Out Of The Formicary (10) – I’m Not The Man I Usd To Be
This is essentially another ‘what I did on my holiday’ submission. My intention had been to submit once a week from Thailand. That did not happen. Each ‘episode’ was either fully written in the time period it is related to or written up from notes made in that period. To make full or any sense of the ‘episodes’ it is (I’m afraid) probably necessary to first read this.
The View from MY balcony in Cha Am. Honest.
So, Wan had gone and I was alone on ‘my’ balcony.
I sat at ‘my’ table, on ‘my’ balcony, and did what passes for thinking on my holiday in Cha Am. I did this for several days.
They (whoever ‘they’ may be) say, “As one door closes another opens.” I have not found the sentiment to be true. Rather, I have found that I have spent inordinate, and it has to be said unproductive amounts of time, pondering on why the door had been closed and even greater amounts of unproductive time banging on (in almost all senses) and shoving at the door in an attempt to re-open it.
So, first-up to think about was: ‘Wan – what the f%*k was that all about?”
It is not the first time I have had that self same thought. Those were the exact words I thought as I left the college that I had worked at for thirty-two years for what I knew to be the last time.
I’ve thought the same words about many, many experiences!!!
In fact ‘thinking about Wan’ did not take that long. I felt that I had behaved badly – deliberately and that was a bad ‘thing’. Why had I behave badly? Probably because I wanted to redress the power balance in the ‘hooker and hooked thing’ based purely on the cash nexus. Yes, I was angered by her clear wish not to be in my company but I could have been decent and waited till the morning to ‘kick her out’. Very bad behaviour on my part.
I sent Wan a SMS, it read, “Wan I am sorry. I know I am customer. Your job not make me feel like ugly old man. You make me feel lonely. I think you beautiful and have nice skin – I like your skin – I not like the towel! I hope your life is good. If not understand all ask friend help you read this.”
I did not expect a reply. I did not want a reply. I did not get a reply. I deleted Wan’s number from my amazing £5 phone.
My Amazing £5 phone (with a pack of cigarettes – for scale purposes only)
Again, I freely admit that I don’t understand the hooker and hooked ‘thing,’ but I knew I had not got what I wanted. What did I want? Stop it! You think I know??? Well, yes I vaguely knew – I wanted more! More of what? Not a long-term relationship (ha ha, long-term is not a term to be used at the age of sixty-three), not a replacement for Nang (leave it out – not possible), not the girl-friend experience (I’m too proud to allow others to be condescending towards me), not a father/daughter ‘thing’ (SHRIEK – far too creepy), not a grandfather/granddaughter ‘thing’ (SHRIEK – far, FAR too creepy), so what did I want? Well something human not entirely defined and constrained by the cash nexus.
Hopefully we all have something to give and have the ability to take that which is offered. I wanted to give more. This had been denied me. I was NOT happy about this.
So what of Wan? What had she wanted? What does she want? You think I know??? But it is possible to speculate.
OK, OK, she wanted MONEY. And she wanted more money ‘earnt’ in an easier manner than working as a road-sweeper in Kanchanaburi (for 300 baht a day which she said had been her last job), or working on her folks rice farm in Isaan.
But Wan, like all of us (and that don’t make ‘us’ into a ‘community’!) is a complex mish-mash of hopes and wants – some known and others only dimly perceived or in fact denied. Avowedly she wanted to marry a farang (young or old). Because of this she wanted to learn more English. But hey, this quite possibly pulled against her real wishes – I suspect that although she would have moved to Farangland in a flash if this had been on offer, she really wanted, wanted, wanted to be with her one year old son (Micky) and her family on the rice farm in Isaan. I suspect that she wanted to be back in the halcyon days of her marriage (to the young Thai man, her husband, who had left her a week after the birth of Micky). If not with her husband, I suspect that she wanted to be with the young Thai man on the cover of the romantic Thai novellas’ that were her chosen library.
I had failed in Wan’s eyes to be a possible candidate for fulfillment of her avowed long-term wish – by answering, “Yes” to the key question – “Do you have a wife?” But, and despite this, Wan had failed in the short-term (that is the time period before a real candidate walked into the ‘Vacuous Vulture’) to maximise the amount of MONEY she could get from me. One day I had offered to buy an outfit for Micky – shorts and T-shirt. Wan’s comment?…”You buy two.” I purchased ONE outfit (200 baht – so what?!) and vowed not to offer again. Of course there had been no time for ‘us’ to further her avowed intermediary wish to learn English (as a stepping stone to marrying a farang).
