Friday, September 30, 2011


My life's motto, as stated on this blog's home page is that I'll do anything twice -- and seriously, I will, unless you're talking eating grilled cockroaches, a Thai delicacy that has "no way in hell!" written all over it.


But when it comes to great cities, I don't always get the chance to do them again. Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wide world, and I want to see so much of it. Unfortunately, there's not enough time or money for regular backtracking. Sometimes once has to be enough.

So I choose wisely. Aside from the international cities I've visited, fallen in love with and moved to (Buenos Aires, Melbourne), there are only a handful that I've returned to on completely separate trips: London (which I frequented at least twice a year beginning in 1995, until I discovered South America in the early '00s), Montreal, Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Rio, Sydney, Toronto (which I might have re-visited even if my brother didn't live there).

Sure I never grew to love Paris or Rio or Montreal, but the others were even better the second, third and, in the case of London, the umpteenth time around. A rule of thumb: If I like a great city the first time, I'll probably love it the second time. It's an ongoing theme with me (like it now, adore it later) -- my love theme for great cities!

So will Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, continue my love-'em-and-leave-'em-return-and-love-'em-even-more streak? In a previous post, I promised I'd return some day, but between you and me, dear readers, I secretly didn't think I actually would. In the end, it was a matter of necessity and practicality. My latest allotted 30 visitor days in Thailand expired today (29 September), and since I'm sticking around until January, I must switch to a tourist visa, which would give me 60 days in the country at a time with the option of extending, if need be.

I'd read that the Thai embassies in Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia make it pretty easy on Westerners desperately seeking tourist visas, so I narrowed it down to those three, although I was sort of craving adventure in Seoul. I've heard mixed opinions of Laos, and frankly, it doesn't interest me in the least. (Sorry, Devarni, hope you have a blast cruising down the Mekong.) I adored Cambodia, but I don't feel like I have to go back there so soon. With KL, though, after I left the first time, I always had this inkling that I'd missed something big.

It helps that I met some cool people here whom I'm looking forward to seeing again (I also met a Malay at DJ Station last weekend, and he's promised to show me around town), and several Malaysia-based magazine editors are interesting in meeting me. So it's part business, part pleasure, part visa run.

Last time I arrived by train from Singapore and departed by air to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, so the bumpy two-hour Air Asia flight from Bangkok gave me a brand-new first impression of Malaysia. Though I missed seeing the mountains from the right side of the aircraft upon descent (they looked so cool off in the distance to the right as the train from Singapore approached Kuala Lumpur last time), and the airport seemed a lot more '70s than I remember, could it be possible that KL has gotten even more enchanting?

There were a lot of western tourists in customs (cute and dirty blond was a running theme), where last time I remember seeing relatively few of them on the streets, so I'm already prepared to hear lots of Australian accents, mate. And those Malays still have strange taste in music: When I got into the taxi, easy-listening oldies by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, Bee Gees and Anne Murray reminded me that here in Malaysia people are as obsessed with silly love songs in English from bygone eras as they are in the rest of Southeast Asia.

But the ride was worth sitting though the schlock. As the hilly terrain around the airport gave way to KL's skyline, dominated by the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, and those mountains in the distance, I felt secure in the choice I'd made to have a return engagement here.

Sade once sang that it's never as good as the first time. It usually isn't. But cities have proven her wrong before, and I'm hoping that KL is about to be another one of them.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Here she comes -- again.

At least once a year, without fail, for a week or two, sometimes three, Dusty Springfield re-enters heavy rotation on my iPod. And as of this morning, she's back on repeat.

Despite my annual Dusty revival, my Dusty devotion is nowhere near as over-the-top as it was when I lived in New York City and my friend Declan and I would spend hours in East Village bars singing her greatest hits as boy-on-boy duets. He thought it was a shame that she never got around to covering "The Tracks of My Tears," and at some point during our Dusty sessions, he'd always break into Dusty doing Smokey Robinson, nailing her nailing him.

I interviewed Dusty once in 1995 for People magazine just as she was about to release her final album, A Very Fine Love. (Read my review and interview here. She talked about how she had been diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump following the recording of the album in Nashville. ("I don't have any boobs, so it wasn't hard to find," she said with a laugh.) She was in good spirits because the cancer was in remission, and she was looking forward to beating more odds by making a big musical comeback.

Sadly, the disease would demand a rematch, and in 1999, she succumbed to it at the age of 59. She didn't live to see herself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Elton John (Dusty had died 12 days earlier), and she never really reaped the commercial rewards that should have been hers. Her U.S. hit list is relatively puny -- 11 Top 40s, including four Top 10s -- and most music fans under 45, like myself, probably weren't fully aware of her musical genius until the Pet Shop Boys helped revive her career by inviting her along for one final ride into the Top 10 on their 1987 hit "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"

Though it spawned her signature single, "Son of a Preacher Man" (the song that was initially offered to Aretha Franklin, who turned it down but reconsidered after hearing Dusty rock it), the landmark 1969 album Dusty in Memphis only made it to No. 99 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. A disappointment for sure, but where would Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet and Adele be without it?

Mostly an interpretative singer, Dusty had excellent taste in material and in collaborators. Her most impressive performing quality was that she always managed to make such a strong emotional point without resorting to shouting, oversinging or shameless coloratura. "The Look of Love," the Oscar-nominated song from the 1967 film Casino Royale, is one of the most beautiful haunting ballads ever, and she barely raises her voice above a whisper. Alas, her version only reached No. 22 on the Hot 100, and after Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 performed it on the Academy Awards telecast, they won a No. 4 hit for their efforts.

It's Dusty's version that we think of when we think of the song today, but that doesn't mean she always hit her mark. Her late '70s albums were marred by the middle-of-the-road blandness that sank so much adult contemporary at the time, and not all of her interpretations were definitive (her "This Girl's in Love with You" lacks the quiet desperation of Dionne Warwick's 1969 Top 10 version, and while she sounds appropriately blue on "My Colouring Book," Brenda Lee makes you fear for her life), but as an editor of mine once told me, you can't hit a home run every time.

If music were baseball, though, Dusty's batting average still would have made her a legend in her time.

Seven Great Dusty Springfield Songs You've Probably Never Heard Of

"I Had a Talk with My Man" (from Everything's Coming Up Dusty, 1965)

"Morning (Bom Dia)" (from Dusty... Definitely, 1968)

"I Start Counting" (from See All Her Faces, 1972)

"Breaking Up a Happy Home" (from Cameo, 1973)

"The Other Side of Life" (from Cameo, 1973)

"Where Is a Woman to Go?" (from A Very Fine Love, 1995)

Saturday, September 24, 2011


After a week-long internal debate and several signs -- one of which arrived in the form of a Belgian expatriate named Peter who randomly struck up a conversation with me yesterday as I was enjoying a fishburger in a shopping center near my hotel and ended up spending the afternoon giving me a tour of the life he'd made for himself during his 12 years in Bangkok -- I've decided to stick around Thailand and Southeast Asia at least until the end of the year. It still doesn't feel like home (neither did Melbourne after four months), but I've begun to feel comfortable here, and I've planted the seeds of potentially long and rewarding friendships.

