Travel Notes: Cosmo Girl
At times we may come across an experience, which may make us feel a little uneasy. The events I describe here left me feeling a tad uncomfortable but I do not wish to use this as an excuse as I am aware that curiosity took over for a period of time while I tried to understand the issue a little better. I do not know what you, dear reader, will make of it and I have no further comment to offer other than what I am sharing with you here.
Helen Gurley Brown, the former deceased author of “Sex And The Single Girl” and the editor of Cosmopolitan, never had any doubts about her own position on women’s liberation. She once wrote “How could any woman not be a feminist” and yet feminists the world over hated her. For it was her who dispensed advice such as “Rooms mates are for sorority girls” and “Your figure can’t harbour an ounce of baby fat”. Notwithstanding, this was the same woman who seemingly had it all, a successful 50-year career and a happy marriage and who was immensely influential of many women’s lifestyle.
When I was a penniless undergraduate, I appreciated any girlfriend who in her dorms had a Cosmopolitan magazine. I sought and preferred what many classified, politely, as a liberated woman free of inhibitions and willing to experiment by abandoning any layer of initial frigidity to the languor of sweat and passion under the sheets.
For those in my small cohort, these were the years of profound transformation as we went from an age where meaning in our lives was all consuming but sex was almost inexistent to today’s age where sex is all around but it no longer has a meaning.
As a young man, I never visited Siam and I cannot say, had I done so, if some of my views and perceptions may be different to what they are today. I did discover Meuang Thai, or Thailand to the rest of us, well in to my 40s and it was, for me at least, an eye opener.
Taking in to account that a few of contributors have reported negative experiences with Thai people, women in particular, perhaps it may be helpful if I were to register my disagreement with the often heard notion that the East is depraved. On the contrary, I would suggest that the Oriental has an apparent degree of modesty that most Europeans would perceive as fantastic.
By the same token, I do agree that if we were to compare our respective virtues we would find one set unlike the other but, for what is worth, let me suggest to you that the Oriental is more virtuous. When I think of “Vice” I would look for it in Berlin, London, Paris or even New York rather than in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Tokyo or Beijing.
If this is because our South-East Asian friends do not seem to be oppressed by the sense of sin that they feel no need to transgress the rules that during the course of their long histories they have found convenient to make or whether, as shown in their literature consisting of complicated variations on a single theme, the South-East Asian is unimaginative who am I to say?
What I do know is that for a number of years now I have made the pilgrimage to the Land of Freedom, fully aware, upon stepping onto its soil, that despite the many opportunities to meet with genuine fun, the road may also be littered with disappointments.
Notwithstanding, and like so many others, I have been smitten by the seemingly delicate “lotus flowers” who many before me have written at length here and in more eloquent language that I can hope to engage you with.
The subject of female charm and female forms is one that I find fascinating and within it is where I found the newly emerging phenomenon of the Cosmo Girl.
The Cosmopolitan girl nowadays or, more affectionately referred to as “Cosmo Girl”, is not only a visually alluring species but one who can afford a pair of 10,000 baht shoes while at the same time allegedly capable to give an exceptional “head” and who is prepared to explore sexuality without boundaries. This development, I would suggest in this submission, is not isolated to a specific continent but it is global and the evidence is there if one cares to see it as it is. Hence, the use of the name in this submission.
The Cosmo Girl only requires a little description from me as she is familiar to most. She is the one who steals your breath away at the first glance and the one who, upon the chance of seeing her smile, makes you feel elevated and, after a second glance, leaves you feeling intoxicated to such a level that upon your return to western shores you long to meet her again. You are thousands of miles away but the Internet can give the impression that the world is a much smaller place and even make an illusion feel real, can it not?
Now, if you allow me to make a few bold statements, I would suggest that it is perfectly normal to be a slave to your hormones. It is perfectly normal to think, when you come across a Cosmo Girl, that you are in love, to believe only good things happen, and that your life together will always turn out for the best.
