Stop Complaining, You Spoiled Brats
Recently, I’ve noticed lots of readers’ submissions moaning about how bad things in Thailand have become. The girls are all now apparently attitude-laden, tattooed, drug-addicted, hard-core whores; prices are comparable or even exceeding the West; danger lurks on every corner; and in the long-run, it’s all going to pot.
Well, as John Maynard Keynes once reminded us, in the long-run gentlemen, we’re all dead anyway.
Really, I think it’s time for a bit of perspective. Bangkok is still a wonderful city. For me, taking everything into account, it’s better than it’s ever been. Yes, it’s not perfect, but nowhere is. I think the advantages of economic development here far outweigh the disadvantages.
I visited this city quite a few times during the 1990s, the supposed golden-age. Now each of these trips were only a few days at a time, and my memory might be hazy, but I can’t remember it being better than it is now. In fact, on almost every measure it was much worse.
In those days, it was an interesting place, but certainly not somewhere it would ever occur to me to live. Now, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live in the world.
Bangkok now resembles an underdeveloped Singapore. Back then, it had more in common with contemporary Manila. It was dirty, almost everything was poor quality, poverty was much more in your face than it is now. Scams also appeared more widespread. Most people I knew who’d been here simply didn’t like the place.
Transport was an absolute nightmare. Before the skytrain and MRT, getting anywhere involved sitting in a traffic jam, often in a taxi or bus with no air-conditioning. The reasonably-priced middle-market hotels were much rarer too. Like Manila, the gap in quality between reasonable hotels and expensive ones was huge. Rooms often had old furniture, the swimming pools were dirty, the staff poorly-trained.
The modern shopping malls we take for granted today like Siam Paragon, Terminal 21 and Central World didn’t exist. I visited MBK at the time, and remember it being pretty run-down and basic. From my perspective, and that of my girlfriend at the time, the best shopping was on the street and in the markets.
Everyone talks about how great the girls were back then, and to be fair I always visited with a girlfriend in-tow, so I never went into the gogo bars. But I walked past them and saw girls out with their customers. And to be honest, I can’t remember being struck by their beauty. Guys I met who did venture inside talked about the ping-pong shows and how funny they were rather than how hot the girls were.
Thailand at that time didn’t leave me with the impression of being a country of beautiful women. I saw more attractive farang women than Thais. Singapore, which I also visited many times in the 90s, had much hotter girls.
Thailand then seemed to me to have the problem that Manila does today. The girls simply didn’t have the money or education to make themselves attractive. They had bad teeth, bad skin and unkempt hair. They looked underfed, and the types of deformities you see in poor Asian countries were common. They didn’t have the money to spend on the nice dresses, shoes, make-up and hairstyles that they have today.
Stick obviously knows the place much better than me, and spent more time here, so he may correct some of my points. But these are my honest memories of the place. I still had a great time here, but it was more because it was exotic than that it appealed to me as a nice place to live. Certainly it was cheaper then.
Now let’s fast-forward to today and compare living here with living in the West.
There’s now a huge range of middle-cost accommodation, that’s of a quality comparable or better than you’d find at home. And the prices are typically less than a quarter of what you’d pay for similar quality and location in Sydney, New York, London or Tokyo.
Quality health-care is cheap and widely available. Twenty years ago, people would think you were crazy if you had an operation here, now you’ll probably get better treatment than at home.
You can get good, cheap food of many varieties. Nice Western food is everywhere, as is Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern. You can eat incredibly cheaply. Last night I went to the food court in Terminal 21 where I had a chicken and rice dish, a beef and noodle dish, and a fresh-blended mixed fruit-juice for a grand-total of $3. Just the drink would cost almost double that at home.
From a security perspective, I think Bangkok is still pretty safe. I feel more intimidated by some of the other Westerners here than I do by any Thais I’ve come across. Drunken hooligans transplanted from Kings Cross in Sydney or town-centres in Britain represent a much greater risk to my safety than the Thais. And back-home there are many more of them around than there are here.
Transport is good and dirt-cheap. The public transport may be crowded, but it’s clean and costs about a tenth of what it does in the West. The taxis are annoying when they refuse to take you or to turn on the meter, but honestly for the prices we’re paying they still represent incredible value for money. I rarely take taxis in the West, because even a short journey will set me back at least $20. The last time I took a black cab in London, it cost me 20 pounds for a distance of a few miles. The one disadvantage compared with the West is that the roads are much more dangerous here, and I think it would be easy to find yourself in a nasty accident.
And now onto everybody’s favourite topic – the girls.
Any night of the week, I can go into a bar like Baccara and be surrounded by girls of an attractiveness I’d rarely see in the West. Almost every gogo in Bangkok has at least a few cuties who you’d obsess over if they worked in your office back home. There is no entry fee, a beer will cost you $5, a lady-drink $6 and you can take one home for sex for less than $100.