I'll likely be back in Melbourne at the dawn of 2012 -- at the very least to pick up the belongings I left behind (thanks to Marcus and Jayden for hanging on to them), to say goodbye to the few good friends I made there, to finally get to experience summer in the city. And I can't let that business-class return ticket go to waste! How long will I stick around? That part remains to be seen. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Maybe a year. Maybe forever.

I still love Australia, but things didn't quite work out between us this time. Australia -- Melbourne, in particular -- is like that guy I loved, who loved me back, but not enough to really commit to me. And for now, I'm tired of trying to get him to put a ring on it -- or at least produce the perfect full-time job in lieu of a proposal.

Maybe it was just bad timing. Or a sign that I'm still not ready for the sort of commitment that a full-time job demands. Those people in charge of hiring editors might not know talent when they see it, or they may have been doing me a favor. Perhaps Melbourne and I will find our way back to each other next year, and our love will be strong enough to keep me there, commitment, full-time job, or not.

It all depends on what happens over the next few months in Asia. I'm looking for neither signs nor epiphanies nor full-time work (though I'd happily accept all of the above). I'm just going to live without a game plan for a few more months. That's never been my nature, being a wandering spirit, living sort of aimlessly, but then nothing in my life has quite turned out as I expected it to. I may have no ultimate destination, but I have faith that I'll end up exactly where I need to be.

In the meantime, hopefully, Asia will continue to inspire me, give me more to write about than Australia ever did. Peter suggested that living in a country where you don't speak the language and can't communicate freely forces to you go deeper inside of yourself and as a result, you end up pulling more out. That might explain my writer's block in Australia, the U.S. and the UK. Here's to at least three more months of miscommunication, digging deep and unbridled creativity!


On Friday, September 23, I had to say goodbye for the third time in two days. This time, it was farewell to All My Children, 41, a daytime soap I'd watched on and off since 1977, whose final episode aired on the ABC TV network. (Prospect Park has licensed the rights to the show and will debut it online early next year, but most likely without some key characters, including fierce ruling diva Erica Kane, whose portrayer, Susan Lucci, has thus far declined to sign on.)

For me, the final week was a bit hit and mess. After Monday's episode in which Angie Hubbard regained her eyesight, it was all kind of anti-climactic and downhill. It was nice to see Babe again (improbably, Alexa Havins is even more beautiful than I remembered), and dedicating Wednesday's episode to original cast member Mary Fickett (Ruth Martin), who passed away at age 83 on September 8, was a lovely touch.

The cameo by Sarah Michelle Gellar (the original Kendall Hart) as an obnoxious patient in scenes with fellow former-soap-star-turned-prime-time-star Eva La Rue (CSI: Miami) was pointless (she should have played herself auditioning for the role of Kendall, or a young Erica, in the Kane biopic), and the entire Orpheus back-from-the-dead storyline tested my suspension of disbelief a bit too much. I know it was a ploy to redeem Dr. Doom David Hayward, but in my opinion, he was by far the most interesting character on the show and as dastardly as some of his deeds were, he did not need redeeming. Should Vincent Irizarry, his portrayer, return to AMC when it's revived by Prospect Park, he should immediately return to his villainous ways, because every soap needs a complex bad guy you can occasionally root for, played by an actor or actress skilled enough to give him or her many layers.

As for the big reveal that David had been keeping Stuart Chandler alive all these years, it seemed more like a ploy to earn David Canary one final Daytime Emmy than anything else. (I can just imagine the executive producer's pitch: Come out of retirement for a few episodes to appear as both Adam and Stuart Chandler, and we'll guarantee you a career-capping Emmy.) Sweet as he was, Stuart was a secondary character for most of his run, and I'm not really buying everyone's finale-week assertion that he was the heart and soul of Pine Valley when he spent so much time on the backburner. Mona Kane, Myrtle Fargate and Kate Martin must be tossing and turning in their sarcophagi! (Wait, this isn't Days of Our Lives!)

The September 23 finale, though not the highlight of the week, went out with a bang -- literally -- with nearly all of the regular and recurring cast (with the notable exclusion of Caleb Cortlandt and his son Asher, who, inexplicably, have been largely MIA since the cancellation was announced) gathered at the Chandler mansion to celebrate the return from the dead of Stuart. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Then, darkness.

In a nice homage to the greatest soap cliffhanger of all time, instead of "Who shot J.R.?", we got "Who did J.R. shoot?" -- if indeed, J.R. was the one who pulled that trigger. No, J.R. Chandler is really no match for Dallas's J.R. Ewing. Neither is Erica Kane. But only one of them was immortalized in "Get Money," a 1996 rap hit by Junior M.A.F.I.A., in which a young Lil' Kim declared herself "the black Erica Kane."

So much for daytime soaps not having any street cred. Love in the afternoon is just as big in the hood as it is in the suburbs. May it continue to bloom in both places, and online, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011


For me, September 22 will live in infamy as the day the music died -- twice.

Losing R.E.M. was a terrible personal blow because the band provided the soundtrack to so much of my life. But at least R.E.M. lived to enjoy years of mainstream popularity and multi-platinum success, two things that sadly always eluded Vesta Williams.

When I saw that "Vesta Williams" was trending on Twitter, I knew she wasn't finally getting her due after decades of neglect. The breaking news was that she had been found dead in her Los Angeles hotel room today. Although it's been determined that she passed away on September 22, the cause of death is still unknown.

Vesta Williams is one in an unfortunately too-long line of '80s soul divas who never got the mainstream recognition -- or sales -- that they deserved in a decade when the pop mainstream was too obsessed with Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Anita Baker to notice that R&B singers like Angela Winbush, Stephanie Mills, Regina Belle, Miki Howard and Williams were creating equally potent music.

Despite logging a half dozen Top 10 hits on Billboard's R&B singles chart between 1986 and 1991, Williams only managed to graze the Hot 100 once, when "Congratulations" made it to No. 55 in 1989. That's the quiet-storm slow jam that she's probably best remembered for, but "Sweet Sweet Love," a No. 4 R&B hit in 1988, was the one that made me fall in love with her voice and remains in regular rotation on my iPod. Although she's gone much too soon, that voice, big enough to move hearts, and mountains, will live on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


"To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening."

