Stickman Readers' Submissions February 25th, 2006

Beneath The Covers

This is a true story about fate, love, trust and reality.

I recently travelled around southern Thailand for the first time helping with some volunteer work post tsunami when fate deal me a visit to Phuket hospital and an overnight stay in Patong. I had an infected eye and the doctor insists I go back for a check
up one week later. It's blown my plan to go overland to Malaysia so I decide I'll enjoy myself for 2 nights in Phuket to cheer myself up. I've already spent one night there and decided it's the Vegas of Thailand, both bawdy
and intriguing, but only for ‘short stay'! I've already fallen for Thailand, its people, culture and beauty, staying away from the big cities. That said, I'm open minded enough to appreciate the symbiosis of Thai tourism
and its bar girls.

mens clinic bangkok

I check into a hotel near the main drag in Patong and hook up with a fellow traveller feeling the need for a couple of pints. He's really curious about the local bar scene, however still disappointed with Phuket because of his honest concerns about
bar girls distorting his perceptions of women. I'm in two minds, having only tasted the fruits my first time a week or so earlier. I'm still on the fence. So potentially a night of further farang baptisms await us.

After a great dinner and heated debate about the rights and wrongs of bar girls, we loosen up and venture into the sois. We wind up in a beer bar being hassled by not very attractive girls and one very aggressive lady boy so I make my excuses and leave
the bar. As I head out I check on my fellow traveller and he's knee deep in a conversation with a young girl so I move on, intending to head to a live venue. See you later.

Negotiating the deliberately narrow soi I accidentally bump into a petite girl perched on a stool. Bang! Her name is K and she's different. There's something intriguing about this girl. (Yes it's a girl) and we end up chatting for 2 hours,
she asks if I want to go clubbing with her and the ‘leftover' girls from her bar. (So it's HER bar- no wonder there's an air of confidence about her). No problem, feels good and there's no pressure to do anything.

Next thing we are in a club, dancing, laughing, getting drunk, getting intimate and the conversation turns to going home.

How is K different? Well on first gut feeling alone, she doesn't want to be in a bar. She's drinking to forget something. She's way too intelligent, sparky, astute, her English is good, but most of all, she's not sucking up to me,
she's actually messing around and having a laugh at my expense. Fine, so I give some back, it escalates and we're both getting the giggles. Obviously she's teasing me too, she looks great on the eye (a little older and wiser perhaps?)
and I feel totally relaxed. God she's good at her job!

The story goes as many before this one: we go back to my hotel, have hours of fun messing around, then spend the next day together relaxing and getting to know each other. K speaks good English from being married for 7 years to an Aussie, who left K for
a girl in Laos after walking out on her 3 months into her 3rd pregnancy. Nice. A devastated K comes to Phuket after her 3rd birth to forget about her life melting down and to make some money to feed the kids. To be honest it doesn't really
add up – why would a mother leave her 3 kids to work in Patong? She explains the Thai way of face and how children look after parents. Plus she's 27, given 7 years to a guy who walked out on his 3 kids. She needs a break, money's
in short supply and he's not sending any her way as he lost his job and is shacked up with – wait for it – wife in waiting number 6!

I'm not convinced but having read many cases like this it begins to hold water.

wonderland clinic

She's already been through major depression and sees the money she can make in Patong as the only way to help her kids. She married at 20 and to be honest anyway you cut it her life has been a rollercoaster. There are hints of men in other countries
trying to help her, but she's rejected them on various ways, (perhaps after fleecing them who knows?). So how many of us are spotless in desperate times? – it's a long way down in Thailand.

We've been talking for hours (not just sitting in a bar while she texts her friends) In fact she barely knows how to use a mobile phone and has little control over the internet! She shows me pictures of her kids and paints her life in vivid accounts
of her marriage and boyfriends before then. She's shy, but open, she cries a lot and doesn't want to tell me everything. What she wants to get across is the point that not all bar girls are the same, that they all have a story and most
don't want to be there. When she talks about her daughter she cries even more. I felt guilty but she said it's OK, she can talk to me honestly and she doesn't get the chance to share her feelings with many people. Even if this were
a contrivance, there's truth in every lie.

