Readers' Submissions

Negatively Affected by Thailand’s Bar Industry

  • Written by TomP
  • January 28th, 2010
  • 4 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

The recent discussion regarding Thailand’s bar industry made me, after several years, write another short submission.

I have been negatively affected by Thailand’s bar industry. Even though I have never even entered a bar. Now how can that be?

I met my Thai girlfriend in a small business making and selling clothes, in the vicinity of Chiang Mai. We became friends after a couple of days, and much more later on… She was working as a seamstress, getting paid 1 baht for every T-shirt and 3 baht for every pair of jeans she finished. Being one of the most industrious persons I have ever met, she could make between 5,000 and 7,000 baht per month. For those of you who are not that quick with numbers: Assuming it takes 3 minutes to create a T-shirt and 10 minutes for a pair of jeans, this means 10 hours work per day, every day, 360 days per year. No human being can work like this, so she was more likely to spend 12 to 14 hours in the shop every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Of her income, she had to pay 2,000 baht for the rent of her apartment, and she sent home between 1,000 and 3,000 baht every month, living on the about 2,000 baht that remained. And still, this life to her was preferable to staying at home, a small town in Isaan. Because at home, she would have been paid minimum wage for a day in the rice fields, or on a construction site, carrying cement bags heavier than herself. Minimum wage in this area, that meant 158 baht per day officially; in reality, only 150 were paid.

But, you say, 30 times 150 baht, that would have given her a similar income because she would not have had to pay for rent and traveling expenses? Yes. But only if she had actually found work every day. I have seen it many times: Her parents going out very early in the morning, looking for work, but coming home a couple of hours later, with nothing. Or coming back in the evening, with 20 or 40 baht, because that was all they could make. In those parts, where the average family income is less than 10,000 baht a month, an individual income of 3,000 baht is considered normal; 2,000 baht, not unheard of. And yes, we are talking about a monthly income, not that of a single night.

Sidetrack: You are complaining that the Thais consider you rich, even though you aren’t? Well, believe me, you are. If you can afford to spend 150 baht – a successful day’s income! – on a glass of beer, you are rich. If, additionally, you tell everybody how happy you are about the low prices in Thailand, you are not just rich, you are outrageously rich. End of sidetrack.

During the three years we were together, most of the time in Farangland, I sent 10,000 baht to her family every month. More than any of them had ever made in their life. Effectively doubling their income.

So, surely, they were very happy and grateful?

Wrong.

Because in her town, two bargirls who had found (probably multiple) generous sponsors were living. And the hundreds of thousands of baht those girls put into the local economy was considered normal by my girlfriend’s family and friends for someone with a foreign partner. Of course, they did not realize, or did not want to realize, that for every successful working girl there is also a much greater number of failures.

“This farang is not good. You should go out and work in a bar and find a better one.” Her mother’s words. Being able to speak Thai allows you to find out what is going on around you… <I really wish more people would realise thisStick>

She was a traditional girl, valuing her family very much. So I knew that eventually she would give in to her relatives’ demands, and I had to pull the cord. Believe me, having to quit the most wonderful girl I have ever met was the toughest decision of my life.

I have lost contact with her because it wouldn’t have been fair to my current girlfriend if I had maintained it. So I don’t know what has become of her. I just hope that she found someone rich and stupid enough to meet her family’s financial demands early on in her new “career”.

I am about to get married to my current girl, who is not from Thailand. Still, when reading Stick’s latest weekly, I could not help but wonder how my life would have continued if Thailand had shut down its bar industry five years ago…

—-

This is one side of the coin. I am not going to elaborate on the other side. But, I believe, the figures I gave make it clear why the job of a bargirl is so attractive, irrespective of its sometimes harsh realities. In fact, in my Thai girlfriend’s hometown, quite a few girls would have loved to become one; they just didn’t have any connections to the industry and didn’t know how to proceed.

Stickman's thoughts:

That's a perspective I don't think anyone has raised here before.