Thursday, August 1, 2013

Night Out

I spend the week in solitude, and after work, I come home to my little apartment, to eat dinner alone in front of my computer screen, to read a book on my balcony, my place marked with a Burmese 50 kyat note, to scan the city at sunset, the wispy clouds that hang over the western horizon and the first glow of the parade of skyscrapers that marches from Ratchayothin to Siam Square.

So on a Friday, I wound up at a Thong Lo nightclub, located like everything in certain trendy sections of Southeast Bangkok, in something not terribly unlike a strip mall, a planning aesthetic borrowed from the sun-kissed suburbs of Los Angeles, with the same glass-box sushi bars and gelaterias, the same boutiques with pictures of the same Slavic models, the same palm trees waving in light breeze on the median strips and along the margins of the parking lot, and it's the sort of club where the DJ is some hot hi-so girl with dyed auburn hair but who isn't bad, and we have our little circular table like everyone else and like everyone else it has its ice bucket and its central bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label or Finlandia, and we stand at our table and dance and drink whole fields of distilled grain, it's far, far better than most other options, the women I'm dancing with aren't sex workers, I'll leave that to the faded nightclubs in hotel basements and grim industrial suburbs, frequented by the older expats, the lurkers, the sex addicts who have the tucked-in polo shirts and the glasses and the bad haircuts of Nebraskan engineers, the young tourists with their backpacks back at the hostel, the Arab and Indian men that you see in uncomfortable looking quartets around the Nana metro stop, the technical school kids who shoot at each other on grim concrete back alleyways.

Instead we dance with wasp-waisted girls who wrap themselves in flowing fabric, faces made ever more sylphlike by assaultive batteries of whitening cream, exotic skin treatments, and plastic surgeries, floating on the dancefloor wreathed in mentholated cigarette smoke, their car keys dusted with stepped-on Asian coke, they take a sip of their vodka tonic and chase it with a neat yellow pill of one kind or another, which is of course the habit of rich kids from a not so rich country, most of them 3rd or 4th generation Thai-Chinese whose surnames are freight trains of auspicious nouns strung together, children of a somebody in a silk tie who owns the largest aluminum extrusion factory in Southeast Asia, employing a few hundred people who left their rice fields in Nakhon Sawan or Chaiyaphum and whose labor funded the European childhood and the airport codes-- LAX, CDG-- that dangle from the suitcases of the same girls whose closed eyes are now blinking open, two generations after their snaggletoothed grandfathers sailed out of Hainan and Amoy on angular junks towards the port of Bangkok in a day when the turbid brown river that bisects the city was cluttered with a thousand boats of bamboo and wood and the city was shielded from the sea by impossibly thick mangroves.

And at the end of the night, I'm probably not going to sleep with anyone, and I step out into a side street, under a starless sky, lined with walls of dense green foliage, punctuated by hibiscus in full bloom, I flag down a taxi, and try to keep my eyes open as I try to give my driver directions to my obscure little street, my headphones in, volume turned up, drowned in distortion, but we're going along some viaduct over Phetchaburi or Rama IV, where I can see the glitter of countless red beacons flickering atop buildings and the endless giant glowing signs for Toyota and Deutsche Bank and Samsung, until we get off on my street and I tell the driver to stop outside my building, next to the smashed glass left over from the shirtless and tattooed younger guys who spent the evening drinking on the side of the street, but they're gone now, and the security guard to my building is nowhere to be found, I walk across the empty parking lot to the cold, fluorescent-lit elevator lobby and go up eight floors, a CCTV camera staring at me unblinking, and I wonder who is watching me, if anyone, and what they're thinking, if they're thinking, if they give a shit.

I step into my apartment. I drink a glass of water in the kitchen. I probably ate a bag of chips in the taxi, and brush the crumbs off my shirt. The air conditioner hums. When I brush my teeth, I look into the mirror, deep into my irises. I lie my head down on my single pillow and wait for sleep to come.