I'd be lying if I said I didn't see it coming. Just a few days ago, I found myself wondering when this day would arrive. After all, music's law of diminishing returns has been punishing the band's album sales for the better part of two decades now. Then today, it finally happened: The three remaining members of R.E.M. announced on their website that they are breaking up.

First, the Smiths (my all-time favorite band, silent since 1987, the year after I discovered R.E.M.), and now, this -- the demise of my all-time favorite U.S. band. No other act defines the last 25 years of my life the way R.E.M. does. "Superman" made me feel strong enough to get through those terrible teens. "Drive" drove me into adulthood, sanity in tact. I listened to "Leaving New York" on repeat in 2006 as that American Airlines flight took me from NYC to my new home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And "Every Day Is Yours to Win" became my personal mantra as I tried to settle into yet another new life in Melbourne earlier this year.

For years, R.E.M. was the closest thing U2 had to a U.S. rival -- a band that could move fans to tears and/or action with both the hauntingly personal and the bracingly political. As with all rock & roll bands who outlive the normal five-year lifespan of multi-platinum superstardom (damn that law of diminishing returns!), fans came and went during what could be defined as the four distinct phases of  R.E.M.'s 31-year career: indie heroes (Murmur to the transitional major-label debut, Green), multi-platinum gods (Out of Time to Monster), middle age (New Adventures in Hi-Fi to Reveal) and twilight (Around the Sun to Collapse into Now).

Fortunately, R.E.M. leaves behind many hours of listening pleasure. Unlike all of those post-Automatic for the People detractors (that 1992 album is widely and rightfully considered to be R.E.M.'s artistic zenith, and "Drive" deserved to follow "Losing My Religion" into the Top 5), I don't think the band fell apart creatively after the departure of drummer Bill Berry following the Monster tour at the '90s halfway mark. (The New York City stop at Madison Square Garden still stands as one of my favorite concert experiences ever.)

New Adventures in Hi-Fi (the last album to feature Berry as a full-time member), Up, Reveal, Accelerate, Collapse into Now and even the much-maligned Around the Sun all had moments of great beauty. ("So Fast So Numb" from New Adventures still gets me every time.) Critics hailed Collapse into Now as a near-return to form earlier this year, and it was. But despite its moments of musical genius, it was hard to tune out the sound of the clock ticking in the background of every song. (Incidentally, the production on "Every Day Is Yours to Win" echoed a tick-tock clock, and the lyrics quoted one, too.) When Collapse into Now ran its chart course in a matter of weeks -- tick tock tick tock -- it became all too clear that R.E.M. was almost out of time, to quote the title of its 1990 best-selling album.

I won't even try to countdown R.E.M.'s 15 studio albums from best to worst (or vice-versa), or list my 10, 20 or 25 favorite R.E.M. songs. Since I bought my first R.E.M. album, Life's Rich Pageant, in 1986, that list has changed on a weekly basis, with the aforementioned tracks as well as "Gardening at Night," "Catapult," "Begin the Begin," "Can't Get Here from There," "Monty Got a Raw Deal," "Ignoreland" and "Why Not Smile" being among the regulars on it.

But my favorite R.E.M. song has remained unchanged since the first time I heard it on Election Day of 1988: "Turn You Inside-Out," from Green, the album that R.E.M. and Warner Bros. released on November 7, 1988, my half-birthday, and the day the U.S. put the first of two George Bushes in the White House. For 25 years, that's exactly what R.E.M. did to me, turned me inside-out. Though the band is no more, I don't expect R.E.M.'s music to stop now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


More of this?
Or a return to this?
Should I stay, or should I go?

I've got a big decision to make, and I now have less than a week to make it. This one's not easy -- all of the options are attractive ones, which should make it easier but somehow makes it tougher. I've never been the indecisive type. Sometimes I wait until the last minute to make up my mind, but usually, once I pick a side, I stick to it. Right now, though, I'm having some trouble. If I had a pair of dice, I'd roll them and let the gods of chance decide for me.

What's got me second guessing myself? My place in this world -- or more precisely, my place in this word in October. I'm due to fly back to Melbourne on 27 September. The other day I dreamt about the city and began to miss it for the first time since I left it for Asia on July 5. I've missed my friends there all along -- one in particular, who should know who he is if he's reading this, and if I know him, he's not -- but missing your friends is different from missing a city.

I also have a return flight to Buenos Aires set for 5 October (originally it was 27 July). Should I return to Australia next week and push back my trip to BA until the holidays? Or should I return to both places as scheduled? There's a third option, and as of yesterday morning, it started to be the most attractive one: Another month in Southeast Asia, part of it in Bangkok, which has begun to feel like home to me, and another part in some other country I've yet to discover. I've already extended my time here twice, so why not go for a perfect triple? I'm suddenly not sure if I'm ready to give up the amazing, cheap food here for pricey Australia, even if spring is finally in the air there.

If I stay, where should I go? There are signs. There's a storyline right now on The Young and the Restless involving Billy and something he did in Myanmar, a country that no one ever mentions. Though I ate at a restaurant specializing in food from Myanmar when I was in Singapore (yum!), I can't say that I've ever considered visiting the country formerly known as Burma. Laos is another option, but I've heard unexciting things about Thailand's skinny neighbor to the east (that it's boring).

As for Indonesia, how cliché can you get? Every Aussie goes there because getting there and staying there is so cheap, but I've never had any interest in following everyone's lead. And really, if I wanted to be surrounded by Aussies (which I pretty much already am every time I go to DJ Station in Bangkok), why not just go home? At least there I wouldn't have to deal with so many desperate gay flight attendants looking to get laid.

Of course, I could branch out from Southeast Asia and hit China, Japan or India, but for some reason, I think saving those countries for my next trip to Asia would be the right thing to do. Another character on Y&R recently was toying with the idea of moving back to his native Australia. And then there's Dario on Days of Our Lives, who just got a big job in Buenos Aires. Christian on One Life to Live just got one in Barcelona, and like Dario, he had to leave that night. How often does that happen in real life, and why are the soaps pimping all of my recent stomping grounds?

If only I had a great job offer to make my decision for me. But for now, I'm on my own. Maybe I'll get a call today from some prospective employer demanding that I fly to some faraway land within 24 hours (and like Dario, I'll even get a company car to take me to the airport), but life, unfortunately, is not like Days of Our Lives. If it were, I'd be booking a one-way ticket to Salem right now. Nothing in Southeast Asia, Australia, or BA could possibly be more exciting than what goes down there!

Monday, September 19, 2011


This morning I woke up and made a horrible, shocking discovery. I'd slept right through the Emmy Awards! That amazing scene pictured above (how great does Martha Plimpton look?): I totally missed it!

