Health Consequences of Working in the Bar Industry
I have known Phan for close to 10 years. Born into a pineapple farmer's family, the youngest of two children.
Raised in a small provincial town in Isaan, she had a normal family life. Both parents were stable and loving. The only slight difference to an otherwise normal family was that the mother did not have great health. This was to impact on Phan's later life.
There was no alcohol or drug addiction problems nor violence within the family home.
By all accounts they had sufficient money to cover life's necessities and Phan graduated from high school at the tender age of 17. She was not the brightest of students and was an introvert of sorts, so very much a home body. Stories she tells of her childhood are of books, working to help the parents, early nights and a good and healthy lifestyle.
She is very proud to say that the only irresponsible thing she did was once sneak out of the home aged 14 and go to nightclub with her then boyfriend. Remaining a virgin until marriage was the 'right thing to do'.
Whilst having limited education she identified two talents after leaving school. She was very good with numbers and also had the ability to relate to people with a very demur and loving style.
So at the age of 18 off she trotted to Bangkok to start work as a cleaner in a 4-star hotel. Starting at the very bottom rung, over a 12-month period she attained the coveted role of 'cashier'. As a result of her focus and customer service she was selected to undertake management training and was promoted to the role of assistant to the General Manager at a hotel in Pattaya at the age of 25.
Upon her arrival in Pattaya she meet a local man who worked as a motor mechanic and they got married. Both of them worked extremely hard, purchased a property and you could perhaps say they become a lower middle-class Thai couple. A child was born and they settled in to normal married life…
Any of us who have been married and have raised a family can understand sleepless nights, lack of money and strain upon the marriage when you have a new born baby. The husband legged it. He worked normal business hours where Phan worked random hours as required in a hotel environment. Upon Phan's arrival at the family home one night she was greeted by a pissed and drugged up husband with two Thai women and the daughter in a distressed and life threatening situation.
We can all appreciate the mayhem and the results of that night…
Phan held it together for another 3 years. She called upon friends to assist with the care of her daughter, but as the daughter got older she took the traditional path of sending her daughter back to her parents to raise her, whilst she continued to work.
Phan continued to work at the hotel earning approx BHT20,000 per month. This was sufficient for her and family needs until the time arrived when both her parents fell sick. Cancer and heart conditions afflicted the mum and regular cash requests from parents started to mount up…. BHT 10,000 one month, 15,000 the next.
This quiet and demur women made the life threatening choice of becoming a bargirl.
Phan has worked in a North Pattaya bar for approx 12 months. The bar is upmarket (or as upmarket as you can be in Pattaya). It has a dress code / non-smoking policy and for the most part, patrons are polite and well behaved.
Her monthly target is 50 lady drinks and 3 barfines a month. Phan is extremely focused in her job. November 2015 she achieved 250 lady drinks in a 30-day period and averaged 3 barfines a week. Her income stream is outstanding with monthly average of BHT 70,000 (excluding money from overseas). She achieves these numbers with her quality English skills, customer services honed from hotel work and careful application of makeup.
I visited Phan at her place of work as I was worried about her as we had not spoken for a few weeks, and had not seen her face to face for close to 4 months.
Phan was swollen and pale.
She previously weighed 48 kilos and was a stunning looking women.
If you consider that she is consuming upwards of 8 lady drinks most nights, (beer) the end result was a huge increase in her weight to 68 kilos. Not large by western standards, but based on her small stature a substantial weight gain.
Based on her BMI (body mass index) she is rated as morbidly obese. She had just recovered from another bout of STDs. She is adamant that she uses protection at all times but occasionally a client will slip off the condom without her knowledge and she has to face the consequences of it. Her one wish is to have a baby boy. STDs and ovarian cysts (probably caused by multiple sex partners) has probably ended this dream of another child. Sad times indeed.
I am no knight in shining armour, but care for Phan and her inner strength, so off we went to Pattaya International Hospital for a full medical.
In the West we are reminded time and again about the perils of drinking. In New Zealand, we are advised that women should consume no more than two standard drinks per day (say 2 x small bottles of beer) and should abstain from drinking on average two days a week. Considering that NZ women are considerably larger than a Thai women we could probably assume that the maximum Phan should be consuming is one bottle of beer per day on only 5 days per week. She averages 8 bottles every day. On the night I met up with her she had just consumed half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and a bottle of red wine. She was still standing and functioning which shows her alcohol tolerance. Why? Well she had a sales target to hit and the customer had just offloaded BHT 8,000 at the bar.
Blood and other tests results did not look good. The bar lady lifestyle was killing her. Liver function, weight increase, kidney stones and early onset diabetes and lack of exercise were all contributing to shortening her live span. She is only 32.
Doctors advised she had the health problems of a 60+ year-old women.
Phan understands the situation but the money demands from her family outweigh good decisions that should be made.
There is no happy ending to this story as the only person who can resolve the problem is her and she has no idea what to do about it.
I reflected upon the issue for a few days and suggested that I barfine her for 5 days and show her a little about health and exercise. Considering my 10-year friendship with her, BHT 3,000 spent on a work out outfit (we went 50/50 on purchase price) plus a new pair of running shoes was money well spent.
She took to exercise like a duck to water. Over a period of 5 days I saw a remarkable turnaround in her. She got some sun on her face and started to get a suntan, started making healthy food choices (Thai rather than Farang food) and requested non-alcoholic drinks when we went out for dinner and a chat. She started to drink litres of water each day. The pinnacle of her turnaround was a run up the mountain to the temple. Probably 6 km in total which included a run along Beach Road before tacking the Temple Mountain. She ran, walked and virtually clawed her way to the top, and the elation on her face was a sight to see.
She lost 2 kilos in weight during this time.
Will she continue to follow a healthy lifestyle whilst working at the bar? Who knows, but at least she has been given an opportunity to change her life.
It is not that hard to go for a run or walk along Beach Road and back again each day, and elect non-alcoholic drinks (even if it is just during the day)… in fact it is great fun either morning or late afternoon.
Phan enjoyed this 2-hour exercise excursion plus she got to experience the sights, sounds and smells of normal daylight hours so different from sleeping during the day and sitting in a bar at night. Reward of a massage at the end topped it off for her and gave her the desire to try again the following day. When I picked her up every morning she commented that her sleep was better and more refreshing than it has ever been before.
I hope that she grasps this lifestyle and can yet again returns to her pineapple farm with enough money saved to provide for parents and perhaps once again fall in love and provide a childhood that she once had, for her daughter and perhaps with luck another baby.
Aside, I reckon there must be a market for low / zero alcohol beer to be sold to bars for the bar ladies to drink.
The bar lifestyle can punish these ladies, especially when you consider that many are small-framed and the amount of alcohol they consume. Plenty of the ladies don't care for alcohol but a mix of peer pressure and pressure from customers and bosses contributes to them consuming what at times can be a silly amount.
Customers whipping off a condom and slipping it in without are treading a very fine line. Unfortunately, again, many of these ladies feel great pressure to do things that really aren't good for them at all.