Noom – my bar boy friend and current love of my life – won’t allow me to cross a street on my own. I’m not sure why stepping off a sidewalk onto asphalt transforms me into someone needing an assist in his mind, but as soon as I do he’s right there. How I managed to survive decades of crossing Bangkok’s streets on my own prior to meeting Noom must be a constant source of wonderment to him.
It’s a patronizing gesture that did – and still should – annoy me. But I finally decided it stems from his concern over my safety; crossing a street in Bangkok, with the city’s demolition derby-like traffic, can be dangerous and Noom makes sure he’s by my side in case some car comes caroming down the road as if hurled by a belligerent god. Any pedestrian who foolishly decides to go mano y mano with motorized Bangkokians by stepping onto their turf had better have some major karma points stored up. You’d think vehicles powered by an Asian mind don’t come with brakes, or at least their drivers have some superstition against touching them. And you can’t really be annoyed with someone who is willing to take a vehicular hit on your behalf. Not that that explains why he still feels the need to take my arm when the city’s streets are sclerotic with jammed vehicles, but then fantasy is an important condition to the success of any farang/bar boy relationship.
I’m not that old nor physically feeble to require help mastering simple daily activities like crossing the street but you’d never know it from Noom’s constant efforts at assisting me. Flights of stairs, in his mind, are evidently as tricky as roadways. Being basically a lazy person, I would have no problem if he picked me up and carried me up stairways, but instead I get a hand on my elbow. Which is never the type of PDA I’m hoping for. That too, while polite, is a gesture I could live without. But tolerate since he is as willing to lend me a hand when we are crossing the sheets of a bed too. Besides, stairs in Bangkok can be tricky. You’d think construction standards were nonexistent in Bangkok, though we all know they do exists because otherwise how would city building inspectors ever make any tea money?
Thais tend to think of Thais as the world’s ideal human being. Even when it comes to farang feet. So there is no good reason to make the tread of the step of stairs fit for a size 11 foot when everyone knows at their deepest they need only accommodate a size 8. And while builders in the West are foolishly forced to build stairs so that the rise is a uniform 7”, in Bangkok a 3” rise is perfectly acceptable and better fits the smaller gait of locals anyway.
No problem. As a farang you learn to take half-steps instead. Until they throw in a quarter step just to keep you on your toes. Literally. Thais are masters at focusing on what is truly important – like providing a way for you to get from the street up into a gogo bar – than they are on pesky little details like constructing that passageway with your safety in mind. If your karma means that you wind up laying in a bloody heap at the foot of the stairway instead of upstairs in the bar that’s your problem. At least with the former your wallet will remain intact, even if several of the more important bones in your body do not.
I’m never sure of the proper etiquette on stairs. I know, for example, that when walking with fish on sidewalks it is considered gentlemanly to take the streetside position so that you become the latest pedestrian fatality in the event an Asian driver manages to navigate over a curb successfully. A lot of etiquette rules are based on the false assumption that fish are more deserving of life than men are. And whether you buy into that proposition or not, most make sense, there is some logic at play: your body between a fish and a car means the fish survives. But I can never figure out if on stairways you are suppose to descend first, to provide a cushioned landing in case she trips and goes flying downward, or you are supposed to follow, thereby allowing you the opportunity of grabbing her should she start her downward spiral.
I do know in Bangkok it doesn’t really matter because the locals climb up the down staircase and vice versa, and treat all stairways as do sardines in a can anyway. They only leave enough room for clumsy farang to trip when their half-step gait meets a quarter-step landing. Sanook is important to locals even when performing routine tasks like climbing stairs. And clumsy farang are a constant source of sanook. As am I for Noom.
Noom is intuitive to a fault. He reads every little tell, look, and bit of body language like a fortune teller reading your palm. So you’d think jerking my elbow out of his hand when we start up a flight of stairs would get through to him. But he knows better. Or at least knows who looks the fool when all he is doing is (innocently) showing his concern for my safety. And giving proof to the need, I did trip one day following him up a short set of stairs in Siam. Not that I’m not clumsy by nature, but between the half-step to quarter-step rise of the stairs, my attention focused on Noom’s ass as it wiggled its way upward in front of me, and his annoying habit of walking at a constantly varying speed, I took a quick – and embarrassing – tumble. It’s one of those moments in my life that I’d love to do over. Not to avoid tripping. But rather to give him a wounded, guilt-inspiring look for having not prevented it. Sanook is not an unknown concept to the farang mind too.
There are just over ten years separating Noom and I in age. I may be the elder of the two, but I’m not so aged that I need constant tending to like the geriatric he likes to pretend I am. Which despite the fantasy he likes to feed by helping me cross streets and manage to get up a flight of stairs without tripping over my own feet really has nothing to do with his taking care of me. It’s his version of sanook, with a bit of payback thrown in for good measure. And he blew his ploy one night in Patpong when a little girl beggar plying her trade on behalf of the city’s Mafia to separate cash from the pockets of unsuspecting farang called me “Papi” as we strolled past. Noom giggled. He usually ignores the fake beggars. But this one had just landed a mortal blow to my pride. And did so squarely in the arena he’s chosen to use to score a few retaliation points of his own.
Noom is a proud man. He takes great pride in who he is, what he has accomplished in his life, and in his ability to tackle the world on his own. Needy is not an adjective that has ever been used to describe him. It is one of the similarities between us that helps makes our relationship a successful one. Great minds thinking alike and all that jazz. That likeness in thought can also be a cause for wounded pride. Even when it stems from the love we share, the concern we have for each other’s happiness and well-being, and our mutual desire for taking care of each other. I inadvertently started this one off by email.
