Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 Made in Thailand

 

 

“I need another Chang beer for this.” I said turning away from the young Bangkok prostitutes.

“This is like a human petting zoo...” Becca wiped the dots of sweat off her forehead.

“Where you from?” one young Thai girl called. A man in an oversized tank top slithered through the traffic filled street towards the girl. The young girl was smiling; her teeth were fairly white and straight, her lava hair falling at her naked shoulders. Her smile made me uncomfortable. Becca and I, the only white females, moved through the western, male, nomadic audience.

“I can make for you happy.” The girl beckoned to the man as he walked away from her down the street to another grouping of girls.

These girls made me think of the first time I watched porn.

The six of us sat giggling on the stiff comforter at Embassy Suites in Kansas City. My friend tightly held the remote as she flipped through purchasable porn movies on the shiny black TV. Balloons, Barbies, and make-up we had stolen from our mothers were scattered over the navy carpet. My half-eaten birthday cake with nine partially melted candles looked lopsided on the small table by the door.

“Let’s watch that one.” A couple of girls pointed to the show with a pretty nurse, her hair in long blonde ringlets. Our grubby pizza hands pressed play and our blue painted eyes didn’t move from the screen.

My uneven red lips parted, my mouth dropped as I watched the nurse in white spandex dance for a man in a wheelchair. He didn’t look sick. His hair was thick and full, his eyes were smiling. The music narrated each twist of her hips.

The nurse had somehow seductively inched out of her spandex and was now naked except for her nurse hat.

“This makes me feel funny,” one girl admitted, her red blush radiating in round circles on her face.

“What are you guys doing?” We heard my sister from the other side of the door. The remote was handed off like an unwanted pregnancy, until finally someone frantically changed the channel. Jumping under the covers, red lipstick smearing pillowcases, I listened to the door click open. My sister moved around picking up the pizza boxes and empty soda cans. A few of us snickered.

“Sleeping, sure.” My sister said, going back to her room, arms filled with trash.

In years to follow I never could dress up as the sexy nurse for Halloween.

 

* * *

Not much curiosity had left me at twenty-four. Becca and I strolled the glowing pink street. Local Thai men on every corner held small plastic cards, or “menus,” listing sex shows and their typical pricing: the cigarette smoking show, candle extinguishing show, razor show, and the live sex show customers could participate in. Becca and I pointed to number three on the laminated card: ping-pong. The man smiled, waving the card in the air.

Our ping-pong salesman was small, no taller than either of us. His face was narrow and wrinkled from exposure to the sun. He wore a blue and white striped polo shirt and his blue baseball cap cast a shadow over his face. This particular ping-pong pimp said all we needed to do was buy drinks. There was no entry fee. He quickly moved us through crowds back into an alley away from the buzz of the night market, up some creaky stairs into a building with no name or sign.

In the dark room he motioned to the clothed women sitting at a table in the front. They must have been managers. We followed his blue cap to a small table on the other side of the stage away from the rest of the audience. By the time we were sitting down he had darted back into the street to continue his promotion.

“I can’t believe we’re here.” Becca’s big blue eyes scanned the space.

* * *

Even when we were younger, Becca had always been more comfortable with situations surrounding sex.

“I had sex with him.” Becca said leaning back in the chair, still wearing her cheerleading costume from the night before.

“Really?” I tried to hide my shock. We were freshmen. Between time spent in a sorority and painting classes, Becca and I had quickly become best friends.

“Sorry if this makes you uncomfortable, I know you’re a virgin and all.”

I shook my head hastily, too hastily, and smiled, “Are you happy about it?”

“Well, you know me. I like sex, so yeah, and he’s nice. It didn’t last long, so I think really it shouldn’t count. And he does drive a low-rider yellow truck…”

I laughed, putting my face into my bunk-bed pillow. “So I take it you won’t see him again.”

“I’m not saying that.” Becca smiled. “I’m just saying people think sex is personal. And it can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Now blowjobs, that’s a different story. Putting a guy,s penis in your mouth is personal. At least with sex I can wrap it up and enjoy myself.”

“I can see where you’re coming from.” I nodded. I didn’t entirely agree. Still, I felt envious of her conviction and concrete feelings towards sex.

“Subway?” Becca said, standing up.

“Only if you change out of that wretched skirt,”she laughed, skipping into her room.

 

* * *

Becca and I were the only female customers at the Ping-pong show in the small bar, and we were segregated from the male audience. We watched the “managers” walking around, handing out red and blue ping-pong paddles to the males on the other side of the stage.

“I guess we don’t get paddles…” Becca said watching the woman with the paddles disappear.

The men held their paddles, swinging. Practicing.

The bar was dark with a single focal point, the old round stage. The girls wore black G-strings that looked stretched from constant removal. Four poles marked the perimeter of the circular platform. The girls danced topless next to these dark poles. Well, I suppose you could call it dancing, but it looked more like labored, disinterested swaying. They all moved as though they had been wearing those heels all day, painfully placing their limbs, making sure not to put too much pressure on either foot, their long silky Asian hair moving ever so slightly. A small grouping of tall, semi-circular tables surrounded them. Becca and I sat drinking Chang beer. I found myself unable to stop watching the western men on the other side of the stage. I felt like I was in a room of invisible damage.

