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ENGLISH

DANISH AUTHOR HENRIK LIST (BIOGRAPHY)

 

( … ) Pattaya was dirty, sleazy and vulgar, no doubt, but also totally honest and straight-forward about it: A city with its own perverted beauty, its own kind of magic ... if you were able to see it as it really was.”

A writer with the ability to do exactly that, is 49-year-old Danish, partly Thailand-based Henrik List. In his second novel, ”The Sun Never Shines In a Go-Go Bar” (published in Denmark in spring 2014), this nationally well-known literary enfant terrible thus manages to portray the dubious but tempting magic of Pattaya - with both shocking realism, pitch-dark humour, physical anxiety and glimpses of paradoxical poetry, as seen through the eyes of his two male journalist narrators at large in Babylon-by-the-Sea.

These days splitting his time between Copenhagen and Pattaya, Henrik List has lived in London and Los Angeles, and travelled extensively in Asia since the late 1980’s, visiting Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Cambodia. Pattaya is a second hometown he loves for it’s good and it’s bad sides. The self-governing municipality on Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard is a socio-cultural melting pot to boot, where especially men from the rest of the world – and Thailand! - come to party, crash, escape, survive, reinvent themselves, while indulging in the feverish ‘live and let live’ atmosphere as well as the pleasures of the ubiquituous red light districts.

Usually, when North American or European writers/journalists report from ’sinful’ Pattaya in international mainstream litterature or media, they never indulge in anything like that and barely scratch the surface – reproducing instead Feminist myths and over-blown NGO rumours about rampant ’sex tourism’, trafficking of women and wide-spread underage prostitutition. Problems of that nature do exist in such a boomtown, torn by social contrasts and tensions, but certainly not to the extent presumed in many a worried dispatch.

As opposed to that, Henrik List definitely has his local connections sorted out. He knows his way around town - from after-hours Thai karaoke joints, ladyboy or tomboy clubs, sordid blow-job bars and side-street brothels to swanky, chrome-poled go-go palaces, five star-hotel cocktail-lounges and hip new nightclubs featuring world class dj’s. In that sense, ”The Sun Never Shines In a Go-Go Bar” is a remarkably true, nuanced, vibrant and well-written portrait of Pattaya (and a bluffer’s guide to the goodtime girls and fleshpots of it’s decadent nightlife as well, for that matter!)

***

Henrik List (born 1965) has been keeping it real, living his stories and writing the books about it for more than three decades; staying close to a kind of homegrown ’dirty realism’ laced with punk attitude, gonzo journalism and Beat Generation antics.

Mr. List is the acknowledged, but in his native country of Denmark also quite controversial cult writer of now 17 fiction and non-fiction books, all published my major Danish publishing houses. Between 1991 and 2004, he was a high-profile staff cultural critic/collumnist for large daily newspaper Berlingske.

At the same time, List was one of the first serious rave and club promoters in Denmark, co-founding the electronica scene at one of Europe’s largest outdoor rock festivals, The Roskilde Festival, in 1990, as well as hiring big-name dj’s like Little Louie Vega, party-crews like Jackie 60 and bands like Underground Resistance to come to the country for the first time around. For a few years in the late ’90s, he and some friends ran a bar in the old red light district Vesterbro, behind the main railway station in Copenhagen.

Henrik List has never been afraid to put his own ass on the line is his writing either, whether earlier on, as a journalist, or now as a serious literary writer, ie. in infamous gonzo travelogues like ”Bangkok Ladyboys” (2006), where he researched the twilight zone of Thailand down into the most graphic, intimate details. Fascinated by the outsiders and sub-cultures of globalized 21st. Century society, he himself is a strong outsider in the more polite literary circles of Denmark, always going his own ways. Not least down the mean streets and into the wild side in countless cities all over the planet, for instance as seen in the American-themed short story collection ”Pussyland”.

Generally inspired by American writers like Henry Miller, John Fante, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Terry Southern, Bret Easton Ellis, Dennis Cooper and James Ellroy, Henrik List excel at an intense, muscular prose style he has made his own in a Scandinavian literary context; at the same time both hot and cool, raw and sophisticated, obscene and intelligent, realistic and hallucinogenic. And with the mutually contrasted characters of Rune and Bob, Mr. List, in his new novel, takes a deep plunge into the depths of fear, doubt, guilt and self-loathing in the modern, Western male psyche too.

Apart from a string of journalistic stories in magazines and newspapers in UK, Norway, Sweden and Germany in the 90s and early 00s, Henrik List has never been published abroad. With ”The Sun Never Shines In a Go-Go Bar”, he shows that he is more than ready for an international readership. Especially among the many Western men who regularly travels or live as expats in Thailand and the rest of South-East Asia, and will know to appreciate the skills and insights of this writer – probably much more so than most ’normal’ book readers in his own country?

