In the late sixties and early seventies, the adventurous/ the unwashed/ the potheads/ the draft dodgers and others took the trail to Nepal. A few continued further and experienced life beyond India. Rod and Mike discover some Turkish lifestyles are different in Thailand. There is a drug reference and nude scene.
The packed tables of Thai workers continued eating their bowls of long soup for lunch and ignored the two white men in their twenties as they came down the stairs. To the diners, they were just part of the stream of young Europeans that now flowed through Asia.
“Pretty basic room Rod, but it will give us time to sort out a better place to hang out,” said the taller dark curly haired one, when they were clear of the building. He was wearing regulation jeans and an Indian white cheesecloth shirt with the hairs from his chest protruding out the top. In his left hand he was clicking over wooden worry beads, a habit picked up enroute. In fact the room above the cheap café was better than those where they had stayed in Katmandu and Kabul but worse than New Delhi. Rod had accepted Mike’s remark about the room as he accepted all his friends’ decisions if it saved him any effort.
His auburn headed friend was wearing a brown Afghani shirt with yellow embroidery enclosing mirrors in the cloth from the collar area to the bottom of the opening at the front. His jeans were frayed half way up his calf, which regularly produced the comment ‘Neat, man’ from other travellers. Not that Rod had meant to be a leader in fashion on the trail, as it would ruin a lifetime’s non-performance. The jeans purchased in the bazaar in Istanbul had been about 20 cms too long in the leg, which he had hacked off with his nail scissors. As other travellers sat in the Suleiman The Magnificent mosque discussing the meaning of life, he had frayed the cut ends for something to do.
In Tabriz he washed the jeans and the legs shrunk so they only reached his calf. He’d waited until the morning before doing anything, as he wasn’t sure if they had actually shrunk or someone had slipped something extra in his joint. Having retained the pieces from the bottom of the legs of the jeans, he sewed them back on leaving the frayed part on the outside and had accidentally become a fashion leader.
“I’m hot and sticky. I still feel grubby from the bus ride from Chang Mai, Mike,“ responded Rod, the shorter of the two, as he mopped his sweaty face as they walked past the railway station on the humid Bangkok day.
At that very moment they both spotted a large neon sign flashing the word “HAMAMI”. Their closeness was such that in the same instant, they both pointed to the sign.
That word Hamami mentally took them back to Istanbul and the Turkish baths carrying the same name. Turkey was as far back in their memories as it was in distance from Thailand. As Istanbul was their first taste of the Orient after crossing Europe, it held a special place in their minds. It was a quantum cultural leap for them. Since then they’d experienced Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Burma becoming worldlier with every country. The word Hamami brought back the cleanest feelings in this hippie Odyssey, where bathing could sometimes be a problem. They’d reminisced about the scene to each other in chai houses across Asia or whenever they were cold.
In Istanbul, they had stripped off their clothes and placed them in a locker, strapped the keys to their wrists, wrapped a loin cloth round their waists and moved to the bathhouse where they were the only infidels in a room of Turks. The actual bath was in a large domed room and consisted of a conical slab in the middle and alabaster bowls with running water making them continually overflow. A cupola on top of the dome had stained glass windows, which cast colours on the walls where the sun’s rays landed.
The warmth gained from lying on the slab contrasted against the cold March day chilled by a wind coming off the Siberian Steppes. A huge Turk had come up and illustrated his fee for a massage by showing 10 fingers. They had nodded their assent. It was thorough massage by a strong guy who wouldn’t look out of place in a wrestling ring. He stretched every joint and pummelled every muscle. In a final act, he’d stood on their buttocks while holding their arms and lent backwards until they thought their arms would pop out of their sockets. He finished off the massage with a neck twist that made a dreadful clicking sound. At the end, their bodies were free of stress and as flexible as a fourteen-year-old Russian gymnast. Using the water that overflowed the alabaster bowls they freshened up.
Finally they had retired to the rest area and were wrapped by an attendant in large soft white towels. The luxury continued when a youth with the brass tray suspended by three supports brought bulb glasses of green tea with an undissolved sugar lump in the base. Lying on the leather couches sipping green tea, they imagined being Sultans awaiting the harem. It was one of the luxury moments of a journey on a shoestring budget. The word Hamami was a magical word burnt in their memories and now it was flashing at them in downtown Bangkok.
“Let’s do it man,” said Mike, “but for God’s sake this time take your underpants off.”
They both laughed. In Istanbul, Rod had been so eager to get in the baths he forgot to remove his underpants. It was only as he poured containers of water over himself, he remembered he was still wearing jocks. It resulted in him carrying the wet underpants in his pocket as they returned to the hotel near the Aya Sophia with Mike calling him Nicholas!
Mike pushed open the heavy door lined with heavy purple curtains. As it closed behind them, the room seemed quite dark in contrast to the bright sun of the early afternoon. As their eyes adjusted to the change in light, they found themselves in front of a large bay window behind which three rows of girls clad in revealing pink outfits were chattering to each other.
Before either could say a word, a Thai put his head between theirs and said, “Twenty Baht.”
Mike immediately said “Number Two,” and pulled out the required forty Baht for both of them to have a bath.
It always pissed Rod off at how quickly Mike sussed out a situation especially as far as the opposite sex was concerned. It was only then he noticed that each girl had a numbered plastic button above her right breast and number 2 was the most beautiful of all of the girls. Girl number 43 was sitting next to Mike’s girl. She was fine, so Rod chose her as it saved him surveying the field. In a way it affronted his values in life referring to someone’s daughter by a number. The man relayed the numbers in Thai over a speaker and the two girls rose from their positions.
