Bangkok developed a few zones of its own which catered to American soldiers in copulatory distress. Among them was Washington Square - a retail, residential and entertainment plaza a few hundred meters south of the Asoke junction on Sukhumvit Road. The Square was anchored by the Washington Theater, but it also consisted of numerous bars, clubs, restaurants and massage parlors frequented by American soldiers. As US military involvement in Vietnam came to a close, Washington Square became one domain of the "I-can't-go-back-there" gun-slingers; those soldiers who figured that life could be better lived on a modest vet's pension in self-imposed exile, rather than rejoining the State side rat race. The Washington Theater must have provided a little window into a severed world for many such men.
Washington Theater as a transvestite cabaret called "Mambo," though I hadn't the faintest clue as to its original function. Only when I started this project last year was I schooled in the matter. Word has it that the Washington was part of the formidable theater empire of a man called "Tansacha," owner of such geographically-named theaters as the New York, Hawaii, Asia and London. But it's movie showing days are a distant memory, now. Mambo cabaret has likewise relocated and a bar called The Sportsman occupies the lower level, below the now-vacant auditorium. I imagine it has never looked worse.
Built-in art and a portrait of the king above the auditorium entrance
One out, bottom of the first. For the next 6 and two-third innings I sat trying to dodge mindless conversation with a sloppy prostitute and focus on the game, a masterful display of pitching by Cliff Lee. The other women sat around lazily, languishing at the choice of programming. I felt bad for invading their work place and subjecting them to this alien sport without so much as a chance for a trick, so whenever Yankee's center fielder Johnny Damon came to bat I'd point to the screen and announce excitedly, "Look, look! That guy's half Thai. Yeah, his mom is Thai and his daddy is American and now he's a superstar. Look how handsome he is!" For all I knew, Damon's mom and dad met right in that bar. At the very booth I was sitting.
After the 6th inning was over I left, confident that doing so would appease the girls' boredom and that the Phillies were on their way to a win.
As for Washington Square on the whole, it's on the wane. After nearly 40 years of whoring and boozing, most of the American G.I.'s who helped establish the place are dead or dying - their businesses sold off, or closed altogether. By the look of things, whoever owns Washington Square is waiting for the right moment to tear the entire plaza down and build a condo or office tower. Off the map goes another piece of local history. One that, in an off-hand way, helped lay the foundation for Bangkok's current affluence.
This post is dedicated to the American soldiers who helped do that laying.