 

(Check the web-version of this new interview with Henrik List in ScandAsia Magazine, published in all of South-East Asia - plus Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and China: http://scandasia.com/danish-middleclass-values-put-to-the-test-in-a-tropical-melting-pot/)

***

PS: The original Danish first version of the novel, ”Solen skinner aldrig på en go-go-bar”, was published in Spring 2014 by major Danish and Nordic publishing house Lindhardt & Ringhof, a part of Egmont Media Group. (The author, Henrik List, holds all foreign print and digital rights.) http://www.lindhardtogringhof.dk/titler.aspx?c=Item&category=4969&item=32275

 

 

NEW HENRIK LIST-NOVEL, “THE SUN NEVER SHINES IN A GO-GO-BAR”, TAKES PLACE IN THAILANDS ’SIN CITY’: PATTAYA.


READ EXCERPTS IN ENGLISH HERE:

Henrik List
The Sun Never Shines In a Go-Go Bar
A Novel
327 pages
Sample Translation

Published by Lindhardt & Ringhof, Copenhagen 2014

International rights:
Henrik List
henrikvonlist@gmail.com
www.henriklist.dk

Translation by

Tam McTurk and Henrik List

 

 

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK (FROM THE FIRST PART, ”FARANG”, NARRATED BY 30-SOMETHING, AMBITIOUS BUT RATHER INEXPERIENCED REPORTER RUNE MATHIAS LÜTKEN, FLYING IN TO PATTAYA FROM COPENHAGEN TO COVER THE WILLIAM FLEMMING SCANDAL FOR A BROADSHEET MORNING PAPER):

The scenery whizzed by in a haze. Luckily, the driver had turned down the radio since the rest stop. Those “Gangnam Style” covers could turn your brain to mush after a while ... Through dark sunglasses, reality outside the cab was distant and beautiful, like an arty, abstract music video in a minimalist hotel lounge, fading from his field of vision in pleasant sepia hues of brown and copper green.

Now and then Rune nodded off, only to wake with a start shortly afterwards whenever the taxi, which seemed to have little or no suspension, hit another pothole at 100 miles an hour, catapulting the shock up into his brain.

His neck was stiff from the 11-hour flight, and it didn’t help having to sit with his head bowed in the back seat. Mainly ’cos he didn’t want to bang his head off the roof again, but also – truth be told – because he was quite ashamed of what had gone down before.

By now, his clothes were cold and clammy with the blasts from the air-con vents. His curly hair stuck to his forehead; his beard was itchy; he was incredibly thirsty and could smell himself …

No, the foul B.O. wasn’t emanating from some package-tour loser on the plane. The stench of stale sweat came from his own armpits, and he hadn’t reeked like that since he was a teenage hormone-bomb. Maybe that was why the driver kept inhaling from what looked like some kind of lip balm, which he’d stick up one nostril after the other as if snorting coke from that tiny plastic tube?

The burning, stinging sensation in his rectum verged on the intolerable, even though he had done everything he could think of to relax and ignore it; fighting the urge to reach back, stick his hand down his trousers and scratch himself like a monkey, while forbidding himself even so much as to think about what had happened to the Henrik Vibskov scarf back in that smelly cubicle.

Restlessly, he kept shifting about, trying to find a better position: on one buttock or the other, leaning forward, crossing his legs… but nothing soothed the itching or made any real difference. A couple of times, the driver stopped to pay tolls at turnpike borders to unknown territories, where Rune feared he would feel even more lost and alienated, even further away from … home?

Realizing there was nothing he could do about the situation, he remained tensely passive behind his dark Tom Fords (with no desire for further eye contact in the rear-view mirror), enveloped in his own B.O. and apathetically listening to the driver chat and joke with the uniformed guys up in the glass boxes. They were probably all conspiring to con him out of as much money as possible.

Plumes of smoke puffed from tall chimneys dotting the horizon. Antennae, palm trees and shiny new apartment blocks jutted up here and there, and passenger jets circled low over the water, waiting for clearance to land from the control tower at Suvarnabhumi.

Rune had lost almost any sense of place or direction. It didn’t help that they were driving on the wrong side of the road, the way they did in London ... To the right, which had to be the west, the coastline was marred by electricity pylons, container cranes and rows of concrete blocks – factories, oil refineries, power plants? To the left, the east, lushly green, jungle-clad ridges rose, now and then with a temple or pagoda tip pointing up amid the tangled luxuriance.

The traffic on the freeway puzzled him, with all its overloaded trucks and vans, roaring away with wildly flapping covers and huge, wobbling loads. Sometimes with a few young men sitting cross-legged on the top, pretending to be all fine and dandy.