“Do you think these men really get off, watching this?” Becca shrugged.

They looked unkept, unowned, round, and bald or balding. One man looked giddy as a little girl about to be given something sweet. I watched the men watch the girls, their eyes intent, their stares all-consuming and justified by the money in their pockets. Their eyes were fixed on the performers, unabashed, unapologetic. How was I to look at them- as performers, ordinary people, commodities, sinners or suffering saints?

One man sat still, even his smile frozen. Another kept getting up and down, his untamed, thinning hair sweaty and matted to this head. His teeth looked like arrowheads-- dangerous, threatening, primitive.

Meanwhile, the four pole dancers left the stage. For the entrance of the young ping-pong girl there was no music, no change in lighting; the whole thing seemed really informal, like we had rented an x-rated stripper to come to a basement party. The girl faced us and slid her panties off like she would at home with no one watching, no slow pulling down of her thong to tease. Her face was slightly round and full with youth.

For a brief second the performer looked up at us. She smiled slightly, the tips of her full lips curving upward. I felt like I was crawling deeper into the smile of the local girls.

 

* * *

I was never good with lingerie or packaging myself.

Becca and I walked through Victoria’s Secret.

“What about red?” Becca pointed to the lace dangling from the silk hangers, hung on the walls.

“I’m not sure I am a red kind of gal…I was thinking more something like this.” I picked up a frilly piece of full-bottomed underwear. Little pink and black flowers grew around the waist.

Becca laughed, “Are you trying to look thirteen? If you don’t like red, try black or white. She grabbed a couple of hangers full of sheer black garments.

“What about you?”

“Victoria’s Secret isn’t really made for girls with small waists and big boobs. Plus I always felt there was something unnatural about stuffing myself in nylon and then awkwardly struggling to get out.”

Becca laughed, grabbing a pair of undies with pearls hanging from the back. “You’re telling me it’s sexy to put a string of pearls up your ass? No thank you.”

“Oh come on, try this.” I picked up a little silk black nightie.

She shook her head. “You know I found crotchless panties in my sister’s drawer when I was little? Ruined me.”

I rolled my eyes and snatched the black sheer panties.

 

* * *

The young girl turned to the side of the stage to gather ping-pong balls. With a handful of balls, the girl turned completely towards the men. She sat down on the stage and started loading up her vagina like a Nerf gun. This process didn’t even take a full minute. I wondered why no one helped her, or if this was as easy as typing would be to a secretary.

Once she was full of white round balls she pushed up into an awkward stance I would have taken as a child doing the crab walk. I wondered if she was still smiling.

The young lady pointed her vagina at the eager men, her belly up, positioned towards the ceiling, her weight resting on her bent arms and legs. Her body was perfectly naked, hairless, her childlike frame cloaked in dim light. The men were keenly holding onto their paddles. The show had begun, and like a game with all the pieces coming to life, the girl shot out one ball after another and the men raised their paddles, hitting the balls all over the place. One of the western men kept trying to hit them over at us. Becca and I dodged as pussy-juice-covered balls passed by our shocked faces.

“Are you kidding me?” Becca shot the man a sharp look.

“Someone needs to tell them we’re not part of the act.” But then I got it: we were all part of the act. We sunk back further into our chairs.

An older woman, probably a retired ping pong performer, walked around picking up the ping-pong balls to be recycled and reused for the next round. I was not sure what was more upsetting, men hitting the balls with paddles, a woman picking them up with bare hands, or those unwashed balls that were just on the ground being shoved back into a young girl’s vagina.

We thought it was over after the ping-pong show. But a rotation of girls continued a whole slew of acts. One girl pulled a string of razors out of her vagina. Another girl held a felt tip marker with her vagina, controlling it to write her name. Later, the same girl also hovered over a small cake blowing out birthday candles through a straw.  The men applauded.

Becca and I sat silently.

I walked to the bathroom. Water covered the floor in there. But for the first time in our trip to Southeast Asia I preferred to hang out in the bathroom for a while.

* * *

His words rung in my head as I looked in the mirror.

“Is this what you think making love is supposed to be? A porn? A race?” The disappointment lay in-between us like a pillow separating two disinterested bodies.

“No… I just…” I didn’t know what to say.

“You are such a passionate person, I just figured, at some point… Never mind.” I felt his head shaking back in forth. I looked at him for a brief second but he just stared at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to…” I pulled the blue comforter closer towards my face, wanting to disappear into the sheets.

“That was just…I could easily have had that experience with some stranger I met at a bar. Who are you trying to please?” He aimed his black eyes at me. I felt my reaction, like a dreadful gag relax, instant, jealous, pouring, unstoppable. My limber arms swung towards the trunk of his body. His hands grabbed my wrists, the rough tips of his fingers holding me still. His glance softened, his forehead crinkled from self- frustration.

