There is nervous excitement for women as they contemplate entering the world's oldest profession. The excitement is not limited to the prospect of riches, but the people they will meet and the experiences they will have. But for all of the things to be positive about, there are just as many which make them nervous. Coming from very sheltered backgrounds, rural Thai females are especially nervous about becoming a bargirl. Will they be physically abused? Are the stories of foreign men being well-endowed accurate? And then there is the worry of sexually transmitted diseases. But at least there is the support of other girls. They're all in it together and look after one another, right? That's what Mauy, a gogo dancer in The Strip in Patpong soi 2, thought. She never imagined that she would have a serious problem with another girl in the bar, and never in her wildest dreams did she think she could be attacked and sustain injuries so serious that she might not survive them.
Mauy has had a rugged life. After falling pregnant in her teens to a local boy, you can guess what happened next. Yep, he fled, and she was left with a baby to support. So Mauy made the decision that so many Thai ladies facing exactly that situation have made; Mauy left Korat for Bangkok, in search of work in the bars.
Today, at just 21 years of age, Mauy is already a veteran of the bar industry. She started off in the legendary Patpong gogo bar, Superstar. She felt like she didn't really fit in there, so she tried to give Soi Cowboy a go instead. That didn't work out either so next stop was Nana Plaza. Nana wasn't to her liking and having danced in each of the 3 major Bangkok gogo bar areas, she felt that she preferred the low-key vibe at Patpong so went back to where it all started. At The Strip in Patpong soi 2 she found a bar where she felt that she fit in, a bar with a crew where it almost felt like family. The other girls were friendly, the mamasan wasn't pushy and the foreigner owners were nice. And so it was The Strip where Mauy settled.
Mauy had been working at The Strip for a few months when one night she found herself in an argument with another girl. Standing between the stage and the bar's signature stainless steel booths, the two girls got all worked up over something silly and as can be the case in Thailand, it escalated in to something serious. Unkind words were said by the two girls to each other when one said to the other, "Ja ow yung-ngai", the English translation of which would be, "So what do you want to do about it?" And that's when things really kicked off. The girls became physical, grappled with each other with flailing kicks, punches, slapping and hair-pulling. It was a free for all, as often happens when Thai females go at it with one another.
Fights between girls in bars are hardly uncommon and the other girls in the bar didn't think a lot of it. The girls moved apart, and Mauy sat down to catch her breath.
It was only after sitting down that Mauy realised that she had been cut. The extent of her injuries weren't clear to her, and it was only when other girls flocked to her aid, bringing all of the rolls of toilet paper in the bar to press against the wounds and stop the bleeding did she realised that she had sustained multiple stab wounds.
Mauy had no idea that the other girl had used a cutter on her, slashing her not just once, but multiple times across her torso, arms and legs.
* It should be pointed out at that the initial report of this incident which was published in this column earlier in the year said that the lady who sliced Mauy up was dancing on stage with a knife in her bikini clearly visible. That was inaccurate. The attacker didn't have a knife but a cutter and it wasn't visible at all. Further, reports that Mauy was held down by a group of while one of their number set about desecrating her body is also incorrect. It was a one on one fight.
The girl who slashed Mauy threw the cutter in to the rubbish bin and retreated inside one of the booths, out of sight.
Girls had rushed to Mauy's aid. Some just stood there, staring at her, watching as blood flowed from wounds all over her body. Others were doing all that they could to help, fighting to stem the claret leaking from deep gashes all over her body.
Mauy does not remember how long it was until someone decided that this was serious and not something that could be treated in the bar with rolls of toilet paper. They had to get Mauy to hospital, and fast!
Patpong's location puts it close to a handful of (mostly very good) hospitals.
The Strip is at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2, and less than 200 metres down Silom Road is the closest medical facility, Bangkok Christian Hospital. It's a private hospital and like a lot of private hospitals, accident and emergency is not the hospital's core business. In other words, as good a facility as it is, it's perhaps not the best place to go for emergency treatment.