Occasionally, the taxi driver also grew impatient and changed lanes, driving faster and faster, letting his pale, uneasy passenger swing helplessly from the hand-strap, as there was no seatbelt in the back. They raced along a dirt road down below the four-lane blacktop, where skinny boys aged maybe only eight, nine or ten sped about on mopeds or scooters, not wearing helmets, and often with a couple of other kids or bags and boxes piled up behind them to make matters worse.

Shaking his head in mild astonishment, Rune watched as one – 12 at most, shirtless, dark-skinned, with a cigarette dangling from his lips – drove off on a moped, one thin arm around the baby on his lap, while a slightly older girl in school uniform and a grown woman (the mother?) clung to him and each other on the back.

How on Earth could children be allowed to smoke and ride mopeds, exposing themselves and their loved ones to such risks? Did these people have no fear of crashing, getting hurt or worse?

The taxi sped past villages with bamboo huts on rickety stilts, around which other half-naked children played with feral-looking dogs; past groups of road workers wearing balaclavas or straw hats in the glaring heat, sloshing indifferently through hot asphalt in their sandals; past an almost continuous backdrop of mega-billboards plastered with Thai characters and smiling models advertising pick-up trucks. Nine times out of ten, for some reason – pick-up trucks.

Closer to Pattaya, the billboards gradually changed: the young Asian models with their fake, gleaming Hollywood smiles being replaced by luxury developments in pastel-colored virtual idyll, without a single smoking schoolboy or infant in mortal danger to spoil the indulgence of the penthouse infinity pools.

The language changed as well, from predominantly Thai to English, German and Russian, and even in his numb state, Rune was convinced he spotted Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters too.

Apparently, if all these projects were under construction IRL, most of the region was being cut and dug up, paved over and cast in concrete. In the same area and at the same time, there were to be new gated residential neighborhoods of villas, bungalows, townhouses, hotel apartments and studio condos, offering all kinds of health, sports and wellness amenities, marketed with special offers (“ONLY 1 MILLION BAHT!”) and keywords like “freedom” and “security”, “paradise” and “sea view”…

Rune had reached no conclusion about how all those big, gas-guzzling pick-up trucks could be sold in such quantities to small, poor Thais (how could they afford that kind of imported vehicle?), and he was equally confused about who the giant property ads were trying to seduce.

According to the brief web research he had managed to squeeze in before take-off, the Western sex tourists typically came here for a few weeks’ holiday a year – to drink and whore in the center of town, basically – and it was hard to imagine any of those beer-bellied clones having the means to invest in property in such a distant country anyway. It was even harder for him to fathom why anyone with money from Russia, Japan, Korea or China would choose to buy a house or a condo near this infamous resort city, forcing themselves to holiday next to loud, obnoxious, drunken white men ogling their bikini-clad teenage daughters. It just didn’t add up.

At one point, the otherwise silent driver broke loose from his speeding trance to point eagerly through the windshield, babbling something in Thai. He repeated it with a grimace as he realized that the stupid tourist had no clue what he was trying to draw attention to. The third time around, it dawned on Rune: the man was saying “Pattaya”, but pronounced it in a different tone and with more elongated vowels (“Pah-tae-jah”).

He nodded, feigning enthusiasm, and carefully leaned forward between the seats, wincing with rectal discomfort. At the end of the driver’s nicotine-stained fingernail, a cluster of chalky-white or steely, glimmering skyscrapers soared up through a veil of smog, at least 40–50 storeys high – approximately where Pattaya Bay cut into the mainland south of the Naklua neighborhood, if he remembered the Google Map correctly. It wasn’t the kind of architecture he had associated with this destination up until now.

Between two of the tallest skyscraper silhouettes, he could barely make out the sea and an island a few miles off the coast – but it couldn’t possibly be the one William Flemming inhabited. Surely Flemming’s Robinson Crusoe island had to be further north, back before the airport? Once more, he tried in vain to visualize the map – he didn’t have the energy to check it on his iPhone, which is what he would have done instinctively under normal circumstances. So far, nothing about Thailand seemed normal.

The fragmented landscape morphed into something more urban as they left the freeway, heading down a smaller but busier highway. Slums and decay kept intruding next to brand-new, modern-style buildings, and he wondered why the developers or owners, let alone the residents’ associations, put up with the mess: canals glistening with a film of oil and sewage; piles of kitchen waste rotting in empty lots behind rusty barbed wire; multi-storey buildings with crumbling Greco-Roman columns and mold fungus breaking out through layers of peeling primary colors like a bad skin condition.

