It's a golden late-Saturday afternoon in Chiang Mai, the light of the setting sun catching the gold tips of the chedis and warming the faces of people heading west on foot, on motorcycles, in the back of tuk-tuks. Had another great market morning, first to meet a friend for breakfast at Talat Somphet, by the moat (we had sticky rice; and pork pounded with lemongrass then wrapped in banana leaf and grilled; som tam (green papaya salad, hot and succulent and crispy); pork and beef "jerky", which is first rubbed with spices, then air-dried, then quickly deep-fried; some tiny fried fishes... all with extra raw veggies, all yum!), and then to Warorot Market to shop for this and that to take back to Toronto.
Yes, it's time to leave (Monday the 15th), or at least that's what my e-ticket tells me. There's the 7 am flight to Bangkok, then the flight to HongKong, and finally the long extraordinary arc of the Air Canada direct flight from Hong Kong to Toronto. I expect the plane will be packed, since the holidays are coming. And all of us in that plane will be flying up over Siberia and then the north pole, and back down over icy wastes to the relative warmth of southern Ontario. Still, "relative" is the operative word. A guy today asked me if any rice grows in Canada and I had to admit to its impossibility(!!!) (wild rice doesn't count).
I went out the other evening to several bars, with a friend. The bar scene here is full of young women (almost all from poor rural homes, usually in Northeast Thailand - Issaan) in search of a living. And "a living" usually means sex with a foreign guy, often an older and not-that-great-a-guy foreign guy. The goal is to get him committed to a long-term relationship. There's apparently a how-to list for the women: hold his hand and be physically close right away, etc etc. (When I get hold of a copy of the list, if ever, I will pass it on.) Looking around, I was seeing guys feeling great because they were being attended to solicitously, their jokes laughed at, etc. And for the women? Well it must be long and tedious, this life, and dangerous too of course. They mask their feelings a lot, their sadness, their neediness, playing at making everything feel fun. And the guys seem to lap it up.
One of the bars I was at is in a katooey area, (katooey are transvestites; one of the charms of Thailand is the open acceptance of katooey as part of life). Many katooey cross-dress, very fashionably and elegantly, and that's as far as they go, but some are now having surgery to make breasts for themselves, perfect breasts. There were some on show the other night, lifeless trophies is how they looked to me (framed on top by a beautiful heavily made-up face and below by a narrow waist and hips and long legs in high high heels). But of course I'm not the target audience. The surgery costs a lot, and the decision to have it must surely push them to engage fully in the sex business: the struggle to get a guy with money, preferably a foreigner, and then keep him, with all the attendant pressures and stresses.
Economic inequality fosters a lot of this open search for a sugar daddy. It's brutal. And it goes on, so it seems to me important to just keep reminding myself of this, as of other uncomfortable facts of life out in the world. Hope you agree.
And on a selfish note, I hope to get out one more time, tonight, to hear blues and jazz at the Brasserie, just across the river. (The bar is great because it is NOT a place of sexual commerce, at least not in a way I have noticed, but a place for engaging with music and having that kind of fun.) Time enough tomorrow for packing presents and camera and computer, giving the plants a last watering (Fern will mind them while we're gone), and friends a last greeting...
And then home to my lovely guys for awhile.