I liked your column, I’m sure I’m in the minority…you dig deeper into the genuine alternatives of career-choice for Thai women and I largely agree with your sentiments. I also applaud you for going against the grain.
The industry has been around since Cleopatra, in Siam probably at least that long as well! But the last couple of decades have seen extreme change. I liked your analogy of looking at the skyline and the relatively small areas of farang-fun-zones. But, if such a map could be created, something that cross-references geography with other metrics (property prices, bribe-income, retail-revenue, GDP-contribution) would be much more helpful. Some areas are very different from others in how much they contribute and to whom. Part of Bangkok's overall problem is that it's divided into pieces of "turf" (not unlike a USA city where gangs operate) and who controls what where becomes important in terms of annual revenue. Such a map would be fascinating: which earns more, p4p or illegal casinos?
As for Thai women plying their trade elsewhere, you can bet that if they can get into the Euro zone or North America they might be able to amass a relative fortune. Also, in those areas they might not have easy access to the chemical products and recreational activities that we've seen can reduce bargirls to shambling wrecks. Their family back home likelier has higher expectations of the overall profits, but what the heck.
It would be interesting to interview some Vietnam-era guys who decided not to return and have been living in BKK since the 60s or 70s. They would have their opinions and I'd love to hear 'em. Here's mine: when I decided to include Thailand on my '89-'90 maiden voyage to Asia, a couple of friends of mine in San Francisco were beginning to travel there. These were not your regular-types, they weren't after the hard bodies, they were more creative in terms of film / video and exploring subcultures. But Thailand was very much unknown, even in Asia-centric San Fran.
I returned there in the early '90 and didn't get back to Thailand until '93. The changes I saw in those three years were the most radical, especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It was just like those cities had been pumping steroids during those three years. Note, there was still nothing open around Siam Square after 9 or 10, except a few bars and the hard rock. There were no 7-11s in the area, you had to get to Rama IV Road. But it was obvious that the region was on its way up. Getting a decent coffee was juuuuuuust starting to happen (Black Canyon's been around forever, but I'm talking about coffee that wasn't viewed as a base for liquid ice cream).
The sex industry was of course well established but then as now, I wear a collared shirt, long pants and proper shoes everywhere in Thailand except on dive boats or in farang-centric beach resorts. I do speak some of the language and am polite and smile, I find (as you did) that sometimes gals will just start spilling their life stories to me. I do tell 'em up front I'm a butterfly and they're aware I'm not there to fall in love and give them my life savings. Plus, I quickly get enough sitting around listening…between rounds as it were, because yes I'm a sex tourist, I'm participating, I'm not self-delusional.
One point I do take issue with: I don't think Pattaya would maintain much of its infrastructure without the flesh trade. I don't know much about its tourist industry or why there are so many Russians there, but it can't be a retirement destination for most until they come up with some comprehensible and reliable visa laws and home ownership schemes. The ocean is pretty as a backdrop and that's about it (ever do scuba in Pattaya? I have), medical tourism is better elsewhere, and the vagaries of Thailand mean that unless P4p is part of your vacation plans, there are better and safer destinations.
On the other hand, Phuket is the spot to set off for scuba during the winter. Lots of dive ops, and since you have to spend 24 hrs on land before you can fly off, they really could use some better p4p infrastructure. I really don't like Phuket (why is it so difficult to get to town, and what's with all the katoeys?) But that's the jumping off point for scuba trips.
Lots of interesting thoughts.