“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, Heaven knows,
The five young Thai girls are so excited before stepping out on stage that you can practically hear the butterflies flitting about in their little tummies. They just spent hours with a professional make-up artist and a hair stylist. They’re looking good! Their long, silky black hair has been quaffed to perfection. Their almond eyes are dazzling with mascara, eye shadow and long artificial eyelashes. Their lips have been painted bright ruby red. Their matching outfits have been chosen with care. They look in the mirror to study the effect, and like what they see: black go-go boots, black fish-net stockings, red velvet shorts and gold lame tops that reveal plenty of skin. They’ve practiced for weeks on their dance routine. Every spare moment has been spent nailing it down cold. Every turn and gesture is right on the money. Now it's time to show everyone what they’ve got; time to strut their stuff!
This isn’t something I’ve made up. I saw it all with my own eyes. Where? Well, not where you might expect. This was not in a go-go bar in Soi Cowboy, or Walking Street in Pattaya. Believe it or not, this was in my office at school this morning. It had been turned into an impromptu dressing room. And the girls? They were all of five and six years old! Once again my friends, Welcome to Thailand!
Almost a decade into the 21st century, Cole Porter’s words have never seemed truer. It seems there are few (if any) limits on how people behave in public. What would be unthinkable a generation ago is commonplace. Comedians like Lenny Bruce shocked my parents with a few four letter words. Lenny’s stand-up routines might have shocked folks back then, but probably would be considered pretty tame stuff compared with what your average comedian does all the time. I am no prude. There are times when a well placed expletive (or two) serves to underscore a point. On the other hand, a continuous torrent of obscenities would seem to indicate that “some parents should have had a freer hand with a bar of soap. Of course that’s my highly subjective opinion. I really don’t want to impose my standards on the rest of society. As far as I’m concerned, consenting adults can do whatever the hell they please…as long as it doesn’t involve children… which brings me to ponder why many Thais love so much to “tart-up” their children and put them on public display.
I should say right off the bat that this phenomenon is not something uniquely Thai. Hell, my former homeland of America has more child “Beauty Pageants” than you would think humanly possible. If you thought that the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey slowed down the parade of tykes in high-heels and skimpy outfits, well think again. Legions of parents can’t wait to display their little darlings off to all comers…all in the name of “Giving My Little Girl An Advantage In Life”. Surely the “fame” that comes from winning The Little Miss Pork-rind of Redneck County is sure to open the door to all kinds of opportunities, right? Those kinds of opportunities make me shudder.
Here in Thailand, child beauty competitions and talent shows are well accepted, mainstream events…and they’re everywhere. I doubt you can find a province, city, town, village or hamlet where they don’t take place regularly. Here in the north, children often dress up in traditional Lanna costumes, especially during festivals like Loy Kratong. I happen to find this kind of “dress-up” delightful. Who can fail to be charmed by the lovely lasses riding on floats decked out in colorful Thai silk? If there’s one thing that the Thais excel at, it’s decorating and fancy dress.
Anyone who frequents a mall or shopping center here has probably seen a beauty pageant or talent competition or two. I know I’ve seen more than a few. They can be fairly low key, or full, blown. All the participants and their families seem to be have a great time. Well, actually some of the participants look nervous enough to be in danger of fainting dead away, but so it goes in show business I suppose.
“So, Sawadee, why are you acting like the Grinch at Yuletide feast? Maybe you just need to chill out a bit!” The truth is folks, if the Thais like this sort of spectacle, I am certainly not going to rain on their parade…but, I really can’t help wondering if there are any limits when it comes to really young children.
The little dance routine that the little girls at my school put on was very cute…even if I felt the costumes were somehow too provocative. You should have seen the proud parents videoing their daughters’ performance. They were beaming from ear to ear, as was everyone. I doubt that anyone was thinking that anything was inappropriate. The kids watching sure loved it. Here were their young classmates looking like MTV stars. The choreography was executed perfectly…including unfortunately a few moves that would not be out of place in a venue with a chrome pole or two. Maybe it’s just me, but the sight of a six year old girl wiggling her butt in that manner disturbs me. Actually, I think it may be just me, since everyone else seemed highly amused at these antics. Oh well, over the years I have learned to keep my mouth shut. Time to smile along with everyone else and give a round of applause to these kids who really did dance their hearts out.
Children in Thailand, as in many places in the world are bombarded on a daily basis with all things sexual. The music they listen to has some pretty explicit lyrics. The music videos they watch glorify sex, as do what they see on TV and in their local cineplex. Advertising is chock full of erotic images. National and international celebrities personify licentiousness. Such is life in Modern Times. Anything goes when it comes to making money.