Back when the Red Shirts were busy turning downtown Bangkok into their own version of a Boy Scout Jamboree, Silom was being transformed into a mini-Beruit with armed encampments and daily blood and violence taking home far too close too Noom’s place of work. Not a fan of Thaksin’s northern brigade, and less than pleased about how its actions were affecting bidness, Noom mailed me frequently with updates. Which, of course, were all about how bad bidness was. The boy’s temper is second only to his sense of pride and I worried about his safety. And told him so. Ooops.
Perhaps face-to-face that would have been acceptable, or at least ignorable. Email, however, is a poor means of communication, providing no room for body language and nuance. A simple closing salutation of ‘Take Care’ probably would have been the wiser choice and would have expressed my feelings just as well if not better. Instead, by telling Noom I was worried about him and his welfare, he took it to mean I thought he couldn’t take care of himself. Pride can be a real bitch. But then so can love. Or at least my version of it.
We sorted out that error in judgement on my part by both agreeing he was quite capable of caring for himself. Always and in all things. Slightly mollified, Noom forgave me for ever suggesting otherwise. And, of course, I immediately began making sure to include ‘Take Care’ as my closing salutation in all subsequent emails. And in person began offering my assistance whenever it looked like he might not be capable of accomplishing something on his own. Like tying his shoelaces.
Big surprise, it was not long after that I became too delicate and frail to manage crossing a street on my own. And needed help navigating a flight of stairs or getting through a door without Noom holding it open for me. Anyone observing us would think, “What a polite young man that is!” not realizing his politeness is a discrete form of flipping me the bird. As is mine in getting him a glass of orange juice at breakfast because Vitamin C is important for his health, helping him on with his coat so he doesn’t catch cold, and opening his bag of Doritos, ‘cuz you know how dangerous and tricky that can be. Now, when it comes to taking care of each other’s needs we are both polite to a fault. The care and feeding of each other’s pride is of major importance in our relationship.
The less generous claim farang/bar boy relationships are all needs-based; that the – often older – farang needs sex that he is unable to obtain in his home country and the bar boy needs every satang he can pry out of his farang’s hand. It is a common misconception born by the disgruntled, experienced by those for whom the mutually beneficial facets of a relationship are a foreign idea and a benefit beyond their social/emotional capabilities. If it is a true relationship – and despite the claims of many, Farang/Thai bonds often are – sex and money end up playing a very minor role. Often, what both parties really want from, and fill for each other, is a need for love. And all the aspects that emotion entails.
It’s easy to focus on the financial, though that seldom is the underlying motive in these relationships. The true and more fundamental needs, the filling of which is often sought through a relationship, are often nothing more than companionship, mutual support and respect, and the fulfillment you get from being an important and valuable part of another human being’s life. In the end it has little to do with age, sex, or money. In the end it has little to do with the farang being sometimes older and almost always more financially fit, or the Thai being younger and often more physically fit. And it has little to do with the nationalities of the two involved.
The same search for a beneficial existence with someone you love and who loves you is played out worldwide, within a country’s boundaries as well as beyond them, between breeders as well as between those attracted to the same sex, and among those of similar as well as disparate ages. Thailand merely provides a forum where those so inclined can easily meet. Thanks to its culture, Thailand began filling that need way before Match.com ever existed. Provided you are capable of opening yourself to the idea that you do need somebody else in your life to – and I hate to use this thought – make yourself whole.
This is Gay Pride month, the time each year we are supposed to celebrate our community and remind ourselves to be proud of who we are. It’s also a good time to consider pride as it relates to your entire life. Pride in yourself as a characteristic is generally a good thing. Until you allow it to get in the way of growth. Or happiness. Too much of any good thing can be a detriment; you can have too much pride for your own good. Some of the pundits who frequent the gay Thailand message boards like to claim those who open themselves to a relationship with a Thai – be he a bar boy or not – lack pride in themselves, show little or no self-awareness, and are needy, gullible old men who confuse love with money. And while I have no problem with those who limit themselves to a cash for sex existence – that’s filling an immediate need and is fine as far as it goes – I disagree with their assessment of those looking for more.
I think it takes a great deal of pride in yourself to be open to the idea that there are needs in your life beyond those you can fill on your own, that your happiness can depend on someone else being a part of your life. I don’t think falling in love with a younger Thai man is a sign of desperation, I think it is a sign of having enough pride that you can reach out to someone else. And accept what they can bring into your life. It takes a lot of self-confidence to admit that you need someone else, and a lot of pride to view your worth an acceptable trade in any relationship, especially one that at first glance would appear otherwise.
You don’t hear often from those farang who have formed loving, successful relationships with Thai guys on the message boards, but thanks to this blog I have. As well as from many in the process of doing so. And rather than the fools and losers in life the pundits like to assume – and convince you – they all are, to a man they are the kind of men you’d be proud to call a friend. Which ain’t necessarily true with the board habitants. Invariably they are men proud of their accomplishments in life, with good reason. Many are at a point in their life when they feel the need to complete what anyone else would agree is a fulfilled one, by opening themselves to someone who can provide them with those needs they are unable to fill on their own. And having two hands, that need is seldom just about sex. Rather than the fall the pundits will tell you is headed their way, their pride in themselves makes a full, and genuine, relationship not only possible, but probable.
I fell in love with a bar boy, and I’m proud of that fact. Not because of who I am or the incredibly hot guy I can now call a friend (though there is that too) but because of who he is, how proud I am of him, and what he has done for me and for my life. Even when that means taking the occasional blow to my ego to keep him happy.
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