Beach Candy and Noy’s Update

UPDATE: I’ve inserted Noy’s commentary on ladyboys at the bottom.

Today´s candy didn´t start off very promisingly. I put on two Miya Shinmas – Kaze and Feuillage Vert (green leaves), both samples of which I got awhile back from Luckyscent which, interestingly, doesn´t seem to sell them. They both were really soapy on me, before Vert went off in the disheartening direction of privet and Kaze in what smelled to me like a rather plastic rose. They´re pretty light. I did fret. Is there something about my tropical locale that just rejects perfume?

Then I tried Carthusia´s Via Camerelle and was cheered immediately. I´m not a fan of some bits of the line I´ve sampled; Fiori di Capri´s overbearing florals gag me, although Mediterraneo is a perfect all-season fragrance, particularly in winter, a breeze of citrus and a cool glass of tea. Replace the tea with some musk and sandalwood and you´ve got Camerelle. Is it genius? Nah. But it´s delicious – a lime gelato in the Cinque Terre, served up with a suggestive smile by some sloe-eyed Italian boy in a white shirt, his curls of dark brown hair blowing in the breeze. Whiff of armpit – his, not mine. (I checked.) Thing I love about Italian and French men: your appeal as a woman doesn’t evaporate with your 30th (or 40th, or 60th) birthday.

But Via Camerelle should work here, because it´s such a hot-weather snack of a fragrance. So then I wished I´d brought Guerlain Mitsouko, because I wanted to conduct an experiment on my theory of environmental incompatibility and Mitsouko just seemed, off the top of my head, like the wrongest possible thing to wear to Patong Beach. Mitsouko is my queen, my most elegant lady, and walking her around here is like taking the Mona Lisa to happy hour at Hooters. I dug around in my sample bag and came up instead – miraculously – with Guerlain L´Heure Bleue in the parfum, which is also a strong contender in the wrongness category. I was excited – how would my melancholy beloved wear, mashed up against the roast bananas, roadside garbage, strutting ladyboys and general sleazy charm of Patong, which, judging by the pornographic tee shirts and hardcore action on Bangla Road, is getting a little less family friendly?

I waited for sunset, splashed on some LHB and took my stroll.

Is the suspense killing you? What happened was so peculiar. L´Heure Bleue on me is very … proper, the variant being the degree of melancholy on any particular day. Even the parfum, which is way stronger on me than the EDP, keeps its velvet gloves on like a lady, and (whispers) sometimes that powder-heliotrope thing can get a little cloying. But this! Holy moley! I wandered down the beach, through the crowds at Bangla, and back up, working up a sweat, and my velvet lady danced around in front of me in a sarong, every inch of her reinvented as one of Gauguin´s Tahitian beauties. It was all smoke and incense and hot brown skin on me – no, seriously – the inside of a temple. It was fabulous.

Top photo: Thai ladyboy band Venus Flytrap (what a great name!) The ladyboy phenom here is just one more thing I´m a little confused about. They seem to be pretty accepted – you can go see them in cabaret shows, and they´re out in public. Maybe Noy will enlighten? Basically they´re transvestites, but they´re not. I wonder how they fit in culturally, and/or to whom they are providing services? Separate from the old joke of discovering at an awkward moment that, you know, the lady´s a dude, seriously – some of them are drop-dead gorgeous, and there are interesting shadings and variations in the level to which they´re looking female. Many of them seem to be deliberately androgynous – splitting it right down the middle, provocatively.

NOY’S COMMENTS:

Ladyboys. Wooooo…could write a book on that. They’ve been around a long time. In terms of societal “roles,” they have been part of animistic rituals and the like for ages, and were part of the entertainment scene since at least the 1920s. Every Thai drama must have a ladyboy sidekick to simper and screech…so they are present in mainstream media, but also reduced to caricature. Not unlike how queer folks are often treated in Hollywood films.

They have become a significant part of the sex industry here — they are undoubtedly a tourist draw, but I do think that they have many male Thai patrons as well, a large proportion of those probably men who are usually with women, I’d guess.

