In 2006 I was stationed in Hawaii in the U.S. Air Force. The first day I arrived on Oahu, I met the woman who would become my first and only ex wife. About a year and a half later, one evening, I was extremely drunk in that overly emotional kind of way where you hang onto your friend’s shoulder shouting, “I love you, bro.” In that state of mind, I slurred to her, “Baby, I’lllll take youze anywhere in the worlddd you wanna go. Just name the place, and I’ll fly you there.”
Lucidly, she snapped back, “Okay. I want to go to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.”
“Fuck,” I thought. “That’s not exactly what I meant…. But, oh well. Screw it.” A month later, I’d filed my request for three weeks of leave and booked a guided tour across Asia through a travel agency at Hickam Air Force Base.
I’d already spent four years living in Europe, where I would often just drive in a random direction Friday afternoon, stop in a town that looked interesting, and sleep in my car. So I was no amateur when it came to traveling, but I didn’t know anything about Asia. So I decided I should have someone walk me through my first experience.
The big day finally came, and we boarded a plane heading West towards “The East.”
Even though everyone told me I was crazy for going to Thailand with my committed partner, we flew to Bangkok together anyway, where, despite my best intentions, my story would still involve dozens of lady boys.
When we landed, we were met by a tour guide at the airport holding a sign with my last name written on it, just like in the movies, which made me feel like a celebrity. He drove us to a gigantic five star hotel… in the deepest, darkest bowels of Bangkok. Our room was on the 15th floor with an amazing view of the air conditioning units on the building next-door. Everything else about the place was high class beyond the status I was accustomed to.
Over the next week, our tour guide drove us around the city to all the biggest tourist traps. We visited a 5-story flea market with more exotic, shiny knick knacks than you could fill a thousand shipping containers with. We paid monks to see a golden Buddha statue worth enough money to end poverty, and then we fed a ravenous horde of catfish from a shaky skiff on a greasy river. It was all very exotic, opulent, and tinged with signs of poverty.
As our guide shuttled us around the city, we bombarded him with every question imaginable about Thailand’s history, current events, and all things sociological, political, economic, and anthropological. I could tell he genuinely enjoyed the fact that we wanted to know all of Thailand’s deepest truths, and I felt like we bonded over that.
Everyday, when we took the elevator down from our hotel room to meet our guide, we’d walk past a giant marquee sign in the hotel lobby that read, “Cabaret” in big Broadway light bulbs. Underneath the sign was a 15-foot-wide set of stairs leading down to a basement auditorium.
We couldn’t not be intrigued. So one day, we asked the front desk clerk how much the cabaret show cost, and she said, “$150 U.S. dollars per person.”
My initial reaction (in my head) was, “Yeah, fuck that.” However, we were on vacation.
The next morning, I asked our tour guide if he knew anything about the show and if it was worth the obscene price. Immediately, his eyes lit up, and he assured us it was fantastic and absolutely worth every penny. He endorsed the show so enthusiastically I decided to splurge on it against my better judgement.
The last night we were in Thailand, we bought tickets to the 11pm showing. After having a few warm up drinks in our hotel room, we made our way downstairs. I expected to walk into a cramped, seedy basement, but the stage and stadium seating were bigger than the auditorium in my high school. The light and sound systems must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was almost as impressive as the Moulin Rouge!
When we entered, a sharply dressed bellhop met us and led us to our seats. At that point, I was feeling guilty for arriving under-dressed for such a formal occasion, but I got over that with a little more liquid courage. As soon as we sat down, a waitress came by and sold us some overpriced beer and wine. Properly prepared, we settled in for a night we’d never forget.
Halfway through my first beer, the overhead lights dimmed. A spotlight cracked on, illuminating a thin, middle aged Thai man wearing high heels, panty hose, panties, and a tasteful black corset. If you need a visual image, he basically looked like A Thai version of Tim Curry from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
…and that’s… interesting. Hey, I traveled all the way to Thailand for a cultural experience, and I was getting exactly that. So I was rolling with it.
Honestly, at first I was shocked, but then I was like, “Okay. What do you got for us, Tim?”
Well, for the next two hours, in his adorably broken English, “Tim” introduced us to a parade of transvestites in various stages of the transition process who all regaled us by lip-singing American pop songs that you would have heard in an American strip club circa 2007.
The whole time I remember thinking, “GOD DAMN IT! I DIDN’T COME ALL THE WAY TO THAILAND TO LISTEN TO AMERICAN POP MUSIC!”
In between acts, a chorus line of big-booby corset-ed hot chicks (and more lingerie-clad men) would come out and do the can-can dance… or whatever.
A dozen Thai beers later, the $300+ episode of the Twilight Zone ended. Tim and his friends took a bow. The spotlight shut off, and the overhead lights came on.
Silently, my wife and I drifted upstairs to the lobby elevator. Then we took another elevator from the lobby to our suite overlooking the dingy brick wall next-door.
It was only after I brushed my teeth that I asked out loud, “What the fuck was that?”
The next morning we met our guide in front of the hotel. His assistant loaded all our luggage into the back of the van. As soon as we buckled into the back seat, he turned around and asked triumphantly, “Did you see the cabaret? How did you like it?”
I replied sheepishly, “Uh, yeah. It was interesting. I guess my only complaint is that I wish it had more hot chicks.?.?.”
He smiled as big as The Joker from the 1970’s Batman series and shouted, “HAHAAAAA!!!! They were ALL MEN!!!!!!”
Now… I’m all for respect and equality of everyone, but his intentions were malicious. That makes him the worst tour guide ever.
In retrospect though, the story was worth $300.
Still, he was the only person we didn’t tip on that trip.
If you liked this post, you may also like these:
My Life Stories (in chronological order)
- What’s it like to be a twin?
- The eggnog story
- The cow-poline story
- The time I got shot
- My ghost story
- The “good porn” story
- My UFO story
- How I became a Christian and then lost my faith
- My first massage
- Piancanvollo’s traveling snail
- The time I got HIV
- An American Expat Visits the “Occupy Auckland” protest: Part 1, Part 2
- The time I worked in an apple orchard
- The time I worked in a vineyard
- My experience with the TSA
- This is how we live now: Part 1
- This is how we live now: Part 2
- This is how we live now: Part 3
- What it was like in Houston during Hurricane Harvey
- The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston
- An imagined conversation with my abusive, narcissistic father (Comic)
- What happened to The Wise Sloth?
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