Bow Ties & Birthday Suits
A few eyebrows are raised as the elderly couple turn off the soi and make their way into the bar beer. The man looks to be somewhere between 75 and 80 and from a bygone era. He is formally dressed in a jacket, collar and tie, topped off with a trilby hat and a silver-handled cane. The man’s wife is of a similar age and equally conservative in appearance. Her silver grey hair is fashioned in a tight perm with a small purple hat perched atop. She is dressed in a twinset with pearls and carries a large leather handbag. One of the Australians sitting at the bar raises his bottle of Chang beer in mock salute. His buddies begin singing the chorus line from Noel Coward’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’. It seems appropriate. Pointedly ignoring them, the elderly couple find themselves a small table away from the other customers, the man seating his wife before sitting down himself.
The server comes across to their table and they both order whisky on the rocks – import not local. When she returns with their drinks, the man’s wife asks whether one of the hostesses might care to join them. The server asks her which girl she likes. The man’s wife replies “The one who speaks the best English, my dear”.
Mem, a bargirl in her mid thirties, has worked at this bar on and off for the past seven years. She was briefly married but now divorced, having lived with her husband in New Zealand for two years. She then returned to Bangkok, eventually drifting back to the same bar where she met him.
Although Mem has been barfined by couples before, she approaches this elderly couple warily. She wonders what they want from her. Mem knows that elderly men can sometimes be quite demanding sexually, especially when pumped up with a double dose of Viagra. Will she be called upon to pleasure them both, perhaps simultaneously? Mem notices the silver-handled cane. Her sense of anxiety increases. Mem doesn’t care to beaten. She experienced frequent beatings whilst growing up as a farmer’s daughter in the Issan.
The man’s wife takes the lead again, standing up to greet Mem and thanking her for joining them. Her husband also stands up, raising his hat and asking whether she would like a drink. Mem is reassured by their old-fashioned courtesies and relaxes. The Australians are now jeering at them, making obscene comments and gestures. Once again, the elderly couple pointedly ignore them. Mem resists the temptation to flip them the bird as she might normally have done.
Once Mem’s Tequila arrives, they get down to business. “Young lady, how much would it cost for an hour of your time? I would like you to join my wife and I at our hotel.” Making a quick calculation based on their relative affluence and what she thinks they might prepared to pay, Mem replies “I cost 4,000 Baht – short time”. The man’s wife then addresses her husband. “Oh no Cecil, that really won’t do. I think we shall require the services of this young lady for considerably longer than that.” She removes a purse from her handbag and counts out ten crisp £20 notes. Mem mentally converts the English money to Thai Baht. Fanning the notes out on the table, Cecil’s wife turns to Mem. “Now then, young lady, let me explain precisely what it is we require of you”. Cecil’s wife reaches into her handbag once more. She produces a small plastic bag with Chinese lettering carefully placing the bag on the table next to the money. Mem’s earlier feeling of unease returns. She ponders on what might be in that bag.
Soon after its release in Thailand, Mem went to see Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. She recalls the scene where Jamal is tortured by the police and has electrodes attached to his body. Is that what they have in that bag and plan to do to her?
Mem allows her mind to wonder, recalling some of the more bizarre events she has experienced. When she first became a bargirl in her early twenties, Mem worked in a gogo bar employing only young attractive (to Farang) women. One night, during her first year in the job, two Americans in their mid-twenties came to the bar. They reminded her of the elderly couple insofar as they were also formally dressed and drew attention to themselves for being different from the other cliental. After a brief conversation with the manager, a large amount money changed hands and the other customers were quickly ushered out of the door. Each hostess was promised 15,000 Baht and told to change into her street clothes. They were to make themselves ready to attend a private gentlemen’s party. The theme of the party would be ‘bow ties and birthday suits’. All the gentlemen would be wearing bow ties. The hostesses would be in their birthday suits.
The party was held on the top floor of the hotel the investment bankers had booked for their seminar. The conference room had been transformed for the evening to accommodate the festivities. There was a stage area at the far end, where the girls were encouraged to dance in rotation. Music was provided by a Filipino band. There was not a bar area as such. Drinks were served from silver trays carried by waiters in tuxedos. Those girls not dancing entertained the bankers. Some of the girls were asked to provide one on one entertainment and would disappear with their beau for half an hour or so. When the band completed its final session an announcement was made that everyone should make their through to an adjoining room as the competition was about to begin. Each girl was given a bow tie with a number on it, which they were told to put on immediately. They were also each given a large bottle of cooking oil. The gentlemen were given bottles of baby oil. One of the waiters appeared with a top hat from which the gentleman each drew a raffle ticket.