How could that happen? First I miss the Oscars for the first time since 1976 (which happened last year when I was in London as naked gold men were being handed out to Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges and Mo'Nique), and now this. At least I got to watch the AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Morgan Freeman on TV before going out last night, but I would have given up that retrospective of his body of work for a night with Emmy.

That's just one of the hazards of being on Bangkok time -- well, two of them, if you add missed friends to missed award shows. Here I'm three hours behind the folks in Australia, 11 hours ahead of my loved ones back in the United States, and 10 ahead of my beloved Buenos Aires crew.

Somehow I manage to talk to my best friend Lori, who lives in New Jersey, on a daily basis, either in real time (via Skype or Facebook) or by email. It's better than nothing, but it never feels quite right. Usually, she's just waking up, about to start her day, and I'm ready to fall into bed, ready to call it, well, a day. When I finally go to sleep, it's always with the thought that I'm going to miss out on something big, that all of the action will be going on without me.

Back when I lived in Buenos Aires, only an hour or two (depending on which side of Daylight Saving Time the U.S. was on) separated me from everyone I'd left behind in the States. Of course, watching awards shows in BA came with its own set of problems, as an annoying woman talked over the acceptance speeches in Spanish. I had to listen to her ruin every Oscar telecast between 2007 and 2009 as well as the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and all of the music biggies, too. Interestingly, she always had the night off during the Emmys. It wasn't until this year's Oscars, which aired three days before I moved to Melbourne, that my friend Roberto taught me how to turn her off.

When I'm in Australia, three more hours separate me from my previous life on the other side of the world. Somehow, though, it's easier to handle when I'm closer to one full day ahead. Had I been in Melbourne during the Emmys, I would have been awake during the telecast and could have watched on TV or online. That bit of knowledge makes returning there next week after my summer tour of Southeast Asia comes to a close a bit easier to take.

Of course, if I had been awake at 7 this morning, I may have been able to catch the Emmy action live online in Bangkok. But after last night at DJ Station and another club that Gordon from Sydney dragged me to afterwards (okay, I went willingly), being early to rise was out of the question.

For that I blame Jack Daniels. As of today, he and I are officially through.

Click here to read my after-the-fact thoughts on the Emmys.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Exactly five years ago today, I did something that would come to define my entire life for the next half-decade. I boarded a flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City with a round-trip ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and back again.

I never did get on that return flight six months later. In fact, it would be nearly two years before I'd once again step foot on U.S. soil for the wedding of my friend Amy G. By then, Buenos Aires was home. I'd made good friends there; I'd bought a great apartment in Palermo; and I was finally speaking the language. But it wasn't until the bus from JFK dropped me off at Madison Square Garden near the apartment of my friend Dave that I knew for sure I wouldn't be coming back to NYC permanently. That part of my life was over.

All of the things I used to love about New York -- the hustle, the bustle, the in your face -- no longer appealed to me. Tellingly, my favorite moments of the entire trip was the weekend that Lori and I spent in her friend Moby's Central Park West apartment. When you have a penthouse view far above the maddening crowd, pretty much any city becomes tolerable. (I returned to New York City once again at the beginning of 2010, after I'd sold my apartment there, making NYC and I official exes and closing that chapter of my life for good. To celebrate, I had stopovers in Rio, Washington D.C., London and Istanbul.)

Although BA and I wouldn't be exclusive for long -- this year alone, I've two-timed with Melbourne, Australia, and Bangkok, Thailand -- my friend Karen is convinced that we two are one. She recently drew an interesting parallel between my connection to certain great cities and the love lives of Sex and the City characters.

Manila and I, she said, are Steve and Miranda. Our connection wasn't a given, and it's not all glamour, but sometimes it's those unexpected bonds without all of the emotional bells and whistles of great loves that are worth giving in to.

Melbourne is Berger to my Carrie. Despite my valiant attempt to win it over, Melbourne has never really let me in. And according to Karen, I may have been holding back as well without even realizing it. If and when I leave, I'm pretty certain I will do it with all the fanfare of a Post-It note. Though I've met some great people there, I'm not sure how many of them will even notice when I'm gone for good.

Buenos Aires is Mr. Big. Our romance has been difficult and stormy at times, but we belong to together, and to borrow the title of Diana Ross and the Supremes' final hit, someday we'll be together again. Karen is sure of it, and I must admit that I concur -- somewhat.

I guess that would make my time in Bangkok an episode devoted fully to Samantha.

But who do I love? For the last three months, Southeast Asia with an emphasis on Bangkok has been the object of my affection. For the first half of 2011, it was Melbourne, a city I still adore and I am scheduled to return to on 27 of September. I have a return ticket to Buenos Aires on 5 of October. Right now the million-dollar question is this: Will I be on either flight?

I'm not sure if my work in Australia is done, but it's getting hard to keep the faith since my leap of faith has thus far led to no great reward. After months of trying, my job search has been disappointingly unsuccessful, and as gregarious as Aussies are, they don't invite you into their lives the way they invite you over to their table to join them for a beer. If there's anything I miss about Argentines (besides their great beauty), it's their passion. They make you feel like it really matters to them that you're there, that of all the cities in the world, you picked theirs. For four and a half years, it was home.

Australia, on the other hand, is not, and I fear it never will be. I'm toying with the idea of spending more time in Bangkok and seeing more of Southeast Asia. For right now, there's nothing in Melbourne for me to run back to, and I can't shake the feeling that somewhere in Southeast Asia, maybe in Thailand, maybe in Manila, maybe somewhere I've yet to even visit, there's something -- or someone -- waiting for me.

Where will I be on 28 September? On 6 October? Keep reading. You'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


After my adventures in roughing it on Koh Samet (yes, roughing it -- I've never been camping, so sleeping with so many insects was a huge step for me!), I was ready to luxuriate for $33 a night at Nirvana Resort on  Bang Bao Bay in Koh Chang. TripAdvisor rates it as No. 4 among all 63 hotels on the island, so if it was good enough for everyone else... Also, considering Agoda's excellent rate, which I later found out was at least 75 per cent less than the normal high-season rack rate for studio accommodations, how could I refuse?

But by the time we'd crossed over on the ferry, the van driver had put the fear of God and mosquitoes back into me. After some chit chat about where I'm from -- "New York." "What?" "New York." "What?" "New York." "What?" "America." "Oh, America!" He practically sang it! -- he broke the news. "Nirvana Resort is very far. About an hour from the ferry." (Both he and his wife, who was in the front seat with their young son, struggled with the letter V.)

