways to politely dismiss myself and follow the Thai cultural custom of "saving face". When I purchased my second beer—a brand called "Tiger" that is now my go-to cheap Thai beer—I noticed a sign that read "Lady Drink 100 Baht". So I bought her a drink—she requested a cola—and then I asked her where I could get food.
"You hungry?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm hungry." I replied.
"I'm hungry too." A dramatic pause and then a smile from her. "I'm hungry for you." Laughter.
And with that, I bowed, and walked away chuckling. I must have been chuckling pretty hard because I caught the attention of a small man, reminiscent of the "slappers" from Vegas that would carry full decks of naked chicks to hand to tourists.
"Hey you, do you want a massage? Boom boom? Bath? [Indecipherable word]." he asked, while holding up a pamphlet of really pretty girls, all in a line-up.
"No, I'm hungry. I'm going to get food, thank you!"
"C'mon man, loosen up. It's free. Just come inside and I'll show you."
"I just want food, and unless you have food in there, I'm don't want to go in."
"Look, you come in, sit down and look at the girls. I'll run down the street, get you three plates and bring it back to you. Anything you want. You can eat while with the girls."
The Image That Flashed In My Mind
I couldn't believe he actually told me that. It was very accommodating of him, and I'm sure his clients are some of the happiest people in Bangkok, but I just wasn't feeling it. I said goodbye, and I watched him shake his head in dismay as I walked away, and I sat at the nearest open-late restaurant I could find.
I'm glad I decided to go out and explore some of the "crazier" stuff in Bangkok before I left for my next destination. I think it's important to keep an open mind as I travel deeper into the region and I'm very excited to see more and take pictures of it all with my new selfie-stick.
How I Ended My Night
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