As she entered the adjoining room, Mem noticed there was a long marble topped bar running parallel with the wall on the left hand side. This in itself was unremarkable. What did strike her as unusual was that a number of mattresses had been laid alongside the bar and also at the far end. A couple of female hotel staff appeared and begun coating the entire length of the bar in a thick layer of grease. A line of red tape had been affixed to the bar, about a third of the way down. Towards the far end of the bar, ten yellow disks were taped in place forming a triangle. The apex of the triangle pointed towards the red line. On closer inspection Mem could see that each yellow disk was numbered – from one to ten. A porter arrived pushing a small trolley loaded with plastic water bottles. The porter produced a marker pen, numbering each of the two litre bottles and placing them on the corresponding yellow disks.
Before Mem had time to speculate on the nature of the competition that was about to commence, a young man approached her waving a raffle ticket. His number matched the one on her bow tie. He appraised her naked body thoughtfully. Mem drew back her shoulders, emphasising her small pert breasts and flat stomach. The man smiled, producing a bottle of baby oil. He then proceeded to apply it liberally to every part of her naked body except her arms. Mem thought this strange and offered up her forgotten limbs obligingly. He smiled again and shook his head.
All the other girls now had partners and were in the process of being oiled. Some of the girls were instructed to prepare themselves with the cooking oil they had been provided with, others were getting the baby oil treatment. Mem noticed that none of the girls were allowed to lubricate their arms.
The announcer called Mem’s number and her partner led her to the marble topped bar. They had been afforded the honour of going first. The gentlemen cheered in expectation. The girls watched anxiously, still unsure as to what was about to happen.
Mem’s partner helped her up on to the bar, laying her face down at the far end with her head pointing away from the plastic bottles and her left arm closest to him. He then gripped her right wrist with his left hand, supporting her elbow with his right hand. There was little friction so she moved easily across the greased surface as he pushed her gently feet first towards the plastic bottles. Continuing the forward movement, he then executed a violent crouching turn, rotating Mem anti-clockwise through 180 degrees before catching her pirouetting body against his chest and launching her head first down the bar towards the plastic bottles. She hit them at speed knocking all ten over before flying off the end of the bar and on to one of the strategically placed mattresses.
Nine of the bottles spilled onto the floor. The tenth bottle remained on the bar coming to rest a few inches from the side. Mem’s partner groaned. He had been hoping for a strike! The umpire confirmed his score of nine. The tenth bottle was replaced on its yellow disk and Mem was launched again. She struck the bottle hard with her right shoulder and sent it spinning to floor. The umpire called a foul as her partner had released Mem beyond the red line – no score.
As Mem watched the competition unfold she realised that tactics played a significant part in the success or otherwise of the bowler. Although some gentlemen chose to lubricate their partners with the baby oil solely for pleasure, there were also competitive reasons for doing so. Cooking oil made the girls more slippery and hence their post launch flight path less predictable. However, those bowlers with poor technique found the greater speed that could be achieved with a more slippery girl more than compensated for the increased risk of her flying off the bar before reaching the skittles. Mem had assumed the thoughtful appraisal of her naked body was unrelated to the competition, but now realised she had been mistaken. Buxom girls were always bowled on their backs, whereas less curvaceous girls such as herself were bowled face down. This was to ensure maximum skin contact with the bar.
Mem was bowled six more times during the competition. Twice she achieved a converted ‘strike’. As her partner became progressively more and more drunk, so his technique and control diminished. On her final launch, Mem flew sideways off the bar, missing the landing mattresses completely and painfully cracking her ribs against a chair. Soon afterwards proceedings were brought to a premature close due to the mounting injury toll amongst the girls.
Unaware of Mem’s reverie, Cecil’s wife finally explains why she has been invited to join them. “My husband and I spent a few days in Hong Kong before arriving in Bangkok. Whilst I was having my hair cut and set, my husband went shopping for a new lens for his camera. He also purchased a piece of equipment which neither of us knows how to set-up or operate. However, I am advised by one of our friends whom we dined with last night, that most Thai bar hostesses have considerable expertise in this field. We would therefore like to engage you to assist us in this matter.”
Cecil’s wife then opens the plastic bag revealing an iPhone 6.