"Oh, that's exactly what I want -- to be far away from everything." I tried to convince myself that two days of seclusion was precisely what I needed after the disappointment of Koh Chang and the hustle and bustle of Pattaya, but I was a little bit nervous. If this place was another dump, I'd be stuck there because there'd literally be nowhere else for me to go. It wouldn't be the first time that the masses displayed poor taste. I decided to put myself in the hands of good fortune, sit back and enjoy the ride up the mountain, down the mountain, up the mountain, down the mountain, up, down, up, down, all the way out to the middle of nowhere.

When we finally arrived I couldn't believe my eyes. Who knew the middle of nowhere was so beautiful? The mountains, the rocks, the lush vegetation and the water of the bay converged in one spot to make the grounds of Nirvana possibly the most beautiful thing I've seen in all of Southeast Asia. The accommodations themselves were at least four-star caliber (Yay! Working Wi-Fi!), but even if they had been lower on the star scale, it would be hard to complain too much when you wake up in morning and look out of the window at scenery like this. The monkeys playing on the front porch was just an added bonus. I didn't even mind that I never once saw the sun.

I spent a day and a half at Nirvana in complete solitude. The only time I spoke out loud was when I was ordering food from the restaurant across the foot path from my bungalow/cabin. I wrote, slept, ate Pad Thai (twice), watched good movies (Jack Nicholson's tears at the end of About Schmidt get me every time) and paid half-attention to so-so ones (I still can't believe the Academy picked Cher in Moonstruck over Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction), watched and wondered. I watched the world standing still outside and wondered why it had taken me so long to join it.

Better late than never, though. It may not have been an experience filled with epic adventure, but then even a confirmed party boy like me needs to get away sometimes and enjoy peace, quiet and natural beauty that's not dancing shirtless on a platform. I may live to go camping yet.

Monday, September 12, 2011


One of the major lessons I've learned over nearly 20 years of extensive travelling is never to accept accommodations from someone who makes his or her living hawking them in tourist hubs. You get what you pay for, and you might be paying way too much for quarters that are barely fit to sleep in.

But I was so hot and bothered when I arrived at the departure port for Koh Samet that I threw all of my rules out of the window. I not only let the woman who was selling transportation tickets to the island overcharge me for a 15-minute speedboat trip to Samet (although I knocked her down 1,000 baht, or $33, I was certain that the 2,000-baht return rate, or about $66, was too much), I let her book me a bungalow at Koh Samed Grand View Resort.

It was a choice I'd regret for the next 18 or so hours.

When the speedboat pulled up on the beach in front of the hotel, I stepped onto the sand thinking I'd hit paydirt. I didn't even mind paying the 200 baht (just under $7) entrance fee for the national park on which the hotel is located. I took in the view. The lobby and restaurant overlooking the beach were both lovely, all white and wood, with a breezy open-air scheme. The water was blue and wide, the mountains on the side spectacular, and the white sands the perfect welcome mat for what I expected would be at least a three-and-a-half-star experience. (And for the equivalent of roughly $60 a night -- including breakfast, and somewhat pricey by Thai-island standards -- it should have been.)

Unfortunately, you can't judge a book -- nor a hotel, nor a koh -- by its cover. The interior design of my living quarters would prove to be as disappointing as that of the island itself, which was populated with makeshit (I mean, makeshift -- Freudian slip!) eateries, shabby motels and porches with old underwear drying in the sun. The contents in my Wi-Fi-less bungalow (demerit No. 1) were just as untouchable. Upon entering, I gave it two thumbs down and one-and- half stars (the booking website Agoda gives it three, and they only charge a little under $50 a night, which is still at least $30 more than it's worth), but since I'd paid the woman at the port in full, I knew a refund request would be met with a confused stare and suddenly unintelligible broken English, so I didn't even bother to ask.

Mosquitoes were already attacking me as I walked into the dank, dingy hovel, and I could have sworn they were still nibbling on me even after I'd gotten under the shower, which was right beside the toilet, with no stall door or curtain to separate the two. At least it's not outside, I thought, though I might have been better off if it had been because the water would have had somewhere to go rather than all over the toilet seat.

I tried to rationalize the existence of such a shabby holiday space: Who needs posh when there's so much nature to discover outside? When I returned to the bungalow from my exploratory mission hours later, after being practically eaten alive by mosquitoes while roaming the island searching unsuccessfully for signs of interesting non-insect life, the last thing I needed was to see a gecko scurrying up the wall. I marched out to the front desk and asked for another room. They complied, and although there was no apparent reptile activity inside, it was hardly an upgrade. (Confession: Wi-Fi that extended beyond the lobby and restaurant area would have gained the place at least half a star in my book.)

That night I slept with the AC cranked on full blast, hoping that whichever bugs I didn't kill with my bare hands would die from the insect equivalent of frost bite. And lest any creepy creatures try to crawl into bed beside me, I slept with the lights on and prayed for morning to come quickly.

When it arrived, I would have kissed it if I could have. But here's the funny thing: As disappointed as I was with Samed Grand View Resort and Koh Samet, no island ever looked more gorgeous as I was leaving it. I wasn't sure whether it was relief or water splashing around the speedboat that was clouding my view.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


If there ever was a moment when I was certain that there's more to life than this (this being, you know, just living), something bigger than all of us, it happened yesterday. It was about three-quarters into my day-long hike through the tropical island rainforest of Koh Chang, Thailand. Our party of seven (including the guide) had ascended to the top of a waterfall, and I was sitting on a rock with water rushing down behind me, beside me and under me. I gazed out at the torrential downpour (from both the waterfall and from the sky), the trees, and the huge mountain in the near distance whose top was covered with a dense layer of fog.

As the others swam around near the top of the waterfall, I sat on that rock, taking in the view and trying hard to focus on my epiphany. I was awestruck. I was speechless. I was panicking on the inside.

Though I wasn't in any sort of immediate danger, I kept replaying a scene in my mind in which I made one wrong move that sent me plunging down to the depths about 100 meters below. I'm afraid of heights, so getting up there had been challenging enough. I'd hit my head several times on thick, protruding branches (once I literally saw stars!) and had stumbled on slippery rocks twice as many times. For now, though, I was winning the battle with altitude. I was on top. I'd reached the ultimate destination. I was king of the world.

But how the hell was I supposed to get down? I'd already lost my camera -- a casualty of the pond inside my backpack, and the reason why I have no photos to document this crowning rainforest moment -- I didn't want to lose life and/or limbs, too. Thank God, I'm not afraid of spiders -- there were a lot of poisonous ones along the way, including some cranky-looking tarantulas. One phobia was enough for me to tackle.

