Some areas in capital cities develop their own unique character and begin to be viewed as separate to the surrounding areas. Sometimes this can be a ghetto or an area dominated by one ethnic group like for example China Town. In the case of Sukhumvit in Bangkok and Soho in London it is not socio-economics or ethnicity that makes these urban areas stand out but rather culture.
Jeffrey Bernard spent most his life in Soho. He moved there when he was 16 and remained there until his death at the age of 65 from diabetes. There is a story that his friend Ronnie Scott bought a car and invited Bernard to have a spin around London. Bernard hopped in. However, they soon encountered heavy traffic and headed straight back to Soho where they proceeded to get drunk.
Bernard was from the middle class. He started out doing kitchen and labouring jobs until he managed to get writing work reporting on the louche and bohemian aspects of the famous mile square. He knew writers, artists and poets including Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon. He also knew many of the prostitutes, drug dealers and other ‘low lifes’ of the area. When one of his benders overlapped with a deadline the Spectator filled the empty column space with the heading ‘Jeffrey Bernard is unwell’.
Like Soho Sukhumvit has a notorious image as a place of prostitutes, brothels, sex shops, massage parlours and strip joints. Soho might have been gentrified since the turn of the century but the reputation persists.
I suspect there are plenty of people who live and work in Sukhumvit who like Jeffrey Bernard feel uncomfortable leaving the area. It is a place where you can find all the bars you would ever need. Many of the bars are run by ex-pats and become focal points for small communities of Sukhumvit denizens.
Most of these heavy drinkers, whore mongers (see Stickman) and business owners of Sukhumvit do not have any pretensions to being a poet, writer or artist. Neither do they espouse any bohemian ideals. That does not mean Sukhumvit is devoid of creativity. There is the Sombat Permboon Gallery on Soi 1. Moreover, some of the soi areas are popular with Thai students looking to let off steam and possibly talk politics and art. The arts scene in Thailand is not supported by mass media exposure or public funds. The talent might be there but the financial rewards are not.
Soho was also notorious as a place to find street dealers. These have mostly gone as much of the trade has moved online or at least off the street. There are sois in Sukhumvit (I am not going to say where) where plenty of street peddlers are open for business.
Soho and Sukhumvit are places where the illicit, illegal and immoral are available. The allure of this culture for Bernard Jeffreys made him and the area famous. I wonder when Sukhumvit will find an anti-hero to champion its cause. There is a good chance such a person would be a lady who once was a man.