Thursday, April 17, 2008

Camorra Mafia Guy in Bangkok

Camorra Mafia Guy in Bangkok - Chris Coles

...........he's in Bangkok for meetings with the guys who run the counterfeit factories, setting up fashion, accessories, sports equipment, auto parts, watches and perfume, every brand, make and mark, some made in Thailand, some subcontracted out to Cambodia, Vietnam and China, to be packed into containers and shipped to Naples, then sent throughout the EEC.............the margin on brand names is so high and the cost to make the labels is very low...............

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

KhiKwai Blog on the Noir Side of the Bangkok Night.....

Hollywood Agogo Nana Plaza - Chris Coles

Below is a fabulous post by KhiKwai.com, one of Bangkok's most edgy and scathingly witty bloggers, on the Noir Side of the Bangkok Night...........................................

Don’t Call Me Daughter

Soi 4, just off Sukhumvit Road, is not quite as smooth as silk. A uniquely Thai blend of fermenting piss, rotting compost, exhaust fumes, and burnt-out cooking oils is rendered only more asphyxiating by the cheap incense smoldering by the ubiquitous makeshift shrine. Steam rises from the roadside foodstalls that cramp the narrow, potholed sidewalk; it is with great difficulty that it finally dissipates into the thick, damp air. A bewildering lineup of dead animals on a stick lie on display on pushcarts, alongside tropical fruit whose freshness has long evaporated on the foggy plexiglass shielding it from the flies and the dust. Whole roasted chickens sit on bare tables next to fake eyelashes and make-up, flanked by rows of size zero tank-tops and lingerie. Typically most transfixing to newcomer and repeat offender alike is the repugnant assortment of deep-fried crickets, roaches, locusts, and other bugs sold here by the bagful. They are a favorite with the go-go dancers, who can at times be spotted crunching lazily on the six-legged critters — occasionally plucking the leg of a grasshopper that has impudently lodged between their front teeth.

A ragtag army of hustlers and beggars is out in full force. The middle-aged females sprawled out on the wet pavement pull at every pant leg within their limited reach, imploring passers-by to look at the filthy, emaciated small children sleeping in their arms. Men with mutilated limbs shove their stumps into startled white faces for maximum theatrical effect. A blind, deranged man in tattered clothes wanders through the crowd, holding a cup half-filled with coins that jangle loudly as he violently bumps shoulders with pedestrians briskly walking past him. Touts selling Viagra, teddy bears, and cheap knock-offs of brand name wrist watches and sunglasses hassle every foreigner they come across, often placing the items in their prospective customer’s hands as if to make the ill-advised purchase a fait accompli. Fat American women have their pictures taken while riding a small elephant. Midgets in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms greet visitors making their way in. And a six-foot tall ladyboy poses before cell-phone cameras with a Middle-Eastern tourist shrouded in a black burqa. On the other side of the street, a crippled and scarred stray dog looks on, as if unsure of his next move, perplexed by the feeding frenzy unfolding before his every eyes. Rummaging through garbage is a tough business in this part of town.

“Haah-rrooow, weeeear-come, where you go sexy man?” The endlessly repeated mantra echoes all around, mixing in a thunderous cacophony with the undistinguished thumping sounds of techno, disco, and hip-hop, the languid falsetto flamed out by a local pop-singer, and the dire opening notes of Gimme Shelter blasted from the crackling loudspeakers of the Morning and Night Bar.

They are everywhere. Free-lancers stand shoulder-to-shoulder on sidewalks and alleyways. Others prepare for another long night of somewhat less than backbreaking work. They pack what little seating is available by the foodstalls and clutter the brightly lit convenience stores in a last-minute search for chewing gums, cigarettes, condoms, vaginal lubricant, lottery tickets, and travel-sized toiletries — the requisite tools of the trade. Others still lovingly pay homage to the Buddha, genuflecting with evident devotion before a shrine questionably adorned with garlands, plastic action heros, butter cookies, and freshly opened bottles of grape-flavored Fanta surrounded by swarms of flies. It is only upon completing the elaborate preparatory ritual that they finally report for duty, making their way into the go-go bars or joining their colleagues atop worn-out stools lining the wooden barroom verandas.