More than fear of death by plummeting, I didn't want the others to see me sweat -- though the rain was hiding it pretty well. I'd spent the last several hours with them, and since none of them spoke much English, I'd hardly said more than a few sentences to anyone all day. So I wasn't comfortable enough with them not to care what they thought of me.

I was still trying to figure out their stories. Was the Russian pair boyfriend and girlfriend or brother and sister? They looked a little bit alike, but I wasn't sure if it was just another case of a longtime couple merging into the same person. At one point, the woman disappeared with the Thai guide for a long time. I was certain they were off in the bushes somewhere getting it on, and when they finally returned I was sure I noticed them trying not to notice each other. Yes, the Russians had to be siblings.

On second thought, maybe I've just been spending too much time around sex-obsessed gay Thai boys!

Then there were two guys from Israel. Every time they lit another cigarette, I wanted to give them a stern lecture about forest fires and how smoking is hazardous to the health, but the Thai girl who was hanging on to the cute one with amazing teeth kept giving me funny looks. I couldn't understand a word the guys were saying to each other, and it was clear that she couldn't either. I don't think she said anything all day. So I came up with a scenario in my head: She and the cute one had met at some bar in town and hooked up. They had nothing in common, not even a language, but she was good in bed, so he'd invited her along on today's excursion, making his friend the slightly uncomfortable third wheel.

I knew how he felt. I was totally out of place with this group. If I can't risk it all with people I know and love, at least let me endanger my life with folks who can communicate with me in more than a sentence or two at a time. It was the only time in the last two and a half months when I wished I had someone from my own country to share some common ground with me and maybe try to catch me if I started to fall.

I did come close to wiping out several times, but I made it up and down, up and down, across numerous waterfalls, all the way to the final one that separated us from our vehicle. The rain had submerged the foot path completely underwater, and the water rushing downstream only complicated our crossing more. We joined hands and tried walking across once, but the guide quickly made us return to our starting point because it was too dangerous.

He said we'd have to wait an hour or two for the water to go down. An hour?! Two hours?! Ever the pessimist, I started coming up with worst-case scenarios, like having to spend the night there, sleep in the middle of nowhere, and wake up to find that the foot path was still deep underwater. I'd miss my morning transportation back to Pattaya, and worse, I'd have to spend God knows how much longer in the freezing cold with a bunch of people I couldn't even talk to.

I had to get out of there!

An hour later, after hiking through some precarious bush, looking for another out and failing to find one, we finally sucked it up, joined hands and braved the rushing waters to make it across the foot path to the other side. This would not only be a tale I'd live to tell, but it would be one I'd never forget either.

If I could turn back time, would I do it all again? Definitely! Do I ever want to do it all again? Absolutely not! When I close my eyes, I still can see that mountain in the near distance and the rushing water below and feel the panic and fear that always comes with reaching the top -- even those heights from which you don't necessarily want to come down.

How am I supposed to get down from here?

Oh, wait. It's only a dream.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Pattaya has a bad reputation as the ultimate Thai tourist trap, so before I left Bangkok for my next destination last week, I asked a Thai woman for her honest opinion.

"Is Pattaya nice?"

She hesitated for a moment before answering. "If you're not from Thailand."

Immediately, I knew what to expect: side streets filled with overpriced (by Thailand standards) restaurants and bars, massage parlour after massage parlour with local women outside practically begging you to let them give you a helping, healing hand (er, hands?), and cabaret shows galore offering boyz boyz boyz and dudes who look like ladies.

It didn't disappoint. Pattaya was everything the woman insinuated it would be, a sort of Phuket on the Gulf of Thailand (or the Thai version of Argentina's Mar del Plata), two hours by car from Bangkok. The main difference is that while Phuket is boosted by its natural scenery. Pattaya's water is less impressive -- and according to everyone I spoke to, not nearly as clean -- and the mountains are too far on the horizon to dramatically affect the visual experience within city limits.

But damn, I sort of loved it anyway! So much so that my planned three days there turned into five, and I'm going back for next weekend. The best part is that despite the tourist-trap trappings, there are enough unexpected visual treats and exoticism to keep things interesting.

Some of my more memorable Pattaya moments:

Four days, four massages. A confession: I've always hated massages (there's something about being rubbed and squeezed by an absolute stranger, albiet in a non-sexual way, that makes me feel kind of violated), but every day I tried to overcome my aversion to them at $5 to $7 a pop. Did it work? Yes, and no. The head and neck massages on days 1 and 4 and the foot massage on day 2 hit all the spots, but the full-body Thai massage on day 3 may have hit them a bit too aggressively.

My Facebook status update afterwards pretty much summed it up for me: "I'm still not sure what to make of the traditional Thai full-body massage. There's something about a woman contorting my body into truly uncomfortable positions and walking on my back that reminds me of cruel and unusual punishment or S&M." Not that I've ever tried S&M, but to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s views on obscenity, I know it when I feel it.

Venice by the Gulf. I've never been to Venice, Italy, but now I think I have an idea of what it must be like. The Pattaya Floating Market is exactly what its name implies, complete with sections representing each region of Thailand and scenic boat rides around the complex.

Food for thought. It's like a cross between chicken and pork. Isn't that what they say about all exotic meat? But the tough, chewy consistency of the crocodile cubes on the skewer handed to me by one of the two Thais who'd come to the Market with me only reminded me that I was devouring part of a deadly reptile. Yes, I'll do anything twice, but once was more than enough for crocodile meat. As for the cooked cockroaches -- yes, the creepy-crawly pests are harvested, prepared and peddled as late-night snacks in Thailand -- I refused to even entertain the notion of going there.

Country music as a second musical language. Alan, the doorman at Copa who gets bonus points for wanting to card me to make sure I was really over 28, was flipping through a copy (ok, my copy) of Cosmopolitan magazine when he got to an article on a particular male country singer, and his eyes practically popped out of his head. "Blake Shelton!" he said with a level of excitement usually reserved by twentysomething gay men for Lady Gaga sightings. "I like his song 'Honey Bee.'" I wouldn't have believed my ears when he started singing it if I hadn't seen the video on TV a few days earlier.

Even more unexpected: the home-made CD that the driver who took me from Pattaya to the departure port for Koh Samet inserted into the taxi's disc player. The visually stimulating hour-and-a-half drive had a soundtrack to match the scenery, thanks to a playlist that included "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Islands in the Stream," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Coal Miner's Daughter" (not Loretta Lynn's version but Sissy Spacek's cover from the 1980 film!).

Bathroom humor that transcends language. Why go with "M" and "F" or some innocent graphic to indicate gender on this-way-to-the-toilet signs when you can go shamelessly scatological. One at the Floating Market pictured a swimsuit-clad woman and man, the latter complete with an anatomically correct penis in high relief. Others showed what looked like two icons either urinating or getting it on, depending on how close to the gutter your mind was at the moment. "That's two people enjoying themselves too much at a glory hole," my friend Rob commented when I posted a photo of one on Facebook. Get the picture?