It is perfectly normal to have your ego inflated and walk like you are ten feet tall when someone who you think is special, tells you that they agree with you, that they understand you, that you are so “handsome” and that they make you believe that you are…how shall I put this in one word without offending your ego… big??
I would assert that this is all perfectly normal…when you're fifteen.
Alas, as we get older cynicism seeps in like damp and the realism of life and most of the business of adulthood will ring their bells loud and clear, if only we could hear them.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity of staying for a few days in Chantaburi, a province on the Eastern seaboard and not too far from Cambodia. I had never been in that part of Thailand before and I was accompanying a friend who is involved in gemstone mining on the promise, as I know very little about rubies and sapphires, that we would enjoy some quality seafood, which was more appealing to me as my modest palate finds it relatively easy to appreciate the latter but it has never been able to develop any interest to chew on a stone no matter how precious.
The drive was enchanting with enough trees and mountains to fill the landscape. There was also a pleasant overnight stay at Chalao Beach and a very satisfying meal including Tom Bai Chamuang, Mu Chamuang and Pad Thai Chan, the latter is the Chantaburi version of Pad Thai, which I enjoyed with crab meat and accompanied by stir-fried long beans and sunflower shoots.
The deal was that my friend would be occupied in his business dealings in the morning and we would explore the local Talat (market) later in the afternoon. Personally, and given the choice, I much prefer exploring a local Talat when in Thailand as opposed to eating in restaurants. Seeing the ubiquitous colourful plastic stool is a sign to me that I am likely to get a good meal and that is when the street becomes my table, but I digress.
During my stay there, I discovered a nearby tour operator where I met Jem (not her real name), who originally hailed from Rayong, and who introduced herself as the manager. She was the first one to admit quite candidly that this was a grand title for holding the keys to the building, ordering stationery and arranging for the cleaners. Other than that, the information as to who the business belonged to was very thin and other than observing a few references linked to Russian visitors, it seemed to me that further questions would have given rise to unwelcome suspicions and, quite frankly, her business had nothing to do with me.
We were in Chantaburi for nearly two weeks and given that Jem seemed to be so friendly and hospitable, and yet a little bored, I made it my business to turn up at her office every morning feigning interest in a number of excursions which I may want to book although I never did but I would visit never failing to take with me the smallest of gifts like a little fruit or a couple of magazines and on one occasion even a bunch of flowers. Jem was extremely courteous and over the course of my time there, she provided a pleasant interlude.
The office was very quiet and I have no idea of how much she could have grossed in one month but the fact that she drove a relatively new luxury car and that she was always meticulously attired with fine textiles and branded shoes and handbags to match seemed a little odd but I did not give those details enough attention until much later.
To my unsuspecting eyes and well meaning intentions, Jem came across as a lovely woman. One that I suspect many men would be quite happy to elope with and indeed I belonged to the male gender and I may have had such interest in her. However, it was when she told me that she ran a side business as a model that my curiosity was spiked.
Let me clarify that Jem had the typical attributes one would ordinarily associate to Thai women, silky black hair which stopped a gradient or two just below her shoulder blades, lovely almond shaped black eyes, a slender body and a smile capable of reviving even an old corpse like Dana. Despite being heavily accented, her English was clear and with a reasonably wide vocabulary. However, standing at just over 160 centimetres and already in her early 40s I wondered what kind of modelling business she may be involved with.
Once our stay was over, we agreed to meet again and I did return to Chantaburi a few times and on one occasion we even met socially in Bangkok. As the rapport continued and Jem relaxed and trusted me a little more, she eventually revealed that the side business involved web cam modelling and she explained that the owners of the tour operating business rented a few studio flats and her job was to recruit local girls who were prepared to work as models. Not all the girls hailed from Thailand and there was the odd one from neighbouring countries, as far as Myanmar and from nearby Cambodia too. It was a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year operation and Jem was the manager come recruiter.
