Down in Pattaya recently, I was cruising the beer bars, as is my preferred way to party at the beachside Sin City, when I came across a young lady by the name of Air. There was something a little bit different about Air, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Unlike the majority of girls, she kept my attention for a long time.
Air claimed to have been working in the Pattaya beer bars for three months (don't they all say that!). She started in a beer bar that recently went belly up, and when I met her, she had just started in a new establishment. As the evening went on, notwithstanding the screeching distorted sounds coming from the ageing sound system, I started to find out more and more about Air, and how she ended up in the bar environment. In some ways her story was typical, but in other ways it wasn't…
Air, the youngest in a family of six, is 22 and comes from Surin. She has an older brother and two older sisters. The parents are rice farmers who have a farm not far outside of Surin City, and the city can be reached from the farm in around 20 minutes. Her mother and father both work the farm daily, and their sole assistants are the three buffaloes that the family has had since Air was very young.
From the time that Air was 6, until the time that she was almost 15, her daily routine was much the same. She would wake up early to the sounds of dogs barking and the chickens howling, something that anyone who has overnighted in rural Isaan will know about. At the crack of dawn, all of the children would help her parents on the farm for an hour or two. When she was young, it meant carrying and collecting things for her parents, but as she got older, it meant an hour or two in the fields. After her morning duties had been done, she would head off to school. After she returned home each day, it would be another hour or two to help the parents, before she would have to go and do the huge amount of often worthless homework that Thai teachers cruelly inflict on their students. She would often fall asleep from exhaustion before her homework was complete. This would result in an inevitable scolding the next day from the teacher, and was sometimes accompanied by a slap too. Despite all of this, Air maintains that this was a happy time in her life!
Following her 15th birthday, Air was unable to continue studying at the local school as they only offered classes up to M3 level (9th grade). If she wanted to continue studying, she would have to go to a school in Surin City, a move that would put pressure on her dreadfully poor family. But the family saw the benefits in education and they managed to raise the money to send her off to school in the big smoke. Air dreamed of working in a hospital, helping other people and giving something back to the community. To do this type of work, she would need to continue her studies.
If you see Air in your travels, say hello.
Over the next three years, Air completed her studies with high grades, thoroughly enjoying her school days. But what next? The parents, well aware of the benefits of education decided that she should study further and Air enrolled into the local tertiary institute, what she termed as a university but what would probably be better referred to as a technical or vocational college. The first year went well and again, Air continued to fly through her courses but in the second year, a problem arose. It wasn't academic. It was financial. Air's parents were no longer able to finance her studies and reality dawned on her that she wouldn't be able to complete her studies. Half way through her second year of tertiary education, Air was forced to withdraw.
A bright spark in a poor town, realisation dawned on Air that she would not be able to get a great job in Surin. She applied for work at the local Big C and was offered the most prestigious of all positions, the job of checkout operator. Earning 4,000 baht a month, the bulk of her salary was given to her parents, allowing her just enough to get to and from work, buy food and the essentials that a young woman needs. This job went on for two years, but it was clear to Air that she was never going to get any further at Big C, indeed she was never going to get any further in Surin. She wanted to somehow continue her studies to give her the best chance at a good job, a real job.
And then it happened. That conversation that oh so many girls in Isaan and the other poor parts of the country have. Air, the youngest of four children was told by her parents that they were struggling financially. They were well aware of a friend of Air's who had told them about Pattaya, told them of the money that could be made. There was no need to explain what it involved as every young girl in Isaan knows what goes on in Pattaya. Air's parents told her that they needed another 7,000 baht a month on top of what they were already earning. Having only ever had one boyfriend, and hoping to save herself for the man she would marry, Air was horrified at her parent's suggestion. But as she protested to them that she didn't feel she would be able to go to Pattaya, her parents reminded her of all the money they had spent on her, sending her through school and then on to tertiary college. They also reminded her that she had two older siblings, both of whom had been married but were only just managing to keep themselves above the poverty level. As Air said, she really didn't have any say in what happened, her fate had been sealed.
After arriving in the world's biggest sex and sand resort, Air started off in a massage parlour as a service girl come chambermaid and basically ran odd errands, cleaning rooms, taking drink orders, a sort of dogs body doing all the crap that no-one else wanted to do. While she had come to Pattaya to work, she just wasn't sure if she could go through with it. Receiving the same amount of money at the parlour as she did back in Big C, she finally relented, accepted her fate and started work in a beer bar.