Nana Entertainment Plaza — the word “entertainment” serves as a euphemism for ejaculation in much of the country — is a disheveled three-story bazaar of cascading go-go bars, glaring red neons, and mildewy guestrooms rented out by the romp. Acts of unspeakable depravity are committed or tentatively agreed upon here. Men have seeped through the bowels of every respectable first world society, dripping all the way down here to feast on a veritable largesse of oriental game. Bronze-skinned, post-pubescent metrosexuals join limp septuagenarians carrying lifetime supplies of indispensable hard-on pills. Veteran sex fiends wear as decorations from previous, valiant campaigns t-shirts acquired in places as far flung as Cambodia, the Philippines, Brazil, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Most, however, populate the thick sludge of balding middle-aged men, tourist and expatriate alike, flaunting their trademark deformity — guts swollen from a lifetime of the old lady’s home-cooking and an eternity spent lounging in the slothful comfort of a livingroom couch.

Much like their patrons, the working girls come in all shapes and sizes. Most have the brown or burnt orange complexion of the Lao and Khmer people of Isan, the vast wasteland of depressed northeastern provinces surviving on meager rice crops, occasional handouts distributed by local officeholders, and a steady flow of remittences drenched in the bodily fluids of all manners of Western creeps. They are not all young, nor are they all pretty. Nor, for that matter, are they all women. With a few, blinding exceptions easily explained by the bulge in the man’s back pocket, the girls are rather well-matched with their employers du jour. Those whose looks afford them the luxury pride themselves in picking their dates carefully and discerningly, with a keen focus on physical appearance, dress, charm, and any information about net worth they might glean from a man’s consumption, mannerism, and eagerness to part company with money for no reason whatsoever.

The pocket-sized Lonely Planet guidebook that accompanies scores of tourists on their first, wide-eyed trip down here proclaims, with unmistakeable condescension and tone-deaf self-flattery, that “Beautiful [Thai] women will throw themselves at you, all for a modest sum (money or status).” Of course, that women would throw themselves at men for money or status fails to distinguish Thailand from any country on this earth. The operative word here is “modest” — what counts as money and status here buys you a stack of foodstamps and a welfare check back home. But for many Westerners, Bangkok’s legendary magnetism does not lie in its heavily discounted market rates. It’s rather that the services rendered in this town involve a measure of passion and lust that prostitutes elsewhere typically don’t offer.

For the local bargirl, after all, a long term relationship with a farang is prospectively the most secure of early retirement funds. Most are painfully aware that the clock is ticking inexorably against their capacity to earn incomes equivalent to those paid to mid-level corporate management in Thailand’s private sector — and several times the salary of most government workers. To make matters worse, their lifestyle mercilessly accelerates the aging process, making them look thoroughly washed up by age thirty. And when the music stops, in a few short years, a life less glamorous still awaits those left without a foreign husband. Not many among them particularly look forward to working the night shift in a factory, giving $5 handjobs in a seedy massage parlor, or sweating it out in the rice paddies upcountry.

So rather than engage in a single-night shakedown of the worthless pigs, the girls often take a more calculating, long-term approach to dealing with Westerners. They might not have the faintest scintilla of an idea of what they are getting into — most foreigners here posing a varying measure of danger to themselves and others — but many salivate at the chance of taking the devil they don’t know. Indeed, the instant cuddling may be somewhat unauthentic, the words they speak suspiciously sappy, and the loud orgasms just a wee bit contrived, but the attempt to get them to care is sincere enough. Call it “the fierce urgency of now.” And that makes for a damn good time, I guess, should you happen to be so fortunate as to be singled out as a potential one-way ticket out of the cesspool or, at the very minimum, a temporary shelter from its sickening stench.

The anthropologist Eric Cohen has it about right when he notes that there is “often no crisp separation in Thai society between emotional and mercenary sexual relationships.” If anything, it’s possibly even more complicated than that. If, specifically, it is the girls themselves who push individual relationships held together by regular side payments to quickly develop some emotional content — animated bouts of jealousy, prophanity-laced tirades, crying fits, and sometimes physical abuse after just a handful of encounters are far from uncommon — at the same time the girls go to some lengths to compartmentalize the demands of their careers from other aspects of their lives. And while they are quite aware of the stigma with which their profession brands them, they eagerly dispute any characterization of them as loose or promiscuous.