If you, dear reader, think that cam girls are those flirty naked characters that plague porn site pop-up ads and who are raking in easy money, you're right. If you think cam girls are just making enough money online out of desperation, you are also right. Once you strip away the sex, the pixels and the money then you're left with a very murky truth about so called internet relations between punters and these on-demand Cosmo Girls. This I did not find it easy to comprehend at first but rather complicated.
I assume that you, dear reader, have looked at porn online, and, consequently, it may be reasonable to assume that you have been propositioned by the odd advertisement displaying a local network of cam girls. No matter how careful you are, they seem to invade your peripheral vision and pop up here and there on your screen. The Cosmo girls just wait for you to start watching and as and when you decide to engage with them they will smile and ask you for some money.
As way of monitoring, Jem had remote video access to the studios where the girls were on duty but when they reported for work and once they had logged in under their assumed “handle” or pseudo name, Jem would be able to log on the website as a guest and, if necessary, check on the girls' performance. However, she told me that she only did this occasionally and mainly to check on the new recruits.
Personally, and I offer no apology for what I am about to say and I do not mean to convey an air superiority over any of this, other than the very attractive girls on display, it all looked a trifle boring to me. The girls would sit at their keyboards, often wearing next to nothing and they may wink or smile at the camera once the bleep of the next connecting punter was heard. For the majority of cases the girls were quite passive, their arms looking lethargic with bored expressions on their faces.
Jem had a number of girls operating on the three major sites; Streamate, LiveJasmine, and MyFreeCams. At first glance, the novelty was the sheer number of girls available online, most of them very beautiful with promises for live sex chats and sex shows. To all intention and purpose this was like a red light district but one did not need to visit Amsterdam, Hamburg or Pattaya. Not at all; because in the web red light district the sex comes to you.
The premise for the business of what I call Cosmo Girl and others refer to as cam girl is devastatingly simple. The customer buys some credit and he then pays for the time with a girl online who will, and this will vary from girl to girl as some girls seemed quite shy while others were more willing, stand up, blow you kisses, turn, dance, remove various garments including underwear. Some of the girls will be prepared to play by themselves or even perform to climax assisted by toys.
There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of girls and had all this been available when I was a teenager, anatomy and human biology would have been, no doubt, a far more interesting subject at school.
Private viewing, however, does not come free and when your money is up so is your time and you and your girls part ways, although you were never physically together, until you are ready to do it all over again.
Although the girls recruited by Jem were all Asians, the sites included a never ending catalogue of mostly young women of -every variety, voluptuous, slim, blondes, brunettes, red-haired, American, European, African and of course Asian.
I was curious and I asked Jem how did one get in? She explained the requirements were minimal, a computer and an Internet connection. I asked her what kind of women would work as a webcam model and Jem explained that it was a mixture from the consummate professional (a few) to the university girls (many) that needed to pay for their education and a few women who just needed some money to make ends meet.
Jem had been recruiting for some time. At the beginning she would place discreet advert on a newspaper or a website listing but nowadays the girls would come to her as a result of being referred, often by a friend.
She did not know how other studios would vet the girls but as far as she was concerned, her criteria was that they had to be no less than 18, they had to look pretty and with a friendly disposition but she admitted that document forgery could be a problem at times.
I asked her why would the girls not work on their own and she confirmed that some indeed were completely independent as in the case of Mila Milan who made a very significant fortune from web cam modelling which allowed her to claim ownership of a private resort in Thailand, a Porsche, an industrial design firm, nine cats, eight dogs, a book deal and one of the biggest tips ever in cam history which netted her over 400,000 baht in one mouse click until one day in early in March of 2013 she was arrested in Thailand. Nowadays she diversifies in other businesses including tattoo artistry.
