Stickman's guide to Bangkok
Thai Girls Who Try Their Luck In Singapore
I first visited Thailand in 1991, as a 20-year-old U.S. Marine, without the wisdom of age, university education, or the guidance of the Stickman. Since then I've come a long way. I studied Thai and University in the U.S. and have had several Thai friends/girlfriends so my Thai is pretty good now. I also had the pleasure of calling Bangkok home for nearly two years before I was relocated Singapore, where I now live. Even back in 1991 I didn't use the services of bar girls. I had my fill of that in 1987 in Korea, and gradually came to see that trading cash for sex was taking an emotional toll on me so I gave it up. During my first visit to Thailand I unwittingly bar fined and shagged a girl bareback not knowing she was a prostitute, but let that be evidence that I have seen Thailand from the angle of the dumb tourist as well as a well-informed insider. What I write about today is the Thai girls who come to try their luck in Singapore.
Singapore has some rather strict regulations, but there are designated areas where they intentionally let their guard down. One such place is Orchard Tower. It is four stories of beer bars and discos with an interesting mix of Thai, Phillipina, Vietnamese, and many other nationality who come to Singapore on a tourist visa to get rich quick. My favorite is a country bar on the second floor, partly because it looks and feels like a place straight out of Texas, and partly because this is where most of the Thai girls work. Turnover is high, so if I'm gone a week or two and I come back, it's a fresh set of faces. I go there once in a while to get my fix of the countries I miss. I eat Isaan food at the Korat restaurant and go to Texas and talk to expats and Thai girls.
With the ladies, I usually start with small talk in English. I think this is an important step because it helps me understand not only how well they speak English, but I get a measure of how skilled and experienced they are at doing this kind of work. I do this only for a few minutes and then I confess and explain that I speak Thai, I'm not a potential customer, I understand they are there to work, and if they want to go work that's o.k., but if they want to talk, then great. Some of them are too corrupted from experience to really have a normal conversation, they just continue to work me as if I am a potential customer, but most of them are just happy someone is treating them with respect (apart from the initial charade, of course). Often they warm up and tell me their story. It's fascinating to me, especially because in my mind this underscores the fact that bar girls are real people too, and they come with all sorts of backgrounds, circumstances, and attitudes. I make it worth their time in return. After all, I'm bothering them while they are trying to work.
A flight from Bangkok to Singapore costs about 7000 baht, usually on Swiss airlines. Upon arrival, immigration gives tourist visas for 7, 14, or 30 days, usually 14, apparently depending on the mood of the immigration official. Girls who meet a farang on the flight and go through immigration with him get 30 days. Some girls overstay, change names and get a new passport in Thailand to come back. The first I heard of a 7-day visa was just this week, and many girls got the same, so maybe the policy is changing. Girls stay together 2-6 to a room, usually not very close to Orchard Tower, and the room is about 1000 baht per day. That plus food for about 200 baht per day and a girl might invest about 15,000 baht and may have as little as 7 days to break even. Success depends on attitude and looks. I spoke to one beautiful and happy-go-lucky 22-year-old who said on a good day she does three short-times for 5,000 baht each. Others are not as cute, have personality disorders, or are completely incompetent with English. Worst case I've heard, a girl had only two 2,000 baht customers per week. This is dubious, though, because the girl saying it was in Singapore for the fourth visit. If she was operating at a loss like this, I don't think she would come back. Most say spontaneously that sometimes business is booming and other times it is really hard just to break even.
There is a very diverse background for the girls who do this. Some are college-educated Bangkok girls and others are Bau-4 village girls from Isaan, Chiang Rai, or even Laos. Many of them have regular jobs (e.g., hawking, beauty salon, legit massage) in Thailand and come to Singapore to supplement their incomes without the risk of being found out. They tell family and friends they are going with or to visit friends in Jangwat _fill_in_the_blank_. Most have no other viable means of surviving, but some do it because it's fun, or so they can buy nice things, or to put a sibling through college. About a third of them have one child by a Thai father who skipped town and was not seen again. Most of them won't have anything to do with Thai men. Some of them hate farang who can speak Thai, but they usually add that I'm different because I speak politely. Many have farang already "taking care" of them, meaning they get regular deposits in their bank accounts by a kind soul or two abroad.
The story of a few individuals:
Nit, 28, Bangkok
Nit does hair in a shop in Bangkok, and lives with her mother and child, a 7-year-old boy. The father left before the baby was born and hasn't been back since. She took a job in a hotel in Japan as a call girl for a year, and learned quite a bit of Japanese. She used the money to study to become a beautician, but she gets bored and likes to travel and have some fun, meet farang, etc.. She has no interest in Thai men anymore. She wasn't enjoying Singapore much and business was slow, so we talked all night and I bought her beers and dinner. She asked to come back to my place, even after I reminded her she was getting no money from me. She said it would be good just to have a shower, air conditioning and a nice bed to sleep in. We spent the next day together too. I showed her around town, we saw a movie, went for a boat ride, bookstore, played pool, lunch, dinner. She watched TV while I did some work. The next night I asked when she was going to go to work, and she seemed alarmed. She thought I was trying to kick her out. I told her she could stay, but reminded her that I'm not giving her any money. She said she didn't care. She was having a good time and wanted to stay. The next day I had to kick her out because I was growing attached. She didn't ask for any money and I didn't give her any. I saw her a few days later and she acted happy to see me. I gave her some money then, a sort of thank you and goodbye, her visa was getting close. Of course she wanted to come home with me then, but I resisted and went home alone. She gave me her number in Bangkok but I never called. Nit is the kind of girl that you can give a million baht today and a year from now she'll have nothing left and little to show for it. All the same, she's doing fine for now. She doesn't need helping.
