Monday, 29 June 2009
Bangkok: Behind The Red Light
Bangkok has a long history of serving culture. That includes the sex business. It has ever been and will last as long as it exists. The Thais are in general conservative and rude behaviour, slutty outfit, porn etc. is not welcomed at all. Prostitution is forbidden by law as well as pornography. So how comes that Bangkok is seen as the Red-Light hotspot in Asia? The short answer is that the sex business is financially supporting many families and enough people are willing to work in this business.
How It Works:
Today there are mainly three areas that are full of clubs and bars: Patpong, Nana and Soi Cowboy. These places come to life when it gets dark. Lights go on, Girls with short dresses hawk for guests and customers go from door to door. It’s the same as going on the market – walk around, select, negotiate and get lucky. A potential customer will check out bars and clubs either by getting pulled in by the girls at the door or by hawkers who run around with prints of “sexy” girls. Once inside there is an unexpected setup. Girls dance on stage, sometimes with a number, and others a sitting around, in special cases on a tribune to be selected. If a man is interested in a girl, or vice versa, the girl comes over and a little conversation starts. As many girls are from rural areas of Thailand they just are able to talk some “business English”. During this conversation the customer should order a drink for himself and a “lady drink”. If they show mutual interest (sex and money in most cases) the customer has to pay a bar release fee (600 – 800 Baht, 12-17 Eur) and can go with the girl to a hotel. Of course the girl changes her sexy outfit to normal clothing before she gets out of the bar. This is also the trick or flexibility in Thai law. The business proposal in the bar and the physical separation between bar and hotel is ok for the authorities. What two people do behind closed doors in privacy isn’t of interest of the public. The customer pays then usually 1000 Baht (21 Eur) for the girl. This can lead to a short or long term engagement. Some happy couples stay the whole vacation together.
The clubs and bars provide for hundreds of girls a working place. The biggest bars have up to 300 girls who work there. Of course there are also other clubs in different areas. Some are hidden and protected by heavy walls and security. The guests there are mainly from Thailand or the rest of Asia to fulfil their needs. Also street prostitution exists. Ladies stand around in common places and wait for customers. They also can be very aggressive in self promoting. I had a hard time doing research for this special report. It made it a bit easier for me carrying my big camera around and taking photos. I also have some experience dealing with all kind of hawkers on my travels.
The business itself is just a business but what matters are the people behind. Usually the girls come from poor families in Bangkok or rural areas in Thailand to work in the city. Because of the high competition on the job market and the lack of education the only job they really can make good money is the sex business. When a girl is sent to make money in the big city the family at home doesn’t want to know how she gets the money – she just shut participate in supporting the family. For the girls it means hanging around in a bar or club, selling themselves and living with other girls together so save on the rent and have more money to send home. If a sexworker gets older the situation gets personally critical. The customers choose younger girls and working in a club gets more and more difficult because of the younger competition. The solution for many is to get engaged with a foreigner who doesn’t care to have a “older” woman (>24!!). The “normal” Thais marry relatively young and girls who miss the right time are left over. Also Thai men like to have younger woman.
If a woman also fails in getting a foreigner it gets tricky. Either returning home to the village and back to the family or in the city and also wait daytimes for a customer on the street. I have seen so many in Chinatown today. It’s very sad!
Of course not only girls work in the business. There are also a lot of boys, ladyman, and chirurgical changed. I have also visited the “Boys” area in Patpong. It was very interesting there – A lot of young man, some gay stereotypes but mostly young teens. I’ve forgotten to mention that there are also a lot of shows for entertainment. Speaking with a hawker he offered me to attend a show for 200 Baht (4 Eur) to see the famous ping pong, writing without hands and so on ;-) Needless to say that most of these shows are illegal but corruption is widespread and the police love to take money. It happens that, if you visit these shows, you have trouble leaving the place because more money for security reasons is requested.
For me all this is fascinating and disgusting at the same time. Speaking about disgusting I find this the proper description for many sex tourists. My favorite disgusting sex tourist is tall, big beer belly, tiny legs and wears a shirt stretched over his belly with of course the upper buttons loose so that the chest hair pushes out, shorts and of course full strapped sandals, most preferably with socks. Of course going hand in hand with a skinny, young Thai! It seems to me that many people who have no luck at home with the ladies go to Thailand to get laid. It’s for them easy, cheap and satisfying. I also have to mention that many Asians from other countries are coming to Bangkok and also Thais are big sex tourists. It’s just not so obvious for foreigners! There is also another curiosity connected to the Asian issue. Many Thai ladies prefer Westerners over Asians because their behavior to woman. I have spoken to a Thai businessman, a rich lawyer, who didn’t get laid because the ladies didn’t like him. It was not matter of money. They just refused to go with him because they didn’t like him!!
I just recognized that this is a long post and still many side stories can be told. It’s interesting doing research on something everybody talks about but few have the full picture.