If you’re a particular man living in Asia there’s a high chance you’re logged into Grindr. Yikes, Grindr. The dating app that I’m hella embarrassed to tell my American friends I’m active on. Well, it’s hard to justify using an app that’s infamous for white men calling you Nigger when you deny them for dates and sex. After months of scrolling by lacklusters in my Middle Eastern country, I was looking forward to refreshing my options in Thailand.
I sat by the pool of my resort soaking in the fact that this was my life. My feet crossed on the lounge chair. Plants draped from the roofs and reflected in the face of the pool. Anita Baker “Watch Your Step” scored my peace. I took a deep breath and then I logged on to the app.
I found a gem. Anyone who uses dating apps knows that feeling when you find a gem. A gem is someone that catches your eye on the grid. Someone whose pictures and description aren’t like the others. Without hesitation, I sent a message, went through the dating app protocols, then invited him over to meet and talk.
He was a native of Thailand. Brown hair that had been colored was perfectly shaped. His chest poked through his shirt. And he had a smile that I’d never seen: it was charming, yet mysterious, and full of personality. He showed up in shorts, a black t-shirt, flip flops and a small bottle of Vaseline lotion, he’d gotten sunburned earlier that day.
“You’re special” he kept affirming me. He didn’t know how much I needed to hear that. Despite all of the obvious differences with language and nationality, we had much in common. We’d both come from families that strongly valued education, we shared concern for how people living with HIV are treated in the world, and we spent about three hours laughing hysterically at each other’s corny jokes and childhood stories. After 1am hit, we called our conversation quits and decided to depart ways. I’d told him that we should go out the next day, before I started my journey back home to my conservative country. We both agreed and he agreed to pick me up outside of my hotel at 8:00pm.
At 7:55pm, I walked to the gate snappy casual, actually more casual than snappy. 8:00pm, nothing. 8:15pm, no phone call. Just nothing. I waved and smiled awkwardly at my travel partner who I told “I’d be back” now 30 minute ago. Around 8:40pm, he sent a WhatsApp message to tell me traffic had him running late. He was coming from a city that was several kilometers away. Using all of his charm, he asked me to please wait for him. I could feel the humility coming from the message and I really wanted to hang out with someone who I had a genuine, romantic connection with. So, I said okay. And I called my best friend to pass the time.
In exactly 35 minutes, I heard the vroom. He showed up to the gate of my resort on his motorcycle. I did the Wendy Williams skip over to his bike and hopped on the back. He apologized profusely; his smile cured my frustration and my nerves. I wrapped my hands around his waist while he stroked my leg with his hands. Our intimacy was natural and innocent. Without warning, we scurried off into the darkness.
Our first stop was a hole-in-a-wall Thai restaurant. I had Pad Thai with pork and Sprite from a glass bottle served by the owner herself. He translated the news for me as we ate. After we finished eating, well I ate most of it, we got the idea to travel to Patong Beach, about 30 minute drive from our location. He asked if I truly felt comfortable going and I told him I’d always been a risk taker.
He asked twice just to make sure. I assured him I wanted to visit this beach, especially through the eyes of someone who lived there. He shook his head okay and this time handed me a helmet. He told me we should be beware of policemen who set on the road and give tickets to people who ride motorcycle without helmets. As he started up the bike, I shared my location with my travel buddy and my friends back home. Despite my comfort in him, I’m still a Black man, hopping on a bike with a man I met yesterday traveling to an unknown place in the night middle of the night. Anything can happen.
It was 10:30pm when we started our journey through the dark beauty of Thailand. The wind against my face went back and forth between comforting and fierce. It was warm but sharp. It often choked me and brought me back to reality just before I drifted too far off into the true magic of this moment. Never would I have thought, as a black man, I’d be on a date with a Thai guy. Never would I have thought I’d be on a date in Thailand.
When we arrived to Patong Beach, we weaved through bikes, taxis and hotel vans. We were instantly surrounded by Times Square lights and vibes. The streets were buzzing with excitement and curiosity. Despite all of that, he found us a restaurant at the end of the strip, in a dimly lit and quiet corner. A small child took our order. Without thought, we told her at the same time Mango Sticky Rice. As we waited, we held hands at the table and starred at each other. We told each other corny jokes and laughed. And just as I was going to tell him how special he was, a warm plate of Mango Sticky Rice showed up.
He walked me through how to eat the dish. Use the spoon to pick up the rice. Dip the rice into the warm coconut milk and then scoop up a piece of mango. He was displeased with the lack of sweetness in the rice. I ate it quickly, without question.
Not longer after, we took a walk to the oceanfront. It was mildly crowded with diverse groups of people: local Thai people, multi-racial families, tourists. As we sat in the sand, our eyes widened at two drunk, white men who galloped into the ocean. “Oh wow” was my mono-toned response. Cold Beers still in their hand, they splished and splashed one another. They screamed and laughed. Beach goers on the sand chuckled. Some of them tried to distract their children. It was uncomfortable for everyone.
Just after I blinked and opened my eyes, the two drunk men were still in the ocean, only getting louder and more rambunctious. One of them had decided to take off their swimming trunks in the ocean and moon the entire beach. His friend followed. “Oh wow!” was my mono-toned response.
Moments later, the Thai Police stomped through the sand towards the drunken men.
“Are you normal?”
“Get the fuck out of here?”
“There are kids out here!”
“Do you think someone wants to see you naked ass?”
I laughed to myself. While they weren’t arrested, they were humiliated by law enforcement and forced off the beach. As the two men ran off of the beach, still pulling up their pants, one light shined in my face. Then two. Then, enough till I couldn’t see unless I directed my sight into the sand.
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?” the police men said at once.
My stomach dropped. My contacts got blurry. “I’m from America.” They then asked for my passport. I gave it to them on-edge. They gave it back to me.
“What are you doing here?” the officer shouted.
I responded, “vacationing”. I looked at my date. There was fear in my eyes. He looked back at me calm and looked up at the cops. He spoke to them in Thai and I directed my sight into the sand. I wanted the visual of four police officers shining their lights in my face to disappear.
When I lifted my head, they flashed their lights at me again and told me to have a great time.
“What did I do wrong?” I asked my date. He replied, “nothing. They have never seen a black guy with a Thai guy before, I guess.” I looked back up at him and said, “Ready to go?”
On the entire ride home, I couldn’t help but to think about how my blackness was seen as as a major problem and concern tonight. Privilege awarded two white, perverted men the opportunity to expose their naked bodies to dozens of people and children on a beach and walk away free. While I sat on the beach with my legs firmly planted in the sand in the comfort of an amazing person, yet I was being discussed in a language I didn’t understand, questioned for what felt like an eternity and forced to give them my passport. (Those folks who know when you have to give up your passport to an office, it’s serious)
Being Black is a crime worldwide. No durag or sagging pants needed this time. Just my skin covered in God’s sand. And my hair a few inches tall. It didn’t matter who I was or where I had came from. The degree I carried held no weight. I was just Black and a threat.
My date hugged me after. I’m grateful to have had him to mediate the situation. I’m sure it wouldn’t have ended well for me. I hate that the memory of our shared Mango Sticky Rice will forever be coupled with racist police officers. But I must move forward.
I hopped on the back of his motorcycle home. This time, with my arms around him and my head on my back. I’m just lucky to feel the wind again, against my face.