Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bangkok, Songkran G-circuit, Gays & Me

Bangkok & Me.

  • One of my favorite Asian destinations. 
  • The city I keep coming back to. 
  • The first city outside of my country that I visited. Ever.
Bangkok could easily be the New York of Asia because I doubt that this city too ever sleeps. As for me Bangkok holds too many great memories. And a few painful ones...

Stepping out of Don Muang airport, which was once, the main international airport before the birth of her younger, chicer sister Suvarnabhumi, I am greeted by a familiar sight of lanky skyscrapers, soulless office buildings and giant billboards forcefully penetrating the ever-gloomy grey sky. Bangkok does not really have an audio-equalizer-like skyline like Chicago, Shanghai or Auckland for example.

Bangkok Skyline
I remember being here for the first time. My then boyfriend and I were high on the thrill of our sweet-smelling taxi going fast and furious on Bangkok’s signature elevated highways. We couldn’t stop elbowing each other whenever a skyscraper or a fancy shopping mall appears. Though Yangon, my city and Bangkok are only an hour away by flight, we were (and still are) worlds apart in terms of infrastructure, urban development and culture. Bangkok to us was the other side with greener grass. Everything that we were deprived of could be found in Bangkok; freedom, fast-paced lifestyle, first world pleasures and flamboyant gay scene.

Has Bangkok changed at all since my very first visit 9 years ago?

Yes and no. I’d say “Not Much”. But certainly my life has changed dramatically over these years. Back then, I was living in the city and today my home is on an island. Music was once my everything but these days photography is my baby. I knew two languages only. Now I speak four.I could count the times I had been on the plane then but now I’ve lost count of the cities I have been to. 

During our first few times in Bangkok, Kyaw Kyaw, my ex and I, would wait forever to take stinky public buses to save money. Now I find myself not even arguing with the taxi driver over the 200 baht he asks for a 2-km ride. I used to know shopping joints where I could bargain or get wholesale prices. Now I shop exclusively at department stores although red labels and signs that say 50% off still excite me like no other. Back in the day, Kyaw Kyaw and I would eat make-it-yourself hot dogs at 7eleven for both lunch and dinner so that we could spend more on shopping and sightseeing. I think about it now; we were really happy. I am happy now too. Happiness cannot be purchased. But money certainly makes one’s life comfortable. 

G-Circuit Parties, Gays & Me.

11:45pm. DJ Station on Silom Soi 2 is jam-packed as usual. This place gets me nervous. The venue is way too small but it welcomes anyone with a valid ID. If anything like fire breaks out, rest assure, you have no way out. My Thai friend suggests that we go to G.O.D instead. G.O.D is a three-storied dance club hidden in a back lane from the main bustling Silom road. It usually gets busy after DJ Station kicks the gays out at 2pm. Queers in the headlights would then come running to prolong the night. I remember when it was called “Free Men” pub. Their drag show was considered the best in town and their dark room, a small dimly lit maze for cruising, was a source of excitement for us, Burmese men on their hard-earned Bangkok holiday. Of course, it was before Grindr, the gay cultural phenomenon that theatrically changed the way gay men cruise. Nowadays, meeting other gay men for ‘casual fun’ takes place on a smart phone. Quick results plus it’s straightforward, effective and fuss-free. 

The Party Pass for Song Kran G-circuit 6 
The G-circuit opening party, one of three main parties, is held at a large convention hall at The Central World plaza, the following night. Looking at the gays in the queue outside, I wish I had spent more time in gym. Not all but many have beefed up and are ready to flex their muscles (literally!) Inside, needless to say, I come across a sea of gay men. Hundreds and hundreds of them coming from all directions; burly bears, fashionista queens, muscle Marys, skinny twinks, leather daddies, straight-acting machos and even some Clay Aikens (Well, thanks to Glee! We love everybody, right?

