The Problem With Bar Girls
There have been a number of recent articles regarding how to transition Thai bar girls to a stable relationship with a willing and able western man. There are the obvious instructions of getting her out of the bar and away from her bar friends, or away from a mercenary family or worse yet, a blood sucking ex-boyfriend. But does this really guarantee success? I myself once had a girlfriend who I believed was free from these corrupting influences, but who turned out to be a more sophisticated version of the worse bar girl. I once wrote about her on this site and one story in particular came back to me when I was reading some of these recent articles. I decided to revisit this story as a reminder that trying to convert a Thai bar girl to a loving partner is fraught with dangers beyond the imagining of most westerners.
Ten years ago I was sent to Singapore for a 2 year stint with my global company. My first customer was in Bangkok and after a few trips there, I met my girlfriend at the Hard Rock Café. We started dating and soon we were shuttling between Singapore and Bangkok on frequent trips. Sometimes, she would take two weeks off from the family restaurant to visit me in Singapore. On one such visit, she announced she had a long-time friend living here named Mai. We arranged to meet her at a restaurant in the Golden Mile shopping complex, a Thai shopping plaza used by the many Thai people living and working in Singapore. I am not sure who I expected to meet, but Mai was a well-dressed Thai girl covered in diamonds. She had obviously had her boobs upgraded and her face was “westernized” via some sort of plastic surgery. Whoever was looking out for her was well provisioned and liked to spend his resources on her. She had a sweet smile, an easy laugh, and I liked her immediately. During lunch, she explained that she lived in Singapore with her Kiwi husband who had some important job with a European bank. They had a young daughter, a large condo in a fashionable part of Singapore, a maid, a nanny, and commuted frequently to Thailand to visit her family. Mai was obviously the poster girl for a Thai girl who had hit the jackpot.
Soon we were guests in their home. Mai’s husband Michael was a big, gregarious guy who I instantly liked. The maid cooked us a wonderful Indonesian meal and afterwards we played with their cute baby. After a while, Michael announced he wanted to show me this new bar he found, and the girls said they were going shopping. The bar was a sparkling new place in Mohammed Sultan and was filled with mix of Asian and western patrons. After we settled in at the bar, Michael told me about himself and Mai. He was quite open (as only a Kiwi can, which is why I like them so much) about Mai’s past. She is a Korat girl whom he had met at a Nana Plaza bars. Michael, newly divorced from another wife, started to visit Mai on a regular basis and soon he was sponsoring her with big money and expensive operations. After a few months, she became pregnant and a few months later, he married Mai at a Buddhist ceremony in Korat. He was 15 years older than Mai. After the baby was born, Michael did all the paperwork and soon his family was now legally living together in Singapore. A couple of months later, Michael arranged a trip for all of them to visit his family and friends in New Zealand. Everyone fell in love with Mai and the baby. Thus, Mai’s transformation from Thai bargirl to respectable Singapore ex-pat was complete, or so Michael thought.
I did not give Mai much thought over the next few weeks. When Nong was in town, they had lunches together in Golden Mile, and occasionally all of us would get together for dinner and drinks in the evening. From our first meeting it was easy to see why Michael was doing well in business; he was smart, talkative, and quick to laugh in any situation. He was patient with his wife’s simple questions and conversation; a rare quality among farang men who married Asian women from simple origins. Michael and I were becoming mates, with our frequent going out for drinks after in Boat Quay and other night spots. He gave me good insights on working in Asia and dealing with Asian women. I told him Mai seemed like the perfect wife but was he worried about her past. He looked at me sternly, the only time he did so, and said if she ever went back to it, he would leave Singapore with the baby and never return. I believed him 100%.
Then one day, Nong sheepishly asked me for a favor; would I go out with her and Mai that night? Sure, but where is Michael? He was on a business trip to Jakarta and Mai just wanted to get out of the house for an evening. No problem. I started to suggest several good restaurants but Nong cut me off and said they wanted to go to a particular place. It was Bricks at the Grand Hyatt, a notorious as a pick-up palace for western men looking for prowling Asian women. This seemed like a strange request but I agreed. As we were getting ready, Nong put on provocative clothes with heavy eye makeup and short skirt. Some alarm bells went off in my head, as I thought something was happening beyond my limited grasp of Thai women. Later I realized I should have listened to those alarm bells.
