Recently a friend of mine asked me why I didn’t write posts about Thai bar girls and the sex scene to drive up traffic on thethailandlife.com. The answer was short and simple, yet the explanation slightly longer. In short, quite frankly it’s boring. The subject matter of bar girls has been discussed into oblivion on hundreds of other websites. Blog and forum owners happily let people thrash out misogynistic musings on their sites as linkbait to drive traffic, but this isn’t what I set up my blog to do, and the reality is that Thailand is so much more than the perception of sex tourists. I don’t want to sit around speculating on questions such as “Can you trust a bargirl”, “Can bar girls ever be faithful”, or statements like; “I am 60 years old and met a girl in bar, she’s 21 and the bitch has now taken all my money”. I’d rather encourage people to get out the bars and into Thailand.
But anyway…for the record, once and for all, let me put to bed in one post why I don’t blog about Thai bar girls.
Let me start by saying that bar girls aren’t aliens, and for all the hatred and idiocy ranted on forums and blogs and regularly from the mouths of barstool experts, foreigners would do well to remember that these girls are the daughters and sisters of other human beings, and at one time children with dreams and aspirations, just like our own children.
Let’s look at the demographic of the average Thai prostitute. A substandard school education, if she finished at all, married young in a rural village (usually in the North or North East somewhere), partnered by her family with an ill-suited young man who quickly becomes restless and ends up boozing and womanising like his father did and his father before that. Boy leaves girl with one or two kids, girl has no social security money or child maintenance from the poor father of her children. So pressure falls on the girl to find work to support the children and her aging parents, who, by the way, she has already disappointed by having a failed marriage, and further upset by now being a single mother and scarring the face of family pride.
Girl then becomes determined to give a better life to her children, and to elevate the face of her family in the village, and in society as a whole. Girl hears from another girl that working in a bar in the city, or on one of the popular tourist islands, is the best way to make fast money and meet a rich foreign boyfriend who will be prepared to take on her kids and support her parents (or a story very similar to that). Girl then weighs up the other options as a cleaner, rice farmer or factory worker, facing ridiculous hours that will never provide enough money to make her children’s/parent’s lives any better than the current situation. So girl migrates to the city or island to start her covert initiation into the world of prostitution; most likely with no idea what it entails and what she’s letting herself in for.
*At this point it should be noted that many girls arrive at bars in debt to middlemen who arrange travel and accommodation. So even if the girl wants to leave once she arrives she will have to work off that debt first. This is a devious way to keep the recruitment numbers high and the deserters low. I mean once you’ve sold your soul a few times the deed is done; pointless returning only to disappoint your parents with the news that you didn’t make it in the big city after all once you’ve crossed the line, as it were.
Cultural & Social Obligations
Having travelled to the North and North East and seen the grass roots progression of these girls and the pressures of money (debt), keeping face and achieving success that lay on their shoulders – particularly the youngest in the family – when I see a bar girl, no matter how sexy she is trying to be, I find it impossible to see her as anything other than a victim of a system that socially engineers and openly encourages the sex trade.
What I see in the bar is not a piece of meat to be exploited, but a girl that grew up believing that one day, when she finished school (if possible) she would have a good job and be able to make her parents proud. I don’t see a girl that grew up aspiring to be a dirty old man’s fantasy, nor aspired to have nightly sex with sociopathic western men. I see a girl who naively bought into the idea that her teenage husband would stay faithful and do his best to always support her and her kids, and into the antiquated cultural requirements that a girl must marry the first seemingly decent boy she is seen flirting with. I see a girl forced to sell her soul, going against all the beliefs and morals she was brought up with in an attempt to better the future of her family. I see a girl who has sacrificed her own happiness and potentially her mental stability for the benefit of others; no girl should ever have to do that. And then I see a plethora or foreign men coming to exploit, not help as they may proclaim, the unfortunate situation of a woman failed by a society that provides zero social welfare, and does not hold men in the slightest bit accountable for their offspring.
Think Carefully Before Using The Word Choice!