About 500 metres away from Patpong is my preferred hospital in Bangkok, BNH Hospital, one of the big international hospitals. It's an international class hospital but just like Bangkok Christian Hospital, accident and emergency care is not its forte.
900 metres up Silom Road and across the busy Rama 4 Road intersection is Chulalongkorn Hospital, one of Thailand's best government hospitals. It has training facilities for doctors studying at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's oldest and best-regarded university. It just so happens to have one of the best accident and emergency departments in the country and is the first choice for many of the rescue services (which effectively operate the service in Thailand that is operated by ambulances in the West) in Bangkok who have a patient whose status is critical.
Mauy was carted off to Chulalongkorn Hospital Thai-style, in the back of a tuktuk.
Whoever made the decision to take Mauy to Chulalongkorn Hospital may just have saved her life. It is not the closest of the three hospitals in the immediate area, and neither is it the easiest to get to – that would be Bangkok Christian Hospital which could be reached in about 30 seconds – but it has, as I say, one of the best accident and emergency departments in all of Thailand. All things being equal, if you are the victim of an accident, Chulalongkorn Hospital may be a better option to many of the private, so-called farang hospitals.
Upon arrival, medical staff immediately saw the seriousness of Mauy's wounds and raced to stop the bleeding.
Mauy takes a photo of the worst wound while awaiting treatment in hospital.
The bleeding was stopped and Mauy was taken for x-rays as doctors checked for damage to bones and arteries in preparation of patching her up. She was given the all clear.
A doctor would later tell Mauy that if it had taken much longer for her to get to hospital the blood loss would have been so great that she may not have survived.
Mauy stayed overnight in hospital and was released later the next day. She was covered in bandages and looked like a modern day Thai female version of Frankenstein.
Mauy does not know what the cost of treatment was, whether it was covered by the government or whether some kind soul picked up the tab.
For the next 2 weeks Mauy was in a great deal of pain. She was on painkillers and not very mobile, but she had to visit hospital daily so the wounds could be cleaned and re-dressed. That came at a cost of around 1,300 – 1,400 baht per time.
Mauy was off work for over a month. During that time away from the bar she decided that she was going to leave The Strip after one of the bar's mamasans also planned to leave and join a new pool bar in Patpong. Muay would follow her and work there, albeit for less money.
A change of ownership at The Strip caused Mauy to change her mind. The creepy Aussie with the American accent, the guy who painted his finger nails and claimed to be a world class fashion photographer who had been based in New York, but who struck some as being so creepy that he could have starred as the bad guy in Silence of The Lambs was given his marching orders from The Strip. The stabbing incident had taken place on his watch and that incident aside, he was very unpopular.
With that manager removed of his duties, and some problem staff sacked, the former owner of The Strip took over and Mauy decided she would return when she was feeling better.
Mauy returned to the bar one night back in March when I was in town, walking with a noticeable limp. She was keen to return to work, but was not moving freely enough to be able to dance. Some 10 or so days later she returned to the bar and resumed dancing. The scars looked scary but she was moving freely.
One scar looks like it started on her stomach, was broken by the bikini and continued to her thigh.
In the wake of the stabbing, police were called to the bar and found the cutter. The perpetrator thought she had discarded it in to the rubbish but she must have missed and it was found on the floor, next to where the rubbish bin had been. It was kept as evidence and she was arrested.
In situations like this in Thailand, where one person causes harm (be it physical, emotional, financial etc.) to another and on the face of it a crime has been committed, the police will often ask the victim how they wish to proceed. The victim has options available to them. They could request that the police prosecute the case. Or they may choose to come to an agreement with the perpetrator where damages / compensation is paid and the case is effectively settled out of court.
Mauy thought about it and decided that compensation of 100,000 baht would be fair. Just one hundred thousand baht.
The perpetrator refused.
