Who Is Responsible?
A lot of distant relatives or friends of mine in cold Europe suddenly look stony faced, when I tell them that I have found a second home in Thailand. They didn't put on similar faces when I lived in Hamburg, where there are places like Sankt Pauli
and the Reeperbahn, which are much more dangerous then lower Sukhumvit. What is wrong with the public image of this country? Who has spoiled its reputation? I have my own theory how it came to this. Please excuse if my argument follows a zig-zag
I still remember when I first visited Phuket. Not so many years ago, but before Thaksin. I came from Singapore which for me is a kind of a model city. I was expected at the airport. After we had found our hotel we learned that a 7-11 shop was at the end of Soi Bangla. At the left side of this soi was a bar in front of which there stood a few ladies who bared playfully their magnificent breasts. I wanted to see more of them, but my Thai companion pulled me back. "Those are katoeys," explained my partner. Learning this, I lost all interest in these beautiful creatures.
At the end of the soi I not only found the 7-11 shop but at the left there were circular bar beers occupied by less or more beautiful girls. The atmosphere was friendly and a bit pushy.
"What are they doing here?" I asked my friend.
"Are they for sale?"
"Don't look," was the answer. "This is nothing special."
But for me this was something very special and I had to look. In no public place in Asia I had ever seen something as obtrusive as this. I could not believe my eyes.
Those girls in the circular bar beers appeared to me like magnets who attract rusty hearts from all over the world. If I had been alone I might well have turned from a tourist into a sex maniac. What I saw was absolutely fantastic. And it was not at some remote place, it was on the open road in the centre of the town. And I had expected Phuket to be a high end tourist destination, as hotel rooms were priced up to 8K baht or even more.
Don't tell me that Thailand is harassed by sex tourists, it is the unsuspecting tourist who is harassed by the way commercial sex is advertising itself in this country. That was my personal experience in Phuket.
Don't mistake me. I was not offended by what I saw. I was surprised that it was called "nothing special".
Forty years ago when I first visited Thailand I saw nothing comparable. The young people in Europe – me included – were idolizing His Majesty the King, because he played and composed jazz music. A modern king in a promising country.
From Fordy's submission on 9/13 I learn that it was possible a few years later to find fun in Krungthep if you were introduced to the right places, but this was not much publicised and it didn't make Bangkok a different city from Naples or Marseille.
The first big wave of tourists who rolled over Thailand were the rucksack travellers who discovered the beauty of the tropical wilderness. Some of the places where they rolled out their sleeping bags under palm leaf roofs are now international tourist destinations, like Ko Samui. The earliest backpackers were hardly interested in contacting Thai girls because they could not discuss with them for hours and hours about the relevance of being.
Then a big cloud drew up and darkened South East Asia. The American engagement in Vietnam.
The rise of Pattaya began with the landing of American bombers at nearby Uta Pao airport, returning from their deployment over Vietnam. The pilots needed "Rest and Recreation" (R&R). Pattaya was the nearest target, and those were heydays for the small community it was then.
But other places were concurring. Especially Taiwan wooed the tired soldiers, because Taiwan and the USA had a common enemy: The Reds.
I did not stay in Pattaya in those days, but I visited Taiwan, where R&R was big business for the triads. ("Pst! Only five dollars for one hour with a naked girl in a bathtub" – these words I heard myself.) But when the war came to its end, Taiwan closed all R&R facilities. Even the traditional teahouses, frequented by Japanese customers were torn down. The reason for this measure? National pride.
For the economy of Taiwan this was only a short time loss. Taiwan soon inundated the world with legal IBM PC-clones.
While Taiwan turned to high technology, Thailand accepted the continuation of R&R practices. For Pattaya it meant business as usual. The party could go on and is still feted today.
I have only one question: Why did Thailand not show the same ambition as Taiwan and develop modern industries for the markets of the future?
I think I can give you an explanation for this disparity, but it is of a very personal character. In fact I am revealing a family secret when I tell this.
In the late years of the Vietnam War my second cousin was sent by the United Nation's International Labour Organization (ILO) to Thailand to teach developing industries the art of Industrial Design.
When I visited him – he lived with his German wife in a nice villa in the then very quiet Sukhumvit Soi 41 – he told me that the only thing he enjoyed in Thailand were the seashells on the beaches of Phuket.
When it came to his job he had the impression that Thai industrialists treated him like an unnecessary nuisance, as if they were not interested to learn from him. Just before he had been in Taiwan with the same program, and the Chinese there had been most attentive to his teachings.
My cousin lectured me that Thai people were very inventive – just look what they can transport on a scooter – but some bosses up in the decision process had other priorities than planning for the future, be it the future of their company or of the whole country. Those were the grumblings of my cousin.
My cousin didn't feel happy in Thailand. I do. I have made Pattaya my second home. When I first arrived here, I saw nothing that could surprise me after I had been in Phuket. Pattaya might justly be called a city with a Janus head. While sex work has not officially been legalized, the authorities license up front sex markets which have no equal in the world.
These fleshpots attract foreign tourists. But the fleshpots are not created by visiting tourists. They are put up by locals as traps for visitors. It is hypocrisy to blame foreigners for falling into these traps. Bears love honey.
My decision for Pattaya has nothing to do with what one finds in certain sois. Believe me or not, I am not an enthusiastic visitor of go-go-bars. I do not sneer at them. I just find no satisfaction in short term relationships.
For me Pattaya is one of the most fascinating towns in the world. It has an aura which is absolutely unique. All those who say Pattaya is just a cesspool of sin have shied the trouble to walk up to the hill, where there are hotels and apartments catering nearly exclusively to Farang families with children. Farther south – near Pattaya Tower – there is the residence of a Royal Princess. More and more rich Thai families choose Pattaya as a weekend destination. They pack their big cars with children and grand parents and then drive to flashy hotels on the Beach Road, like the Hard Rock Hotel. I am sure when such a family passes a bar beer on Beach Road, the Thai mother says to her children: "Don't look. This is nothing special.
Thailand IS a cesspool….but it does have plenty going for it too.