While pushing ourselves through the massive crowd, I come face-to-face with this Gaysian I’ve been friends with on Facebook, though we haven’t met in person. I, for the record, accepted his friend request and we interact often on Facebook either LIKE-ing or commenting on each other’s posts. Of course he recognizes me but pretends he didn’t see me. Our eyes meet again. This time, I take the high road and shoot him my megawatt smile, hoping to at least break the ice and perhaps say “hi” in person after all. He smiles back half-heartedly and turns away. I would run into him a few more times the next two days. But I don’t bother anymore. Middle school for me, ended a long time ago. This, by the way is very typical. In the gay world, it is all about “winning”. We are afraid of possible rejection especially coming from a fellow queen. We are all queen bees. We act precious. We don’t voluntarily go and say “Hi” to strangers. We instead wait for people to come and talk to us.

My Thai friend and I decide not to join the mad mob on the dance floor. Instead he leads me to the stage at the very end of the hall, darker and less crowded. At least here, we can breathe easy and not get shoved around every other second. I say hi to some folks I know, who are now on a euphoric stage, aided by ecstasy, shirtless, sweating and slurring. I look around. The scene is just as I expected; pretty boys and those who love them. Many are already sans t-shirts, ripped, rugged and ravishing wearing the preferred gay look of all time; goatee, crew cut, tight Diesel jeans bearing torso and mid section that have been painstakingly sculpted months in advance. 

Well, I may not look the standard G-circuit poster boy but I am not an Average Joe either, I believe. Flaunting my best asset, my defined 44-inch chest and my four pack (never six for the reason I don’t even bother anymore), I stand tall in my 6 foot 1 frame, a feat that is not easy to defeat among Gaysians. I start to sway… and sweat. Soon the music becomes louder. My vision clearer. And my mood, lighter. I begin to enjoy this all-men circus. Tony Moran, the Grammy-nominated Dj extraordinaire, is in the house. Almost everyone at this point has gone shirtless. Some fanning themselves to cool off from the heat, while some dancing wildly wearing shades. Yes, sunglasses in the club! I find that quite amusing. 

It is what it is. I came all the way for this. And here I am.” I tell myself that repeatedly. My sarcasm, though I mercilessly deserted it at the door, keeps showing up, feverishly looking for me in the crowd. No chance! Leave me alone tonight.

We are beautiful like diamonds in the sky” – sings Rihanna on her recent club anthem, “Diamonds” which, needless to say, resonates well with the crowd. Boys go wild every time the machines pump up smokes and neon green lacer lights fervently flicker as though a space ship from a “Star Wars” movie lands from the ceiling. Off we go moving along to pulsating electro beats churned out by Mr. Moran. I purposely don’t call this dancing as the space we each are entitled to limits any creative movement. Some may throw their hands up in the air or shake up themselves a bit harder as the Dj switches to faster louder rhythms. Many of us stay together in our own little cliques, only to leave every now and then to get drinks or ‘water’, which is the best selling drink of the night. We, among ourselves, would occasionally chitchat about issues and matters lighter than thin air. “What are you doing tomorrow?” “The gym at our hotel is too small” “I think the guy with the cap likes you”, etc.

Meet my friend, he lives in Bali” – I get introduced to a number of people throughout the night. Some I may have met at least four times at different occasions before but still, they don’t remember me or so they pretend. Gay men do things that can’t be quite explained with any human language. Fathomably in a place like this. Nothing else matters but them.  They are constantly self-conscious, desperately trying to get noticed, fueled by chemicals and extremely tired but still keeping on as though this is nothing but an obligation.

“Wait! Did he just fall down?” Yes, he did. This cute Venezuelian guy I was talking to earlier in my very limited Spanish passes out and hits the ground. “He took G. And he must have mixed it with alcohol” says the tattooed guy I know from Bali. Man down! Trouble in Queer-dise! Honestly, it all looks a bit scary and worrying but he will live, as it seems. It’s almost 5am. My lower back is in agony. I need some shut eyes. I put my t-shirt back on. I flee.