Sunday, September 4, 2011


To this day, there are nightmares. Terrible ones, from which I always awake with a violent jolt. At least a few times a month, I close my eyes, and I'm walking down Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, which is where I was when I saw the second tower of the World Trade Center fall. Every time I walk by a building, it crumbles into a mass of rubble. After blocks of destruction, I wake up, relieved that it's only just a dream.

If only that had been the case when I continuously pinched myself on the morning of September 11, 2001, certain that the events that were unfolding before me had to be a very bad dream. It felt too much like a Bruce Willis action film not to be. Unfortunately, it was all too real.

I guess you could say I'm haunted, and I probably will be for the rest of my life. At least I'm no longer sleeping on the couch. That was my bed for years after witnessing the devastation of 9/11 from an unfortunate orchestra seat, not quite in front of center stage but close enough to see some of the action unfold. I lived close enough to Ground Zero to see both towers burning from the corner of University Place and 14th Street, several meters from my building, and the stench of burning debris permeated the air in my Union Square neighborhood for weeks afterwards.

For months afterwards, I slept in the living room with the TV on, usually turned to CNN. If something happened in the middle of the night, I wanted to be prepared. The light and the voices coming from the TV were comforting. I was not only afraid of the dark, but silence terrified me, too. Who knew what I'd hear outside if I listened too closely? At least the television might drown out the nightmare that seemed to be set on repeat in my head.

Too bad it didn't. And along with the dreams came paranoia. For several years, I couldn't get on a subway without wondering if I was sitting next to a suicide bomber. A number of times I made hasty exits when someone got on who didn't look quite right, was wearing too many layers on a hot summer day, or was mumbling to no one in particular. This is New York, I'd tell myself. This is what people do. But after 9/11, we all learned to be more vigilant.

For all of my nightmares and fears, leaving New York was never an option. If I ever harbored any thoughts of leaving New York City between 9/11 and when I moved to Buenos Aires in 2006, it had more to do with the reaction to the tragedy than to the tragedy itself.

My friend Dave used to say that 9/11 showed us the best and the worst in people. He was right. I was touched by the camaraderie, the we're-all-in-this-together spirit. I got to see that sense of community in action one more time two years later during the Northeast Blackout of 2003 that once again left New York City in a state of panic. I wasn't the only one who, for a brief moment, thought, "Here we go again." But when the initial hysteria settled down, people were once again pulling together.

Then there's the flip side, those who treated September 11 like it was tourist attraction, the climactic scene of a big summer blockbuster, one of those Bruce Willis things. The images of school children in far-off countries cheering for what the United States was going through was disturbing, but not quite as much as all of the people I saw outside my front door peddling portraits of the World Trade Center on fire and the deadly aftermath of the fallen towers. I wasn't sure what disgusted me most: that anyone would want to make a buck off of something so horrific, or that anyone would want a memento of it.

Today, one week short of 10 years later, all of the strong, conflicting emotions I felt that day have long since settled and been replaced by a kind of resilience and fortitude. I think that's what's gotten me through the tough times during my last five years living outside of the United States. Had 9/11 never happened, I don't know that I would have realized that I had what it took to leave everything I knew behind and venture solo out into the unknown.

No, I didn't leave the United States out of fear or disillusioned with the American way. No matter where my road leads, I will always feel most connected to New York City. But I had to go out and experience the world. Although I'd traveled extensively before 9/11, it took the tragedy of that day to drive home the fact that the United States is not the center of the universe. There's a big world out there, and I wanted to not only see it. I wanted to live in it, too.

I hate the idea of trivializing a momentous occasion by saying that everything happens for a reason. I can't think of any good reason to justify something as painful as 9/11, especially for anyone who lost loved ones in New York City, in the Pentagon Building in Arlington, Virginia, or on any of the four planes that were hijacked that day. But if there is any kind of positive spin to be put on it, I'm grateful that I was able to grow from the experience and learn something  valuable about humanity and human spirit -- my own and other people's. It's an ongoing lesson that I hope will continue to drive me, fearless, into the unknown, for the rest of my life.


No matter how often and how hard folks stare, I'll never get used to being a walking and talking attraction because of the color of my skin. For the four and a half years that I lived in Buenos Aires, almost on a daily basis, someone would stop me -- in the bar, in the club, on the floor, on the street, on the colectivo, in the men's room (gross!) -- and ask me to take a photo with them.

Once upon entering Sitges on a Friday night, it took me a full five minutes to get from the entrance to my friends on the inside because three different groups stopped and asked me to pose with them. Considering that Argentina is a country where there are relatively few black people, I suppose that bumping into me would qualify as a Kodak moment to remember. My friend Rob, a black guy from Texas, got the same thing when he lived in BA -- sometimes we got it together. That's just the way things were. Still, it took me a bit by surprise every time.

It's not like I blend into the crowd any more in Australia or Southeast Asia than I did in BA, but for the most part, Aussies and Asians don't seem to have the same need to document black-man sightings with a camera. (Although last year there was one guy in Melbourne who took my photo as I ran past him while I was jogging around Albert Lake in St. Kilda.) I sometimes wished for more anonymity, but I didn't exactly object to the attention. And not once did I ever refuse anyone. It's just that I've never considered myself to be particularly photogenic, and who needs so many photos of oneself floating around the universe unmanaged? What do those people do with them anyway?

Despite my misgivings, I totally get it. In certain parts of the world, where the color black is such a rarity among the general population (unless it's being worn as an article of clothing), bumping into a brother becomes an event of sorts. Normally, I don't think too much about the difference between me and everyone else, but when I arrived at Thai Alangkarn Theater in South Pattaya for a panoramic-extravaganza-as-Thai-history-lesson that was sort of like The Lion King with live elephants and firework (not the Katy Perry kind, actual flames), it was one of the only things on my mind. My date had stood me up (he was on "Thai time," so he missed our transportation from my hotel to the venue), and I was there alone, one of a handful of Westerners surrounded by hundreds of Asian tourists.

After finishing the buffet dinner in the restaurant, I wandered out onto the patio for the pre-show show, which featured singers, dancers and martial artists. I was starting to get into it when a large man sat down next to me. Before I had a chance to move over, he had leaned in closer and was putting his arm around me while his friend pulled out a camera. I may have been a little out of practice, but I knew what to do. I smiled as his friend took the photo. Without saying anything, the man, who obviously didn't speak a word of English, or surely he would have asked for permission before invading both my space and my privacy, grinned at me, nodded and gave me a thumbs up before standing and walking away.