Seen in glimpses from the car, the whole place struck him as some mutation of a third-world favela, a Mediterranean holiday ghetto and an Eastern European concrete suburb before the Wall came down, populated by an ethnically mixed throng of Thais and white foreigners. Especially younger Thai women together with middle-aged or older white men, of course, but looking closer, he also noticed lots of serious-looking Sikhs in turbans, big-bottomed African women in colorful muftis, not to mention a surprising number of Muslim men in robes, with long Taliban beards.

The cab driver took a sharp, unannounced right, tires screeching, throwing Rune against one of the side doors, and continued down a boulevard flanked by new hotels and condo buildings, hi-tech gyms and supermarkets much like those in any other city. Down the side streets, most of the commercial signage included the English word “MASSAGE”", though, hinting at a darker side beneath the surface … After a prolonged standstill in a rush-hour queue, they finally made it onto a roundabout, circled a dolphin statue, then swung onto Beach Road.

The sea stretched out, pale blue and grey, beyond a tiled promenade, rows of parasols and lounge chairs, a strip of weathered, tattered palm trees and a miserable beach, not much more than four or five yards wide, from which most of the sand had been sucked away into the Gulf by the waves.

The municipal authorities had tried to tackle the erosion by stacking gravel, cement and sandbags on the water’s edge. It made the beach look like a makeshift military installation, a defensive bulwark against an enemy poised to invade the country from amphibious vehicles at any moment.

Cars, motorbikes, mopeds and scooters, a few tuk-tuks, double-decker buses and a special kind of covered truck with two rows of benches in the back, where passengers sat crammed thigh to thigh, moved at a snail’s pace down the one-way beach boulevard, through clouds of choking, leaden exhaust fumes.

The ticking meter in the taxi had topped 2,000 baht, thanks to the involuntary break at the rest stop, but the newspaper was paying. He tried hard not to worry about the unforeseen travel expense and slumped drowsily back in the seat, watching the life under the palm trees along the waterfront.

That was what really woke him up, making him forget his sore behind and take off his protective sunglasses for the first time since exiting the airport. Cos just out there, right on the promenade, the essence of all the rapidly read feature articles, statistics and demographics of his research materialized in flesh and bone. In broad daylight, only a few feet from the slow-motion traffic, dozens of old, white, more or less unkempt men in wife-beaters and baggy shorts, clutching big, 25 fl. oz beer bottles, loitered around small groups of visibly younger, flirtatious Thai women in near-identical small tops, short skirts or denim hot pants, and high heels not made for a beach picnic.

Devoid of any of the grace of the Siam Airways hostesses, the tough-looking women out there nonetheless attracted these men like moths to a flame. Strangely enough, neither the men nor the women seemed to be the least bit ashamed or shy about approaching each other. Now and then, one of the old men simply stopped in front of a woman, making instant contact, jiving and laughing with her, and then, a minute or two later, a newly formed couple would head up into town, probably bound for some sleazy nearby hotel room.

Rune had never seen anything like it; never seen such blatant prostitution out in the open. The red-light districts of Copenhagen or Amsterdam had nothing on this, and he’d observed no signs of such activity on the streets of New York when he was there.

On the other side of the window lay his first, yet-to-be-written reportage as a foreign correspondent, with a cast and setting straight out of a feminist op-ed piece in the morning broadsheet: the predatory male sex tourists from the privileged Western world vs. the degraded women of the poverty-stricken Third, forced to prostitute themselves in order to survive. Exploiters and exploited alike, the puppets of globalized sexual capitalism ... Mikala had been right about that whole scenario after all – but for some reason or other, he was glad she wasn’t there to gloat about it.

Infused with fresh energy, he fumbled around in the pockets of his jacket for pen and notebook, feeling like a real writer from back before everything went digital. The old white men with their silver-haired comb-overs, flabby beer-bellies, lobster complexions and disgustingly hairy, weakening legs, orbiting around the women displaying themselves, could easily be compared to greedy farmers with bulging wallets at a cattle auction.

Jotting down these first notes, he laughed quietly, satisfied with the metaphors. Yes, this was literally every sex tourists’ low-budget paradise. If it was William Flemming’s hunting ground too, the famous artist had hit rock-bottom, personally and career-wise. Jesus Christ!

“A discount Riviera for Western losers,” he scribbled away, even though the notebook was so damp and dented after many hours in the flax jacket that it was hard to write anything legibly on its wrinkled pages: “The dark side of sexual globalisation”; “A Mandalay of sleaze for lonely white men”; ”Where the men no Western women want come to score at last”; “The city where even geriatrics got game – living as players on humble pensions” ...

Evening was fast approaching under a darkening sky, and the driver suddenly turned up a narrow alley or side street without any pavement, at the same time as neon signs started to light up in all directions.