And more! A worker to does not, repeat not, maximise their earnings by getting fired (for bad behaviour) short of the proposed end of contract.
Someone has said, “Often I think that Thailand is simply not hard-wired for business practices (other than being Tuk-tuk drivers or hookers).” My experience with Wan (and indeed Pa) had led me to doubt that hookers should be included in the sentence as being those of competence in either new or age-old business practices.
But, there is of course more to be said! (See what I mean about my wish to bang-on after the door has closed?)
Wan’s ‘bad behaviour’ that got her fired before proposed end of contract was the never-ending need / wish to return to the ‘Vacuous Vulture’.
I had already pondered on what it was about the ‘Vacuous Vulture Bar’ that caused its magnetic like attraction to Wan. Were there areas of the bar that I did not know about? Perhaps there was a Derry & Toms like roof garden?
Derry & Toms? The font of all human knowledge is as always helpful,
Derry & Toms, “The company dates back to the 1860s, when Joseph Toms, a store proprietor joined forces with his brother-in-law, Charles Derry. In 1920 John Barker & Co. acquired Derry & Toms. In 1932 the store moved to large seven storey building on Kensington High Street, designed in an Art Deco style popular at the time by Bernard George and featuring metalwork by Walter Gilbert. The building is most famous for its Kensington Roof Gardens which still remains today.”
The roof garden had ponds, fish, trees, flamingos and stuff.
Was this the draw of the ‘Vacuous Vulture’ for its employees? Did it have a similar oasis? A secret (roof) garden? I doubted it. So what was going on? Was Wan’s simply deliberate and conscious bad behaviour?
I didn’t think so. Perhaps it was the case that Wan’s behaviour would become explicable in the context of culture – not necessarily the culture of Thailand but the ‘culture of the bar in Thailand’ and in particular that of the ‘Vacuous Vulture in Cha Am Thailand’.
Any workplace requires some degree of joint effort by employees. This starts before YOU step into the bar doesn’t it.
Perhaps WE have misjudged ‘the ladies of the bar’ and they are all scholars steeped in the knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. The staff of the ‘Vacuous Vulture’, like all bars, had Sirens in the mould of the Sirens (Greek singular: Σειρήν Seirēn; Greek plural: Σειρῆνες Seirēnes) who were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, femmes fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on some small islands called Sirenum scopuli. In some later, rationalised traditions, the literal geography of the "flowery" island of Anthemoessa, or Anthemusa, is fixed: sometimes on Cape Pelorum and at others in the islands known as the Sirenuse, near Paestum (I’ve been to Paestum! A life time ago), or in Capreae. All such locations were surrounded by cliffs and rocks.
Yea right, Wan had lured me to shipwreck on her rocky coasts. Yea right!!! NO!!!! Who among us has ever been lured by ‘the (Siren) calling’ of “Welcome”, “Hansum man”? Not me for one!!!! I entered the ‘Vacuous Vulture’ despite the calling not because of it. The calling had for me drawn attention to the fact that I am not a ‘hansum man’ (anymore, ha ha) and that any “Welcome” was directed at my wallet not its owner.
So, what is ‘the siren calling about’ really? I would suggest that it is a tradition and ritual and in fact acts to bond the employees in their struggle against that which they simultaneously want and don’t want – that is the prospective customer!
Sure customers are wanted by employees and bar management alike – the customer brings MONEY (and it has to be said a diversion for the employees from the monotony of ‘being a bar lady’).
But for the employee there is a tension. Customers mean the need to interact and customers mean the need to interact with individuals who the employees would not otherwise (in their worst nightmares) want to interact with! Would you really want your job to involve talking to strangers from a different culture in a language that you only dimly understand? Often, let us face it, truly weird strangers at that. Evening after evening after evening after evening? The same same questions and answers… that you don’t understand.
No wonder that the pool table is a relief – no more bloody questions and answers. But a new skill for the employee to learn! Do we believe that ‘lady bar employees’ played pool before taking up their new job? Do ‘they’ like playing pool?
So there are at least two skills that the management needs to hold ‘training days for’: ‘calling’ and ‘playing pool’.
Here I tempted to recall and relate the true HORROR of ‘Training Days’ at what was my place of work. We’ve all experienced them – truly HORRIFIC – I’ll spare myself the recall and you the sharing.