Even after all that I have experienced with these girls, after the thousands of emails that I have received and the many stories that they have contained, I'm still touched by stories like Air's. Call me a cynic, but this girl's life has already been irreparably changed, and the odds are that she will never live her dream to work in a hospital. She will likely end up with a string of farang boyfriends, perhaps even making it overseas for a period of time. But she will come back to Thailand, because that is where her heart is, where her home is. Air truly believes that her role in life is to support her parents, her hopeless drug addict brother, and her other two older siblings, both of whom are married.
To me, this is abuse of the very worst kind, parents abusing their children. Air's parents survived before she ended up in the bar environment, and they'll survive afterwards. Their need for a minimum of 7,000 baht a month cannot be justified unless they are prepared to admit to themselves that "we sacrificed our daughter". The parents' decision to turn a blind eye on this girl's plight is not negligence, it is downright criminal. I can only hope that Air meets someone nice, someone to pull her away from the bar and away from her parents. But the damage has been done. She has gone way past the six week period* and while she may still have a certain innocent charm about her, she has been damaged. But she is not alone. Thousands of other girls suffer the same plight, sent to work as a prostitute by their parents. Is there anything more horrible?
Yes, Air really touched me.
* six week period – time frame that I believe it takes for the girls to start to change, though it may take a lot longer before they are marred.
The following story comes from The Dollhouse Gogo Bangkok management about what happened AFTER last week's Nanapong dance contest.
The moral of this story is every body should look out because you never know what nut is around the corner.
it looks like they are narrowing their target audience to go after the tourists who don't price shop and to exclude the expats who, for good reason, watch their baht more closely. (This, of course, assumes these people are not totally stupid, which is another possibility.) From my perspective, since I rarely drink much anyway, I would prefer not to have to worry about being deceived with a low come-on rate and getting hit up for double the money per drink once I get in. With this announcement up front, hypothetically, and if you watch your chits as you drink, there may be less chance for confusion or disappointment.
Where is this pic? – actually, what is the big construction?
OK, so you can probably guess what part of town this is, but what exactly
is under construction? Note: this picture was taken back in February.
In last week's column, the Showgirls Go Go Bar of Phuket received a bad report from a customer who had had some troubles, and went on to email me which I then included in the column. I went on to email the bar about the problem, offering them the chance to respond. They have not responded….which really does make one believe that the story is most likely true.
Cathouse has opened in Nana Plaza. Well, it's not so much a new bar but that open air bar next to Titty Twister, renamed and redecorated. Its actually a really nice spot for a bar of that type, as it has a great view looking out over Nana Plaza. Having said this, it is also one of those places where in the past I can never remember seeing too many customers…
A4 leaflets have been posted all over Nana Plaza advertising for staff at Rainbow 3 bar. The notices state that the newest Rainbow Bar will open on November 7. Speaking of new NEP bars, the work continues very slowly at Cascade Bar, up on the third floor. Still no sign of the lighting machine that has been talked about. With this new lighting system, will this bar become the flagship of the Crown Group, maybe even the main jewel in Nana's crown?
Why is it that the King's anthem is not played before movies at cinemas in Pattaya?
While Thais many amble around the city at a snail's pace, they can move like the wind if they really have to. Either they are practicing for the 15 metre dash or they are worried about missing the train, but at Siam Square BTS station, woe be tied you if you get in the way of a Thai who puts their head down and sprints from one side of the platform to the other, wanting to make sure that they reach the train before those horrible beeps signify that the doors are about to close and the train is about to pull away.
Back in Farangland, going out without my mobile was akin to going out naked. But mobiles are a pain and perhaps its just me, but they always seems to ring when you least want it to. Having said that, as a local, a mobile is indispensable in Thailand, especially if you are playing the game with the girls. A request for your mobile number to which you respond mai me (I don't have one) will suddenly make the local lass think that you are a nobody. If most of the girls have one, it's inconceivable that a farang doesn't! Anyway, the pre-mobile days compared with mobile ownership made me realise that a mobile is an almost essential tool when dealing with Thai girls.
And when you do finally enter the 21st century and get yourself a mobile, guard it with great care. Mobiles get ripped off in Thailand faster than you can say "that idiot waiied a prostitute". There is a big second hand market in them, especially the newer models. As crazy as it sounds, almost half of my friends have had their mobiles stolen, and one friend had two stolen in a matter of weeks!