A 20-feet tall cartoon babe with cat’s ears, latex suit, pointy breasts and long, slim, boot-clad legs, swung her whip in bluish neon sparks over a stream of men milling around the street – mainly younger guys, just a few years older than himself, more tanned and fashion-conscious than the horny codgers on the beachwalk. What were they doing here, of all places?

The crowd of men dawdled, carefree, in the middle of the road in their casual white summer wear, sipping Tiger beer or Bacardi Breezers, their party mood making them oblivious to the lashes from Catwoman’s whip as well as the line of honking cars trying to get through. Rune reassured himself that this was only a shortcut to somewhere better, certainly not the street where he was due to stay and work for the next few days –  or weeks.

For the first time, he noticed a washed-out color portrait of the smiling king – revered by all Thais, as far as he had read – cut out of a magazine, taped onto the sunshade above the driver’s seat; alternately bathed in electric blue or sultry red neon light glowing through the windows. Then they stopped in front of a small, four- or five-storey hotel that looked suspiciously different from the one he had booked on the internet the day before, solely on the recommendation of the freelance jazz/crime/beer critic and travel writer from the paper: the arts and culture section’s own self-proclaimed Thailand expert.

He immediately broke out in a cold sweat, and the itching and stinging flared up beneath him. It was definitely the wrong address, a misunderstanding between him and the taxi driver down to the language barrier, but the centrifuge in his gut slowly and nauseatingly started to churn again …

The Thai man clicked the meter off, took another hit from the small nasal tube and rubbed his palms together with undisguised glee. His sly, rakish grin, when he turned around from the front seat, killed off Rune’s last hope that there were two hotels in Pattaya called Siam Exotic Palace.

[…]

 

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK (FROM THE SECOND PART, “DUKKHA”, NARRATED BY VETERAN TABLOID FREELANCER AND FAILED NOVELIST ROBERT “BOB” LARSEN – AN OLDER, SLIGHTLY DOWN-AT-HEEL EXPAT LIVING IN SELF-PROCLAIMED “EXILE” FROM HIS MORE AND MORE POLITICALLY CORRECT NATIVE DENMARK):


Tuesday, 14:48 (THA): Luckie-Suckie Café – Second Road/Soi 13, Pattaya


The topless Thai lady’s head kept bobbing up and down. Slobbers of saliva and spit dangled in fine, long threads down over her saggy breasts, stretch marks glistening like silver in the glow of the video screen …

Who knew if, anywhere else in the world, there was a place like this, where a poor white guy – in the 21st century, for fuck’s sake! – could sit in a bar, smoking, drinking beer, watching Casablanca and getting his cock sucked at the same time? All in peace and quiet, on a random, lazy Tuesday afternoon, without having to be a gangster, rock star or IT billionaire, that is?

If there really was another such place, he certainly didn’t know about it. Which for some reason made him feel both as sentimentally proud of his city as only a newcomer can be, and as pleasantly surprised as only a pessimist can be – every so often.

He was well aware that those recurring internal stocktakings, weighing the pros and cons of Pattaya up against those of other cities where he’d been – especially the one he had left, obviously – were like spells against any nagging doubt, against the invisible but mischievous little goblin who went along for the ride wherever and whenever people emigrated. And yet, this was exactly the kind of curious everyday experience he had come to love about life in Beach Babylon.

The blow-job bar, tucked away in a dingy side street between Second Road and Beach Road, served as a repertory cinema in the sluggish afternoon hours. The old Thai-Chinese owner, Mr. Charlie, was a proper film buff with a propensity for classic golden-era Hollywood movies of the ’40s and ’50s, and he usually only swapped those for skin flicks on the DVD player later on, when the less discerning punters turned up.

Otherwise, Mr. Charlie was a graduate of the old hard-knock school. He’d been on the entertainment frontline since Patpong in Bangkok in the ’60s, when the first American GIs and officers started arriving in droves, on much-needed R&R from the Vietnam War via their air and naval bases in Thailand … longing for cold beer, hot chicks, long showers, soft, clean beds and a couple of days of happy, air-conditioned oblivion.

After the Yanks fled Saigon, Charlie quickly sold his place and rebooted the same basic concept in the – at least then – fresher, saltier air of seaside Pattaya, whose potential he claimed to have spotted right from the get-go. In the original Bangkok branch of Luckie-Suckie, Charlie had screened Danish or Swedish 8-mm and 16-mm fuck films, bought on the black market, but a paradigm shift occurred when he (according to myth, thanks to a US supply officer who owed him for a whole week with the best-looking girl in the bar!) had gotten his hands on three boxes of real Hollywood studio movies. In one fell swoop, Mr. Charlie’s cinematheque stood unparalleled. Very likely in the whole kingdom at the time.