Quite aside from what the girls actively do, more or less consciously, it is the stories they tell that are frequently poignant enough to drive a dagger into the soft spots of even the most jaded, cynical, or sociopathic among us. A common thread runs through just about all such dismal narratives. In the background is a large and/or broken family where parents are always poor, sometimes abusive, and occasionally in the throws of an addiction to alcohol, gambling, or methamphetamine. As soon as she is old enough to make it on her own, if still much too early to do anything useful with her life, the girl drops out of school and moves to the big city.

The poor bitch, no education, marketable skills, or social graces to boot, comes to Bangkok to face quite the conundrum. One option is to work 12 hours a day in a convenience store, scrub the latrines at a hotel or a private home, or serve tables at a restaurant. That only gets her about 6,000 Baht (less than $200) per month. And after paying rent for a 150-square-foot shared hole-in-the-wall, not much is left for herself or her family. The other option is to sleep until mid-afternoon, lounge around for a while, take a leisurely promenade shopping for faux name brand clothes and accessories, and finally make it to the bar at the late hour of her choice. At work, she has a drink or two, suits up in boots and bikini, takes 20-minute turns “dancing” — more like wobbling listlessly around the pole with a conviction and energy evocative of Shakira on Xanax — and finds some foreigner to screw at the fixed rates that exist for short-time and long-time romps. Between the regular salary the bar corresponds, the commissions on “barfines” and “lady drinks,” and a hundred percent of the fees paid by the customer directly to the girl, a fraction of the effort (not to mention the humiliation) generates an income at least five times as large as that guaranteed by SevenEleven. If the girl is pretty, charming, and has a strong enough stomach to fuck multiple strangers a day, her monthly income may exceed 2,000 American dollars — more than a good chunk of her own customers make. More empowering still, the status of a young girl otherwise as authoritative as the water buffalo parked underneath the stilted family home in the provinces soars as she becomes the family’s chief breadwinner.

Beyond this skeletal plot, variations on both theme and cast of characters are legion. Many of the girls have one or more children living with their grandparents in Isan. Their eyes well up when they are pushed to admit that the kids no longer recognize their mothers — much less pay attention to anything they have to say — when they go back for a rare visit once or twice a year. Mom or dad might have initiated the girl to the time-honored trade by selling her virginity to an acquaintance of their choice. Ever present is also a younger sibling whose studies are being subsidized by the big sister turning tricks in the big town. But it’s the dangerous Thai ex-boyfriend who’s invariably the most interesting character. He might enter the storyline as a thug, a drug dealer, or a deadbeat dad. Or he might simply be the girl’s first love, the man who broke her heart when he walked out with someone else, got thrown in jail, or better yet perished in a barroom brawl, a drug overdose, or an all-out shootout with police. One girl I met had the bullet wounds to corroborate the harrowing story. Entry and exit.

To be sure, the debauchery on permanent display at Nana Plaza is somewhat extreme, even by Thai standards, but similar scenes can be witnessed all over town. So for anyone who has ever spent any time in Bangkok, to read the ongoing debates on morality and sex in the editorial pages of Thai newspapers is essentially to venture into a parallel universe — a petty bourgeois black hole whose existence is quite distinct from the everyday reality of Bangkok’s busy streets. Even as the country was being transformed by its rulers into a degenerate open-air bordello — a veritable beggars’ banquet — the Thai press has spent much of the past century nostalgically lamenting the decline of Thai culture reflected in the much too revealing outfits now worn by city girls, the much too suggestive dances they can be observed performing in local discos, and the much too evident loss of propriety exhibited by teenagers who openly date their classmates in the absence of a formally proffered, carefully pondered, and solemnly approved marriage proposal. In those pages, one can find stern condemnations of “Coyote dancing” performed by bartenders in nightclubs as a practice that threatens to irreparably corrupt the city’s youth. Or one can find discussions raging on about the merits of the government-imposed ban on pornographic websites. All websites found to include obscene content, in fact, are blocked by the ever-blundering Ministry of Information and Communication Technology — a fancy name for “Ministry of Propaganda” whose most insidious, Goebbelsian aspirations are undermined by the comical incompetence exhibited by just about every government agency in Thailand. Laughably swept under the rug is the strident dissonance between the government’s ongoing moral crusade and the fact that even the most depraved acts featured on the world wide web are offered by scores of local women, at every hour of the day and night, to anyone in Bangkok with the means to afford an internet connection.