Jauy, 37, Laos
Jauy was always poor but had a good life in her village with her husband and daughter, now 12. Then her husband got cancer and they couldn't afford treatment so he died. Now she's dependant on her extended family for support of her daughter. This weighed heavily on her, so she decided to do something about it with the help of a girl in her village who had been to Singapore before. She borrowed money from everyone she knew and used it to come to Singapore. I first met her when I was in Singapore on a business trip, but still living in Thailand. She was so thin and pale I was drawn to her, she clearly needed help. She was guarded, not at all playful. She didn't smile. I asked her if she wanted a drink and she said she'd rather just have the money. I asked her what she had for lunch and she told me she hadn't eaten yet that day. I could see tears welling up in her eyes. I already ate so I gave her 400 baht and sent her over to Korat to eat. She came back a changed woman. She was smiling and color was back in her face. She began to look attractive. On this day there were at least three Thai girls for every farang in the place, so she wasn't going to be getting any work anyway. She was shocked and upset at the way men were treating her - touching her impolitely and saying mean things. I explained that most guys don't understand, they think she is doing this work because she's easy, not because she really needs the money. I wished her luck and left so she might get some work. I thought about her a lot after that. Many months later she turned up again. She's gained at least 5 kg, so I'm sure she's doing o.k. She's also smoking - at 250 baht per pack they are not cheap here. Still, I can see she's miserable and just wants to go home. She says she's made trips in and out of Singapore, but can't go home until she has enough money to repay everyone and some left over to live on. Every time she thinks about home or talks about not having customers or about being treated poorly she nearly cries. Her attitude has also changed since we first met. I can see the work is affecting her. She's a catch 22 - you want to help her so she can go home, but if you give her money she'll learn that she can get money this way and come back looking for more. She doesn't say it, but I also get the feeling she is angry that someone like me can have so much and someone like her so little, and why can't I just give her a few hundred thousand and set the world into balance. Maybe if she was given a significant amount of cash she'd go home and stay there, but even if I was a charity I can think of more efficient uses of so much money.
Nok, 30, Japan?
Nok is a strange bird indeed. By looks I'd swear she was Thai, but she claims to be Japanese. I called her bluff on this one (I know some Japanese too), but she refused to speak any Thai to me, only Japanese and a word or two of English. I'd stick Thai words into Japanese sentences and Thai sentences into Japanese conversations and she'd react or answer appropriately every time, sometimes not even noticing that Thai was inserted, so I'm sure she's Thai. She refused to show me a passport. Apart from this, she was pleasant to talk to, although since she was claiming to be Japanese her story was necessarily full of lies. I think she is the type of bar girl that is beyond reform -- too jaded to ever again have a semblance of a normal life. If she had not studied Japanese at University, she must have been enslaved there for several years.
Tan, 38, Chiang Mai
Tan was about the most intelligent, kind and giving bar girl I have ever met. She was a teacher in her past life, daughter living with her mother, abandoned by Thai husband, an all too common theme. She also married a Singaporean, but he turned out to be a drug addict and dead beat, so he was never able to get her permanent residence. When her husband went to jail, Tan switched professions and within a week met a farang who took her with him and used her like a slave. She was made to cook, clean, and screw him when and how he liked. If she made a mistake, such as buying the wrong brand of bottled water, she'd get verbally abused for it. On one occasion he got physical and beat her unconscious. It clearly took its toll on her self esteem because she was completely honored just to be the subject of my attention. The farang took her with him on business trips to China, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, and many other places he went, and for this she is deeply grateful. She looks upon him with admiration as her savior. Eventually he got an Indonesian girl pregnant during a trip that he left her in Singapore, so she got the boot. They stayed in touch via email but he got stomach cancer and stopped writing, presumed dead. Her Singaporean husband begged for her to come back and she gave him a second chance, but he soon went back to prison, and she returned to work. Since she still doesn't have Singapore residency, she flies back and forth from Thailand like the rest. I don't know how she can afford it, she doesn't get much business. It's just a matter of time before she meets some kind old homely guy. She'll treat him like a King and be faithful until he's dead. I can only hope he'd do the same for her. Tan is smart enough to save money, but not smart enough to find a new profession so she doesn't have to waste it all on flights. She actually comes to Singapore on a one-way ticket with hopes she'll earn enough to afford the flight back to Thailand before her visa runs out.
So this has become a sort of hobby of mine, studying bar girl psychology through field work. Some nights I lay awake wondering what I could do to improve things for them - for example providing education, housing, banking, mobile phone services, etc., maybe microloans or training them for careers that would take them beyond the age of 40. Then I think, no, make this career choice easier on them only discourages them from seeking out alternatives. Besides there are people who need (and want) help more. I think the main reason I'd want to help bar girls is because they are cute and there is something innate and male about wanting to rescue women. Maybe I should just write a book.
Very nice submission. I VERY MUCH agree with you that simply handing out cash willy nilly simply re-enforces the wrong message,
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