I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or appalled. Didn't he see the elephants by the entrance? They made for a far better photo op than I did. Unlike the elephants, though, I didn't charge 20 baht a snapshot. But maybe I should. Of course, there'll always be a next time. And next time, if they expect me to smile, it's going to cost them extra.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Think you've seen it all? Well, you haven't really seen anything at all until you've walked into a showbar to find Speedo-clad swimmers performing underwater stunts in a giant onstage aquarium as "Sadeness" by Enigma blares from the speakers. As pre-party entertainment goes, it more than lived up to Copa's self-hype as "the only erotic underwater show of its type on the planet!"!

But the novelty was kind of fleeting. After several songs spent watching aquamen in action, I started to pray for a drag queen to strut onstage and interrupt the waterworks with a rousing rendition of "It's Raining Men." Hallelujah! Here she comes! We didn't get the Weather Girls classic, or even the same title different song by Rihanna and Nicki Minaj (please let it be Rihanna's next single after the fantastic "Cheers to That" runs its chart course!), but we did get one plus-sized beauty, who, according to my new Melbournian friend visiting Pattaya for the second time, "has improved so much over the last year," offering a kick-ass lip-syncing of Geri Halliwell's "Look At Me."

And how could I not, especially when she started doing cartwheels mid-song? It may have been next to nothing compared to the gravity-defying moves in the impromptu breakdance show earlier -- see the video below -- but it was totally impressive nonetheless. I'm still not sure how those twinky dancers managed to lift her off the ground and up in the air for the finale. (One of them, Hec, later told me that he wasn't sure either!) But what is it with Thai drag queens and sappy love songs like Diana Ross's "When You Tell Me That You Love Me," which, in an unexpected twist that still couldn't save the song, was performed by a queen and a male dancer wearing what looked like a prom tux from 1987.

"What is this, the best little whorehouse in Thailand?" I asked the Malaysian guy sitting beside me as eight young men arrived onstage wearing nothing but tighty whities with numbers attached to them. After the perfunctory small talk, he was trying to work his way up my back with his right hand. I, however, was not for sale. I inched forward to detach myself from his grasp without being too obvious.

"Do you want to have some fun?" he asked.

I didn't even try to hold in my laughter. I declined, and he was on his way.

The boyfriend of my new friend from Melbourne tried to buy me No. 34 as a welcome-to-Pattaya gift, but I kept thinking that 34 must be the number of weeks since the onset of puberty on his under-sized body. He was actually 24, or so he said, but once again, I declined.

My new friend made off with the cream of the crop, No. 9, a guy from Chiang Mai who had a wife and young daughter at home. No. 1 lived up to his billing, and later on, after showing me a photo on his phone of his girlfriend, he told me that he, too, was straight and in it strictly for the money.

No. 19, gorgeous and the only one who appeared to be even close to thirtysomething, kept looking at me and grinning. His eyes seemed to be saying, "Pick me, pick me." I was transported back in time to P.E. class at Denn John Middle School in Kissimmee, Florida, when I prayed I wouldn't be the last man standing on the outside when the football teams were being chosen. I was surprised that No. 12, who spent the entire evening wearing a big desperate smile, got picked before 19 did. For a moment, I considered putting 19 out of his misery, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, not even for the reasonable price of 2,000 baht, or the equivalent of about $70.

Unlike the showboys, the cocktail waiters were fully clothed, but with names like "Porn" and "Thong" on their name tags -- totally real, they insisted -- I kept wondering why they bothered getting dressed at all.

Later on, one of them accompanied the two Melburnians, No. 9 and me to a superclub called Nab, where we saw a higher-budget drag show and a catwalk parade featuring more tighty whities, six packs, bulging pecs and some of the most beautiful faces I've seen in all of Southeast Asia. Alas, there were signs posted everywhere that said, "No photos," so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I've always said, "Give me liberty -- in big, decadent gay bar -- or give me death." Well, actually, I've never said that, but I have always been a little wary of gay guys who shun the gay party scene, opting to spend happy hour and after in straight bars. It's one thing if you're still in the closet and afraid of giving yourself away, but if you think that frequenting straight bars somehow makes being gay more acceptable, you're sadly mistaken.

"Too much of a meat market," these guys often say -- the same ones who spend way too many hours trolling the Internet looking for "fun" -- as if the people in straight establishments with names like Jake's and Irish Pub aren't just as pick-up obsessed. At least be enlightened enough to gripe about too much Lady Gaga and Katy Perry on the booming system!

I live most of the day in the straight world, so what's wrong with passing a few hours at night surrounded by my own teammates, hot guys with whom I actually have a chance of scoring a home run -- or at least getting to first base?

All that said, I have my gay limits. Night time is the right time -- and for me, in general, the only time. For most of my adult life, I've avoided gay beaches, gay cruises, gay parades (yes, including Gay Pride), and, especially, gay hotels. The closest I ever came to the latter was last year when I met up with my brother and his boyfriend in Rio for Carnival, and we rented a huge penthouse in Copacabana with a bunch of their friends from Toronto (where Alexi, my brother, and Tim live) and Montreal. It's not that I have anything against gay hotels, or beaches, or cruises, or parades, in theory. I just prefer to spend regular business hours in mixed company. It makes heading out to the boy bars -- and occasionally, restaurants -- after dark more special, like I've earned this for surviving all day in the straight world.

So I was shocked indeed when I was planning phase one of my two-week Gulf of Thailand getaway in Pattaya, and I found myself pressing "book" on the website of Copa, a gay hotel that bills itself as being right in the heart of Boyz Town. But since I'm living life on the edge these days, and my motto is "I'll do anything twice," and there's a first time for everything, I figured it was time to lose my virginity -- again.

If you're someone who's terrified of showing up at a gay bar solo (for one brief moment, all eyes are on you!), then I wouldn't recommend arriving at a gay hotel without a wingman. When the tuk-tuk dropped me off at the hotel underneath a sign that read "BOYZ TOWN" (Seriously!), I was faced with the stares of middle-aged gentlemen enjoying afternoon cocktails on the terrace and five young Thai boys offering their services ("Massage?") across the street.

I made my way inside without incident, and once I was greeted by the friendly receptionist, I tossed aside all of my reservations and decided to honor the one I'd made there. Though the lobby and elevator were uncomfortably cramped, my room was as clean and tastefully decorated as you might expect the accommodations in a gay establishment to be. (No wire hangers -- anywhere!) And even better: I wouldn't have to go any farther than the ground-floor showbar, complete with a 10.30pm drag show and an erotic swim show featuring a go-go boy in a water tank, for the evening's entertainment.

Stay tuned...