Jem explained, however, that most of the girls she recruited did not have the luxury of having professional photos, a web designer or their own home or sexy and stylish outfits or even a computer. Working for a studio gave them access to all this but it came at a price. The website owners would receive roughly up to 40% of all income, the studio would charge another 30 to 40% and the girls were left with the balance. However, sourcing exactly where the money went was not clear and as for Jem or her cam girls they did not need to know where it was coming from either as long as it kept coming.
What the Cosmo Girls received varied from girl to girl and depended on what they agreed to do and for those whose command of English was poor, their bodies was the main trading currency but it was competitive as each Cosmo Girl was up against thousands of other models worldwide and, Jem explained there is only so much flashing, fingering and vibrating the girls could do until boredom set in and then they had to take a break from it.
But there was also a dark side and it was called money laundering and the webcam sites are ideal for their dubious owners paying money themselves for private time with the models by posing as customers. The unsuspecting girls received a big tip, kept their commissions from it and the owners received their money back less what the girls retained but by this time the money was clean.
If there is any truth to the claim that most studios are owned by Russian and Romanian Mafia or that Asian women are in great demand who am I to argue?
The picture is even more nebulous when, following basic searches these networks' financial structures become increasingly scattered like a spider web and obfuscated and I had no reason to venture any further then what I had already done.
On one occasion, Jem invited me to a social do as one of the girls was leaving her modelling job which she had worked at for nearly three years and a small cohort of the other girls were at her dinner party too. From what I could observe as to their quality of life, I could not see any evidence of anyone being unhappy, unhealthy or unpleasant. They looked like any other normal girl but dressed in fine clothes and exhibiting, on average, more confident social skills compared to many of their peers. They were friendly and sweet, sometimes flirty but more as a form of charming tease and of course they did not suspect that I knew what they did to earn extra money.
However, browsing through the various sites, seemed to indicate that the Cosmo Girls I met may have been the exception rather than the rule as one could quickly see how the other half lived, in worryingly appalling conditions. There was the garish makeup, the harsh lighting, the dingy and dirty rooms, the cheap fabric serving as a make-do backdrop highlighting that not every studio provided like the one that Jem organised so efficiently.
Other than its illegality in Thailand, it was such a simple business and yet a thriving one but often the first impression, with quite a few of the studios, was undeniably that of a brothel or a close approximation to the idea one may hold of such places. The ambiance was bleak and apart from a critical mass of prized white American models, the rest of the choice span the globe including Russia, Colombia, West Africa, Czech Republic, the Ukraine and Romania. For reasons that were never quite clear, Romania seemed to be a capital of pay-for-play sex shows across every major webcam network.
Once the novelty dissipated, the reality of the dialogue from the standard line of punters’ demands included: "Show me your tits," "Show me your p***y," "I want to f**k you" and the desperate girls had little option but to oblige in the hope of receiving a tip. Aside for the prospect of a 400,000 baht tip it was doubtful for the poorer girls to make anywhere near that much in over three years and frequently obliging to the sordid demands of a bottle, or similar object, stuck up their bottom and being called a whore may be part of the deal. On the other hand, the smarter girls could afford to ban unwanted viewers and seemed in command.
On reflection, behind the initial surprise of seeing so many naked women ready to perform in exchange for little money, the novelty faded quite quickly and in all seriousness when everyone is naked what else is left to do besides demean and disrobe?
As lovely as she may have been, I decided to stop all contact with Jem. I did not see what good or happiness this could bring to either of us in the long term and it was not for me to provide advice regarding her personal life choices bus I sensed some danger or maybe I have a low tolerance to risk.
Quite a few of the girls working for Jem were able to make good money from web cam modelling and they managed to do so without having to sleep with their suitors and therefore avoiding the potential threat of physical abuse. The Internet provided them with the platform for a business opportunity not available to previous generations. They did not have to tie themselves to a bar or walk the streets. They did not have to ask for ladies drinks either. The ones with the right attributes and personalities had unlimited appeal. They were a new brand of women capitalising on a global opportunity and they were in demand. They were Cosmo girls.