Where the best is like the worst…

This is Kipling country, although Portugal got here first. There is a quarter in old Phuket that has Sino-Portuguese architecture, although one website I cross-checked refused the notion and called it Sino-Colonial. I’m not quite sure what bit of Sino was not colonial, but there we are. From the western side, it can hardly be Dutch. They came after the Portuguese, and their architecture at that time was like their food, utilitarian and non-descript. Anyhow, the evidence is in plain sight.

Portuguese influences in the architecture of Thalang road in old Phuket town.

The very worst in Thailand is the children. They’re all selling something. Whether it’s sex, with endless rows of massage parlors, boys and girls alike, or merchandise of all shapes and sizes, the tourist trade is a real trap for youth. Western couples on honeymoon, older groups, odd looking single men draping stunning Thai girls on their arm, everyone is oblivious to the children. People who in their own lands would tut-tut (rather than tuc-tuc), frown deeply, and most probably file a complaint, are blind to these little kids, some no more than six or seven.

While I was eating, a little girl came in selling roses. Nine in the evening. All tables. No takers. She got to me last. I gave her a twenty baht note, about fifty cents, and her eyes looked at me as blankly as before. No soul, no smile. Now to you fifty cents doesn’t seem like much, but it converts to eighty Portuguese escudos, before the days of the euro. And if you consider that a plate of glass noodles with squid on tourist restaurant row in Karon beach costs seventy-five baht in September 2010, then you begin to put it in perspective.  She can’t have been more than eight. I took her picture as she walked away, I didn’t want to add to her sadness by making her pose before giving her the banknote.

After that, three more kids came in, all shy of ten. Selling crap, leaving empty-handed. Meanwhile, the family sitting was over, people with young kids having an early supper, and the local fauna shifted. Young couples, honeymooners, and the inevitable western guys with Thai girls. In Mozambique, the locals call them Catorzinhas, fourteenies. Black children entertaining white men.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a Thai exclusive, all over the world the strong rule over the weak. And children are the very weakest. They have no defences, and the people that exploit them are not the tourists, but the ones they love the most, the ones they trust and want to impress. The ones they do their everything to please. Their parents.

The tourist is the vehicle, not the driver. Nevertheless, there is nothing I despise more in the world than the abuse of children in any form. Yesterday evening I ate late and took a stroll after dinner. I lingered over my food because I was privileged to listen to what is possibly the worst band in the world. I don’t have video editing software at hand (though I daresay I could pick some up for twenty baht just round the corner) but I promise to post a little clip in October, it’ll be my first movie post. It may be Twist and Shout, Pretty Woman, or Living Next Door to Alice. Or perhaps an unmissable example of Thai reggae.

My stroll took me past a bar bursting with teenage girls. All pretty, sexy, dressed to score, calling over to me from across the street. I don’t have anything against the sex trade:  guys, women, even giraffes. Paid, unpaid, or negotiated as credit default swaps. Short or long, options or futures. As long as they’re all adult and consenting. No kids.

A good amount of ladyboys (kathoey is the local term) cash in on the girl market, and a substantial number of western guys find themselves confronted with a willie (probably a wee willie) when they get down to serious business.  My hotel, a perfectly respectable establishment, set the tone on arrival. After checking me into a double room for single use, the receptionist courteously let me know that an extra person in the room would lead to a daily surcharge of one thousand baht. Thirty bucks. I hesitated to ask about group discounts, tempting though it was.

Vasco da Gama on display in a Phuket convenience store

This morning as I sat drinking my coffee and watching the breakers roll in across the Andaman Sea, two couples fit the bill. Older guys, north European, fat and pasty. The sort of guys who couldn’t pull a good-looking woman back home if you gave ‘em a tow-truck and a magnet. And stunning teenage girls. Oh well, at least they get a decent breakfast.

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