In Praise Of The “Nice” Girls
“I probably won't go back to Bangkok – I know I'll get into trouble.” I wrote these premature lines in December ('I knew and they still almost got me' – 17/12/04). But then I did say “probably”. The allure
of the fact that I had a good time with a particular girl in November and a cheap flight proved too great. So February saw me depart from the frozen wasteland that is England for my second jaunt to BKK.
I wrote previously about how I went to BKK as a seemingly very clued-up first-timer who was not, by any stretch of the imagination, going to get emotionally embroiled with a bar girl. Of course, I very nearly did but escaped with my bank balance intact and no obvious emotional damage.
I kept emailing the friend I made on my last trip and it was okay. I know that if I had written back and said “I love you, I miss you, be my girlfriend” that she would have been in like a shot but our communication was 'normal' and pleasant in every sense of the world.
This made me more curious as I thought on a number of occasions on my last trip that J was not a 'run-of-the-mill' bar girl: very shy, very quiet, almost demure. Other things marked her out as a bar girl of course: her dress, her features and the rather limited social horizons that she appeared to have (I am not being snobbish about this, it's just that the eat / drink / shop / movies carousel gets a bit wearing if you don't step off and suggest some brighter alternative).
She told me in November that she had only been a fully fledged bar girl for four months. Now, even with my limited experience I'm guessing that there are not too many bar girls who turn round to potential farangs and say “oh yeah, I've been here for four years banging away like an armed policeman”, but I did believe J on this as I watched her a bit in her bar last time and she was hesitant, unsure of herself and her obvious charms. That's why I liked her.
So I guess some part of me was curious as to whether she had changed in three months. I decided to just go into her bar and surprise her.
After settling into a nice little hotel close to Nana, I wandered around for a bit along Soi 5 and 7. I love the feeling you get when you first arrive in BKK, when all sorts of simple pleasures stretch out: a week off work, glorious food, cold beer, pretty girls, warm climate. I wish I could bottle that feeling. It's also the smell of the place. I'm aware that pollution may have some part to play in the aromas that hit you when you first get out of your taxi in Nana but it smells to me like victory.
Much as I like wandering around BKK it was too hot on the street so I shuffled off into a bar (not J's) for a game of pool. When it came down to it I was nervous of just walking in on J. I realised that if I just walked in on her, even though she wasn't my girlfriend that was making some sort of statement. So I ended up playing pool in this other bar with an attractive girl who, it has to be said, had a pretty sexy pair of hips. P turned out to be a switched-on girl with very good English and we ended up talking for two hours about our lives; where we had been, where we were going. I told P about J and even though I suspect she could see me slipping from her fingers she told me that if I was still curious about J, I really ought to get over and scratch my itch. Funny though, I knew I'd see P again, even as I was walking away down the street.
So I got to J's bar in Nana and I didn't even get in the place before she meets me on the threshold. Big smiles, big hugs and I'm dead pleased. We talked for five minutes and I remembered why I liked her. She's also pleased that I have managed to pick up a smattering of Thai phrases. Still the same J, the same air of shyness around me. But there were other changes. She no longer seemed uneasy in her movements but just exhibited that rather bored confidence that you often see in bar girls. The shyness was only for my consumption. Of course, her mates came over to tell me that she had been very sad since I left, not going with customers and just playing pool. This, I am afraid, is bullshit, but oddly flattering bullshit nonetheless, particularly when you're getting big smiles from 10 Thai honeys. I guess that J had gained a certain amount of face from my unannounced return. After 30 minutes or so, J said she wanted to leave the bar and would I pay a one-week barfine of 3,500 baht? Hmmm. The 'butterfly' in me briefly reared its head but I reasoned (with her hand in mine) that J was a pretty good catch and it was good to see her again. Also, I have to give dues here, J played it like an expert: “I know that you not my boyfriend, I like you but you don't have to stay with me all time”. Put like that how could I refuse? I paid over my money and had the immense honour of having my hand shaken by the mamasan who, I can quite comfortably say, scared the living shit out of me (although I am sure she is nice to her kids). J then collected her bag and made for the exit and I followed.
