Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WRITTEN WORD 63 - Bonnie

It started early in my time Asia - in Chiengmai, a sparkling royal city in the northeast of Thailand – Chiengmai, where for strange reasons that had nothing to do with anything serious, I was the English-language P.R. man for the World Council of Buddhists' international conference. A Burmese acquaintance of mine at Reuter's in Bangkok made Bonnie their correspondent for the event. And up in Chiengmai Bonnie and I were the talk of the town. When we called for room service in the Railway Hotel the entire staff crowded into our room, where we were naked in bed as a chef flambéed our dinner for us.

In Thailand, the land of the beautiful women, Bonnie – who was not Thai but came from New Jersey via Texas, Ohio and Tokyo – had my full attention from the start. Tall, dark, green eyes, silky hair - I thought of the resolutions so many Western men out here had made to avoid Western women. Not me, yet.

Now at last, the proper drama in life. Twenty-two now, Bonnie had gone to Tokyo as a junior to teach English for a semester in Antioch's work-study program. She had wound up working as a lure for Japanese men, paid well to stand just inside a nightclub door wearing a low gown that showed the syrupy smooth skin that would make me almost forget Thai women.

The drama continued. She had come to Bangkok with a slimy, high-living American government agent who had been next door in Vietnam, where the awful war raged, and who now wanted to kill me because she moved into my house on the wide Chao Phrya River.

It was all drama – spooks chasing spooks. Nobody was what they said they were. And with us, departures in the night, fights, a suicide try – a time in jail, which was a cage, in Sungei Golok, a jungle smuggler's town. And it got worse before it was over – a final scene in Kabul after a terminal trip through the Khyber Pass.

But that was not the way it was at the start in Chiengmai.

That night in the little hotel we had ordered everything on the new Western menu (this the year Western food, a novelty category then in Thailand, having caught on with the cool people). Our meal was brought right into the room, where the floor and sofa were covered with big, recently dead, black bugs because we'd forgotten to close the screen door to the terrace. The women and men came right in and formed a semi-circle around us – pretty smiling waitresses, also pretty housemaids, smiling waiters, smiling bus boys, three grinning guys with tall white comic strip chef's hats. They paraded in, and we were naked and not quite covered by the sheets. One of the chefs uncovered a huge platter of what looked like shish kebab, another poured Mekong rice whisky on it, a third lit it with a Zippo that featured the words "Semper Fi" and the Marine Corps logo – and there was a black cloud of smoke, then a sparkling yellow, bouncing flame – Bonnie so tantalizing in this light – and everybody in the room was clapping.

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