Further to a piece from this column a few weeks back about easy-to-remember mobile phone numbers being the hot new commodity in Thailand, I can confirm that the number 09-8888887 is currently for sale by a Mahboonkrong vendor for a cool 100,000 baht. The vendor offering this number said that any mobile number with six digits the same would sell for a price around the 100K mark.
All over Thailand, internet cafes are springing up left, right and centre. Anywhere from a handful to 30+ computers will be hooked up to a LAN, with it likely that there is only one, or possibly two modems connecting all of these machines to the outside world. If all of these machines were being used to access the 'net, the speed, if you could call it that, would be miserably slow. But most of these machines, especially away from the tourist areas, are used to play network games, Counter Strike being the favourite. So, even if you use such a 'net cafe to access the 'net, odds are that it will be predominantly Thai kids playing games and your net connection could well be quite reasonable. In the crackdown on software piracy, a lot of these internet cafes come games stores must pay 2500 baht per terminal for what largely amounts to an open licence to install whatever software they wish. Software companies represented in Thailand have realised that they are simply unable to crack down on software piracy per se, so they have introduced this type of fee to at least get something out of it.
A friend lives in a centrally located apartment, and while he likes his apartment, one of the cons about living in that are is that he lives close to a hotel. Outside the hotel you get the obligatory tuktuk army who pounce on you every time you walk out of your apartment, often the same guys doing it day after day, month after month, and even beyond. When apartment hunting, it is worth avoiding an apartment which is right amongst, or very close to, areas that are popular with tourists. Dealing with the taxi mafia day after day can become a real headache.
Tuktuk drivers are getting excited as the high season approaches
and there will be more people to take around to their brothers' shops…
Is business starting to return to normal at Clinton Plaza? I hear a zillion different stories on what has happened to allow the apparent turn around whereby the gogo bars that had closed will be re-opening. Throughout all of the mayhem, the Dollhouse continued to operate, much to the chagrin of the other gogo bar owners, although at times it was a somewhat limited show with girls not allowed up on stage. Walking through Clinton Plaza, I notice that The Dollhouse continues to operate, Hollywood East has the lights on inside but its not open to customers, and the other bars appear to be dead, no-one there, and nothing to indicate that that will be re-opening in a hurry. Will Clinton Plaza return to its previous glory, or is this just another small reprieve before it all goes bang?
As reported in previous columns, The Dollhouse continues to grow and work has begun on their Cowboy bar which should open sometime around late November. Now, I wonder if the Dollhouse management will be able to maintain the standards of their other bars?
Just to follow up on the film that I mentioned in last week's column, the working title is "Ecks Vs. Sever" and to follow up on the Thai director, his name is Wych Kaosayananda (aka "KAOS") and this will be his English language debut, his first being the 1998 Thai film, "Fah". With everything that is happening in the world at the moment, the insurance costs for the jittery stars and the nervous studio bosses are making things very unstable.
In the centre of Bangkok, particularly the area around Mahboonkrong and Siam Square there have been a few signs erected with information about malaria. Now I was always under the belief (misconception ?) that there is no malaria in Bangkok and that it's largely only found in the jungle and border regions. Anyway, the signs basically say that should you be overcome with a high temperature, you should see a doctor immediately. The signs are only in Thai.
The French sandwich vendor at ground level in Nana Plaza who makes the wonderful baguettes has dropped her prices. It used to be 140 baht for a baguette with meat or pate plus a choice of cheese, but while the sandwiches were fantastic, and notwithstanding that they use the genuine imported French items with unpronounceable names, the price is still damned expensive. They have now dropped the price of the said baguettes to 120 baht, but you've got to wonder how they manage to compete with the shawarma vendor and the burger guy, both who offer their respective products at around the 60 baht mark. As a friend of a friend said about the burgers at the entrance to Nana, "they are good enough to make you forget about sex for twenty minutes"!
There's a strange phenomena at the Thermae over the last week with more than a few Thai students going there, obviously hunting for a little extra income. In the whole time that I have been to the Thermae, it has always been a somewhat homogenous group, predominantly the young lasses of Isaan, with a few Bangkok girls to make up the numbers. But bunches of students, genuine students, is a phenomenon that I have never seen before in a farang oriented bar.
