"Sawadeeka,” smiles the svelte Thai hostess as she folds her hands and bows deep, welcoming me to the breakfast floor of the plush Bangkok hotel. Her elegant silk gown swishes as she sashays past rows of tables to seat me poolside. She delicately unfolds a napkin and places it in my lap, and, after enquiring whether I prefer tea or coffee, exits with a bow and another flash of those gleaming whites.
My table affords a great view not only of the cerulean waters of the swimming pool but also of the sprawling breakfast area. I flip through the magazine I have brought along and then decide that it is far more interesting to people watch than to peruse the pages of Time.
Bangkok is many things to many people. It is a shopper’s paradise, strewn with megamalls stocked both with tony designer brands and cheap local ware. It is the gateway to Thailand as vacationers arrive, en famille, into the capital city and then make their way to budget friendly destinations such as Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui.
Bangkok is also Sin City. Visitors have long descended here to fulfil their every fantasy. The Thais are, by nature, a conservative people but they are surprisingly liberal when it comes to sex. They do not ostracise fellow Thais who resort to selling their bodies to provide for their families. And they do not sneer at the scores of transgender ladyboys saving up for the operation that will enable them to transition from male to female.
Though the hotel that I am staying at is regarded as one of the best in Bangkok, the breakfast tables are peppered with firangi or foreign men who have paid for the company of the Thai women who sit opposite them. Some pasty-faced males openly grope their consorts, who giggle coyly and play out the stereotype of the shy, submissive Oriental girl. A few Indian men, accompanied by their wives, glare disparagingly at this public show of affection. Perhaps they are jealous, perhaps genuinely outraged. Their children run amok, shouting, screaming, and hurling croissants at one another. Their parents couldn’t be bothered with restraining them, too preoccupied with passing judgement and buttering toasts.
Unmindful of the crowd, a besotted young Brit kisses his male companion full on the lips. A Gujarati lady, standing in queue behind them, is gobsmacked, and decides to forsake her omelette and flee the scene. The hostess approaches, escorting an elderly American woman, wielding a walking stick, to the table next to mine. Her good-looking companion is a young Thai male. The couple bill and coo. I smile and discreetly look away.
One night in Bangkok, so the song says, makes a hard man humble. But breakfast in Bangkok will teach you a thing or two about life and love.