Here’s what Theroux wrote about Bangkok in 1975:
When the American troops left Vietnam and all the Rest and Recreation programs ended it was thought that Bangkok would collapse. Bangkok, a hugely preposterous city of temples and brothels, required visitors. The heat, the traffic, the noise, the cost in this flattened anthill make it intolerable to live in; but Bangkok, whose discomfort seems a calculated discouragement to residents, is a city for transients. Bangkok has managed to maintain its massage parlor economy without the soldiers, by advertising itself as a place where even the most diffident foreigner can get laid. So it prospers.
When he revisited Bangkok for Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Theroux found that the city had added sweatshops and outsourcing to its prosperous economy, but that the sex trade continued unabated. I’m not inclined to update his research, but I will say that, at breakfast, I was made to witness a middle-aged garden gnome from Germany remonstrate with his young Thai companion (in a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt) that the companion only seemed interested in the gnome’s Deutschmarks.
When I woke up after crashing for 12 hours The Year of Living Dangerously was on HBO and I watched it all again. It is based in Sukarno’s Indonesia in the 1960s but elements of the movie resonate here. Curtis, the American reporter, views Jakarta as a backwater and longs for assignment to Saigon, where the action is. In the meantime he takes full advantage of the fleshpots and brags about the low cost of companionship. “Starvation’s a great aphrodisiac,” says Billy Kwan, the dwarf photographer, and Curtis responds by offering to nail Kwan to a cross. Starvation is not the problem in Bangkok, and companionship comes at a price, but surely nobody raises their son or daughter in the hope that he or she will find a career having sex with old farangs in Bangkok.