The police will proceed with the prosecution. Mauy is not sure what the charge is but believes it is not attempted murder, more something along the lines of causing grievous bodily harm.
Bail was paid for the perpetrator and she has been released. It is not known if she has resumed working in the bar industry.
Since calling for damages of 100,000 baht, Mauy has had second thoughts about the amount. She now thinks she should ask for more. I told her that 500,000 baht or a million baht would be more in the ballpark to which she gave me a look that said, “Who has that amount of money?” And she'd be right. It is very unlikely the girl who did this would have anything like that amount of money. Quite possibly she wouldn't have even 10,000 baht to her name. Yes, ladies working in the bars can make a lot of money, but most of the time it just goes.
Mauy put a temporary tattoo sticker over the worst scar, but it has since been removed.
Mauy suffered 11 wounds, the worst of which runs the full length down the front of her left thigh. Most of the scars can be covered by clothes, but that doesn't help Mauy at work – being a gogo dancer is about showing one's body off, not hiding it.
When I first met Mauy she had got what I thought was a tattoo to cover up the largest scar, but it was in fact just a temporary tattoo-style sticker.
But Mauy likes the idea of covering the scars and is considering getting tattoos. Physically, she has recovered from the incident but along with the physical scars, mental scars remain. She doesn't like to see the scars when she looks at herself in the mirror and doesn't want a permanent reminder of the incident.
Mauy is concerned about what men will think when they see the scars.
The worst scars are on Mauy's thighs.
When asked about her family and whether they are aware of the incident, Mauy revealed that they know everything – from what happened to where it happened to what she was doing in The Strip. They are also aware that the very bar where the incident happened is where she continues to work. They worry greatly about her and would much rather she wasn't in such an environment.
Mauy had a child to a local man at a young age and made the tough decision to enter the bar industry. She has worked in all three of the major Bangkok red light bar areas, including bars in both of the Patpong sois. She survived a frenzied knife attack, suffered scars that will be with her for life. And she is still just 21 years old.
Mauy retains a quiet calm about her. She doesn't like that the way the scars are an everyday reminder of a low point. Yet at the same time she retains an innocent grace and sweetness.
How one deals with adversity can be a great indicator of character and Mauy is doing her best to put the incident behind her.
Mauy isn't looking too far ahead. She might return to studying accounting, something she did once upon a time, something which seems like a lifetime ago. She'd like to have her own shop in Bangkok and be her own boss. As for relationships, she'll see what happens.
Despite everything, Mauy has retained her smile and her sweetness.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken in the defuct Pretty Lady bar in Nana Plaza which today is Bangkok Bunnies.
FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
Upstairs warnings only relate to Patpong.
Just a short thought about this week's column about Jail Birdz. When I was new to Bangkok on my first trip in 2002, I stayed away from top floor bars in Nana because at the time people advised to stay far away from top-floor bars. Of course they were talking about Patpong, and not about Nana Plaza. But as a newbie, little did I know.
Bangkok prison visit.
When Jail Birdz first opened, it did have the girls in prison-themed costumes. Some girls were “inmates” and wore striped uniforms with chains, I think. Some were wardens. It's been a while but I think they may have even worn caps, had handcuffs and wore black “leather” uniforms. They had girls dancing on the mezzanine floor behind prison bars. Some of the girls had really cute uniforms, like they were stewardesses or attendants. The bar looked classy in the early days and that made it very interesting. I wonder why they changed a good thing. You're right that the bikinis, while nice, don't make the bar stand out.
Interesting times or business as usual?
I do believe that there are some very interesting times ahead in the next few months. A question that has to be asked is that if and when the massage parlours are taken care of / put out of commission, where will be the next target(s)? Will it be the bar trade or will it be hotels allowing non-registered guests in to rooms, or something else? One thing is for sure, if this crackdown is harsh then there will be a good amount of vacant shop space for rent around Sukhumvit.