The neon sign was turned off outside Rick’s Café Américain, just as a searchlight slid across the façade … Bogart left alone in the dark inside, engulfed in cigarette smoke and marinated in bourbon, with empty, empty eyes on his beautifully ravaged face: a man who no longer hoped for miracles or happy endings (except after a deep-tissue oil massage). A man, no doubt, who would down his drink, take a drag on his cigarette and laughingly blow back the smoke right into the face of anyone talking about “the meaning of life”.

He’d like to see himself like that: like one of those men who had reached the other side of his own youthful hopes and dreams; one of the walking wounded, trailing a string of personal failures behind him, who didn’t expect a gold watch as reward for faithful service from anyone. One of those, on the contrary, who every morning stared defeat in the eyes in the foggy bathroom mirror, but took it like a man and made the best of the day anyway … Now, that was a very seductive illusion, but rarely one that lingered long after the movie ended, the music stopped and reality was turned back on.

The Thai woman was deep-throating and gagging tirelessly now down there, south of Casablanca, and he felt rock-hard. He closed his eyes to focus entirely on the interaction between the two warm, breathing human bodies, interconnected so vulnerably via her mouth. It was easy enough to tune out Bogart, but that image of the fucking Undertaker (all wavy hair, steel-rimmed specs, unctuous smile and obligatory tan gabardine suit) faded back up behind his eyelids like a pop-up on a PC screen, promising you a larger penis, a world of adoring females and a first-class trip around the world if you click “OK” – only to rip open a Pandora’s Box of contagious viruses and software cancer …

“Have you thought about your next of kin?” it had said on the front of the brochure, featuring a brownish black-and-white photo of the Undertaker with the modestly melancholy eyes. There had been nothing else in the mailbox in the lobby when he went out this morning – and pretty much never was. Except for stray, dried-up gecko tails, fast-food flyers and bills for water, electricity, cable TV, wi-fi.

“It’s about time to give you and your closest relatives true peace of mind. Write a will before it’s too late. Don't leave your assets to the Thai government. Leave them to your nearest and dearest instead.”

It was already too late now, forget about it, and he really didn’t need to think about how little he had to leave behind, how few people he had to leave something to. It was the Undertaker’s damned fault. The Undertaker fucked with the flow. The Undertaker fed the Western disease of the mind … Restlessly shifting around on the tall bar stool, tilting backward on the seat and shuffling his feet in the air like a small boy in a grown-up’s chair, he felt cold sweat trickling down his back – drop by drop, all the way down between his cheeks.

Fuck the Undertaker, he thought, absurdly enraged – or maybe he actually mumbled it out loud to himself? Luckily, nobody heard anything over the film soundtrack and the Thai pop blaring in the background, it seemed. “FUCK THE UNDERTAKER!”

The woman down below just intensified her rhythm, sucking her cheeks in every time she pulled back up, causing waves of pleasure to stream from his prostate and balls out to the tenderly throbbing head of the cock. That got him back in the flow in a matter of seconds. Oh yeah, that sure did the trick … He was about to shoot his load, leaving the Undertaker way behind, sinking into oblivion. She would heal him again, suck the venom and fever out, as so often before.

“You played it for her; you can play it for me,” Bogart sneered at the black pianist on the screen above. He’d be better off dropping by Luckie-Suckie instead of hiding out in loneliness, slowly drowning himself in booze. And now, now, it was so close now, but what the ... no-no-no, please, no. No way. You’re kidding, right?! Afraid not. Just before the cumshot, building up for so long in his loins, the mobile phone burst into life, buzzing and blinking on the aluminum counter: a mutant, metallic insect ominously crawling towards him in small, jerky moves ...

The woman under the counter munched and slurped away, unconcerned, even though his cock went a bit limp as soon as he recognized the caller ID. Finally, his insistent gestures made her take a timeout. He carefully forced his sweaty, semi-swollen genitalia back into the trousers, hands shaking lightly and body wincing from a familiar uneasiness.

After four years in Pattaya, he was no shrinking violet when it came to sex (if he had ever been), but shooting his load into the bar girl’s mouth while breathing heavily on the phone to the editor-in-chief was a step too far, after all. Besides, he often had the vague notion that in this South-East Asian Sodom and Gomorrah in particular, it was crucial to lay down some ground rules, a personal moral code that you’d never break, even if everything else fell apart. At least if you wanted to avoid ending up as a stereotypical dirty, old Farang, OD’ing on cheap liquor and young pussy – yet another whored-out sexpat up to his neck in the quicksand of insatiable lust oozing under a thin coat of asphalt everywhere in town.