I guess you can say that ladyboys are tolerated — more conservative Thais might not like many ladyboys’ overt sexuality (maybe just as much as their flouting of gender conventions), but are not going to seek them out to bash them…we are kind of laissez-faire here, and save our ire for drunken shootings and the occasional murderous coup. But tolerated would really be the functional word, with ladyboys contained in the special role of campy confidant, make-up artist, the village queen, someone else’s crazy kid, etc.

I could really go on at length, but it is wicked late here. I will pass on an excellent essay to you when we meet next, and suggest also the film Beautiful Boxer, which, while formulaic, is also a moving examination of the real-life story of a Thai boxing champion who later went through sex-reassignment surgery. (Medical tourism is hot here, yes, and many come from abroad to do this surgery…)

Last thing, in reference to sweetlife’s comment about Takarazuka and lesbianism in Japan — I did not find lesbianism to be verboten there. (I lived in Japan for some time.) There are no laws declaring homosexuality illegal, and there are some legal protections. There is also a thriving scene, magazines, organizations, etc.

Lesbianism is, however, hardly discussed outside of queer circles, which is its own vast problem, and there is a tremendous amount of societal pressure to get married, have babies, etc.  Really a difficult situation, but not forbidden. Queerness in Thailand is more open but also…not discussed so much. Most of my Thai gay friends (particularly the Sino-Thais, I’ve noticed) are not out to their families, and they are in their 30s and 40s, it’s a really don’t ask, don’t tell situation. In both Japan and Thailand you’d likely find higher numbers of queer people living in marriages with people of the opposite sex and having children…while stepping out on the side…than the States. Do your public and familial duty, and then sneak off to explore or engage in your individual desires. And never, ever let the two worlds collide.

Venus Flytrap photo, thaiphotoblogs.com; Gauguin Tahiti Women with Mango, mpa.org

  • March says:

    I play with Mitsouko and always regret it. Mitsouko is not some fool’s plaything!:d The couple of times I actually tried LAYERING it with something I barely lived to regret it.

    I’m not sure the LHB thing is even just the heat/humidity – I’ll have to find out when I get home. I swear I’ve worn it in warm weather before, without these fab results.

  • Kyra says:

    Great post and yeah, those tiny boys coulda fooled me. Such a wide range in possible roles and contexts to fit them into.To me the far poles might be the austere and studied onnagata(playing the female roles in traditional kabuki) to the over the top American show queen.

    Guess I’ll see if LHB kills me during the next heat wave, but I already know Mitsouko is fatal during anything but the coolest weather.

  • minette says:

    would love to have smelled the l’heure bleue that way – it’s almost too much and unapproachable to me (mitsouko i can see working there). the book i recommended a couple of days ago, bangkok haunts, also deals with ladyboys – though i can’t recall the name they use for them.

  • noyna says:

    Okay, I am seriously dumb right now, but I can’t seem to post my absolutely enormous comment. Maybe it is too huge. Will send to March and maybe she can figure it out…

    • March says:

      I’ll go look! Thanks.

    • March says:

      Noy, thanks — I’ve added your comments to the post. One part struck me particularly — that the offense is their overt sexuality — like the really sexy (female) bar girls. Certainly my Western eyes are struck by the way that, outside, say, Siam Square in Bangkok, women’s dress is quite conservative, with a lot less skin showing than in the U.S., even in this tourist beach town. So to me the ladyboys stand out as potentially objectionable in precisely the same way as the bar girls do. Even seeing a Thai woman on the beach in a skimpy bikini (in the company of a Western man) seems mildly shocking. And maybe I’m reading too much into it, but their facial expressions either seem to be defiant or embarrassed… anyway, thanks for the comments.

  • Maria says:

    Hey, everybody, public service announcement here: Don’t miss the fascinating interview with Andy Tauer on Perfume Shrine today. (There’s a link in the Perfume Posse blogroll on the left).

  • sweetlife says:

    Great post (again!).

