sometimes a cigar

My visa expired yesterday, but my plane doesn’t leave for another month. So, for the first time, I got to take part in the ritual of the visa run. It was everything I had dreamed: tedious, exhausting, moderately stressful in ways I couldn’t quite articulate to myself. I traveled to the border at Mae Sai via bus, sitting between a Thai soldier and a young man with two matching cell-phones, each equipped with a lilting feminine Thai pop ringtone.

The border was uneventful. I was processed without incident each way. While on the Myanmar side, I mulled over how best to mold my experience into an efficient means of insulting my friend Nyein’s country of origin whenever I next had the opportunity speak to her. Maybe it would be enough to insist on using “Myanmar’ over “Burma”, but then that wouldn’t make for much of a joke.

I was there for all of a half-hour. I had thought that vendors and drivers in Chiang Mai could be pushy, but I knew nothing. Here they may come on strong but it’s a momentary thing, and when you decline they move on with their lives. The moment I stepped off the bridge in Tachileik a man rushed up to me holding a sign covered with pictorial representations of tours. He said taxi and tour and sightsee and I said no, thank you, and shook my head. He repeated himself, louder. He grabbed my arm. I shook my head, kept walking. He trailed along, gripping my arm more tightly, shouting taxi taxi for fifty feet until I placed a foot on the stairs leading down into the little market and he at last gave up.

At the bottom of these stairs I was met by a man wearing a sawed-off milk crate filled with cigarette cartons and he asked cigarette?


Hepalmed something, flashed it: bubble packs of blue pills, rubberbanded together. Viagra?

No, I said, no thank you. I kept walking. He followed. No cigarette? No viagra? Come on man, what you want?


You want lady? I get you lady.


Why no lady? You got lady? Where is she? How much you pay? I get you small lady (one was very insistent on this point, that the lady would be small, no worries), much cheaper. You get boom boom. What you want?

And so on, through at least six men, with the progression of cigarettes, viagra, lady/boom boom and then, finally dirty movie, very bad movie.

There were two with Saddam Hussein playing cards worked between viagra and boom boom.

And they would ask what are you looking for? while trailing behind me for a block and never taking nothing, just walking thanks for an answer.

The man I sat by on the bus ride back– an expat english teacher who told me a story about an American throwing another farang out of one of the bars on Loi Khro road and insisted that, if I wanted to stay in Thailand, I should look for a job bouncing in a bar where the police would never be able to tell I was an employee– told me that he heard it was a nice town, once you got away from the tourist trap that surrounded the bridge. All I could tell in my little time there was that it felt run down. More squalid, more tired than anywhere I’ve been in Thailand.

Caveats abound.


~ by ironcupshrug on 12/14/2009.

One Response to “sometimes a cigar”

  1. […] run to the border. This time it was quite busy, and the market beyond was crowded, so the cigarette fellows didn’t append and pursue.  Some didn’t even speak to me, instead going straight for […]

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