Later that evening, with the water lapping at the edge of the moon and the mossies are feasting on our anklits it's all going fine until I mention I have to leave for another city the next day. This provokes an emotional response either so false
or so honest I'm truly gob smacked. She's in love (read: likes my wallet?) and she wants me to stay and she asks me to move in with her the next day. Hang on! Wooah easy tiger! Oh dear, this wasn't how I planned it…! I don't
think she's really in love with me but she's not asking for my soul (just yet!). The next day I miss my flight to KL and hike my bags over to K's place. Travel should be an adventure right?

K lives in a pleasantly large Patong house with 5 other bar girls and an older lady who looks after all the finances and cooking. They are all around 25 years old and come from the same town, in Tak, most have been friends for many years. They all have
one thing in common, they all have children and are single mothers. They are also sharing with me a ‘behind the scenes' snapshot of a group of bar girls. I go to the market, buy 6 bags of food and make somtum for them
all, although not nearly spicy enough. As we sit and eat, I'm being watched closely. I have also displaced K's friend G who sleeps with K most nights so I have to be really nice to all the girls! They love the fact that my Thai is terrible
but cook so much food for me I'm overwhelmed!

Over the next few days I see how devoted to prayer they all are, preparing their gifts and prayers for Buddha. There's one girl who never says a word, not even her name, but smiles a lot. I don't think she speaks any English and is painfully
shy. There's G, a bubbly smiling ball of energy who can barely sit still for a minute. She texts almost continuously. M is curious but quiet, she watches and listens to everything, scanning the room, smiling at me but always slightly wary.
Then there's P who is like a mother to us all. She's always busy, cooking, cleaning, offering me drinks and plates of delicious Thai food. She gives me a set of keys to the house and tells me to come and go as I please. I think they
like having a guy around. Someone to laugh at!

During the day they are a bunch of giggling girls mucking around swapping gossip, texts and stories, laughing in unison, tightening their bonds. They eat almost continuously, it strikes me they are tired all the time and snatch naps whenever possible.
In the afternoon they prepare gifts, flowers and incense for the Buddha perched above the TV. If you want to see delicacy, watch a Thai woman (or man) preparing orchids and opening lotus flowers. Their conversations merge into a song and the sun
slowly sets.

As night approaches those girls grow quiet and go about their routine of getting dressed up for their jobs as bar girls. They look like they are going out partying until you notice how quiet it is, no radio or CD or laughing now. No last minute clothes
changes, it's all very ordered and routine. They stop to pray by the Buddha on the way out, a moment of intimacy I shall never forget. They smile to me, wave goodbye then climb aboard their motorbike taxis and head into the night.

I go to the bar later with K and we share a couple of drinks. She then turns and asks me how much money I will give her to stay the night together. Of course I'm disappointed but I understand now she has 3 mouths to feed. (At this point I hate her
mother for sending her daughter – mother of 3- to work). I say I don't want to pay her so she then tells me she has to work. She's a bar girl, she's working. I leave her and head home.

I was asleep listening to my IPod when there's suddenly a loud banging on the door. Its about 4 , sAMhe's gone to a club with a guy, was about to go with him, then she makes an excuse for the toilet and comes straight back to her house. She
is in turmoil. I am half asleep. “I cannot go with man because I like you too much”. Suspicious? Maybe a little. She's angry because she knows I just called her bluff. Then again she could be bluffing me. I have no intention
of finding out. What you don't know can't hurt you right?

K lies in my arms for the next four hours asleep and with a smile on her face. I have never seen anything so vulnerable, so quiet and so afraid. This is the other side of the bar. The other girls sleep with soft toys on duvets, blankets and next to each

As dawn breaks we slowly rise and join the other girls for lunch. The other girls are quiet, they know what happened last night. But there's some face to be saved here. You see K is the ‘head' of the group. She blew a customer out and
showed weakness in front of her group. She made the mistake of falling for a Farang and actually showing it. So she sets about being angry with me for the rest of the day in fits and starts. I say to her, why doesn't she just cool off, we'll
go out tonight.