The Morning After & Some Extra-curricular

Waking up the next day isn’t pretty. Most of us missed the morning anyway. By the time I get out to have lunch, it’s almost 3pm. Grumpy gays, suffering from sleep deprivation and fatigue move about like zombies from “The Walking Dead”. They all seem to be heading towards Siam Paragon food court for the combo meal of the day. Soon, they would have to head to gym, pump up muscles with whatever ounce of energy left and grab a bit of disco nap instead of dinner. After that, (You guessed it!), it’s time for party again.

Well, not me! After lunch, I pay homage to my old stomping ground. I have not been here for quite sometime. At least 5 or 6 years. Babylon sauna in Bangkok is a landmark for gay men. Not only is this the biggest gay sauna in Asia, also the most tasteful, well maintained and action-packed…almost always. Babylon hosts its famous foam parties, this time two days in a row to commemorate us gays in Songkran. When I arrive with two friends, it is almost 6pm. We are by now drenched and shivering a bit, as we got wet on Tuk-Tuk on the way. Of course, we expected it. It’s Songkran after all. The annual event when countries like Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia celebrate their new year by throwing water on each other in order to drive away sins carried out in the previous year. Ironically, we gays are here to engage in more debaucheries. At Babylon, there are way too many men inside the venue that we have to wait 2 hours in line to get in and they only could provide one locker for four men. We change into our swimming gear in the locker room butt-to-butt and then it’s all game. The music at the venue is Top 40, familiar tunes on radio that one could sing along to. The pool is busy. The restaurant is full with towel-clad men dining or having drinks. Some are working out in the gym. There’s even one guy in speedo running barefoot on a treadmill. Next to the bar is the dance area where the foam machine in the middle is constantly filling up the floor with soapy bubbles, sometimes so much that it climbs up to the neck. Everyone is in festive mood; cheeky, open and very accommodating. Though mostly Gaysians, there are many different nationalities and I hear several different languages spoken. “I Love Bangkok”, declares my Chilean friend. “This is crazy. We don’t have this kind of party in Chile”, he enthuses as we dance to Jennifer Lopez’s “On The Floor” in our slippery-selves.

After almost three hours of frolicking in my skimpy Aussiebum, I’m in need of somewhere warm. So I march to the dry sauna. There I sit with two bored Gaysians who have been in there before me. A few minutes pass and the sauna door opens. Enters a tall muscular man in his late 30s. Not traditionally handsome but he has strong manly features; thick lips, wide brown eyes and very square jaw. “He must be a Latino”, I think to myself while glancing at his roughly trimmed hair all over his chiseled torso. He must have come, fresh out of shower. He appears to be soaking wet and his white D&G swimwear does very little to cover his certain (not so little) body part. In fact he is certainly aware and obviously proud of his immense God-given gift. He probably knows where my eyes have just lingered too. Calmly he sits right next to me while I try to gather my now diverted thoughts for the next ten minutes. Two Gaysians have left the cabin one after another by the time I feel a soft kick on my leg. I look up to his direction and our eyes meet for the first time. “You are very tall for an Asian” he murmurs in his Californian accent. He says something else too. And… something else afterwards. I don’t remember. The tiny room suddenly gets warmer.

I adore Bangkok and I need it every now and then. From fantastic shopping, divine Thai food to incredible nightlife and exciting gay scene, the city offers what other Asian cities can only dream of. Likewise, I don’t mind being around gays and doing round-the-clock gay activities once in a while. Nothing wrong with a celebration of somewhat hedonistic culture that we help popularize. Bangkok is sexy. It’s a happening. In addition to ever-present urban energy of a metropolis, Bangkok pulsates with tangible sexual energy especially during an event like Songkran G-circuit. It is in the air. It’s on BTS, on taxis, in the parks, at 7Elevens and oozing out of people. Songkran G-Circuit experience reminds me of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

All you wanna do is…debauch and be naughty. Really, really naughty.


Pedro Caceres said...

Charlie, i'm without words, I liked your blog! this amazing! ... fully my feelings are in BKK ... Saludos de Santiago de Chile! :)

ANDREW de jong said...

Charlie you captured Bangkok beautifully and gay life to a T. Id much prefer to read your works than a book great work thank you for the reding entertainment