I am posting this article based on from my personal experiences. This story is a bit unusual. It is cast in three scenes with a setting in Bangkok.
Its about Champo and Achara. Of course the names have been changed.
I was involved for a year for a project on the industrial estate of Samut Prakarn in Bangkok. I used to make two weeks mission every three months.
I met Champo and Achara during my project. We became extremely good friends and we still are.
Achara was a pretty office secretary, knew accounts, spoke French – and was a great book lover. Champo was a mechanical engineer by training and worked as the PR person for the project, doing outreach of Cleaner Production and Industrial Efficiency project to the industries. He was dam good in his job.
Champo’s family came from Myanmar and settled in Bangkok over two generations. The family was rich with considerable political clout in Yangon. In Burmese, Champo means someone who is friendly.
Champo must be around 30 years. A very jovial person. He was a frequent visitor to the Massage parlors in Bangkok. And he was extremely knowledgeable when it came to the gory details of this nightly industry.
I learnt lot from Champo about Bangkok’s notorious massages, especially at the soapy parlors. All soapy massages in Thailand have either a fishbowl or sideline girls and in few parlors the “modelling girls”. A fishbowl is a big room which has a glass wall. You’re on one side of the glass and the “soapy girls” sit on the other side. Every soapy girl has a badge attached to her clothing with a number, this is the number you give the mamasan (manager of the girls) when you select your girl. Being a regular visitor, Champo knew which number to ask from the fishbowl.
A fishbowl in the Massage Parlor
Sideline girls sit on a chair or sofa. You can approach these girls and talk to them unlike the girls in the Fishbowl. Sideline girls are very much like freelancing Thai hookers, they have no set hours and can come and go as they please. Usually they charge more.
And there are Modeling girls who feature in the fashion magazines and are really expensive to book.
Champo must be spending huge money– as he used to visit the parlors practically thrice a week and go for sideliners and the modelling girls. I guess his rich dad sent him money every month as much as what he got as a salary.
Champo used to talk about his night life only to me and when Achara was not around. I was interested to get from him his interesting stories and experiences in dealing with the massage girls. I used to recommend that he should consider writing a guidebook and make money!
I told Champo that it is the eighth wonder of the world that he is not yet hit by STDs and HIV given the potential risk of being with the sex workers. He used to ignore my warnings and instead give a sweet smile.
I stopped my missions as the Samut Prakarn project got over. Achara had left the job earlier and it seemed that she got into a book publishing company. Champo got a job in managing a chain of supermarkets – the Central. PR was his USP and that came handy while picking up this job.
We however remained in touch via emails and FB. I did make trips in between on other projects but we could never get together.
In 2008, I did a short visit to Bangkok and met Achara. She had joined as a manager at the Dasa Bookstore. That was the kind of job she was craving for.
But before I proceed, I must tell you a bit about this amazing place.
Dasa Bookstore was opened in 2004, It sells and exchanges all types of second-hand books. The store stocks more than 20,000 books and is known for its high English classics and inspiring biographies. The ground floor holds the more contemporary and lifestyle orientated books with the likes of general fiction, travel, art, and cookbooks. The second-floor houses mainly novels of all sorts – thriller, tragedies, and westerns. Above all this, stacks upon stacks of English and European literature classics are heaped on the third and final floor.
Dasa Book Store
I saw Achara on the ground floor in the floor managers cabin on a Monday evening. She asked for a coffee with some chocolate donuts. We had great conversations and remembered all the good times we had together.
“Do you meet Champo?” I asked
“Oh. We are in touch. He comes to the Queen Bee that is just next doors on Tuesdays” Achara said.
“Then let us give him a surprise. I will come to Dasa by 7 pm tomorrow and we will walk up to Queen Bee”
She readily agreed.
Queen Bee is a bar on Sukhumvit Soi 26 and just a 4 min walk from the Dasa Book store. It looks like most of the bars you can find tucked in the soi (lane) in Bangkok. But what makes it different is the music, and in particular, the Open Mic Tuesday night. During Open Mic, anyone could get on the stage, sing or play an instrument. No wonder why Champo visited Queen Bee on a Tuesday.
I met Achara at the Das. She lifted a box that was neatly packed.
“This box is for Champo“. She explained.
We walked to Queen Bee and I helped Achara to carry the box.
Champo was sitting on a bar stool and listening to the Open Mic performer. He was simply shocked to see me with Achara.
“Oh my dear friend – long time no see”. He got up and hugged me emotionally.
I saw his face had some signs of age that were catching up. There were wrinkles on his face, few stands of white hair were noticeable and there were dark spots under his eyes. The job at the supermarket chain must be taxing, I thought.
We asked for beer Singha. He held my hand and talked a lot about his work life and his family. Champo was not still married and lived alone.
When Achara went to the loo, I winked and asked Champo about his massage parlor visits
“Oh, I haven’t stopped. I now go to new places. This industry is rapidly changing”. Champo had new information to share.
While he was explaining, I noticed the girl sitting alone at the bar.
These are the kind of girls Champo must be spending time with. I didn’t know what to say.
When Achara returned, Champo asked her
Did you get my box?
Achara showed the box that we had kept under the table.
“Hey Prasad, I have to go. Let us catch up again before you fly out. We will ask Achara to coordinate and fix a nice place, may be over a healthy lunch?”
Champo seemed to be in a hurry and had an appointment. But after listening to him on his continued visit to the massage parlors, I found that I wasn’t particularly interested to meet him again.
He must be going to the Darling Turkish Bath on Soi 12 – I said to myself.
As Champo left Queen Bee, Achara looked at me and spoke
“Prasad, I must share with you a news. Champo and I are getting married. We will have a marriage ceremony just around Christmas. His family will join from Yangon. You must come with your family”
I just couldn’t believe.
Are you crazy Achara? I couldn’t control my voice.
I then spoke about Champo’s affinity towards girls and the massage parlors, concluding that he is not the man for a decent, innocent and talented person like Achara.
It was hard for me to reveal the truth.
Achara heard me patiently and then said
“Oh, in that case you probably don’t know much about Champo and what he does. For the last several years, Champo has been actively engaged in helping and reforming the sex workers. He pays the charge when he visits a massage parlor but does not ask for a massage or sex from the girl. Instead, he gets into a conversation, helps the girl to open out, relax and help find an alternate profession to live.
Being with Champo has been a relieving experience to these exploited women. Many cry and many just stay rested on his shoulders. He has now formed an association in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to rescue the girls and help them to live a respectable and secured life.This is how he has been spending most of his money and for a good cause”
I was simply amazed to know this hidden or “other side” of Champo. I remembered Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon) doing the same for Irma La Douce (Shirley McClean). That was in the movie Irma La Douce.
As a friendly gesture, Champo started gifting the girls a book to read. I choose the books for him from Dasa. I find the most appropriate and easy to read a book that can inspire the girls. I bring him a box of such books to distribute whenever we meet.
The Sticker with an Angle
And, as a gesture to remember, Champo puts a sticker on the book he gifts – the sticker with an angel. A sticker of affection and confidence.
(I understood. In Thai “Achara” means an angel who is very pretty – so no wonder Champo chose such a sticker!)
Achara left the Queen Bee after this explanation. I stayed on – stunned and sitting in daze.
The lonely girl at the bar with a large purse came to pay
While looking for a wad of Thai notes, she took out a book from her purse.
The book had Champo’s sticker with an angel!
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