Readers' Submissions

Whores

  • Written by Professor
  • April 14th, 2012
  • 6 min read

I have been using one service provider in Thailand the last few years. Thai owned and operated. Lately service has begun to deteriorate and I have had several conversations with the owner, with whom I am on good personal terms.

The other day I got poor service again. I spoke to a friend of mine who recommended his service. Not only did I find the other service to be significantly better, but the price was lower. I switched service providers immediately.

How to inform my current company, which I had loyal been to for at least 5 years? In the west, I would have written a stern email, complaining and listing in detail the things I was unhappy about and why I was cancelling my service. Instead, I sent the following “I know you want happy customers. That is why I think it is better for you that I change suppliers. Thanks to you and your staff for helping me over the past few years.”

I waited, expecting a frantic phone call from the owner, demanding to know why I was cancelling after so long. The call came through, and the owner said “Thank you for your business. If you can find someone who can give you better service then please use them. My company is here anytime you need us in the future.”

I thought, Isn’t that nice. Instead of a meaningless confrontation in which both sides would end up saying things they would later regret, we have parted on positive terms. The owner knew I was unhappy and had already made my decision, so confronting me would have gained nothing.

Ten years ago I was Asian CEO for a major multinational corporation. I had to fire our Thai manager for poor performance. After the firing, I went to the number 2 in the organization, to offer him the top slot. Instead, he offered his resignation.

I was shocked.

What are you going to do? I asked.

Go to work for the man you just fired, was the response.

But he hasn’t a job, I just fired him this morning.

No matter. He will find a job, and then I will go work for him.

But I am offering you his job here.

Yes, but you are falang, and you will leave at some point for another post in the company. Maybe your successor will like me, maybe not. Maybe I will have a job at that time, maybe not. But if I go with my friend, who I have worked with for 15 years, I know I will always have a job.

I could not convince him to stay.

Most of the time, whenever I have a problem in Thailand, when I think about it, the problem stems from my failure to understand and accept the Thai culture, the Thai way of looking at and understanding things. If a Thai came to my country, I would expect them to understand and follow my culture. Since I have made the decision to live and work in Thailand, isn’t it up to me to follow and accept theirs?

Many writers on this site use the terms “prostitute” and “whore” to refer to Thai women who work in bars. I enjoy chatting with these women, and I like to discover their backgrounds.

I was chatting with an older woman in a bar the other day, she was clearly in her late 30’s, and I asked her why she was working alongside such younger and more attractive girls.

She told me she had two daughters, aged 8 and 14. She worked in an office alongside her husband, making 8,000 baht/month while he made 12,000. With the 20,000 between them they were able to raise their family, and also support her mother. Then the husband died and the woman could no longer take care of the family on 8,000 baht. One thing led to another, and she found herself a job waitressing in a bar, where she could make, with tips, 15,000/month.

One night, a customer offered to take her back to his hotel. She told him she had never slept with another man in her life except for her husband. The customer persisted, finally offering 2,500 for short time service. She thought of the clothes she could buy her for daughters, and the medicine she could buy for her mother.

She accepted, and told me she spent the time with a pillow over her head due to her embarrassment.

Would you call her a whore?

I met another girl in a bar. Cute, 22. Excellent English. She told me she had been working on a double university major: tourism management and languages (studying English, Japanese, and Mandarin) when she got pregnant by a fellow student. Dropping out to have the baby, she found a job at a real estate company, who eventually transferred her to Phuket, where she discovered she could make a lot more money in bars.

The next time I went to her bar, a few months later, she wasn’t there. I called her to find that she had saved up enough in the 6 months she had worked in Phuket, and was now back in her village taking care of her baby and her mother, and had re-enrolled in school.

For those six months, was she a whore? Is she a whore now? What would you say to her son?

In my meagre experience in this country, I have come to believe that Thais understand loyalty, and understand responsibility, in ways perhaps not fathomable to us westerners. A man’s superior gets fired and he quits his jobs and turns down a promotion to go with him. A girl gets pregnant and does what she must to feed her baby. A middle aged woman finds herself one night with a pillow over her head so she can keep her daughters in a decent school.

Can we judge?

A few years back I wrote a submission (“Finding and Keeping a Thai Girlfriend”) in which I said a Thai girl’s priorities were her family (baby and parents), then her sisters and brothers, then her friends, and then you, the falang boyfriend. I received a fair amount of criticism (“Who would want to go out with a girl like that? If I am not first priority then the hell with her”, etc).
But I stand by my comment. We falang are transient, we may be here now but who knows how long we will stay. Parents, siblings, and especially children will be there forever. They are the rocks upon which this society is built.

Call them whores if you like. Thai women who work in bars are a multi-faceted group, with strengths and flaws like society in general. Relationships with them are difficult to maintain; a lucky few succeed. Most do not.

But success comes, I maintain, in understanding their culture, their way of thinking, what motivates them. For my part, I know I will never fully understand them, but to me it is a game well worth playing.





Stickman's thoughts:

I accept that the notion of responsibility in Thailand and to whom one is responsible is different to that in the West. When it comes to loyalty, I'm sorry, but that is a trait I have found harder to come by in Thailand than Farangland.