the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Miss Universe

(photo via AP)

With nothing else on TV, Sophia and I watched Miss Universe on NBC tonight.   Were these really the best and most beautiful women in the world… I mean universe?  The worst one was Miss USA, who reminded us of one of the nicer waitresses at the Norm’s Coffee Shop on Hawthorne Boulevard.

We were rooting for the classy-looking Miss Venezuela, until she got stuck having to open her mouth.  Granted, out of final five, she received the most difficult question, something like, "What is your country’s biggest problem and what can you do to help?"  Her response, something about "we need to help each other" was a instant comedy classic, and probably lost her the competition. 

The winner, Miss Canada Natalie Glebova, was a real smoothie, even trying to win favor from the Thai audience by thanking them in Thai and bowing.  With Russia falling apart, it seems that half of their beauties now live in other countries.  Both Miss Israel and Miss Canada were Russian. 

The show. a Donald Trump production, didn’t mention any of the controversy surrounding the pageant

Photographs of bikini-clad contestants posing in front of Bangkok’s famed "Wat Arun," or "Temple of the Dawn," caused outrage among religious traditionalists who said they were an affront to Buddhism.

Indonesia’s first Miss Universe hopeful in nine years also sparked a storm back home in the world’s most populous Muslim nation with her decision to take part in the swimsuit part of the competition.

Even though 25-year-old law student Artika Sari Devi opted to wear a one-piece swimsuit rather than the skimpier two-piece bikinis favored by most contestants, conservatives reacted with anger, branding the pageant "pornography."

The show was way too boring to be pornographic.  Even the swimsuit section was laughable.  I felt bad for the girls as they struggled to walk gracefully in their white bikinis and high heels.  Miss Peru almost slipped and fell on her butt.  After that, I was rooting for her, much in the way that American Idol fans were rooting for the terrible Scott Savol to win, but unfortunately, Miss Peru didn’t make the top five.  That’s the way Machu Picchu crumbles.

Donald Trump must have made a deal with the Thai tourism board, forcing him to promote the hell out of the country, particularly important to the Thais after the terrible tsunamis.  The show spent as much time being a travelogue of beautiful Bangkok as it was of the beauty pageant.

I’ve been to Bangkok, or as it is really called, Krungtheep Mahanakon Bovorn Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokpop Noparatratchatathani Burirom Udomratchanivetmahasatan Amornpiman Avatarnsatit Sakkathattiyaavisnukarmprasit (no joke, see here). 

My trip was several years ago.  I went with my friend, Rob, who was working in Hong Kong at the time. I don’t remember much of the tourist stuff we did, but I do remember our visit one night to Patpong, the red-light district.  

I remember Patpong as being very active.  There were street vendors of all sorts and hawkers calling us over to their establishments.  After walking up and down the street for a half hour, we decided to follow a bunch of German tourists into this one club.   We sat at the bar.  In front of us was a stage.  A naked girl came out onto the stage and started doing amazing things with ping pong balls.  You’ll just have to imagine it.  

After we ordered a couple of Singha beers, two "hostesses" sat down next to us.   It was clear that they wanted us to buy them drinks.  The bartender poured them some watered-down soda in a small glass and then charged us the full price. 

The girls looked like they were fourteen years old.   I had no idea what I was supposed to do.   Was I supposed to make conversation with "my" girl?   Here I was, two feet away from a naked woman doing things with ping pong balls that I was sure I would never see again, and I now was required to talk to this fourteen year old girl as if she were my date?  And worse, pay for her overpriced drinks!
After a few minutes, I figured I had to say something to her.  After all, I didn’t want her to feel bad, or worse, get yelled at for not doing a good job.  I turned to the girl and actually said the following sentence:

"So, how long have you lived in Bangkok?"

"Do you like me?"  she answered, as the bartender poured her a second "drink."  

After that, I didn’t talk to her for the next fifteen minutes.  Then, she put her hand on my leg.   That really freaked me out.

"No, no, no…," I said.

Meanwhile, Rob was on his third beer, and getting a little drunk.  He took some money out to tip the Ping Pong girl.  Another hostess saw this and within a second, Rob had two girls sitting with him, each asking him to buy them drinks. 

All I could think about Rob losing all our money, then the two of us getting beaten up by the bartender in a dark alley. 

After the next drink, I dragged Rob out of the bar.  He was pissed at me for being so wimpy and we had our first fight of the trip.  In retrospect, maybe I was a little too wimpy.  Oh, well.

I wish I could say that I kept up my relationship with my hostess girl, writing her letter and emails.  An even better story is that one day I accidentally bumped into her at a Starbucks in Costa Mesa.  She’s now married and moved to California. 

In reality, my "One Night in Bangkok" story ends pretty flat.   Rob and I flew back to Hong Kong the next day.  And I’ve never been back to Bangkok.

Congratulations, Miss Canada on winning Miss Universe in Bangkok!


  1. wendy

    ping pong balls…huh..who knew?

    One time I think your reserved side probably served you well.

    i’ve never been to a strip club..of either variety..

    I guess we are both sheltered..

    Though you do have those ping pong balls..

  2. Neil

    Wendy — This is probably one of my best stories and I blew it in 2005 when no one was reading the blog. And I didn’t even do a good job with the story. Maybe I’ll repackage it and write it again in the future.

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