The ultimate turn off was spotted in a ground floor Nana Plaza gogo bar, a girl dancing with a huge great pad under her knickers. Well, you can't blame her for wearing a pad when its that time of month, but it was so damned obvious that she reminded me of a girl playing at school…
For folks curious about the safety aspect of visiting Thailand, let me allay your fears. Thailand was comparatively safe before September 11 and continues to remain comparatively safe now too. One should exercise the usual caution that you would anywhere else but once in country, you should find danger to be one of your last concerns. There are some predominantly Muslim areas, the most known being the area around Sukumvit sois 3 and 5. Odds are that one still wouldn't experience any problems in this area, but if one was to err on the cautious side, it would perhaps be one area to avoid. At this stage, it is difficult to say whether tourism numbers have been effected in Thailand. While the bars have been quiet, that is typical for this time of year. Khao Sarn Road is absolutely thronging with people, as per usual. Still, backpackers and sex tourists are the two groups least likely to be effected.
The Bar Girl's Ten Commandments that I wrote and were published in this column on 29/10 were an original work of mine, and contrary to the lead in piece, they did not come from an underground bar girl magazine, the likes of which simply does not exist. These Bar Girl Commandments have been popping all over the net on several Thai nightlife sites and forums, Trink used them, and I have even been told that they have been translated into Finnish too!
The sun shines down on Pattaya Beach as a Thai girl stays
in the shade, doing her best to avoid the sun – and the dreaded black skin!
Wandering around town this week, you might notice a lot of food vendors have erected yellow flags with Chinese characters and these vendors are being descended upon by customers from all angles. No, they are not selling aphrodisiacs at give away prices but rather this is the arharn jay period, or the Chinese vegetarian food festival period. It goes on for a little over a week and a lot of local Thais, especially those of Chinese ancestry, will eat only vegetarian food over this period in an effort to clean out their body. Actually, vegetarian food is in Thailand is excellent and if you see a vendor selling this style of food, it is well worth trying. BUT, beware of your favourite food vendor who suddenly only sells vegetarian for this period. He / she might make your usual order, but it will be without meat, egg and other animal products, and as such, may not taste as good as it usually does.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… Well, you might be going to Scarborough Fair but you sure won't be going to the Ploenchit Fair this year as it has been cancelled due to security worries. For many expats, particularly the Brits, this is one of the highlights of the year. For me, someone who isn't a fan of drinking until its dark, it just felt like going to one of those tacky Easter Show type events. It's a great place to meet up with other locals that you haven't seen in a while and the number of attractive Indian girls (yes, you read that right!) there is amazing, but in all truth and honesty, while I'm disappointed it has been cancelled, I'm not that disappointed.
Contrary to what I wrote in last week's column, the new English teacher training school called TEFL Teacher Training International appears to be a break away from Text'n'Talk, and is not Text'n'Talk as such. Due to a few questionable practices on the fellow's part who has set it up along with an already crowded market place for English teacher training schools, I give this school less than a year…
The Living Room in Clinton Plaza are having a Halloween Party on October 31st. Live music from the Soi Dog Blues band and there will be 65 baht drinks all night for those wearing fancy dress.
Something in Pattaya that is largely missing in Bangkok is happy hours later in the evening. Pattaya seems to have quite a few bars with happy hours late in the evening whereas Bangkok bars just have them early in the evening. In Bangkok, the Dollhouse has their two for one special before 8:00, a few Nana bars have 80 baht drinks between 7:00 and 9:00 and many Cowboy bars have 20 baht off drinks before 9:00 PM. But after 9:00 PM, there is very little in the way of incentive to drink in one bar over another in terms of drink price promotions. For some of the bars with less attractive girls, this could be one way to attract more customers. You don't see crowds of people converging on bars with expensive beer and less attractive girls, that's for sure! And another thing a lot of the bars in Pattaya – and Jomtien do, is the free food offers. Again, some Bangkok bars could learn from this with the only bars making an effort here being Rock Hard's excellent free feed on the first Thursday of every month along with the Washington Square bars which have free food at the weekends – though if you are aged under 500, you might feel out of place there. So come on bar owners, give us a reason to drink in your bar.
The sight of a tourist walking into a girly bar and waiing the staff is right up there amongst the dumbest things that you can do in Thailand. This is a classic way to signal to all and sundry that you are a new kid on the block who really doesn't have a clue. The girls will think you are a right plonker, though in that lovely Thai way, they will smile and return your wai. Walking into a bar, dropping your draws and ramming a dildo up your behind really wouldn't be that much worse. Yeah, initiating a wai in such an environment IS that bad! If you don't know when and who to wai, stick to smiling.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Jake Needham is, amongst Bangkok based authors,
in a class of his own. The Big Mango is a must read.