When we are out and about on the town, I always know when Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, has to pee. It’s often. His urination habits are that of a twelve year old girl with a bladder infection. He pees more often than a dog out on a walk marking its spot. When he feels the need coming on, he starts fidgeting like a little kid. Then takes off his Ganesha ring and hands it to me.
His ring is a massive hunk of silver in the shape of the elephant god that I bought for him a few years back when we were in Chiang Mai. Other jewelry comes and goes (I think it goes to the local pawn shop when times are tight) but that ring is a constant. Ganesha is his personal god and the two of them have a mutually beneficial arrangement. Noom shows proper reverence to Ganesha and Ganesha provides all of the materialistic things Noom wants or needs. I’m evidently Ganesha’s representative on earth.
Part of that proper reverence means keeping Ganesha, or at least his image, away from cock. So as much as Noom would like it to be otherwise, I’ll never be a convert. He wears his ring on his right hand, which I have to assume is also the hand he uses to aim. Ganesha needs a safe harbor when Noom heads off to pee. I’m pretty sure that has more to do with Noom’s religious beliefs than it does his OCD thingy about positioning. But when it comes to the gods and positioning, all Thais sit up and pay attention.
Ganesha is also big among store owners who rely on him to provide the luck they need to bring in big bucks. Ganesha shrines are fairly commonplace at smaller retail establishments throughout Thailand. Usually they are tucked away at the back of the shop. Always they are mounted high up on the wall. That used to seem to me to be a bit off; if the god is so important it would seem he should have a place equally as important. But then I realized that positioning stems from two things, both of which are quintessentially Thai.
First, even the gods are not allowed to get in the way of business. Money trumps any and all other consideration. Second, Thai culture places a high premium on positioning: whether it is the Buddha, Ganesha, or the King, your head must always be lower than theirs. It’s respect and subservience all rolled into one. The gods are left to their own devices to ensure proper reverence is shown. The King, and royal family, have the lese majeste laws to take care of their rep. Dising the royals in Thailand is a major no-no.
Most visitors to Thailand, who aren’t total ingrates, are aware of lese majeste and know better than to make disparaging remarks about the King and/or his family. Doing so will piss off any Thai who hears you. And could land your ass in jail. Thais themselves, from all walks of life, are aware of the laws but I think most are not aware of just how intricate and far reaching those laws are. Compliance, to some degree, is a natural part of their daily lives. They’ve been raised to show respect and most have such a love for their royals they want to show respect. Laws forcing them to do so are not needed. But the rules about positioning go beyond the pale. And are taken very seriously by those who enforce them.
Many, if not most, Thais have a picture of the King in their homes and/or businesses. They are always mounted high on the wall so that the King’s head is always above everyone else. Even, for example, at a local restaurant with newspaper clippings of the King’s visit to that establishment decades before, the framed clippings are mounted so high up you can barely make out who is in them. Thais also make sure their King picture is not mounted in a spot that could be disrespectful, such as where he’d be staring at the bathroom (and god forbid you most certainly would never hang a picture of him in the loo!)
I suspect above the bed is another spot not suitable for a picture of the King. I have no proof, but have to assume if you did not want to have sex with the boy you brought back to your hotel, quickly hanging a photo of the King above the bed would ensure no happy endings would occur. But then I’m not willing to be the one to test that theory.
Noom’s Ganesha ring doesn’t get to participate in our sex life either. Doesn’t matter how horny I am or anxious to get to it, that ring must first come off and be placed in an appropriate spot. Selecting that spot is where Noom’s OCD thingy comes into play. Several are tried and abandoned before the proper spot is found. A quickie, when Noom’s Ganesha need finds its perch, is out of the question. But I digress from my digression . . .
The lese majeste laws are so detailed that they even cover the King and his relative position to others in pictures published in newspapers. There are regulations that dictate how many centimeters above others he must be shown in any photo published. Obviously, any such pictures must be above the fold. And if a newspaper ever mistakenly placed a shoe advertisement above a picture of the King . . . but then that would just be stupid.
I have to assume it is the ‘money trumps all’ custom that then allows for the seemingly disrespect shown daily with the King’s picture on baht. If you consider the respect, reverence, and intricate lese majeste laws about the King’s picture and then watch Thais’ use of baht you’d be confused. Baht collected from the first sale of the day is often used as a fan, brushed quickly along all the other vendor’s merchandise to impart good luck. If you fanned out a photo of the King and did the same you’d be shot. And if it’s rude to have a picture of the King looking at your bathroom, how is it that it’s okay to have his picture on baht watch a bunch of naked Thai guys have sex on stage at the gogo bars?
Needless to say, Noom has the requisite picture of the King in his room, perfectly positioned high on a wall. Not that you’d notice it with all of the Ganesha statues and imagery filling the place. He just needs a few more pieces and he’ll have the premier Ganesha shrine in the city, his room soon to make it to the Top Ten list of things to do and see in Bangkok. Whenever we get a new one we have to stop by his place and introduce it to its new home before heading back to the hotel. That usually means rearranging all of the others until the new tableau is just right. Which can take hours. I borrow a page out of Noom’s book and settle down for a nap while he moves everything around a few dozen times. The ring though, doesn’t have a place at home. It stays firmly planted on his finger. Until he has to pee.
That ring was one of the best travel investments I’ve ever made. The combination of Noom’s tiny bladder and my duty as ring bearer have been responsible for numerous travel experiences in several countries that I would have not otherwise enjoyed. Thanks to that ring I got to experience the Thai version of porta-potties at large events, the bathroom bus (and thanks to the dictates of ring bearing responsibilities did not have to actually go inside the rank interior, some experiences are better enjoyed from a distance). In Luang Prabang Noom’s need to mark his spot allowed me the time to meet, and conspire with, an old lady version of the little engine that could. And a photo op of a local celebration with the cutest little Lao guy dressed up in traditional costume opened up while Noom was busy trying to find a suitable spot to empty his bladder the next morning too.
Three weeks into a trip and suffering Sprite Zero withdrawal, I managed to find a stray bottle at a roadside rest stop on the outskirts of Chiang Mai thanks to Noom’s need to pee. And in Phuket we avoided being drawn in the middle of a bloody brawl between a handful of drunk Aussies (oxymoron?) because it was Noom’s time to go. Visiting Disneyland in Hong Kong, his need to pee meant we couldn’t take yet another spin on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup ride. And in Saigon, after watching him try to figure out how to get across the street I nearly peed myself from laughter when he finally took off running, suddenly more concerned about a private accident than the potential one he might face from the hordes of cars and motorcycles that seemingly would not give way.
If you ever stop by Noom’s bar and catch him busy at work strutting his stuff in the big cock show, you will not see his Ganesha ring on his hand. Ganesha does not approve of exposed dick regardless of its position. But then his hand would not be what you were looking at anyway. And there’s a good chance you won’t see him either, his cue to get on stage may have sounded, but it’s more than likely he’ll be in the bathroom taking yet another piss instead.