The government’s hypocrisy on matters of sex and prostitution has risen to new, dizzying heights in the past few weeks. Upon learning that cash-strapped, if notoriously consumption-crazed college students in Bangkok have increasingly taken to advertising sexual services on social networking sites, the government feigned alarm, indignation, and grave concern for the threats posed by the practice to the morality of the city’s youth and the integrity of the country’s social fabric. As if to highlight the severity of this gathering danger to Thai society, it was the puppet Prime Minister himself who took the time to personally reassure the country’s bourgeoisie that the government would swiftly intervene — cracking down through the usual admixture of underhanded censorship and wasteful re-education campaigns aimed at teaching students the “right values.” It’s anyone’s guess, really, where teenagers in Bangkok would have learned the “wrong” values. Most probably, it was the growing exposure to Western culture and media that tragically led them astray.

In a country where tens of thousands of young women — possibly as many as several hundreds of thousands — suck, fuck, and swallow for a living, one might ask what the hell is the point of imposing a ban of internet pornography, of lamenting the dangers of pre-marital sex, or of expressing alarm over a handful of students who screw their classmates to finance their weekend shopping. And if modesty, chastity, and innocence are so important to the idea of Thainess, it may baffle some that purists and cultural warriors would spend so much time fending off comparatively small threats to that ideal. What many foreigners do not understand, however, is that the filthy whores who have spent decades fueling the nation’s growth, keeping entire villages afloat, and filling to the brim the coffers of the state don’t count. Nor do the large numbers of provincial women in Bangkok — whatever their day job happens to be — who are well known to be available for liaisons involving some (if perhaps less direct) form of cash payment.

For the smug petty bourgeois, whose broken English is just good enough to read brain-dead editorials in the Bangkok Post or The Nation, provincial girls who live in Bangkok are not really citizens of Thailand. Or, at least, they are not citizens in the same way they are. These women, after all, belong to a social class whose sole prerogative is to grovel, in the heinous cosmology of the poo yai. It’s not merely to be poor — if not so poor as to inconvenience the highest authorities of the state into making token gestures of support — but rather to be content with the prospect of always being poor.

As such, debates in the Thai media focus almost exclusively on the sexual mores of middle/upper class city girls — and, occasionally, the peasant women who are still expected to serve as a symbol of cultural purity for the comfort of the Bangkok elites. The ubiquitousness of the sex industry in Bangkok is not inconsistent with the elites’ image of Thailand as a sexually demure, conservative country. Nor, for that matter, does it undermine their self-appointed role as the upholders of that myth. The army of streetwalkers, go-go dancers, and tentacled masseuses working in Bangkok, then, are not commonly regarded as the long forlorn daughters whom the double-breasted, uniformed, and garishly bejeweled fathers of the nation have sold into prostitution. Far from being gratefully acknowledged for the heroic contribution they have made to the country’s prosperity, they are rather more conveniently ignored — at least when they are not being patronized or scapegoated as the loafing, conniving reprobates single-handedly responsible for giving the country a bad name.

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Handsome Men - Invisible Women

.....an informed and powerful essay on Thailand's gigantic commercial sex industry by the talented writer and journalist James Austin Farrell........

If you ever felt a pang of shame at the cinema in Thailand when you heard such words as ‘she’s as loose as a Bangkok whore’, or a similar defamatory witticism in reference to Thailand’s bawdy image, you can put your conscience at ease. Thai subtitles are not usually so brash, while – and to some extent therefore – many of the locals sitting near to you may not be aware that their country’s most talked about attraction is prostitution.

In spite of Thailand’s sex industry being emblematic of the country externally, internally the game and the players are hardly sensationalised, or even discussed critically. It goes on with a volley of collaborative winks between users, suppliers, non-consumers and law enforcers, who have all learned to turn their blind eyes to – or take advantage of – the nominal law and its moral precursors, for myriad reasons.