“Why can’t you be comfortable with me?”

* * *

I wondered if those girls felt like cutout reflections of a male fantasy. Or if anyone reminded them that they didn’t need to be.

* * *

“What took you so long?” Becca’s eyes were huge. Two murky blue drinks had been deposited on our table.

“Um, some naked lady just sat next to me.”

“One of the performers?”

“Yeah. She asked me where I was from. You took so long I started talking to her about her job…. if she liked it…”

“And her response was…”

“‘Just lucky I suppose.’”

“Was she serious?”

“I don’t know.” Becca looked down.

“Where did she go?”

“When you came back out she got up and left.” Right as Becca finished her sentence a clothed woman shoved over a glass with our bill in it.

“Ok, I think this means time’s up.”

“Fine by me.” Becca stood up. I took a big sip of the last of my Chang beer, while I glanced at what should have been a bill for $4.00. “Becca, this is for thirty bucks.” I was getting a sinking feeling. We were about to get hit with an exit fee. As we approached the cashier, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this money the girls on stage would receive.

“I think you may have this wrong,” I spoke slowly to the group of female managers at the table in the front. “We only had one beer each. The man that brought us here said we just needed to pay for drinks.” I placed the bill in front of the ladies and pointed at the inflated price. The curvy woman grabbed the bill, and marked X2 next to the initial price.

“You pay.”

“The man said… Becca started. And the woman furiously wrote X2 two more times.

“You watch you pay.”

“We pay this.” I pointed towards the original inflated price of $30. It only provoked yet another series of pencil-scratched X2s. I watched our bill reach $240 American dollars.

Thailand was a place where you could live as a tourist off less than $25 a day. Becca and I were staying in a guesthouse for $4 a night. Sex shows were almost free, or were they? I stood there in shock, wondering how much money I had in my wallet, worried that anything I said might cause the zeroes to breed.

The round woman moved from behind the table and got directly in my face. Well, pretty close to my face. I stand 5’3” and at about 105 lbs, by American standards, I am petite. In Asia I was a voluptuous giant. “You pay or we call the Mafia,” the woman demanded, her purple-colored contacts glowing in the light. Her hair was jet black and lustrous as crow feathers.

In that moment, on behalf of the women on her stage, I wanted to fight her and steal her money and give it to them. I wanted to put the ping-pong workers in the audience so the ladies could be entertained for once. I wanted to strip those men down and shove ping-pong balls up their holes and beat them with paddles screaming, how does it fucking feel? You like that? Does that turn you on? You like having balls jammed into your orifices? Now perform, you piece of shit!

“Go ahead, call the fucking mafia,” I said as Becca looked at me in shock.

“We will give the money to the girls,” I pointed to the stage, “You hear me, we will only give the money to them,” I screamed.

“Give the money to her.” Becca pointed to the girl who had earl;ier sat down next to her.

Oh hell, the hypocrisy. Had Becca and I not been feeding this thing? Had I not treated this situation like I was buying a sweater at the Gap that said “made in Thailand?” Were we not a part of this culture of using people, playing on the vulnerabilities of others’ lives? Had we not agreed to pay little to no money to see young females turned into pieces of equipment? Were we not just as debauched as the men?

Becca went into emergency mode; she ceased negotiating and turned to the cashier, handing her wads of Thai baht. She grabbed my arm, pulling me from the woman with the glow-in-the-dark eyes who was now “calling the mafia.” Her pink phone, resembling one I had carried when I was 16, was pressed against her ear. We ran, our sandals sticking to the bar floor, then flicking back up violently, down the uneven steps, falling out of the rabbit hole, bounding down the alley, into the bright busy night market full of westerners.

It was 1:00 a.m. Locals selling trinkets in the never-ending markets still sat by their collections, fighting to keep their eyes open as people buzzed around them. The native sellers didn’t want to lose an opportunity to make money off bracelets or 711 tank tops. A woman who looked to be my grandmother’s age rolled mounds of fruit in a metal cart around the street. Blind people stumbled along with young children as bait, begging. Limbless people sat on little pallets asking for money. Obvious Lady boys with perfectly round breasts filling out crop tops loudly propositioned people who stared too long.

In shock I watched a five year-old little girl weave through the masses of drunk strangers. She wore a dress that seemed to have been white at one time. Her dark hair was pulled back in a limp ponytail. Her slim limbs embraced a heap of red roses as big as she was. She was so small she looked as though someone should still be carrying her around. I wondered if the roses were heavy for her, how long she had been holding them, where here parents were, and mostly, I wondered why? The little girl would extend her hand, clutching a longstemmed red rose, attempting to sell it to a passerby. Every once in a while I could see her say something, but I couldn’t make out the words. Most of the time people shook their heads and continued down the street. With each refusal, she would retreat further and further down the street, looking for other potential customers. I watched as she disappeared into the masses.

 

 

Kayti Doolittle graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and a minor in Creative Writing. She is the Art and Film Reviewer for Fjords Review. Kayti is writing an anthology of essays about the sex industry in countries around the world, while living in South Korea.