Resigned, he watched the buzzing metal insect as it moved, for the sixth or seventh time, gradually inching toward the edge of the counter. Not until the last second, right before the smartphone hurled itself to the floor and shattered into useless pieces (letting it was unspeakably tempting), did he sigh, palm the phone and take the call.


[…]


Casablanca still flickered away up on the screen, drowned out from time to time by the folksy luk thung pop from the bar’s stereo. Bob instinctively turned his phone off after the call from Copenhagen, fearful of further distractions.

For a few seconds he sat there, listless on his bar stool, gazing absent-mindedly in the direction of Bogart and a tearful Ingrid Bergman without really seeing them, waiting for the ventricular extrasystoles to drop to a normal level – or at least to a level considered statistically average for an unhealthy, overweight, chain-smoking and fairly pickled middle-aged wreck like him.

So his legs twitched uncontrollably and he nearly fell off the stool when the Thai woman, without any kind of warning, dexterously unleashed his slack cock from the open fly to try to get it hard again. Nobody was going to accuse her of not being a consummate pro!

Bob didn’t doubt it was a matter of genuine professional pride to her, but knew it also had a lot to do with Mr. Charlie reportedly docking the pay of his working girls if a customer didn’t ejaculate within 30 minutes of oral stimulation. He was said to time the ladies with a stopwatch, lurking behind a peephole inside his office like some devious Fu Manchu character – at least according to rumors among the foreign “film connoisseurs” who preferred to visit the joint in the afternoon hours.

The first time, it had felt downright bizarre in there, almost too kinky – getting a blow-job at a long bar divided up into small, individual sections by makeshift curtains, with Mr. Charlie behind the peephole, unknown strangers with goofy faces getting sucked right next to you, with Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Cary Grant or Veronica Lake as ghost-like witnesses on the 60-inch Samsung LED monitor above. Most of the customers felt that way the first time, he believed. Now though, he always got up on the chair without hesitation, unfazed by the weird setting and with the air of a seasoned player, a man of the world. Or so he liked to think on his better days.

The topless woman working him under the counter was named Bai. She was small and dark, with lively eyes, high cheekbones, big white teeth and a slender but muscular, sinewy body showing the signs of three births and a childhood and youth spent mid-thigh in muddy water in the family rice paddy, beneath the fierce sun of the north-eastern Isaan region. A delta of stretch marks branched out into lighter shades from her brown, raisin-like nipples, and her untrimmed muff reached a vortex of wrinkles around the navel. At 32, like most of the staff, she’d long since achieved veteran status.

But she wore the scars on her body with the quiet pride ingrained into underclass Thai women. You rarely heard them whine, complain or fish for sympathy cos of the hand life had dealt them. And at her age, in this city, a woman were approaching her final sell-by date, except at the countless happy-end massage parlors, blow-job dumps or beer-bars, where the clientele tended to be older, poorer and inherently less discriminating foreigners.

She was too well worn around the edges to be pole-dancing underneath sharp spotlights and laser beams in the fancy go-go bars down in Walking Street, where the catwalks groaned with skinny-legged young girls aged 18 to late 20s, strutting their perfectly perky tits and sensually bouncing hips. They were forever flocking to Pattaya from the rest of the country – an apparently inexhaustible supply of newer, younger models who hadn’t yet had the Christmas lights in their eyes extinguished by too many long nights of leering grins, groping hands, pounding techno beats and endless tequila shots; by too many drunken, florid declarations of eternal love turning into just another lubed-up quickie with a moaning, sweating farang stranger in some bland hotel room.

Bai had been around the block a few times already. She mastered fellatio as an art form, always managing to suck Bob totally dry, down to the very last drop of “miwk”, as she called it. In no time after she had started over, steadily licking and softly chewing his cock between her gums, it got as tumescent as before, tingling with blood rushing back into the hardening shaft …

Her raven-black hair, with the white incision of a middle parting, soon pumped up and down in an accelerating rhythm once again. Then she slyly launched her final offensive, clenching her teeth down by almost an inch, so they scraped back and forth over the most agonizingly sensitive parts of the cock, the silk-smooth purple skin around the urethra, while pulling back his foreskin with one hand and gently massaging his testicles with the other.

Puffing and panting deep down in the chest, he sensed the tightening of the abs, the tensing of his thigh muscles as they prepared for release. In the very moment that he emptied himself, the water in both ears from a swim the day before burst with a synchronous, stereophonic “PLOP!” in both Eustachian tubes ... Shuddering, he pulled out of her hot, moist, sticky mouth, leaning back into dizziness.