It was a nice feeling walking back to the hotel with J. She was obviously happy because she saw the prospect of a 10-day 'holiday' stretching out before her and this fed back into my own holiday euphoria. I asked J about money and she said she didn't want to talk about it. Of course, despite the fact that I think she's pretty okay, there is a certain amount of calculation here. Obviously I am not going to make her pay for anything when we go out and will probably give her more money when I leave as a result of her not asking for any up front. There was only one time during the whole vacation when she annoyed me a bit about cash. We were in a clothes shop buying some togs and she stood at the cash counter and shouted 'money!' at me, which I found pretty embarrassing, feeling a bit like your idiot farang ATM.
I don't think anybody would be writing up mine and J's time together as the most exciting holiday ever. But she seemed happy with everything we did, even though we didn't move on too far from when I was last in BKK (movies / shopping / sex / drinking). Most of my attempts to put the reins of planning our day into her hands were met with the standard “up to you” response. Even, when I took her to a beauty parlour so she could get her nails and hair done (my idea) she insisted that I have a manicure while I waited. It was only for the last four days that I really started planning stuff for us to do and seeing things that I wanted to see. Again, she was fine with everything.
From talking with J, I'm guessing that her relative delight in very simple things such as going to the supermarket, buying a load of snacks and going back to the hotel to watch TV was a reflection of her life. She works a seven-day week, in, what
to me, looks like a state of partial idleness and boredom. Her only rule for anything we did was “no Nana Plaza” as she said she just wanted to forget about it for a few days. I'm also thinking of what I would be like working
all the time without any sort of weekend to break it up – very grumpy I guess. She also told me that the last time she took a holiday to go and see her mother in the north she had an argument with the mamasan of her bar who basically accused her
of just not wanting to work. Even the times when a bar girl gets picked up by a guy and taken to another location this is not necessarily all milk and honey. J told me a pretty sad tale of being picked up by a guy who took her to Pattaya for five
days. On arrival, he left her to her own devices in a place she didn't know too well while he painted the town red, leaving her to make her own way back to BKK after three days. I'm not particularly slagging off the guy who did this
but it is obviously pretty sad for J to be in this state of dependence.
There were other things that made me think quite a bit. One was J's seeming fear of Thai men. Taxi drivers, bartenders, waiters, guys on the street – J just seemed to shrink from them all the time. I asked her about this and why she only worked days and she told me that she was worried about walking about on her own at night as she had heard about girls being forced into alleyways by groups of Thai men and raped. I'm not sure as to the truth of this but her fear of it seemed all too real. She told me that sometimes she went out with friends from her bar or her sister but that most nights (if she didn't have a customer) she stayed home and watched DVDs. Now, I went to J's apartment while she got some clothes one evening and I have to say that I wouldn't want to live there. The place was really clean and tidy but I have to say that it reminded me of a tiled cell. One tiny room (that she shares with another girl) with a small bathroom in an alcove. I'm not being snobby but I have to say that I wouldn't be that enchanted about having to spend large amounts of time there.
On my last visit to BKK J didn't tell me an awful lot about her home and family. This time she did, but again it only really highlighted to me that she was unhappy in her current life. She kept telling me stories about when she was growing up and getting into trouble playing with her friends around her mother's farms. Even though these stories invariably ended with her getting a good scolding from her mother, she really laughed a lot when telling them to me. Of course, we all hold on to this stuff to one degree or another but she told me a lot of these types of stories. When she talked about moving to BKK at 15 to live with her uncle and work as a housemaid she was much more halting and tended to clam up very quickly. The only thing she told me about becoming a bar girl was that she started out as a waitress in a pool bar but then just needed more money.
