October 14, 2007

Bangkok Pootie Show
Bangkok, Thailand

What better way to celebrate the start of Tatiana's third trimester, than with a traditional Thai ping pong show?

It's been years since I've seen one of Thailand's (in)famous Ping pong shows—the staple of the Thai sex tourism industry. Found in various red-light districts throughout the country—chiefly Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Patong Beach in Phuket—no tourist experience in Thailand is complete without seeing a show. To ignore the ping pong show would be to ignore a major cultural oddity.

I opted to take Tatiana to the Patpong district of Bangkok. Once a major destination for the flesh-trade industry, the seedy Patpong of yesteryear is now but a memory.

Today, the trio of streets that make up the heart of the area are filled with tourists of all ages, genders, and ethnicity's. The streets are lined with regular bars; go-go bars (a dozen girls or more in bikinis dancing on table tops); fetish shows; small discos; and, of course, ping pong shows. A night market compliments the scene well, and is a common alternative for backpackers seeking to pick up souvenirs off Khaosan Road.

Just as popular as seems to be what I've dubbed "gay-boy alley", where a nearby street illuminated in neon specializes in male homosexual delights. I dared not venture down this street, even with Tatiana in tow—I doubt even that would stopped unwanted grabs.

Pootie show menu

Walking anywhere in the proximity of the Patpong's you are propositioned by touts trying to get you into their clubs—many using booklets/trick line-ups with illustrations to help the English-impaired or unimaginative. Some are go-go, some are ping pong, while others are a mystery to be revealed when you walk through the closed doors.

The shows generally take place in a strip club with scantily clad girls dancing during the breaks between shows. Rather than a cover charge, the drinks are 3–4 times the usual amount, and a purchase is required.

I was lucky enough to stumble across the same place I visited with friends back in January, 2005, though the name of the outfit now eludes me. I do know you have to walk up a flight of stairs just inside the door-less entryway—this place is a safe option in a sea of scams and hidden fees. I've heard that some establishments charge an arbitrary "exit fee" if enough wasn't spent. This isn't the case with the place I've just suggested.

The show takes about an hour to cycle, and consists of women using their pelvic muscles to either hold, eject, or blow objects from their vaginal cavity. Such objects include: Really long ribbons; whistles; cigarettes (smoking); candles; darts (balloon popping); bananas; needles/razors; bottles; markers; chopsticks; and, of course, ping pong balls.

Now mind you, the girls are nothing short of ugly (better Thai bodies do more profitable things with themselves than write messages with a marker between their legs). Yet, that doesn't seem to stop intoxicated men from getting a "special handshake" next to their buddies, like the Americans sitting behind Tatiana and I.

At one point a mid-sized Korean tour group entered, and the expression on the faces of the aging women was of absolute disgust. This isn't to say that couples and girls don't come to these shows—because they do, and have a very good time—but Tatiana and I were amazed with how long they stuck around, regardless of how revolted they appeared (perhaps unable to leave the side of their spouses). Meanwhile, Tatiana and I couldn't help but applaud the talent on stage.

One of the most unusual aspects of my experience this time around was the fact I had a woman with me—and not just any woman, but one that was six-months pregnant. It wasn't long before most every girl in the club came over to rub her belly, pat me on the groin and give me a thumbs-up, or sit and chat (sometimes telling us how many children they had themselves). Later this month I'm going to write my thoughts on traveling through SE Asia with Tatiana, and some of the cultural quirks and attitudes experienced at the sight of a pregnant foreigner.

A taxi from Khaosan Road to Patpong costs about 150 baht, round trip. And a pair of beers (both for me) cost 200 baht. For US$11, the pootie show was an experience that neither Tatiana or I will ever forget. Money well spent.

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