As usual, Bai had swallowed his load, and that was one of the reasons why he chose (or was chosen by?) her, even though she was no spring chicken any more. The fresh young chickies on the night shift acted all precious and spoiled, insisting on condoms, expecting bottles of bubbly and hefty tips on top of the basic fee. Fair enough. Indeed, that was their right and privilege in this ancient exchange of money and bodily fluids between men and women. This was simply how the market worked, to put it more bluntly. Or realistically.

Bob pulled up his fly, infinitely slowly, tooth by tooth, afraid of the zipper biting into his naked, shrinking flesh. The task completed without accident, he routinely raised his empty Singha bottle from the bar counter, and in five-six-seven seconds, a new beer had been dug out of the icebox, popped open and slammed down in front of him … dewy, frothy, refreshingly cold.

“You oh-kay, na ka?” Bai inquired with a cunning smile, looking straight into his eyes. For her, men like him surely had to be an open book, he assumed. While he never had a clue about what she or any of the other ladies felt on the other side of the bar … “You tink too mutt.”

A remark he had heard many times before from local bar girls, dancers and masseuses. Among the Thais this wasn’t an expression of a perceived ancient Oriental wisdom, just common sense, really. Thinking too much about things you couldn’t change never led to anything good. Quite the opposite, in most cases. And he had an inkling of that being viewed as some kind of character flaw or even latent mental illness by many natives.

For them, first and last, it was all about having as much sanuk – fun, partying, happy moments – as possible, while struggling with harsh realities and poverty. It was about laughing so loud that it would drown out the whispering of demons in one’s ears, and about smiling, smiling, always smiling, even in the face of the worst adversity.

On the other hand, they had at least a dozen different kinds of smiles, varying from the almost mental to the maliciously gloating. The smile was a blurred subtitle for a language you didn’t really get anyway – hermetically sealed and hard to decipher for foreigners, even after decades in the country. And if you didn’t smile back, you made the other party lose face – and when Thais lost face, things could get really ugly, really fast.

“No, no, I wasn’t thinking about anything,” he replied, half truthfully, this time with an only slightly strained smile. Mainly because he couldn’t be bothered with Bai’s usual indignation that he and all the other, in her eyes, rich and spoiled farangs wasted their time on what she considered trivial concerns, instead of relaxing and enjoying the sweet life … preferably with a Thai girlfriend or wife by their side.

“What happen, will happen, ka,” she used to end these discussions, trumping him completely every time. “You cannot change fate, Khun Bob. So only cha cha, okay – take it easy!”

“Well, I’m trying to keep up with that Humphrey Bogart movie,” he said apologetically, at which point Bai followed his gaze, probably without recognizing some ancient American actor in an old black-and-white film made before either of them was born.

“Blumphrey Low-hard?” she repeated lazily, as she lit a cigarette – under a “NO SMOKING” sticker the size of a vinyl LP – and dug one of the newest, most expensive and certainly thinnest HTC smartphones out of her Louis Vuitton Bag. The phone looked convincingly real; the bag, not so much.

Why Westerners worry so much about what problems might hypothetically arise in a week, a year or right after we leave this bar is plain incomprehensible to Bai, he thought. How to explain to her that there was every reason to fear that your well-being might soon be spoiled after such a therapeutic, healing moment – indeed, that sooner or later you are always punished for simply enjoying life without shame and guilt, even for the briefest moment? How to explain that every upturn is followed by a downturn, according to hubris and nemesis and all those sleepy echoes of Greek mythology that Bob remembered from classical studies at school?

That way of looking at the world was alien to a Buddhist woman whose academic career had ended at sixth grade in the village school, who lived in the moment, fatalistically at ease with her lot in life and pragmatically facing down her own mortality. (Which might also be a little easier if you believed that the samsara carousel spun around for all cosmic eternity, and that she herself would just be on her way to the next life when she kicked the bucket in this incarnation.)

Bai put the phone down with a sniff after replying to some text messages, shaking her head despondently with a look that said more clearly than any words, “They’re crazy, those farangs!”

She put her bra back on (despite Western notions to the contrary, Thais in general were a very modest bunch), pulled a T-shirt with the bar’s logo down over her head and quickly checked her hair in the mirror. She grabbed a dingy cloth and wiped her mouth, gurgling some Colgate mouthwash and spitting a mixture of the pink fluid, her own saliva and the remnants of his thick, hot “milk” out into the sink.

The music on the stereo abruptly stopped. Mr. Charlie was still hiding in his office, and as the two other women were getting busy with customers, nobody had time to put a new Thai CD on. In the silence that followed, the dialogue from the film overlapped the intimate sounds of the bar, two parallel soundtracks merging together.

“I’ll die in Casablanca,” Bogart drawled out into the room, accompanied by six people who made up a breathless, subdued chorus of lust, as if they could only keep each other alive that way. “A good place to die.”

[…]