I'm sort of confused now, she likes me but spends a lot of time snapping and avoiding me, and then the next minute she's all over me. If she's playing hard to get, she's with the wrong guy. Later on, her brother and his wife come round
and we spend the afternoon reading my cards, playing magic tricks, while I massacre the Thai language. There's a peace in a Thai family I have yet to find elsewhere. Her brother looks at me and says in Thai ‘I want you to look after
my sister'. It's a moment that sums up Thai thinking of farangs. I want, we need, you get. Or is there a genuine side to it all? Until I learn Thai I shall always be guessing.

So we head again into the night and K asks me to go with her for a drink to one of her friend's bars. We swan through the Soi and wind up near the lady boys. I'm fair game and take the heat, then one of the girls, D, comes over and asks if I
want to play the hammer and nails game. I beat her, but buy her a drink anyway. I go back to K. She's steaming. I have discovered jealousy in K and it's not petty. It's the same brew as in the west; irrational, spiteful and destructive.
The evening descends from there. There's not point in trying when everything you do seems wrong so I cut my losses and leave her.

Or that's what I should have done. I stay and we have a miserable time with her ‘f__k yous' and my ‘whatevers'. She flirts with as many men as possible, gets me to buy everyone at her bar a drink and finally when we leave
the bar to go clubbing I realise. This is all the hurt she's ever felt, all the anger and bitterness toward farang, her hatred of her husband, the frustration of her life going from mother to bar girl, from the warmth of a family to a place
where only sex is currency and the most horrible, painful, grotesque distortion of reality. And yet here she is, in the corner, no back up, no options, no credit cards, no rich sugar daddy, there's nothing to do except lash out at the person
who says he cares when all she has felt for the last 2 years is pain. I came along and brought it all back. We sleep together but could not have been further apart.

Some days were like a dream, like the morning we went to the Buddhist temple. The sun is warming the morning air as our motorbike pulls up next to a stall selling baskets of flowers, soaps and assorted random objects. K buys 3 baskets and incense sticks
and walks me over to an open Buddha where we light the incense and keep our feet well away from anything. She moves inside to the temple where the monks are praying. They accept the gifts and we retreat back to the prayer mats in front of them
before the water rains down.

K bows her head to the floor with her hands together. Again it's a moment of intimacy I shall never forget. She seems at peace with her world for a few minutes before we rise and leave. As we walk out of the temple there is a female beggar sitting
by the road side. K asks me “what do you think when you see this beggar?”

I tell her I feel sad.

“Why you only feel sad? `sad not do anything. Feeling sad is no good. Will not change woman's life”.

Think I've been told there haven't I? The rest of the morning I want to argue with her that we have the freedom of choice, it's the west's way of dealing with such questions in the same way as reincarnation and previous bad deeds feature
in Buddhism. Perhaps some other time.

I make a deal with myself. Here I am in Phuket, I didn't even want to be here in the first place. I've put myself willingly into the situation but it's running riot with my emotions. I feel love, anger, sadness, bitterness, suspicion, warmth,
understanding and happiness. All in a day. So the deal is; make sure I am always aware that this is an experience, this is travel, this is understanding people, their culture and the hardships they go through while as farangs we have an easy time
dropping in and out of their lives. Yes, it's only one group of people and certainly shaded by circumstance but its real life. That's it. My heart is beating, my eyes are wide open and I know who I am. I sign the deal and go back to
bed and sleep for hours.

The next day on the beach is my last full day. I cannot imagine nor describe a more peaceful, relaxing and happy day while I've been away. It's amazing what a bottle of water, an IPod and a beach can do for the soul. I'm tingling when the
phone rings and K comes down to join me on the beach. In true Thai style she keeps all her clothes on as we go for a swim. She dances and plays in the water like a child. She tosses her head back and laughs. She is a mother, a daughter, a sister,
a woman. She teases me (for not being a great swimmer) ducks me under, screams, giggles and hugs me incessantly. She looks both at me and through me.