Marketing departments might be working hard in an attempt to purge Thailand of its lusty image though it will be exceptionally difficult to undermine, or even openly admonish something that is continually very profitable, and also implicitly accepted as common practice within the parameters of double-sided cultural values. For this reason the sex industry has somewhat become the country’s worst kept secret.
It was reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2000 that around sixty percent of tourists visit Thailand for sex, and so TAT’s counter-active pastoral slogans will always be playing catch-up to seedier images of the country, whether true or not. On the other hand it has also been argued by various critics that those beautiful and demure smiling girls in certain TV advertising campaigns, and other international marketing initiatives, are complicit with the sex industry and indirectly associated with sex tourism. Perhaps to please a varied target audience an ambiguous image needs to be preserved, that is both innocent and sexy. The Land of Smiles may have been a work of marketing genius.
Outspoken critic, Professor Federico Ferrara, author of Thailand Unhinged, writes about a nationalised, fuzzy perception of sexual morality in Thailand: “For anyone who has ever spent any time in Bangkok, to read the ongoing debates on morality and sex in the editorial pages of Thai newspapers is essentially to venture into a parallel universe – a petty bourgeois black hole whose existence is quite distinct from the everyday reality of Bangkok’s busy streets. Even as the country was being transformed by its rulers into a degenerate open-air bordello – a veritable beggars’ banquet – the Thai press has spent much of the past century nostalgically lamenting the decline of Thai culture…” His criticism is not of sex work, but of a part of society’s inability to conceive of its own norms, partly as a result of a consistently naive and blundering process of socialisation. This has created a kind of force-field that blurs the more realistic image of culture, and so is helping to prolong the lack of substantial (other than sex work) opportunities for the poor to egress from their social bunkers.
Prostitution is ubiquitous throughout Thailand. It is also illegal (since 1960), and in a sense due to the so-called rules of Thai decency, it remains self-contradictorily immoral, mostly in view of commandments concerning female chastity. Contradictions abound. A hypocrisy often raised by critics is: How do women righteously protect their virginity until married, while men fulfill their masculine promiscuous obligations?
The Ministry of Justice in 2003 did consider legalising prostitution to minimise its more venal, inhumane, and criminal elements, while looking at gaining huge tax returns, though it never happened. It’s also well known, and has been widely reported, that the vast majority of Thai male politicians indulge in prostitution. To promote enforcing the law, or to even condemn prostitution, would be outright hypocrisy for some advocates, and also a great loss to their senses.
Because Thailand is a country that for the most part collectively embraces the ‘iceberg theory’ we know that the infamous poles of Pattaya, and the miasmas of vaginally discharged cigarette smoke of Soi Cowboy, are certainly just the very gaudy tip of an often less spectacular underside of prostitution. The ‘you handsome man’ genre of the sex business, though a large chunk of tourist revenue, plays a minor supporting role compared to its more discreet Thai counterpart. During the Vietnam War foreign soldiers pumped an estimated 16 million dollars of their wages into the Thai sex-economy – the catalyst of en-masse sex tourism – but the majority of prostitutes in Thailand work not in the spotlight with wayfaring foreign travellers, but at the end of the lane with local customers.
Dr. Nitet Tinnakul, while working at Chulalongkorn University, wrote in 2004 that the sex industry employed 2.8 million people in Thailand, including approximately 2 million women, 20,000 adult males, and 800,000 minors under the age of 18. These seem like disproportionate numbers when you consider the population of Thailand. But the sex industry employs many kinds of workers, such as cleaning staff, promoters, etc.
Prostitution anyway is a nebulous word. What actually defines prostitution? ‘Services’ may be rendered in flowery circumstances between the benefactors and the sponsored, tempered with romantic interims, though coitus on a pro rata basis might still be the essential nature of the act. If this is sex work, statistics will always beguile us. The now retired Dr. Nitet told me that prostitution can mean “many things”, from “working in a bar, karaoke, massage parlour,” or what he plainly called “service.”
