Friday, June 01, 2007

Walking Street, Working

It's the 'wet' season in Thailand, the hot, humid, summer days of the south-west monsoon. Nothing in Pattaya really moves until late morning, when the streets have been cleared of the debris (mostly human) in front of the all-night bars and the pervasive smell of 'rice and mice' has been diluted by the fumes of the traffic and the diurnal sea breeze. The first week I was there, I rarely ever left my hotel until four p.m. or returned to it before 4 a.m.
I'm not, by nature, a night owl – except when it comes to painting – but I immersed myself in the hubbub of Pattaya's back streets. They're filled with noisey, neon-lit bars and go-go clubs, and the street circus of curbside vendors, food stalls, club touts and young girls and transexual katoeys trawling through the shoals of paunchy, balding, late middle-aged Caucasian men looking not for a fast fuck but the illusion of affectionate companionship, the 'real girlfriend experience', that in Thailand can be bought for less than the price of a cheap motel room back in the USA, Russia, Germany or any of the other places they come from by the thousands. Sexual tourism isn't new to me – I've been painting and photographing my experiences of it for the past year – but the open-ness of it in Pattaya, even during daylight hours, when the aging white men take the local girls for 'play dates' in the modern shopping malls and fast-food franchises, or at the manicured poolsides or frangipani-scented outdoor bars back at their hotels, caught me by surprise.
It didn't take long before I was reaching for my camera and my sketchbook. Even as I kicked back, drank a little too much (sometimes), and let myself be carried along by the raucous crowds, not to mention the temporary acquaintances I made – mostly working girls, who probably saw me a young, distaff alternative to their usual, blubbery marks – I slipped into what is, after all, the default mode of nearly every artist: voyeur.

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