Thais don’t seem as schizophrenic about sex as many of their western counterparts, despite the fact that Thai culture is steeped in Buddhism, which frowns on sex outside of marriage. I have never observed any great angst over it. Despite the highly visible farang aspect of the sex trade, the fact remains that the vast majority of mongers in Thailand are Thai. In Lampang there are many “No Tell Motels” doing a booming business.
When we threw a big party some years ago to celebrate our housewarming, our builders hired a bevy of Coyotes to entertain everyone. You might think that many of our respectable, older guests might have taken offence at some scantily clad girls doing some decidedly “dirty dancing”. Instead, all of them, including a bunch of silver-haired grandmothers were gleefully whooping up a storm. Sexy dancing was seen to be “all in good fun”. It certainly was for me. I for one would never dream of objecting. Hey, as they say, “if you’ve got it…flaunt it”! Thais do just that. Every week throughout the country there are musical extravaganzas with a huge cast of lovely ladies, many of whom are wearing very little, and whose dance moves are nothing short of a parody of the sex act. Once again, Thai sensibilities are not even mildly ruffled.
When it comes to schoolchildren however, the Thais seem to have taken a page from Victorian times. That’s why the school uniforms that Thai schoolgirls wear have been designed to hide the fact that girls actually have bodies. From Pratom (elementary school) through Mathayom (high school) girls wear ankle length skirts and loose fitting blouses. No legs or “bosoms” are in evidence. Upon entering college however, these outfits are shed, undoubtedly with some relief, and replaced with short tight skirts, and tight blouses. Overnight, these young ladies have magically acquired all hitherto missing body parts. Of course, on the weekends, and away from school, they have always been on full display. Girls are girls the world over, and Thai girls like to wear the latest fashions. That usually means skimpy. Thai parents, like parents everywhere, may be the “The Bosses”, but kids still seem to wind up wearing just about anything they want to.
I have no idea how prevalent child abuse is here in Thailand. I’m not talking about that committed by sick foreign pedophiles. I mean the homegrown sexual abuse of Thai children by Thais. The Thai government has never gone out of its way to publicly acknowledge social problems of any kind, so it’s not surprising you don’t hear much about this dirtiest of horrors. I have absolutely no idea where Thailand ranks on the world list of shame. I do have a pretty good idea where many abused children end up as adults. You’ll find them working in the bars and massage parlors of Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket. Steven Leather, in his brilliant book, Private Dancer, chronicles the relationship between child abuse and prostitution. It’s not hard to believe that one often follows the other. How many working girls were raped by family members when they were children? Probably more then we would care to think about.
Note: If you’ve read any of my previous submissions, you probably know where I stand on the subject of exchanging sex for money. If this is the first thing you’ve read of mine, let me just state for the record that I have no problem with it. Sex is good. Selling sex does not make a woman a “bad” person. “Bad women” are bad, whether they are selling noodles in the market, or sex in a bar. We pay professionals to perform services for us. Are you offended that your car mechanic wants cash to change your oil? Why then should you be offended at someone who is willing to drain another type of fluid?
As long as the woman is, doing so of her own free will, and is of legal age, it’s no one else’s business! That being said, using children sexually, under any circumstance is repugnant. A judicious flick of a sharp knife would go a long way in punishing these monsters.
Now I know that everyone’s sexual tastes are different, and what turns one person on might very well turn another person off. I will spare you my preferences, for which you are all undoubtedly grateful! Still…since I’m talking about how just about anything goes here in LOS, I can’t resist talking about the “special shows” that certain bars offer. Undoubtedly there are plenty of men who really get off on seeing a girl perform astonishing bodily “tricks”. I am not one of them. I really don’t need to see what a girl can do with a ping-pong ball. I really don’t need to see girls being playing with dildos while being groped by a bunch of drunks. Old Sawadee does enjoy watching pretty girls dancing…either scantily dressed or au natural. If you want to watch a lesbian show, you might want to head on over to the Eden Club and actually be part of one! This of course is my highly subjective opinion. You are free to enjoy whatever you like.
Getting back to the story which I started this piece with; I know that the Thai parents who dress their little girls up don’t intend any harm. They think their little darlings look adorable. Personally I think they would look much more adorable if you scraped off the mascara and dressed them in an outfit with Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh on it. No matter how long I live here, I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with this sort of thing. Oh well, it’s a good thing that I can put on a Thai smile, along with everyone else.
I have seen a few of these shows over the years and I too find them rather disconcerting. But like you say, the Thais are quite comfortable with it…