Sex Is All We Have Left To Sell
Thailand is in something of a dilemma. First, the aim was to try and get rid of the cheap tourists and those who like to go pussy-hunting. The 90 percent of the sex business in the country which is for Thais only could go on as usual as that was for the rich politicians and businessmen who need a place to play, down to the cheap brothels for the labourers. But having those damn foreigners come over and not pretend that prostitution doesn’t exist in Thailand, well they couldn’t have that. There were moves to close the bars at midnight, and even at 10pm, but only the places that foreigners go to in the tourist areas. Thai places could, and do, stay open all night if they want to, most of the time. Anyway, they wanted a better class of visitor, so they targeted families.
What they often didn’t do was ensure a pleasant family environment, instead of polluted beaches, rip-off taxis in Phuket and Koh Samui, double pricing (or in the case of the government-run national parks, 10-times pricing), hundreds of people of the night seeking customers along Sukhumvit or Beach Road where children are walking with mummy and daddy, tailors pestering you to buy a suit when that is the last thing you would be wanting on a tropical holiday. Along with prices going up by leaps and bounds, and then finally the airport closure which told all the families who had been here spending their money and supporting the local economy that the country didn’t give a flying fcuk about them, that market finally dried up. It had been drying up for a year already, so the brains at TAT had decided to try and attract visitors from Asia. But, again, the country managed to mess that up by allowing months and months of demonstrations and violence on the streets of the capital and other places, and then allowing thugs to take over the airport. Asian visitors avoid violence, or the threat of it, like the plague, so that market has dried up too. The chance of reviving it, with a senior government minister happily telling the world that closing the airport and stranding 350,000 people was fun, are slim indeed.
Now, the dilemma. Thailand really doesn't have much that neighbouring countries don't also have. We're talking temples and beaches mostly. There are temples just as good in Burma or Cambodia or Laos. All those countries are cheaper. There are brilliant beaches in Malaysia and Bali, even Vietnam. And in places like Malaysia and Singapore the infrastructure is often better. Shopping is a good attraction in Thailand, though, but again neighbouring countries are competitive. With prices rising rapidly in Thailand, the cheap tourists are tending to head off now to Vietnam and Cambodia. Those countries are making a huge effort to attract foreigners, while Thailand often seems to be doing the opposite, like closing entertainment venues at 1 or 2, or whenever the local police decide, when often at home the tourists can party until dawn. You don't go on vacation to be told you have to go back to your hotel for an 'early' night. Venues aimed at Thais are allowed to stay open all night of course. Or cutting the number of days you can enter without a visa from 30 to 15 days, if you arrive overland, NOW of all times. What the heck is that all about? Who in their right mind would start making it more difficult for arriving tourists to stay here and spend their money when the trade is desperate for business? I know or have read of several people who have said ‘Forget it, we’ll go somewhere else. Too much hassle’.
So, with nothing to offer that is any better value or different to other places, and with a more dangerous environment than nearly every neighbouring country (even without the street violence, Thailand has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with no police force you can realistically expect justice from unless you have deep pockets), the government has no choice but to accept those it pretends to detest, the sex tourist. They’ll keep coming no matter what. At least for now, although even those numbers are down. Mention Thailand or Bangkok overseas and there is one thing the place is world famous for. Guess what. I have colleagues who cannot come to Thailand on business because their wife simply won’t allow it. Great image, hum! I don’t think that attitude exists against any other country in the entire world. Thailand, number one for whores.
But, while pretending it doesn’t exist and pretending they want to attract visitors who only want to come for 10 days and spend all their money in Emporium or Siam Paragon, the government secretly encourages the sex trade because it is a massive foreign exchange earner, not only in the bars but because many send money to the girls when they return home. <Actually, I don't think the government encourages things but merely allows it to continue – Stick> Now they've scared off the families they were trying to attract, and much of the Asian trade, they will need the sex tourists even more. How they encourage it and ensure it continues is by keeping masses undereducated so they don't challenge the status quo and many tens of thousands are only fit for menial, low-paying jobs. So the girls have the choice of working in a factory for 225 baht a day, or working in a go-go bar where they might make 3000, even 5000 baht in a night. It isn't a choice at all really, is it. The men, meanwhile, often hang around drinking with their buddies, because it is the woman’s role here to do as they’re told, which is earn money for their whisky and gambling and food.
An interesting aspect of Thai society is that nothing matters more than money, except maybe 'face'. But actually the two go hand-in-hand. So, mothers are perfectly happy to take the money their daughters send back, so they can show off the new car or house or 42" TV. The daughter might pretend she's a waitress in the Big Mango or Pattaya or Patong, but the mother knows a waitress can't make so much money. The fact her daughter is a prostitute is totally unimportant. What is important is the face the daughter earns for the family by spreading her legs. Heck, many parents actually demand their daughters enter the profession. And that's just the side that foreigners get involved in. As I said, 90 percent of the sex business is run by Thais for Thais, usually behind closed doors although the multi-storied brightly lit massage parlours are hard to miss. Then there are the sleazy brothels. Many of the girls in that side of the business are sex slaves, sold by their family to men and women who tour the villages looking for 'fresh meat', all for price of a new TV or refrigerator. Nice culture.
There are countless stories of this on the web. If you go out to Cowboy or Nana or Patpong or Bangla Road or Walking Street, be aware that although the girls often appear to be there because it is fun and there is big money to be made, there are plenty of others there desperately selling themselves to keep some greedy family back home in luxuries to show off to the neighbours.
The angle of the TAT in 2009 will be interesting after the disasters of 2008…