Sunday, June 21, 2009

Elton John Loves to Sing About Saturday Night

Last night the girls and I did it up ex-pat style, exploring two popular Backpacker Bars in the Old City, where the ex-pats, hikers, and otherwise dirty Westerners stay in Chiang Mai.

The reggae bar, which I believe is called "Heaven Boat" (?), is away from the bustle of the main tourist road and yet attracts many Caucasians: stoners, droppers, the tattooed, the dreadlocked, the hemp-wearing crowd, long-skirted males and females. The walls have paintings of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix and psychedelic flowers and smoke rings; surprisingly, the house band was not playing Reggae music but was, like most of the cover bands here, playing a solid mix of Western staples and surprises. I heard "High and Dry" from The Bends, for example.

Everyone sat cross-legged on the floor, around low stone tables, and sipped their island drinks, and closed their eyes, and swayed.

There was a brief conversation about who these wannabe flower children were, where they came from, how they sustained themselves economically here, in their lengthy treks across Southeast Asia. My guess is: mid-to-upper class parents, lawyers, doctors, men and women with secretaries, a slight but substantial economic contribution for airfare, the aversion to the boozhy life, the dramatic drift to hippiedom and grunge. Maybe they were the children of hippies, who were now lawyers, doctors, whatever; maybe one day they will be lawyers, doctors, too.

Is there such thing as a genuine hippie, though? The lifestyle seems so dogmatized now, so specialized, in dress and in attitude, that it seems all-facade now, all attempts to "look the part," to dress the right way. Same thing happened to the hipsters, the anarchists, the punks. It's all idolatry and weak imitation now--where is the pioneering, truly noncomfortist thought and look that these movements are intended to express? All of these once-radical group identities--now stock Halloween costumes and subjects for elementary school history projects--are dead, and the self-righteousness and self-assurance of these recent college grads whose disgruntledness with society has taken a standard turn really kills me. Get a new aesthetic, for Christ's sake--you're skimming the borders of dogmatic religion, which I'm sure is not the point.

Anyway. The Reggae bar--I wasn't a fan. Maybe we should not have started our night there, or maybe I was on edge--and maybe the beggars and glass-eyed toddlers selling flower necklaces for 10 Baht a piece, relentlessly tugging on your shirt sleeves and sitting next to you at the table and hugging your waist--maybe all of that turned me off. Maybe I needlessly hate veneers. Or Reggae music.

No, I know that I hate Reggae music. People complain about all country music sounding the same, but my God--have they ever listened to Reggae?

Our second and final stop was a Rooftop Bar back on the main drag in the Old City. Apropos name: the bar is on a roof, about four stories up. Take off your shoes on the third-story landing, take the attic stairs out into the open air, to the bar and the sitting area. No chairs--just low meditation pillows. Again, lots of cross-legged sitting in groups around low wooden tables.

The vibe here was different, or maybe the Singha Beer (which, by the way, is rumored to be made with Formaldehyde; only trace elements, nothing lethal, I assume) had temporarily melted my ice-heart; but I liked the Rooftop. The Western set was jovial, generally not-obnoxious or intrusive. Perhaps a bit difficult to meet an other there--to walk over to a seated group, and have to lumber down to the ground gracefully, and then introduce yourself, is an awkward, difficult gesture, even for a skilled pickup artist like myself--but still, the atmosphere was nice, convivial, decidedly ex-pat. Saw my first strands of blond hair in some time. Can't say I missed it that much. But then, it's only been

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