The place is Thailand. Bangkok to be specific. Probably the most hateful place I have ever visited. And I have been to Swindon, so I know what I’m talking about. I believe, if memory serves, that Darwin called Corby ‘The most dull and stupid place on the face of the earth’; and I apologize if he was talking about somewhere else. [edit: apparently it was Chelmsford]. With that in mind, I would call Bangkok the most dirty, sweaty, overcrowded, exploitative city I have ever had the great misfortune to visit.
Firstly, let us mention the tourists. They deserve first mention, if for no other reason than that there are seemingly inexhaustible supplies of them. During the day, they sweat red-faced through the streets, attempting to haggle with the natives over sums of money that insult both parties. They loudly speak English, a method for translation that is both ineffective and unnecessary: in Bangkok almost everyone speaks English. The streets fill up with their discarded food, somehow more offensive than all the other litter that crowds the streets. They pervade and pollute everything, there is no corner that they will not infest.
The natives are no better. I don’t mean this in any racist way, I merely critique them as citizens, as denizens of this place. Admittedly, it’s probably exacerbated by the tourists. They stand on street corners and yell and push their wares into the faces of passers-by. They overcharge the tourists because they can, and short-change whenever they feel that they can get away with it. One can’t really hold this against them, but they aren’t really doing much to keep up the name of their city.
Perhaps the uncredited native inhabitants of the city are the cockroaches and rats. While native north American cockroaches are fairly small, the cockroaches in Thailand are the size of slugs, with the temperament of hyperactive teenagers. They run everywhere, eating everything that they can and despoiling everything that they can’t eat. I remember particularly getting up to brush my teeth one morning and seeing a huge one perched on the washbasin. And then one night feeling one run, or scuttle, across my foot. My sandalled foot. Not a pleasant experience.
Ah yes, the nights. Bangkok nights: it sounds like a 70s movie, or possibly a porno. Both comparisons are probably justified. If you thought the streets were full of tourists during the day, it is as nothing compared to the night. They run, stagger, sway and trip through the streets, yelling in the Esperanto of the intoxicated at locals, smashing bottles and reeking of cheap beer. The beer is indeed cheap, and the tourists are mostly young, which is a recipe for rowdiness. Not to say that I don’t approve of fun, but this doesn’t seem too far removed from fun that could be had in or around any pub or bar in the world. The noise of the clubs and bars fills the city until it is impossible to sleep anywhere except in the best (and most soundproof) hotels.
The ladies come out at night as well. The Bangkok ladies. You’ve probably heard of them, and you heard right. All the stories are true. They are outstandingly attractive, in a rather overly-perfect kind of way. And they stand on the street, some offering massages to anyone who comes past. I don’t know what the police presence in Bangkok is like, but a woman (transgender or otherwise) standing on a street corner at midnight in a pink vinyl dress offering massages means only one thing in my mental lexicon. No, not colour blindness.
In short then, Bangkok has everything for the lobotomized, the nasally challenged, the deaf, the large insect collector and those who yearn for the slightly sticky embrace of transgender prostitutes. Truly a traveller’s paradise.