Boris Johnson's, Bangkok.
Over the years, Bangkok bars have come up with some topical names at relevant times. We have had Clinton Plaza, Bush Garden and Lewinsky's, for example. Several years ago there was a hostess bar in Soi 33 called Oliver Reed's Club after the actor famous for his love of a tipple and who dropped dead in a bar in Malta during the filming of the movie, Gladiator. A currently topical name could be suitable for Dr. BJ's. May I suggest Boris Johnson's Club after the former Mayor of London and new UK Foreign Secretary. Boris could hardly complain after publishing a poem about the Turkish President having sex with a goat.
Evolution of the Thermae.
Thermae, which used to have the image of being the Star Wars cantina with creatures milling about has gotten a lot brighter inside. Like Nana Hotel, Thermae used to be a throwback to another, almost lost era in Bangkok, but they have given it what's probably its first major refurbishment since the move to the present location. They gave it a fresh coat of paint, put spotlights on the name on the wall, and hung up prints of famous scenic sites in Thailand, with a bright light shining on them. Now you can make out what girls look like half way down the room and see what you're buying better. Not sure if that's actually an improvement. Darkness can also hide your own blemishes. But what I don't like is that it gets really warm now. It used to be a great place to literally chill out, as it was freezing. Also, there are now and have been for a while a lot of Korean guys. Now you can start to hear Chinese being spoken. The majority of the predators might be Japanese, but it's much more of a mixed crowd now. The problem is that farang may not be able to discern the difference, and keep blaming the Japanese for girls refusing to go out with farang, high prices, silly looks, etc.
The lights were out on Sukhumvit as bars observed two Buddhist holidays earlier in the week but nightspots burst back in to life on Thursday as expats and tourists alike flocked to the neon jungle keen to make up for lost time as Nana Plaza bar bosses reported a booming Thursday night. In Patpong, the bar area that seemingly never closes, it was business as usual with Patpong bars reporting that they did very well on Tuesday and Wednesday nights; alcohol was served in non-descript cups while other parts of town were in darkness.
It has long been mooted that the car park of the Raja Hotel on Soi Nana would be redeveloped and that can now be confirmed with not just the closure of, but the dismantling of Strikers, the large sports / beer bar that took up the centre of what was once part of the car park.
And word from the girls in the adjacent Hillary 1 bar is that by the end of the year it won't be there either. There are said to be serious rumblings of discontent from the lords at Hillary regarding the lease for Hillary 1 and what looks likely to cause the original Hillary Bar to close. The girls at Hillary 1 are telling punters they will be redeployed around other bars operated by the group. It sounds like there could be quite a showdown between the Hillary Group and the land owners.
Signage has gone up in Nana Plaza stating that some bars have only real ladies and are ladyboy-free. It's a great idea, but I do wonder if it could cause some punters to wonder why all bars don't have such signage outside. Could some incorrectly assume that bars without such a sign have some ladyboys? I also wonder if those bars which have a token post-op ladyboy will be honest about it – there is at least one bar which states for the record that it doesn't have any when in fact it has one long-term post-op ladyboy employed who must have had hundreds of liaisons and word is no customers know. Such signs are a good idea, but they may come with a new set of complications.
Food trucks are gaining in popularity in Thailand and many are run by foreigners. One of the most popular is Taco Taxi, the Mexican-themed food truck having been a fixture on Sukhumvit soi 11 in recent times. Taco Taxi is now aiming for a new market and can be found in Soi Nana nightly, directly opposite Nana Plaza in the Nana Hotel car park. Taco Taxi serves Mexican food, Margaritas and cold beers from 7 PM until 4 AM.
To mark the 2nd anniversary of Stumble Inn Group taking over the Nana Beer Garden (the name given to the beer bars on the centre of the ground floor of Nana Plaza), happy hour prices will be offered all night long this Thursday, July 28th, with local beers and spirits priced at just 90 baht.