In his book Paying for It Garth Mundinger-Klow writes that European sailors reported about Siamese prostitution as early as the 16th century. In the late 19th century F.A. Neale’s book Residence in Siam explains how fathers traditionally took their unmarried 13 year old (“having reached their expiration date”) daughters to their shops to “be sold to the highest bidder”, or the even worse fate of being “sold to Arab merchants”. Female infanticide (“nose pinching”) and abandonment have also been reported in studies of northern villages as ways to off-load excess baby daughters in the past. It is said that the process of dok keaw, parents promising their daughters to buyers – after a down payment is made at a young age – until they have ‘ripened’, was practiced in northern Thailand until the mid ’90s.
In light of this, the freedom to sell oneself might be looked upon as a kind of modernity that is a vast improvement against the vagaries of cold, and self-serving, paternalism. If poverty in the past ruled unmarried girls a bane to their families, then has modern prostitution reversed the curse? Admittedly, with circumstances for poor women still being dire.
The early 20th century saw women’s bodies for sale in the Siamese 50 satang brothels. The luxurious arb ob nuad became popular as early as the 1940s, and what one young Thai man I interviewed called Ae referred to as the “wanking massage”, is fast becoming popular today. After reading one of many indecisive statistics concerning prostitution in Thailand I asked Ae if it could be true that, “95% of Thai men over 21 have visited a prostitute,” and he replied, “Yeah, I guess. My friends do it, if they win at gambling, then they go to arb ob nuad.”
One particular term used for exceptionally attractive girls who may temporarily commoditise their bodies is ‘sideline’, pronounced in Thai with the omission of the ‘d’ and ‘n’ sounds (sie-lie). Rumours of spectacular sidelines (purportedly mostly students) have become near to mythical all over Thailand (the Golden Fleece in Chiang Mai being a book of photos consisting of young students). The cost of a sideline is high due to their putative innocence and often chimerical nature. Blogs and websites with sidelines offering services are full of ‘normal’ girls with day jobs or upcoming exams, complaining about lack of funds. A sideline is a ‘luxury’ item, Ae explains, not a ‘garee’ (whore). Morally speaking, a sideline is contrived to be a better class of prostitute, if thought of as a prostitute at all.
How we construe prostitution will always be flapping in the wind somewhat. A child that is sold to a brothel, and a girl who decides to have ‘conditional’ sex with men, offer up very different social and moral implications. One is a universal human tragedy, while the other might be seen as taking initiative, or perhaps viewed as a socio-economic tragedy. Slavery and entrepreneurship are in direct opposition to each other.
Dr. Nitet explained that women, “become prostitutes for economic reasons, and lack of education�It can’t be legalised as society still doesn’t accept it. Women can’t admit they do it, it’s a loss of their dignity.”
Empower, an organisation empowering and supporting sex workers throughout Thailand, sees absolutely no reason for this aforementioned loss of dignity. Liz Hilton, who has been with Empower since 1992, and helps run the Can Do Bar (run by sex workers for sex workers) in Chiang Mai Land, outlined more clearly to me the local sex industry.
“From 1992-95 there were still some locked brothels in Chiang Mai that kept women,” she explains, though the brothel culture mainly consisted of hilltribe, Burmese or Chinese migrants. “By 1994 there were no Thais in locked brothels,” Hilton says.
“When the new prostitution laws came in the long rehabilitation law was changed to a 1,000 baht fine, this made it so the police couldn’t extort a lot of money from the girls.” The threat of three years in prison gave police leverage in ‘taxing’ sex workers, says Hilton, though the 1,000 baht fine stopped this. The police soon changed tactics, she says, and knowing that most girls were undocumented in the brothels they changed from “extortion for prostitution, to harbouring undocumented migrants.” This in effect closed down all the brothels. “The economic pressures on brothel owners went up with all the illegal women working for them, and because of child labour crackdowns the police had a reason to regularly raid brothels.”
So women then went out on the streets and into places like karaoke bars. “The women had freedom of movement,” says Hilton. “In the last 3 years we have found only one case of enforced labour in a closed brothel. The industry has developed. But with no political will, it just changed by itself. Imagine development with political will and social support!”
Hilton advocates decriminalising prostitution, for the implementation of labour laws, improving working conditions, having social security for workers, and improving occupational health and safety for workers. Decriminalisation may also prevent the police from corralling their regular under-the-table bounties – a kind of taxation without representation.
The industry is vital to the economy of Thailand, Hilton says, but it’s also vital to the police as it is now in its state of illegal limbo. “The industry supports the police force, every sex worker in Thailand pays the police, whether directly or indirectly,” she says.