No doubt someone will surf on through here and tell me that many bar girls do the job by choice, making that self-serving observation that “she doesn’t have to do it if she doesn’t want to”. But as I stipulated above, the unfair cultural pressures and limited choice of economic progression force the hand into the fire and, for a moment, let’s explore that ambiguous word “choice”, and the alternatives that you might have in mind.
When you debate this issue and use the word “choice” as your key defence, do you mean the same “choices” (quote on quote) that you would accept for your kids or close friends? I very much doubt it. If the alternative career paths wouldn’t provide an acceptable level of living for our children then how dare we use the word “choice” as a justification for what these girls do?
Seeing The Reality
I won’t lie, I am a man, too, and indeed my eyes danced when I first saw the bright lights, high heels, elegance and youthful beauty of the girls in the go-go bars, and it almost didn’t compute that the hostesses in the bars were actually no different from the hookers lurking in the back streets of Soho, London. And it’s this sugar-coated version of prostitution that makes it easier to ignore the truth. However, the more I learnt about the industry, the girls, the social-economic structure of the country, the systematic oppression of the lower classes and the regional prejudice, the more I couldn’t help but see the radiating internal sadness, and the longing to be respected beyond the external smiles and gracious gestures.
Strangely, men seem to get so caught up in the ego of “handsome man” that they neglect to notice that these bar girls are simply young Thai girls, and by preference don’t actually fancy western men. The majority of young Thai women are into young, male Korean pop stars and Channel 7/Channel 3 Thai movie stars. Yet being lower class, divorced/separated (more often than not with kids) prior to the bar, the only Thai men they have access to on a serious relationship level are lower class, low earning Thai men that will (generally) resemble similar characteristics to the inadequate man they were once married to. Also, once a Thai girl has been in the bar she will struggle to get a Thai boyfriend at all. Therefore, once in the bar, a westerner/foreigner isn’t a choice, he is the only option.
If you know an iota about Thai culture you’ll know that a girl who has worked in a farang style beer bar will struggle to earn the respect of other Thais going forward. Thais unfortunately tend to be able to tell working girls or ex-working girls simply by mannerisms and a few strategic questions. Of course few will refer to her as a prostitute, in fact the word prostitute is frowned upon so severely that Thais seldom label a girl they know to be a prostitute as a prostitute. Two of the more preferred terms are “Poo ying gaan koon” (lady working at night) or “Poo ying haa gin” (lady looking to eat). A girl who has worked in the bar, regardless of whether she bags a rich farang or not, will suffer a lifetime of gossip and stares from the village folk, not to mention the society standard whispers and looks all Thai women endure when they acquire a foreign boyfriend.
What’s strange is that Thailand has an abundance of single women from all walks of life, yet many foreign men choose to hand around in the bar scene paying for sex while looking for a partner, and then wonder why it all goes belly up. Not so long ago a friend of mine was in town and he wanted to walk down the infamous bar-laden Soi Nana in Bangkok. We paced the cesspit of hawkers, child and amputee beggars, ladyboy and female street hookers and plethora of unkempt men, and honestly it made me never want to walk on that street again. Rather than thinking, “Wow look at all these hot women”, I thought “Man this is must be one of the most soulless places on the planet, one that exists for one reason only; for the desperate to feed off the desperate”. And that brings me to my conclusion.
Bar Girls Are Human, Just Like You & Me…
A Thai bar girl isn’t a nymphomaniac seeking a life of endless sexual endeavours as many expats and forum posters would have you believe. No, she is seeking a guy to take her off the lowest run of the ladder and elevate her and her family’s status to heights that simply wouldn’t be possible trying to run the capitalist gauntlet from her current standpoint. She is also, like every other human being, wanting to be loved, respected and valued. And this is the one thing guys that frequently pursue encounters with bar girls can’t face up to; that underneath all the makeup and forced sexual suggestion is a girl who wants to be loved acting like a woman who can’t be broken. I think Bob Dylan put it best when he sung:
“She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl”
The reason guys hate to be reminded of the human side of a bar girl is because it would take the “She loves it!” shine off of the conquest. Imagining that one of those girls could be your own daughter brings the conscience into play. It makes guys realize that these girls have feelings and emotions beyond the delirious male ego that believes these girls are more than happy to be exploited for sex in exchange for money.