By comparison, a normal bar in Sydney will charge $7 for a beer, a strip club more like $10. Strip-club entry is at least $20, a ten-minute lap-dance will cost you $50 (no touching!), and if sex is available, it will run into the hundreds of dollars. The service will almost certainly be terrible, with bouncers and waitresses sneering at you openly. In London or Paris, you may be intimidated into handing over large wads of cash. In Sydney or Tokyo, you may find thousands of dollars in extra charges have been added to your credit card.
I’ve never indulged in prostitution in the West, but I know it’s expensive and poor-quality. I once went with a friend to a brothel in Sydney which is apparently famous for being one of the best places in Australia. There were only 2 girls there, one was attractive, one was ugly. The price was $300 an hour. My friend went with the attractive one, who he later told me was a complete bitch. I caught a taxi home.
Perhaps cheap, quality girls like in the advertisements Stick printed are available in the West, but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that and I’ve got friends in the know. It all sounds a bit too good to be true to me.
In Sydney, London, New York, Amsterdam and Paris, I’ve seen many prostitutes advertising their wares. I see them in the street, on TV documentaries, and in red-lit windows. They are almost all ugly to the point of being disgusting. Not a bit fat, a bit old, or over-tattooed, like the girls I hear complaints about here. I’m talking seriously ugly to the point you can’t believe anyone would even touch them.
To pick one example, among many, there was recently an anonymous piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald by a woman who had taken up prostitution after her divorce. She described herself as a forty year-old, very overweight, mother of four. She soon discovered she could make more than $2000 a day servicing rich, handsome clients. She could pretty much pick and choose her customers.
The few times I’ve bar-fined gogo girls, I’ll admit, weren’t my greatest ever sexual experiences. But I’m sure I received better service than I would have in 90% of the options in the West.
Much has been written about how economic development and demographics have ruined the gogo bars, and no doubt it’s somewhat true. I still think what you get for what you pay for is still streets ahead of what you’d get anywhere else in the world. But there seems to be a wide consensus that there’s been a decline in standards.
I think other factors may be at work, the biggest of which is the mobile phone. In the old days, even the best girls still needed a way to meet new and regular customers. Gogos acted as a kind of market-place. If I wanted to meet a girl, I’d have to go to her workplace, even if I’d known her for a long time. How else would I get in contact with her?
These days, the necessity of gogos for this role is much diminished. The top girls simply don’t need them any more, so they only get the lower-tier or naive girls.
If I was an attractive girl with a good attitude and a bit of business sense, there’s no way I’d work in a gogo.
If I wanted lots of customers and big money, I’d head to one of the big massage shops. There, I’d be virtually guaranteed multiple customers a day. I’d be working in a safe environment and wouldn't have to risk going out into the street with a stranger. Between tricks, there’d be no bossy mamasans telling me to shake my ass for hours at a time. Instead, I’d watch TV and chat with my friends. I also wouldn’t have to put up with drunken slobs molesting me in return for buying me a measly drink.
If money wasn’t my only concern, and it was the lifestyle that attracted me, I’d go freelance. Have you seen how quickly attractive girls get picked up in places like Climax and Insomnia? Some girls will be approached by and reject customers five times in less than half an hour looking for the one they like. I’m sure these girls don’t even have to go out much to meet new clients, as their phones are always ringing. In the meantime, they can drink with their friends and have a good time.
I think gogos can’t compete with either of these options, so they’ll always get the naive girls or the ones who have something wrong with them. Naive girls are probably becoming more difficult to find.
When I sit in gogos I see girls all the time who don’t seem to get bar-fined much. Even attractive ones don’t appear to me to get that many customers. Certainly they would be getting less than a comparable massage-girl. Is it really worth having to keep regular hours, be bossed-around, and have to shuffle on stage all night in return for a few thousand baht a month?
From a customer’s perspective, if I want good service I’ll head to a massage place. There, I’ll probably spend less than in a go-go and get better service from a more attractive girl. If I want fun, I’ll grab a freelancer, who I’ll almost certainly have a better time with and most likely receive a girlfriend experience for a reasonable price. If you can’t find a hot girl who’ll give you good service for a reasonable price in Bangkok, you’re really not trying hard enough.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on recent submissions complaining about the state of Thailand.
As Louis CK recently said, when you think about it everything is amazing, but nobody is happy. If you’re complaining about being served cold-drinks by an attractive hostess in a seat in the sky while completing a journey that not long ago took months, you really need to get some perspective.
Likewise, if you’re drinking $5 beers which watching girls you’d be lucky to even speak with at home, all with the option of having sex for a negligible price, you’ve really got nothing to complain about.
All fair points and for sure, I'd agree that Bangkok has a lot more going for it now than it did in the '90s.
What I will say, however, is that I think you are still very much in the honeymoon phase, a period when the new expat resident enjoys almost every aspect of life in Bangkok. For most, this is a period that lasts 6 months to perhaps 18 or 24 months. At that point I think most people's perspective changes a little and while they are most likely still enjoying themselves, most have had a few experiences that leave them scratching their heads and aware that this place isn't perfect. I'd be interested in your thoughts on what you have written here in a couple of years time. Things that you smile at now or think are perhaps amusing may, in time, start to irritate.