    March, I think you’re right to sniff out a distinction between American drag queens (let alone the much bigger category of transvestites) and Thai ladyboys. My own knowledge and experience is limited, but I have noticed that there’s a whole world of gender bending, with its own cultural history and context, throughout Asia that seems quite different from what happens in the West. For example, in Japan there are cross-dressing young women performers with huge crushed-out young-girl followings–they’re basically pop-stars–and this in a country where lesbianism is verboten, to say the least. From your photo it seems like the ladyboy phenom, as well, spills out of the sex industry and into Thai pop culture (or did it happen the other way around?). Gender/performance are pretty inseparable no matter where/who you are, but aside from Ru-Paul and Divine the U.S. doesn’t seem to have quite the same cultural space available for this kind of thing.

    I’d love to hear Noy’s thoughts on this. Or from anyone who knows more…

    • March says:

      That’s it exactly — I really want to know the cultural context. I have heard Thai men fool around a lot (not sure if that’s true.) And I am sure that, given Asian sex tourism, at least part of the function of the ladyboys is that sort of service. But it seems like more than that. I wonder if it’s verboten to be just a regular ol’ gay man in Thailand? So that’s the direction young gay men take? It does seem more fluid, but in a way I don’t understand. The really stunning ones, IMHO, are the ones wandering around who are Bowie-esque androgenes. Like a male-style tank top, makeup and go-go boots. I’m assuming they’re not getting the crap kicked out of them, so maybe it’s cool with the locals. Although maybe not if it’s your own son…

  • Judith says:

    Wonderful post. Now I must journey to a tropical clime in order to try LHB there (I wonder if Mr. L. will fall for that?!) I want to learn more about the beautiful ladyboys. And I am divided on the wanting you home/want more posts from Thailand issue. In the end, missing you wins out!:x

    • March says:

      Yeah, I’m sure he’ll go for that!!! Show him the ladyboy photos, maybe that will add to the sales pitch.:-“:-?

      Or not.

      Aren’t you taking a trip? Or did you go already? I’m confuzzled.

    • March says:

      PS I’ll be home next week!

  • Elle says:

    I must try Via Camerelle. Sounds like it has a lot of potential.
    My best friend lived w/ a transvestite for years (as Lee said, the Eddie Izzard type) who was just remarkably unfortunate as a woman (very tall, muscular, square jawed, North Country Brit), so I’m mesmerized by the delicacy of these boys. The one in the middle in particularly fascinates me w/ that near wrist size thigh. They’re all just brilliant!

    • March says:

      I think you’d like Camerelle a lot, but not sure you’d “need” it if you already have Mediterraneo… I swear, I don’t think I’ve seen it locally at the place that has a few. I’ll have to re-check.

      Yeah, same feeling about that photo. I mean, if you’re glancing at it and I hadn’t put anything in there about them being males, would you have guessed that? They look like some random girl band. I think the one second from right is particularly lovely. And that one in the center — what is the DEAL? My leg is bigger than that.

      • Kelly says:

        Yep, I looked at the pic and thought “what’s up with all the too-gorgeous models?” Then read on and did the 😮 “those are GUYS?!” You know… looking at it again, I’m not even sure I believe you… 😕

  • katy says:

    Hi !
    I like Via Camerelle too… It’s very nice.
    OT : I’m really disappointed with Floris London… They have a couple of things I really used to enjoy, and, yesterday, I was browsing and I saw they were in a sale. I did an order, and they even calculate the shipment fee in the site, and have my country as an option when you do the order. They sent me a confirmation e-mail. But today, I was checking my e-mail box, and they sent me a new e-mail telling they not ship to here. After everything…

    • March says:

      Katy — I hardly ever order anything overseas, except via eBay, and I’ve sort of boycotted that. I’ve heard all sorts of stories. I do remember hearing that shipping rates into the U.S. went up pretty dramatically recently, and there’s the risk of confiscation. Maybe they just can’t be bothered? But you’re right, you should be able to find that out up front.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Ohhh honey !
    Those folks are magnificent !
    You really ought to investigate a little closer…
    [See how easy it is for L and myself to encourage you from a safe distance]

    Hell, it’s all good.
    As long as no one loses an eye [?!?]…

    COME HOME !
    [OH. LHB.Right. I like it in the heat, too. SAXXXXY !]