Becoming a fulltime bargirl takes conditioning. Just look at the face of a new addition to a bar, and then return two months later to see her stripped of all that might have been sacred. I have seen it with my own eyes….
I will never forget one very timid girl who looked like a rabbit in headlights on arriving at her new place of work – “her cousin” had invited her to take up a position as a “waitress”. It took her weeks to go with a customer, and I know this because the bar boss was an acquaintance of mine for a while. Three months later my travels took me away, and as my taxi passed the bar on the way to Samui airport she was swinging on the pole, hair extensions, knee high boots and calling out to men walking by. But the way men discuss these girls on forums is as if they were born to do it. No, let me tell you, you have to be broken in and conditioned to do this job. And this one particular bar boss was all to happy to tell me how girls were sourced and lured to the post.
The Paradox Between Bargirl & Customer
Paradoxically, the average sex-tourist isn’t so far removed from his subject. He may talk a good conquest to his pals, but secretly he longs to be admired as a man, to be loved, to be held, to be respected and noticed by women; perhaps things life has failed to ever present amicably, or in a way that would be considered “normal” to the average guy. So he chooses to pay, dominate and control, the only avenue he has to getting close to what he really wants from a woman. Yet often in this realm this type of man falls foul to the strategic lies of a seasoned player, getting too involved and losing not just his integrity but his emotional investment and integrity, too. His bitterness at being “played” then results in increased misogynistic behaviour, and the need for revenge through the verbal degradation of Thai women.
The Impact On Mental Stability
So can a bar girl have a normal relationship after the bar? Of course it’s possible, and I am sure there are many happy relationships that have lasted the distance between bar girls and westerners. The amount of foreigners maintaining contact with bargirls and sending money once they return home is testament to the fact that in many cases the needy find the needy on common ground; she admires he complies, she “takes care of him” and he “takes care” (financially of her), beyond the bar. The success rate, however, comes into question when reading all the negative stories foreigners post online.
On the other hand, it should be considered that sleeping with men twice/thrice their age, and unkempt men they have no physical attraction to, week in week out, will take its toll on the majority of bargirls; and no doubt the physiological damage in many cases is similar to that experienced by victims of rape, albeit the bargirl act is consensual and transactional. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that so many girls experience breakdowns and end up in refuges, turn to drugs, alcoholism and struggle to ever have a normal, loving relationship post the bar. The lucky few are able to settle for a retired expat who is prepared to pay the bills in return for financial stability and regular thrills. True love really isn’t an option for most bargirls, period.
When you hit the bars on a Saturday night I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the last paragraph is a little far fetched; I would have thought so four years ago. Yet I saw many broken girls when I taught martial arts at a women’s refuge in Bangkok in 2010, and when I tell the “it’s their choice” guys about the refuge they simple can’t believe it, either, Neither can they believe that many girls are bought and pimped, and in fact can’t leave the bar until the debt is paid in full. The fewer customers you go with the more your rent accumulates on top of the money that was paid for you to secure the job in the first place. Okay, not every case fits this template, and there are many variations in circumstance, but the point is that 99% of bar migrations aren’t fully transparent, and the majority of girls, however they may seem now, would have been largely ignorant to the life that would become them.
And so, collectively, all of the above documents why I don’t in any way glamourize the Thai girl bar scene on my blog, because my Thai blog isn’t a platform to speak about these girls as toys to be played, and not to be respected or appropriated as human beings. My blog is not a corner of the web that will degrade, marginalize, generalize or spread hatred. A Thai bar girlis a woman, just like your mother, sister, girlfriend or wife. Yet the only differences between your dearly loved women and a Thai bar girl is an education and a level playing field of opportunity, which amounts to nothing more than the lottery that is birth.
I want to end by playing you Mae Sai by Thai group Carabou. The song is about a girl from the North who goes away to become a prostitute to make money for her parents. She gets hooked on drugs and by the time she returns her mother is dead. The video imagery says it all so don’t worry if you don’t speak Thai. Makes you think, huh?