Toby Willems has started a series called Bangkok Stories where he and another farang presenter interview interesting Bangkok characters in Thai. So far it's only on their YouTube channel but they've been talking to Thai TBS about it. Could it hit the big time? Toby is already on the Bangkok scene as drummer for indy rock band Count The Thief.
Have you noticed a subtle change in the vocabulary many Thais use when describing food they like / approve of? Where once they tended to used the Thai word for delicious (aroi), some now use the Thai word for sweet (warn) – even when the food item is not something you'd expect to be described as sweet. And given that there is a train of thought amongst many Thais that good food is sweet, I'm not surprised.
What is it with turkeys and avocados in Thailand? Why does it always seem there is a shortage of each? Sometimes you just cannot find turkeys or avocados in any stores – and even the wholesalers have trouble getting them. Call me a cynic, but these are two food items which are more popular with foreigners than they are with Thais and I wonder if that could have something to do with it? Yes, avocados grow in parts of northern Thailand but the quality is nothing like the imported product from New Zealand, Australia or the USA. And, yes, you can find local turkeys in Thailand too but let's be frank about Thai turkeys, they have much in common with the local women – small breasts and there's not a lot of meat on the legs or the rear end.
I bet more than a few expats in Thailand are feeling lost after the world's most popular torrent / illegal downloads site, Kick Ass Torrents, was taken down by the American authorities this week. Many expats, especially retirees, have a lot of time on their hands and plenty don't have a lot of money so downloading movies they can watch for free is one way to pass the time. And with local Thai TV of little appeal to most foreigners and many popular American TV series never making it to Thai TV, not being able to download their favourite TV shows is going to be a kick in the ass for a lot of expats. * I note that Kick Ass Torrents actually came back online a few days later at a revised web address.
Has the mobile phone revolution had an impact on the sales of comic books in Thailand? In the year or two after the skytrain opened it was often empty (even middle class Thais used to complain that skytrain fares were expensive). Many of the office girls travelling on the skytrain were in their own little world just as they are today – except back then their eyes were not glued to their mobile phone, but to their comic book. How often do you see that these days? Comics have been usurped by mobiles. Have comic book sales plummeted in Thailand since the iPhone was launched?
What's the story with Times Square and Ploenchit Centre, two shopping malls in prime real estate in downtown Bangkok that have very few interesting shops and which always seem quiet. How is that possible? Is there not demand for more interesting stores to take up the space in these malls?
Expat fiction writer Jake Needham has a new book due out very soon. The Girl in The Window is the fourth title in the Inspector Samuel Tay series, set primarily in Singapore. The e-book version is available for pre-order on Amazon now and will be released on August 2nd. The paperback will follow a week or so after that.
Quote of the week comes from a forum, "Prostitution in Bangkok without the girlfriend experience makes it just another Amsterdam."
A soaring prison population prompts Thailand to re-think its 'lost' drug war.
The world's most terrifying tourist attraction is shut down as tourists are no longer able to feed crocodiles.
An American in Pattaya is threatened with murder and complains to police in a situation that once again shows clearly how in Thailand the patronage system trumps the justice system.
The Pokémon Go phenomenon is coming to Thailand soon.
A farang couple engaged in oral sex on Ko Phi Phi in a public place are filmed by locals.
Police in Bangkok detain and question a Scot's journalist's wife in relation to his anti-Thailand online posts.
The Bangkok Post looks at the icky issue of underage prostitution and what measures police take to deal with it.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
There were no legal questions for Sunbelt this week.
Probably next week's opening piece will be about the many types of jobs being performed by foreigners in the bar industry or working in positions that relate to and would not exist without the bar industry. Times have changed and opportunities for those who enjoy the bar industry are no longer limited to just being a bar manager or a bar owner. Bar owners may complain that there isn't the same money in the industry as there used to be while at the same time the number of foreigners employed in the industry is higher ever. It's a topic I'll take a closer look at next week.