Reunited with an old friend, mixing it up with Thai high-society.
IMM: International Man of Mystery
Along with my boy Babak, Aaron is my other longest known friend—going on 15 years now. The three of us met back in middle-school in the early '90s, and our lives have been intertwined by friendship/brotherhood since.
Aaron's path in life has taken him out of my immediate visual range for about a decade now, though. He joined the Marines at 17, quickly becoming one of their elite scout/snipers. Afterward, he lived in Thailand while picking up an undergraduate degree in business (from an internationally known university) just outside of Bangkok, while engaging in occasional (and extremely dangerous) security work in Iraq. He has since been learning Arabic in Syria, and in a few months will repatriate to the U.S.—with an outrageously full passport in hand—to begin his Masters program at Harvard.
He is, without a doubt, every bit an IMM, and friend to me.
Aaron is vacationing in Thailand for a week, taking a break from language school in a repressive, Muslim country, and giving me the opportunity to spend some quality time with the man I haven't seen since Bangkok in January, 2005.
What's sure to be a wild week started yesterday, when I arrived at the classy hotel Aaron will be hosting me at. Our shared room has all the perks my life usually does without—the good friend, most notably. The sliding door that reveals the innards of the shower is a fun novelty I haven't seen before.
Aaron's first words after we embraced, and took a look at the bearded, long-haired Craig: "Whoa, Grizzly Adams! I thought you'd be all skinny from traveling—but you got strong!"
Kindly Get Your Hands Off My Unit
Keeping the good times rolling from the day prior, Aaron told me we'd be meeting his best Thai friend, Ben (a nickname), later in the evening. The event: A celebrity wedding reception at one of Bangkok's ritziest hotels. I was excited.
En route to the party, Aaron and I were pulled out of our taxi by a pair of police officers on motorcycle (only two or three minutes from our hotel). Aaron was stunned—years in Thailand and nothing like this had happened to him before. I think we were both convinced that a man (employee?) outside our hotel had phoned in the target of interest, and mentally noted to never get taxi from in front of the hotel again.
The two men were clearly homosexuals—maybe it was a bonus of the profession that they were riding tandem on the cycle—and proceeded to empty the pockets of our jeans. Neither of us had underwear on, and the thin piece of fabric that created the pants pocket they were digging around in left little to the imagination. They were having such a good time that they kept insisting that the front pockets (that they'd already cleared) be re-checked several times over.
Aaron had no idea what I had on me, and was grateful that there wasn't anything illicit on my person (like drugs or weapons). About the only thing I could focus on was the fact neither of us had our passports on us, which is technically a punishable offence (but we're both too travel-savvy to do something like carry them around). Instead, we carried U.S. driver's licenses for ID, which seemed sufficient enough to appease the grab-happy cops.
The meter running in the cab, male hands in our pockets, we were both antsy to leave. We finally managed to break free and left them to do whatever it is they think constitutes Thai police work.
Sunday Night Fever
If held in the United States, the price tag for this wedding reception would have easily cost well over a quarter of a million dollars.
Walking past the massive "SUNDAY NIGHT FEVER" divider that corralled people through the entrance and to the ballroom, my eyes widened at the scene. Lights everywhere, open-bars serving up different brands of alcohol lined the walls, an elevated dance floor in the middle of the room, and swarms of people wearing everything from the latest fashions out of Paris to retro, 70s spoofs. The themed party was apparently a hit.
Aaron found Ben near the Johnny Walker bar. The whiskey company is the outfit that Ben works for, and this was his booth (although he was hardly working this night, assuming he was suppose to). I'm sure Ben would have been invited to the reception even if the Walker booth wasn't there, as Ben is a reliable, well connected young man that runs in these circles (as evident by the number of models and business owners he introduced me to).
The wedding was of a famous Thai model, Metinee Kingpayome, to some dorky looking dude. What on Earth this guys brings to the table I can only speculate on. This girl's photo is everywhere around Bangkok—she even owns her own line of clothing.
One of the things that really struck me as rather odd were the number of men in drag at the reception. Being gay is such an accepted aspect of Thai society that it probably came as no surprise that Mr. So-And-So came dressed to the party as "Madam Couture." It's all rather entertaining, but makes you momentarily wonder the gender of the butt you just look at.
The girls that Aaron, Ben, and I were hanging around were certainly not lady boys though. In fact, Aaron whispered in my ear at one point and said "That girl use to be the wallpaper on my computer back home in the U.S."
…How wild is that? What a life this is.
Things were going splendidly until some random in drag knocked my glass of red wine all over my shirt. It wasn't even my shirt, it was Aaron's, and he'd just bought it (for a very not-so-cheap price) the day before. Aaron saw it happen, noting another person actually jarred the lady boy, who then hit the glass occupying my hand.
The wine was all over the shirt, like a crimson-colored water balloon had popped on me, and I quickly decided that all the soda water soaked napkins in the world weren't going to make an impact. I ran off to the bathroom while Aaron talked with Ben about the social etiquette of such situations in Thailand. Not surprisingly, the lady boy didn't make any offers to have the shirt cleaned or replaced—maybe it's an I've got money, don't you? thing. Maybe it's just that he didn't feel at fault. Who knows.
All finger-pointing aside, I found myself topless in the men's restroom of this posh hotel, shirt submerged in a sink of water and soap, using my nomadic hand-washing skills to furiously attempt to clean Aaron's garment. What seemed like an eternity of gay Thai men enjoying the sight of me scrubbing in the bathroom, I declared victory over the wine.
I wrung out the shirt, dressed, and was back at the party, cocktail in hand—clear in color this time—ready to keep the evening going.
At some point Aaron grabbed me and showed me to the large, billboard-sized photo of the bride and groom at the far end of the ballroom. I'd seen it (as it's kinda hard to miss), but what I didn't discover was the entrance behind it to a treasure-trove of catered delectables in an adjoining room.
We went nuts—by the looks of us you'd think we'd found a bunker full of Saddam's gold.
With the party wrapping up, Ben gave us a ride back to our hotel—where, with a belly full of gourmet food and bloodstream full of alcohol, I promptly passed out.
Good times in Bangkok.