I was in a go-go bar in Bangkok one night a long time ago, a bar like any other. Long and narrow, smoky, dimly lit. A mirrored wall with a cat walk pierced by chrome poles in front of it. Then the bar itself, a line of stools covered in torn vinyl, then some booths and another mirrored wall. The place was hardly bigger than a box car. I was at a stool watching the dancers. I don’t remember why I was there, probably waiting for somebody. In those days everybody in Bangkok met you in a go-go bar. You might be going out to dinner or a movie or the symphony, but first you had to meet for drinks in a go-go bar.
As I was watching the girls dancing the street door opened to my left and another woman walked in. I noticed her right away because she was Eurasian. Slender, taller than most Thai women, larger in the chest and hips than most Thai women. Round eyes, full lips, long thin nose, skin the color of a cup of milk with a tablespoon of coffee in it. She was a very beautiful woman. I judged that she was in her early twenties in age, dressed exceptionally well, in very expensive clothes. I recognized her immediately. She was an actress on one of the evening soap operas on channel 7 that my wife liked to watch. The TV show was about two sisters, a young college student and her older sister who worked as a prostitute to pay her younger sister’s tuition and support their ailing mother. The dramatic conflict of the show revolved around the older sister’s efforts to keep her naïve, sweet, virginal younger sister from finding out how she earned her money. This woman walking into the bar played the younger sister.
She was wearing an expression of grim determination. She walked straight down the room, between me and the booths, and through the door at the back. There were maybe ten other girls up on the cat walk, and maybe that same number of men on stools or in the booths. Nobody but me seemed to notice her entrance. A few minutes later she came back into the room and went behind the bar. She climbed up the steps to the cat walk and found an empty place about half-way down. This go-go bar had a uniform: White panties and little round white pasties over the nipples. That’s all she was wearing now, that and the same stoic look she had worn into the place.
The other women paid her no notice, and she seemed not to notice them. She faced out into the room but didn’t look at any of the men. She stared into the reflection of her own face in the wall over the booths. Her face was reflected back and forth between the mirrored walls endlessly over her shoulder. I stared at her real face. I was absolutely certain this was the same girl who was on the TV show my wife liked. She waited without moving for the song that was playing to end. When a new song started she began to dance. She rolled her hips, she swung her breasts, she whipped her long honey-blond hair around. She caressed her body with her hands provocatively. As the music sped up she did the same things any stripper does, she thrust her pelvis out, she drew one leg up a chrome pole, she rubbed her mons with her fingers. But her eyes never left her own reflection, and her grim expression never changed.
When the song ended she immediately walked back down the cat walk to the stairs, through the back door and out of the room. A few minutes later she came back, dressed again in her fancy clothes, and walked swiftly through the room and out onto the sidewalk. She passed by me no more than a foot away, and I studied her face. It was without doubt the actress from the TV show.
When I got home I told my wife what I’d seen and she laughed and said I was crazy. I told the Thai people at the hotel where I worked and they laughed and said I was crazy. But I called a newspaper editor I knew, a Thai man educated in the States, and told him what I’d seen. Essentially, this is what he told me:
All broadcast media in Thailand is State media. It is all controlled by powerful men in government. Any actress who wants to have any kind of career in TV has to sleep with powerful men to get it. Any actress you see on TV is the mistress of some powerful man. Going to bed with a powerful man has its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is that he owns you until he’s bored with you. Until then you had better do whatever he tells you to do.
“Public humiliation is a very Asian form of punishment,” said my friend. “Sometimes if a powerful Thai man gets angry with his mistress he’ll make her sleep with another man, somebody fat and dirty and disgusting. His driver or the gardener. Or he’ll make her strip at a party in front of his good buddies. But any powerful man in Thailand, if he doesn’t own a brothel himself, has a good friend who owns a brothel. So perhaps this girl’s Sugar Daddy made her dance in that bar. He was probably one of the men in the room. It’s no good humiliating somebody if you don’t get to witness their humiliation. Or maybe it was just something that he wanted her to do because it turned him on. Whatever the reason, she got in, did what she had been told to do, and got out. She probably had to do it more than once to satisfy the guy. That could have been her third or fourth or tenth humiliation.”
Then my friend laughed, like the other Thai people had laughed when I told them this story. “Come on, she’s an actress, right? She was probably just preparing for a new role. Don’t over-think it.”