shanghai -- around the pacificRim, from East Timor to Singapore to Japan, discos suck. They also smoke, smoulder, trap and bore, with rip-off rates for alcohol and a smug, mobile-phone-and-Mercedes attitude that kills a fun night out.The Christmas Eve fire that killed 309 in a disco with padlocked exits in Luoyang, China, is just one example of the dangers of dancing in these decadent dungeons.
It all hits me at 3 am in a disco bathroom in Thailand when a massage boy jerks my head out of my neck joint and twists my entire worldview to the left, knocking me out of commission for two weeks with severe muscle strain and concern that I'll never look straight again.
I've seen as much violence in glittery, glamorous discos as I've witnessed covering wars in Cambodia, Burma, Aceh and East Timor. War correspondents who'd been scouring East Timor for a real fight during the UN takeover of the half-island from Indonesia last year, finally got a dose of action at the bar next to their hotel when local teenagers began bonking each other's heads with bamboo poles.
Moving north from Indonesia on my tour of Asian nightlife over the last 12 months, I find Singapore to be a Singabore. One Australian describes Singapore's nightlife as "shopping malls with the death penalty." Even an entertainment complex dubbed "four floors of whores" offers little more than Filipino bands copying cliched rock and "revellers" comparing wristwatches.
Singabore's favourite after-hours hangout is 7 Eleven. Photographer, Jerome Ming, who's at the 7 Eleven every Saturday night, says residents of this city-state actually like to spend their holidays in hotels in Singapore.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a club below the world's tallest buildings, a seemingly progressive and well-educated woman asks me, "Would you like a whiskey?" She proceeds to order a single for me and doubles for her and her friends. She then sticks me with the bill, one of the world's tallest tabs.
Thailand has become even more fun-loving since the introduction of methamphetamines into the local diet. Since the crime wave began, a Thai businessman nicknamed "A" has been driving his pickup truck three hours on Saturday nights from Hua Hin to Bangkok to go to the Taurus disco. Why? Because that's where the sons of politicians shoot each other to settle their daddies' scores.
"A" felt really cheated, though, when he missed an incident closer to home. To celebrate the Loy Krathong festival, a Buddhist Easter, the sons of graceful fishermen shot up the Voice disco.
At another Bangkok club, called Lucifer, I lose my mind one night dancing with a girl who has chewed off the corner of a Viagra pill to arouse herself. Is it the trance techno vibe? Or the satanic decor? My next time round, Lucifer's friendly young owner explains that his staff pump marijuana through the club's fog machine.
In Myanmar, generals who stole power from Aung San Suu Kyi steal the young women of a generation whose impoverished young men have little choice but to sit around tea shops singing heavy metal ballads by local pirate rockers. On the dance floors, the generals, as well as their former rebel enemies, are real John Travoltas in their yellow golf shirts.
Discos in Cambodia are famed for sporting signs saying, "Please check your weapons at the door." There's no need to get high from the fog machines -- ganja's on sale at the local market for a dollar a kilo. Or ask the old lady next door for some from her kitchen.
Japan should have all the fun money can buy. But after you pay a hundred Canadian dollars to get in, you feel too guilty -- and broke -- to have fun. Long-time Tokyo guitar freak Dennis Gunn calls it "the anti-fun system." He explains how, in order to play a live house, bands have to buy all the tickets themselves and then try to sell to their friends. Each band plays only 40 minutes, clearing out the club for the next one and its allies. Somebody must be having fun: the owners.
What's really frightening, though, are the endless lucky draws at discos in China. Never mind that cultural ministry investigators have been closing down venues and rounding up "head-shakers" on ecstasy and other pills since the crackdown began on my arrival in Shanghai in September. Or that most of Shanghai's jammed discos, such as DKD or Judy's Too, despite the "inspections" by 700 fire prevention officials following the Luoyang Christmas Eve fire, still only seem to have one door.