I've been pretty careful with J, but I'm not made of stone. Like so many others before me I had fleeting her bar. But, much as I like her, I think the chances of us making a go of life together are very slim. I just get the feeling that once the initial barriers such as distance, language and so on fade away, that's when the real cultural differences come into play. All the things that form my identity in England (my class, my education, my family, my friends, my soccer team, the things that make me laugh, the things that make my angry, the books I've read) are all going to be fairly redundant in Thailand and J (or whoever I chose to settle down with) would be in the firing line when I faced up to this. Much as I love BKK and Thai people I think the pressures would be too great.
There's also the question of ambition. J's great idea is to move to Singapore with her friend K. I made the good move one night of going back to J's bar to barfine her friend K so the three of us could go over to Hollywood for a night out. But talking to K (who is the exact opposite of J, nice enough girl in some ways, but a complete milk-the-farang merchant, so much so that it made me roar with laughter at times) I understood a bit more about this idea. I think it was when the word 'beauty' was mentioned. Basically, I think K wants to go over and ply her trade in a place where she can make more money (having said that I don't know much about Singapore's naughty nightlife). Given the fact that I know J has got precisely bugger-all skills in the real beauty trade it's not too hard to work out where she would end up. Working this out made me feel sad but not particularly shocked.
I also thought about the time issue while I was in BKK. While I was with J I felt under pressure to cram as many things into a day as possible. That meant that if we didn't have sex at least twice a day then something was wrong. Writing this away from BKK makes it seem stupid but it strikes me that limited time is a big factor in why guys get so hopelessly entangled. If you have only two weeks with a girl then there's no time to let anything grow organically. You just try and cram a whole relationship into a short timespace, so before you know it you have put a long-term emotional (and maybe financial) spin on what is essentially a holiday romance. When you add the fact that Thai bar girls bring their own (pretend and sometimes real) emotions to the fore quickly then you are left with a very potent cocktail. I've managed to (just) avoid the fall-out of this but it doesn't mean that I felt immune to the pressure.
By the end of my holiday I felt close to J but I got bored too. We'd gone out to the usual joints and had a good time, talked loads and become pretty solid. But time marches on and I decided to shift J out of the way for an evening and butterfly it. I'm not particularly proud of this. I think she guessed full well what I was up to and (quite rightly I feel) made sure that I spent at least 1,000 baht on DVDs and other bits and bobs before we parted for the night. And suddenly being in the environs of a place called the Beer Garden that was absolutely rammed with okay-looking girls made me realise what a comfort factor J had been and how much I did like her. I talked to about five girls but they all seemed pretty hardened in one way or another. I scooted out of there quickly after talking to a girl who informed me that she was looking for 5,000 baht for long time. This seemed ridiculously over the odds and I sort of smelled a rat. She then said it was okay “up to you” but I didn't really fancy her too much after this opening gambit. So I went back to P's bar (the girl I mentioned at the beginning) not expecting her to be there. But there she was, dressed all in white and looking like she'd just stepped off a movie set.
We only had one night but maybe P was an even better catch than J. Not exactly shy but quiet and thoughtful. The thing about P is that she had broader horizons. She lived with family members in BKK and had a little girl. To that end she seemed to have a happy home life. I would have liked to have spent more time with her and maybe I made a duff move by passing her up at the beginning of the holiday. Who knows. Maybe I'll go back and look her up soon.
It was interesting going back to BKK and hooking up with J again. I'm not sure if I'll go back and see her in quite the same fashion. Maybe I don't think it's fair. If I keep going back to her then it becomes redundant whether or not she calls me “boyfriend” or not. For better or worse, it's a relationship of some sorts and I'm not sure there's any mileage in it. I have to say though that if you find a bar girl that you like a lot and spend many hours with them as I did it can be really enjoyable – particularly if you're not a natural 'butterfly'. Just don't rely on them to organise your sightseeing. Also, be prepared if you start getting to know a bar girl in any deeper sense. Some of things J told me made me feel very sad for her and her life. I'm not patronising her and, generally, I think the bar scene in BKK is a good thing, but I think J is a lovely girl who could be a whole lot more. However, I'm not sure that myself or any other farang could make that difference.