As the masseuses came out from a side door, they were each carrying a plastic washing basket full of towels and soaps. The lads watched them intently as the giggling girls trotted more than walked. It wasn’t just the feminine movement but rather the lack of contact with females since leaving England. When the girls passed them carrying the baskets as brides carry bouquets, the two young men fell in behind, making a small procession. The foursome started climbing the broad stairs with a dusty ornate wrought iron handrail. Its elegance reflected the past glories of the building rather than its present use. Neither Rod nor Mike had said a word since selecting their girl. At the first landing girl number 2, closely followed by Mike went off down a corridor.
Number 43 and a very apprehensive Rod started climbing the next flight of stairs, Rod desperately watched Mike’s back disappearing through a doorway. He realised that he was now on his own and may have to take a decision in life. A quick spurt brought him along side number 43. As she was quite small, she looked up at him and smiled. Rod’s mind was awash with her charm. Her dark Asian hair, the brown eyes and her youth had him in a state of excitement. That smile would stay with him all the rest of his life. That alone was worth 20 Baht. Similarly they went down a corridor and like Mike’s girl, number 43 chose a door. The contrast between this room and the Hamami in Istanbul was beyond comparison.
At the end of the narrow room was a slipper bath, which determined the width of the room. The right wall was the bare wood framing while the left had been clad with plywood. On the left was a black leather massage table. After putting her basket on the massage table, the girl proceeded to clean the bath before filling it. Rod sat on the table still under the spell of her smile and watched her working. He was also getting himself into a bit of a panic as he realised that this picture of maidenhood was going to wash him. There was no loincloth like Turkey to hide behind, plus the Hamami in Istanbul had been a male-only place. It was obvious that if she was going to bath him he had to take all his clothes off. The mathematical side of his brain switched into gear. If her number is 43 he estimated there would be 50 masseuses in the Hamami. At 20 Baht a bath, they must have to bathe at least four men a day to make a living. So that’s 200 men a day, with about 300 days a year, wow that’s 60,000 men get bathed here each year so he told himself not to get hung up about this nudity problem in his mind.
Having persuaded himself of the normalcy of the situation, Rod stripped off his gear in record time, taking advantage of the fact that the Thai girl had her back to him. Jeans, underpants, socks and shoes came off in one rapid movement. It took him a moment of reflection before removing his last vestige of clothing, his Afghani shirt. He threw the clothes on some hooks on the wood framing and rapidly replaced his bare bum on the table. The tension of sitting in the nude with a beautiful stranger in the room was too great and he snatched the first cloth off the top of the basket to cover his genitals only to find what he’d picked up was the smallest of washers. The scene of him sitting in the nude with this minute cloth barely covering Milligan was worthy of a photograph. In many ways it was a picture of innocence. Many would have seen some of the same elements of Botticelli’s Venus about the scene. The embarrassed young man then started contemplating the walk to the bath from his present position. He was worried that Milligan, who had a mind of his own, would become erect before he got in the bath. All Rods’ life Milligan had popped up and down at will generally at inappropriate times. One of his recurring nightmares involved Milligan and a lady GP. He considered casually carrying a towel and gaining some modesty by covering his genitals, but resolved it would highlight his inexperience in this situation. He finally decided he should relax and think of England.
The young Thai girl - well they all looked young to Rod - dipped her elbow in the bath to check the water temperature, turned and beckoned with her index finger. Given the choice at that moment he would have rather walked towards the hangman and his noose than head towards the beckoning young masseuse. With as much aplomb as he could muster, he replaced the washer in the basket as though it were a serviette and with measured step walked towards the bath. If he ran, she would recognise his inexperience in life. If he strolled, Milligan would disgrace them both.
She held his hand as he stepped into the bath. The touch was enough to encourage Milligan so he rapidly lowered himself into the bath. There was a generous amount of water just warm enough to relax him and yet not enough to add heat to his body. With a graceful movement she took Rod’s right hand in her left hand and with the lightest of touches started washing it. She went round each cuticle and into the webbing between each finger. She gently tugged each finger and rotated the joints with the touch of an angel. Rod closed his eyes to enjoy the sensuous sensation. As long as she didn’t speak to him in English he felt protected by the language barrier. How would he react if she suddenly said, “I see Arsenal lost on Saturday.”
Beneath the surface of the water Milligan was up to his old tricks. Fortunately there was sufficient water to prevent Milligan taking on the role of a submarine’s periscope. Rod was trying to absorb every touch made by his Thai maiden. After washing both arms she gently placed on her hand on the back of his head to get him to lean forward and Milligan plunged into deeper water. After soaping his shoulders she gave them a massage with a firmer pressure than he had expected from such a slight built person. It was much more enjoyable than the force used by the Turk.
By the time Rod had got to the bottom of the stairs, Mike was already waiting for him with a nearly empty can of Coke. Drinking canned Coke was a major expense on their budgets but it indicated some form of celebration was in progress.
They returned to the bright sunlit streets of Bangkok on the hot humid afternoon and headed towards the river, smelling of cheap talcum powder but as clean as a new button and with huge smiles on their faces.
“Loved the way she sprayed the bath water off before drying me.”
“I now know how a baby boy feels after being talced.”
“You had your legs lifted and powdered between as well.”
“Yup. Mine had obviously never seen one my colour by the amount of attention she gave it.”
There was a few minutes silence as they recalled the more intimate moments of the experience the smiles returning to their clean faces.
“Did yours walk up and down your spine?”
“And her toes were as flexible as fingers. What a feeling!”
“Wouldn’t let that Turk do that, would you?”
“Walk up and down my spine. No way.”
“Enjoyed Turkey but this was something else.”
“Wow what a way to go on a Tuesday lunchtime.”
The smiles reappeared on their faces.
“The worse point was having to walk in the nuddy to her and the bath.”
“Have we enough funds to do it again tomorrow?”