Nong and I picked Mai up at her condo in a taxi. When Mai entered the cab I did a double take. The pretty girl I knew was transformed into an erotic female package flashing just enough of her flesh to arouse even the most comatose of men. I was speechless but the girls chatted excitedly. When we arrived at the club, there was a velvet rope blocking the entrance with 20 women waiting to get in. When the bouncer saw me with the two beautiful women wrapped around my arms, he instinctively pulled the rope back and without losing a step, we walked down the stairs into the bar. Inside, there was a mass of well dressed men and women, both Caucasian and Asian, sitting at tables and a very long bar. The hostess showed us to a small table for two but gave us an extra chair. As the small band played the usual pop songs, I looked at my table and around the bar at all the exquisite Asian female flesh on display. For a few moments, I felt like Hugh Hefner surrounded by bunnies at a star-studded pajama party.
I noticed Mai returning the glances of a few men in the bar. Occasionally, she would look back and smile, before rejoining our conversation. One man to my right was especially enjoying this give and take of glances and smiles. Mai was enjoying it as well. He was a middle-aged man, smartly dressed in a Singapore tailored suit, but displaying the bulging stomach of someone who thought more about business than personal health. Soon, he and Mai were exchanging longer glances and smiles, and later he walked up to our table and introduced himself. He said he was an American living and working in Singapore for some large corporation, and he couldn’t help but notice that maybe we needed a fourth person to complete out party. He pulled a chair from another table and sat down. He and Mai immediately locked eyes. I talked to Nong and watched from the sidelines as he slowly put his left arm around Mai’s shoulder and his right hand on her knee. I began to feel very creepy, like watching a school girl being groped, and not being able to do anything to stop it.
After 30 minutes of trying to ignore this creep fondling my friend’s wife, Nong saw the tension rising in my face and suggested we dance. As I put my arms around Nong’s slim waist I asked her what was going on. Why was Mai with that man? Nong at first did not answer and looked annoyed. But I persisted and she finally told me that Mai just wanted to be out with people as Michael left her alone many nights. I was openly skeptical of this explanation and as I was tiring of all the charades, I told Nong I wanted to go home. She agreed and we made our way back to the table. Mai and her creepy friend were now holding hands under the table with wide smiles on their faces. I called for the check but Mai’s friend insisted on paying for it. When we got up to leave, Mai’s friend stayed sitting so we said our goodbyes. At the taxi queue, Mai said Nong and I should take the first cab as she lived in a different direction than us. As we left in the taxi, I looked back and saw the creep bound out the bar and jump in the next cab with Mai. I started to say something to Nong but she sternly put her finger to lips to shush me. Something sleazy was definitely going on.
After we got back to my condo, she said that even though Michael had been very good to Mai, she still did not feel like she had anything that belonged to just her. I countered that Michael gave Mai everything she needed. Nong gave me a doubting look but said nothing. I guessed Mai’s monthly stipend was not enough for everyone in Mai’s family, possibly a boyfriend and maybe even her baby’s father. It was clear Mai needed a revenue stream outside of Michael for some reason, and she was wagering her future happiness and prosperity for it. Now I started to reflect on Nong’s recent foibles and wondered about my own fate with her. It was the beginning of the end for us.
Now from the distance of ten years, the problems with trying to transform bar girls into good wives or partners are so much clearer to me. They get into the business for money but soon discover that lying and deceiving their customers gets them even more money. After a while it becomes easier and more part of their DNA, and more likely to be repeated. Especially if someone needs money; someone she doesn’t want her partner to know about. I now suspect Mai had been providing for a boyfriend, someone she still occasionally met, and he demanded more money than she could secretly steal. Or maybe she missed the “excitement” of sleeping around, being doted on, and receiving nice gifts. Who knows? And that’s the point. Maybe they don’t even know since their DNA is now so screwed up.
For those who still think you can make a bar girl into your devoted companion, I say have at it. But realize the inherent dangers, especially for long-timers. I once met a bar girl who was desperate to get out of the business. She cried when I told her I wasn’t the one to help her do it. She had been in the business a few months and had no boyfriend, only her younger siblings who had been abandoned by her parents. Sometimes I think of her and wonder how she is doing now. But I have no regrets, because even back then, I was beginning to know that transforming a bar girl is a huge undertaking and huge risk.
Postscript: After I finished writing this, I remembered this Thai woman who claimed to be an ex-bar girl. She said the only way she was able to stop was to go to some special temple where a monk makes the girls drink some vile concoction that makes them violently ill for a short time. She claims this gets rid of the “bad Buddha” inside them. As silly as this sounds, there is a similar program at another temple for alcoholics and drug addicts that has a remarkable success rate. Maybe this treatment should be added to Stick’s list of things to do to change a bar girl? Who really knows?