Monday, October 30, 2006

Today My Grandmother Sold Me Porn: My Story

We get solicitors all the time at the office. In the little time I’ve spent there I’ve been solicited children books, dental equipment, and electronic massage therapy machines. But the most business is done by the lottery. Work comes to a standstill when the small army of lottery salespeople enters the office in their flannel shirts and sombrero-like hats.

Thais play the lottery religiously. One of my friends plays the underground lottery, the gov’t controlled lottery, and the lottery on the internet. Another PCV told me that his friend spent four hundred baht on lottery tickets, won one hundred baht, and then took all his friends out for beers to celebrate.

There is a saying in Thai, “Poor people play the lottery, rich people play the stock market.” Usually the lotto solicitor will approach me, open their briefcase of tickets, and smile. And I try to think how I’d say, “Poor Peace Corps Volunteers play fantasy baseball.”

I first met Yay Nang Bo a little while after I started hanging out at the local gov’t office for the comforts of air conditioning. She’s a pu-soon-ayoo, or elder, much respected in my community. Every other week, she’ll come into our office, dressed in Khun Yay-garb, a pasin skirt and top, and sell her wares. Yays speak only Lao, and are almost impossible to communicate with. When she first approached me, her briefcase made me think she was selling lotto tickets.


This is the classic Khun Yay attire.

I pre-empted her. “Hello grandmother, no thank you.” Then she pretended not to understand my perfectly fluent Lao, and opened her briefcase. “Um, what are you selling grandmother?” “You want to buy? Many Japanese girls, very pretty.”

Yay Nang Bo sells hard-core porn.

She sold better than the lotto. There were crowds. Instead of looking for lucky numbers, people scanned the still-shots on the backs of the discs looking for Korean and Japanese girls. Women, men, bosses and subordinates all had piles of porn stacked on their desks next to their reports. And she comes every other week.

So you might think that Thai society is open and honest about sexuality. Or because simple Thai words have sexual meanings, like “to take, to help one’s situation, to do homework,” you might think that Thais talk about sex all the time. When in actuality these slang phrases probably evolved because Thais couldn’t talk openly about sex, and each connotation came with an a-tonal wink, meaning more or less, “in the Biblical sense.”

Last week in Udon Thani, we had an AIDS conference for PCVs and their counterparts, hoping to inspire projects and help develop relationships between them. To break down the cultural barriers preventing us from talking about sex without shame or giggles, we played stupid games that got the giggling out of the way first.

A PC staff member asked me why I thought Thais weren’t scared to talk, and offer opinions and ideas at our conferences. We had just finished a game where we pretended we were all condoms and penises. We sit on the floor, wear casual clothes, and run around a lot. Definitely not what a usual Thai meeting is like.



Fittingly enough, at this particular conference, my roommate and I had a visitor for a couple nights.

I awoke one night to find my roommate standing next to his bed with his back towards me, holding a blanket behind him. “Dude, go to bed man, it’s like, 3 in the morning or something.” Only it wasn’t my roommate at all, because he was sleeping soundly under the covers.

I woke up the next morning and told my roommate the story. Apparently two nights ago, he had seen a ghost standing in the exact same place, and had trouble breathing when he awoke.

And in Thailand, Halloween was a couple months ago.

So we casually told some of the Thai PC staff about our “trick of light” as we agreed to call it. “Did you remember to prostrate yourself before the Buddha the night before?” one man asked me. “No, we forgot to do that.” After carefully investigating the matter, one Thai told me that the front desk said that the hotel was built near an old battlefield, and that the ghost was probably a soldier.

One man told me, “One time, long ago, I went to hotel with my girlfriend, and we had fun together, then we fall asleep. We have the same dream. A girl with long hair visit both of us. I forget to ask her for lottery number. Please do not forget. Ask your ghost lottery number!”

After a long day at the conference, the HIV staff were together discussing all the things we messed up, when a woman came in to speak with our PC staff liaison, P-Funk. P-Funk came back into the room shaking his head, and told me, “You’re not going to believe this, but she wants to talk with you.”

“I am the hotel manager,” she said. “I hear you have seen a ghost two nights in your room. Could you describe it to me?” After retelling the story for the twentieth time that day, she asked me if I would like to switch rooms. I told her that I planned on staying in my room, that I would be sleeping with a camera at my side to take the ghost’s picture. “Make sure you take video,” she said, “it won’t show up if you use the flash.”

P-Funk generously let us borrow a Buddha image to place on the bedstand that night. We never saw the ghost again.

Four women wearing flannel and sombreros came into the office today. Yay Nang Bo had already come and gone by then. My friend was showing me all his new porn as I told him the ghost story. “I feel lucky this month,” he said, “I’m going to see if they have my lucky number. Do you want me to buy you a ticket?”

I would be a rich man, if only I could’ve gotten that ghost to talk.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Even more difficult to get than a ghost photo is one of me working. Here it is folks, caught in the act. Photographic evidence!

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