We retire to our sun beds and she plays with my patience asking me to move the sun bed into the right position, get her an ice cream and feed her cigarettes. I don't care what she asks, it makes me smile even more and anyway, I think I'm in

If I'm not careful it's going to get messy.

The next morning I leave for the airport. My head's all over the place. I'm hoping it will clear in time. She calls me every day. She comes home in tears most nights trying to go with men but failing miserably. I of course don't have a
clue whether she's telling the truth or not.

So like me back then, let's pause and add up the facts and some conclusions:

The money:

I gave her a total of 11,000 baht in 7 days. 3,000 for two nights, plus 4,000 for staying with her plus 4,000 when I left to send back home. (I had 5 days of no hotel costs). At her home she fed me, did my laundry and made me a welcome guest. At the time
I never saw this as prostitution but in reality it is – although the sex became less important. In black and white if I didn't pay her a baht she would never have stayed with me or me with her. Mind you, it's said that in the west we
pay someone ELSE in order to spend time with a woman we like (restaurant, theatre, drinks, movies, and holidays). So in a way at least the money is going straight to those who earned it and those that need it the most.

I paid for everything she needed and let her lose her temper when she felt like it.

She's a 27 year old girl who has been shat on from a great height. I doubt she is perfect and there may be good reasons why her husband left her. I imagine she sometimes dislikes men, Farangs and the way they throw money around when she's trying
to feed her 3 kids. The only way to deal with it is to take the money. Instead of pitying her I admire her strength.

Seeking the truth. Am I in love, lust or just in holiday romance mode? The truth is right in front of me. I'm in denial. She's promised to “not go with men” for 3 months while I sort out another visit- she's even taken a job
in a restaurant during the day. So now I have to test my trust for her. Question: do I REALLY want to marry her, look after her 3 kids and move to Thailand (the ONLY way this would work) Lesson 2: Don't mix your drinks. Love, lust, denial
and the truth are one major head****.

I made one mistake. I thought I could save her. But when I saw how deep the inferno went I stepped back from the edge. The question a friend asked was “Ok, so you save her, you pull all the strings and get her out of the hole she's in. So
what's in it for you? What can she do for you? How will she change your life for the better? If you want to be a good Samaritan there's a million great causes (some better perhaps).”

Reality. I saw how bar girls live. I have enough material for a book, a documentary, even for a film. I have learnt so much. How vulnerable they are and the softness of their souls that we trample on. They can also be hard as nails, they are women, and
they have the ability to take pain far greater than any man. Their view on survival is mercenary and rightly so. They have the right to do whatever they want with Farang money, gamble it, squander it, invest it, they are no more immune to temptation
than us in the west. In business they make no more or less concessions than men. Don't judge them too quickly. Men and women are part of the same ecosystem. It's fragile but it somehow works.

Playing the game. I knew I was being played at times so I played it back. It keeps things even and moving along. Yes I can play the sad farang, but so can Thai girls, far better than us so remember gentlemen they will always win in the end. The house
always does. Just know when to quit.

Reality Update:

The Doctor has told K not to have sex for 4 months. She's in constant pain, she tired and went from childbirth to bars to sleeping with men. I fear her mind and body are going into meltdown. When can I come to Thailand next? She has not asked me
for money although I know she's running short each month. I will send what I can spare. If visas were not such a pain I would fly her over here in a nanosecond but truth is she should be close to her kids.

I have no ties in my home country except a flat. I earn enough to support myself and even her, but realistically not enough for such a large family. If I had enough money I would leave right now and go and change 4 people's lives forever. Today.
Happy ending.

In reality I cannot offer her what she needs today. She's torn, I'm torn, I may have discovered the real K, but that K is even more vulnerable. Perhaps there is another farang who can give her the financial support she needs. I wish for that
more than the selfish part for myself. I have only love right now and that doesn't pay her bills. It sounds a bit dramatic but I just hope this story has a happy ending…



K has more baggage than even the most patient, generous, understanding farang could deal with. I fear that this is one of those cases where a solution might be *very* hard to find.

nana plaza