The Japanese Tattoos in Patpong
It's perfectly understandable that you would find it difficult to tell apart Chinese characters (in fact, as a child in the UK going to a Saturday school for expat Japanese children, I often fumed about having to memorise hundreds and thousands of characters when most Western languages manage to get along with just 26 letters plus in some cases modifiers). The photo which you have on the column is not the name of the 63-year old Japanese guy that you mention, who we shall refer to as X, it is the name of one of his younger friends, who we shall call Y, a thirty-something successful businessman who lives and works in Japan. It's the lone exception; all the other tattoos are X's name, and given that X is serving as something of a mentor to Y about things Thai, it could be said that it was more his doing than Y's.
Actually, the girl who bears said tattoo managed to convince Y that she and her younger sister were not barfineable (probably not true – I saw the younger sister walk out in her street clothes with a customer way before closing time just a week or two ago), so they would have to take a night off to entertain him, and should be compensated handsomely for that. Y is a frequent visitor, but he obviously does not yet have a grasp of the local economy, as he seemed genuinely astonished when I gently pointed out that the sum he had promised to pay each of them would amount to about a month’s wages for an unskilled worker in central Thailand. I don’t really blame either side, he just doesn’t know, it’s not that much money for him anyway, and who would blame them, in that position, for taking advantage?
Getting back to the knottier problem of X, I know that you have been here much longer than I, and that you are much better versed in local customs, beginning with a vastly superior ability in the local language, so I would normally hesitate to disagree with you on matters local, but I must get back to the impression that you just heard about the tattoos from the bar boss that you mention, and only that.
On top of that, I would not disagree with you and the bar boss you spoke with about the long-term implications of the tattoos in question, but I would also presume that you have not seen the man in action himself, which I have, on numerous occasions.
Contrary to what you may think, X is fun and generous in a much more wholesome way – of course, he is a big spender, and the money is the biggest concern for all involved, but it’s not just that – he really is good at getting a party going, Asian-style. And on top of that, he usually takes at least two girls out at the same time – and the girls just love it because they get a lighter workload at the same pay, but seemingly coincidentally, he deftly precludes any of them from “claiming” him as her own. Yes, the superficial trappings in Patpong would be very different, but essentially, he plays the game just the way that a skilled Thai or Chinese playboy would.
Furthermore, girls in Patpong, Thaniya, and similar areas are not like the ones in soapy massages; they have to venture out to enemy territory, so to say, to ply their trade, and they are not a scream away from help, so being a good judge of whether a guy is at heart decent is something of a required skill, and he is a much better man than you would think – he has a deep compassion for people in unfortunate circumstances, with providing spiritual comfort to prisoners sentenced to death among his voluntary activities – and this seems to include Patpong denizens on his part, and it may be that they appreciate it.
Adding to that that Thais from more modest backgrounds do not tend to think far ahead all that much, and Patpong-dwellers would tend to live for the here and now even more so (I’m sure you know about that better than I do), it could be that X is seen as one of the “best” customers in Patpong, and that being part of his “in” crowd is something of a privilege, which gains them “face” in a big way. I personally know some of the girls with his mark on them, including but not restricted to the ones I referred to above (as you also do), and many are no wilting violets, they are hard-nosed veterans. In fact, however unlikely it may seem, it could be that for them, having a tattoo of his name on their bodies is something of a badge of honour, again, just in the here and now, however they might eventually rue it in the far future.
You would long have known that I am something of a Western-Asian mongrel, and my Western side would not be at all surprised if you strongly disagree with all the above, but still, it’s my best effort at something of a contribution to the discussion.
X has somehow managed to establish himself as a “Brand™” among Patpong bargirls, to the point where they sport his tattoo like ladies do with LV handbags and such.
I appreciate the perspective you bring and the background information you provide. Of course, I am still somewhat saddened to see the markings, particularly as they are of a man's name as opposed to something more "generic".