But of course it’s not like that ‘at the bar’. Learning is ‘on the job’. Techniques and tips passed from established employees to the new.
So, there must be ‘sharing at the bar’ – bonding based on the learning and sharing experiences. Of course those experiences must perforce include reports on and recounting of encounters with the ‘ the customers’ from the night before – and here I simply mean the ‘chat stuff’ let alone the between the sheets stuff!!!
And herein is a tension. The goal for the employee MUST be the ‘hooking’ of a customer so that the between the sheets stuff takes place. This means competition between the employees – WE individually can’t take ALL of the employees of the bar back to the hotel room (one man can only do so much! Can’t he?) So selection must take place – competition.
From the (young) ladies view point this will inevitably be reduced to looks and dress. At ‘the Vacuous Vulture’ I was struck by the extent to which the girls would touch each others bodies: tits would be grabbed, skirts flicked up, pool cues poked at bums etc etc. None of this was for the edification of the customer; it was interplay between ‘the girls’ who were intensely aware of others’ bodies.
At the ‘Vacuous Vulture’ free-style night, when ‘the girls’ could dress as they pleased, there was INTENSE competition as to who could appear in the sexiest and most stylish outfit. This competition was not simply in terms of producing the outfits with the greatest ‘hooking power’ but was competition within the team – the judges being other members of ‘the team’.
Even on ‘non-free style’ nights, when required to wear the management required garb, competition took place to alter ‘ the uniform’ – like we all did at school with our school uniforms.
I wish I could take photos – I think I’ve proved that I can’t – because there was a micro scene that I wished I’d captured. All ‘the girls’ were required to wear the same shorts (‘non-free style’ night). Someone lost and earring or something. Four ‘ girls’ bent at the same time, searching the floor…what was found was that each was wearing a thong and a different style thong of course. It would have been a great shot. Never mind.
So all of these problems, tensions, conflicting goal and needs. Oh well there is always alcohol as a release.
On one of the nights spent at the bar ‘we’ had been playing pool. A very drunken girl had placed her (perky) breasts over the pocket I was aiming at, “Papa, Papa, take shot.” I was NOT, REPEAT NOT AMUSED NOR WAS I CHARMED.
I dredged up the memory of an anecdote featuring Winston Churchill and the British politician Bessie Braddock that may be fictional. Supposedly Braddock encountered an intoxicated Churchill and said “Sir, you are drunk.” He replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”
My reply to the girl with her breasts over the pocket was, and I think I quote myself fairly accurately, “In the morning you’ll be sober, young and have nice tits but you’ll still be a f%*king rude, ignorant bar-girl.”
In truth, I had not been upset by a view of this particular girl’s breasts – they really were quite perky (not an offensive sight!) No, no, it was about the fact that I now find playing any pool shot difficult and the outcome likely to reinforce the knowledge that ‘I’m not the man I used to be’. OK, she did not know this but her use of “Papa, Papa…” and display of her (perky) breasts was deliberately aimed at highlighting her youth and the fact that ‘I’m not the man I used to be’ – and so to put me ‘in my place’.
I believe for her, her actions were a ‘power play’. Her youth and tits (perky or not) were all she had to offer in the battle of the ‘hooker and the hooked’. She had NOTHING else. I do believe that the majority of the girls at the ‘Vacuous Vulture’ could not find their arses, that they were so proud of, with both hands and the aid of a World War Two style search-light. But I did, through a glass darkly, dimly see the ‘draw of the bar’ for Wan and other of its employees – comfort, sharing, competition, learning, cliques, bonding, solace, friendship, rivalries…
These are just preliminary thoughts that could produce a research proposal: “The Sociology of the Bar”. It could become a classic in the use of covert participant observation as a research tool. It necessarily would have to be a lengthy study and involve the researcher becoming immersed in ALL aspects of the “Bar Lady world” (hey the researcher often has to make sacrifices in the pursuit of knowledge). But, it has to admitted that it would be an expensive study. Would it get funding from your college or government? Probably, “No”. Why? Because it would be bloody interesting and shed some light into a ‘dark world’. But hey, better to work with the received wisdom: we all know that ‘the bar’ is a world where down trodden young women are simply at the mercy of the predatory (old), (white) male. It’s a simple as that and there is no need for further thought on the subject.
I sat more on ‘my’ balcony in Cha Am and did more of what passes for thinking.
(Sorry but…) that’s not all folks.