    • Louise says:

      Sorry to disagree…as much as I miss you, I don’t think I can live without these brilliant Thai posts…they have carried me through a rather boring and at times trying summer…so stay on a bit, please??? I’ll buy you many coffees and pastries when you come back, but no rush, eh?

      • March says:

        Chaya and Louise — well, we leave for Bangkok on Saturday for a few days of R&R (catching the new Harry Potter movie at the IMAX in 3-D!!!) and this amazing market. Then home mid-week.

        I’m happy to be here, but I miss home, too.

  • Lee says:

    March – I think you’ve missed out on some seriously interesting cross-cultural exchange by not following up those offers… (hmmm…). I guess there’s a difference between transvestite performance (the drag queen), transvestite identity (the Eddie Izzard / husband in a frock) and transvestite sexual desire (the thrill of lacy knickers or whatever…). A lot of ladyboys might be transsexuals AFAIK – it seems that gender and sexuality are a little more fluid in Thailand – although whether this is the normal state of affairs or catering to sex tourism, who knows…

    I’ve loved living your holiday vicariously! 😡

    • March says:

      Yeah, right, honey — YOU come over here and figure out what to do with a ladyboy. Actually, I have a whole other obsession for you — the sea gypsy cadre. The lean, heavily tattooed men who run the beach activities. In extremely low-slung board shorts.

      • Lee says:

        Now you’re talkin’ my language!

        • March says:

          Madre de Dios. I wish I had photos. They work running the beach all day and are all muscle, but in that slender way. They have high cheekbones. And they’re so dark you can hardly see the tattoos, which (I talked to a couple of them, they recognize me as the crazy red-head who walks around with the iPod)I gather are made in some special way with burnt bamboo? I have no idea. But the effect is pretty striking.

  • Maria says:

    March, you’re absolutely right about L’Heure Bleue in the humid heat!! The first, life-changing time I sniffed L’Heure Bleue was on a cruise ship docked off Nassau. It smelled like incense. It’s harder to catch that quality in the cooler weather that one generally feels is more appropriate for LHB. Good point! I wonder where I can find me some heat. Oh, wait, I know all too well. But it won’t be humid.

    The ladyboys look stunning. I don’t understand why you say they’re not transvestites. Sorry, feeling suddenly dizzy in the gender jungle. :-\

    • March says:

      Oh, I want to smell LHB on a cruise ship docked off Nassau!!!! (sob) I’m afraid it will never smell that shocking to/on me again…

      On my ladyboy comment — I had to think about what I meant, too!
      :d:”> Apologizing in advance to any transvestite readers re: my ignorance … in the U.S. I think of transvestites as more OBVIOUS for two reasons — they’re often more flamboyant (Drag Queens?) and, due to the much larger size differential between U.S. males and females, they’re easier to spot, generally. Here the ladyboys are hard to distinguish from the Thai bar girls; same outfits, more or less, and same size. Tipoffs are more subtle (like broader shoulders) but the men are delicate. Actually, given how tight some of their shorts are, uh, I’ve wondered whether some of them are transsexuals? (Bangkok is, I think, the gender-reassignment leader in the world.) If you put five men and five women in a lineup I’m not sure I’d pick the men out.

      I did ask around (I emailed Noy this) at a couple of places I frequent, like the place I’ve been getting massages, and my intellectual interest was misenterpreted as an effort at procurement, prompting hilarious/embarrassing retreat on my part. But wow, think of that?!? I mean, what would I be doing with a ladyboy??? I guess I assumed their customers were men, but what do I know?:-“

  • tmp00 says:

    If there was no other reason for me to adore you it would be this quote walking her around here is like taking the Mona Lisa to happy hour at Hooters”

    There’s a happy hour at Hooter’s?

    As you know, I have a skin chemistry that seems to change anything from “ridden hard and put away wet” to “Tricia Nixion reviewing the troops” Don’t know if that’s good or bad, but in your case it makes for great reading..

    • March says:

      Ah, it was a great line, eh? But I have no idea about Happy Hour. Hooters is one of the American institutions I’ve thus far avoided.:d

      However, you made me laugh with Tricia Nixon. I hate it when that happens (as it did with Voilette de Madame…)