But if its illegality were to become a reality, then Thailand would suffer a social and economic catastrophe says Hilton. “300,000 working women, what would happen to them?” she asks. Most of the prostitutes Hilton works with support 5-8 other adults, “Imagine 300,000 women out of work supporting 5 adults!? There are a lot of people anti-this and that, we know what they don’t want, but we don’t know what they are offering. They want to take girls out of one cage, and put them in another cage.”
Hilton’s analogy concerning the necessity of the sex industry is simple. Imagine impoverished girls receiving a menu of opportunities for life much like the scant menu of a noodle stall, and more affluent members of society receiving the menu of a large restaurant. Sex work works for those with very little realistic opportunities in life to become independent and support family members who have only paltry (500 baht a month if approved) government assistance in old age.
Hilton then introduced me to Wan, a young Chiang Mai karaoke worker. Wan says she enjoys her job, although she is not too keen on some of her working conditions: “I get dressed and made-up for 6 p.m. If I’m not made-up and in on time I get fined five baht for every minute I’m late,” she says, explaining her employers use the clock-card system to properly enforce this rule. “It’s a big business,” she explains, “there is PR, mama-sans, service staff and managers.”
Wan explains that she must meet a monthly quota of 60 drinks bought for her and have 50 hours of sitting time with men (many nationalities and every conceivable occupation). “If I don’t reach this target my salary is cut,” she says, and then explains to me that if her job was recognised as a job under labour laws there legally could be no such thing as wage cuts for apparent misdemeanours or failure of monthly objectives.
“I get about 20,000 baht a month, and most of that goes on my house, car, clothes, make-up, and family,” says Wan, and explains that she enjoys her financial independence. “Every job has difficulties,” she says, “no one likes their job all the time. Sometimes we have really drunk customers, often the policemen, and they make it hard for us and the manager when they don’t want to pay. I don’t have to go home with a customer if I don’t want to, and I am under no pressure to do that from the boss. I just have to meet my quota.”
As for the stigma she says, “When I go back to my village, which is poor, and I have a car, I have money, and I can make sure my parents don’t have to work hard, people don’t look down on me, they’re envious.”
Wan has also worked taking care of children; she used to mend clothes, and she has worked in factories. She doesn’t feel she is a victim. “This service is not so different from the dowry system, except now I earn the money myself, a man doesn’t give it to my family. I have freedom and choice, and the payments keep coming in. It’s not just one payment.”
“Do you want to say anything else,” I ask Wan, as she must get ready for a night’s work.
“Yeah, don’t forget a big tip.”
“We don’t want the government to go to bed with us,” Hilton insists, and repeats that she wants to see prostitution decriminalised, not legalised. “We need laws against rape, or child abuse, or violence, but often laws against prostitution just create another opportunity for extortion by the police.”
The refreshingly outspoken Australian says that the sex business is something most people still feel coy about despite its preponderance. “The foreigners say it’s a Thai thing, and the Thais say it’s a foreign thing,” Hilton explains humourously, “everyone passes it around like a hot potato.” Though the girls who work in the sex industry, she explains, are not ashamed about the matter and are quite open. The stigma she says is more acute in the daytime, at nighttime it’s different.”
Politicians, doctors, most men, see prostitutes in Thailand,” Hilton explains, “but after a lot of crap was said about HIV and AIDS being spread by female sex workers, the stats went down to 16% of Thai men.” During the HIV epidemic and the global publicity it received statistics were rehashed so that blame for the disease could not be ascribed to Thai male customers, says Hilton.
People should get rid of this image of all the women being victims she says, “it is not at all true”, and adds that women sometimes feel obliged to take on this image of the sad, victimised prostitute to reflect the theories of a myopic public, and also to consolidate Thai society’s mandatory, often hypocritical moralism that asserts prostitutes and promiscuous sex are immovably mai dee.
This evening as nightfall descends on Thailand shining fairy lights will speckle a network of beat-up roads and stretch around an entire country like a series of electric arteries; within a few hours of Thailand’s karaoke bars turning the switch the high-heeled prostitutes of Rue Saint-Denis in Paris will have unofficially clocked-in, and a few hours later in the predominantly middle-class cloisters of leafy Ottawa suburbs, police will be out looking for girls utilising their reproductive organs as a means to make money. Meanwhile laws are repealed, amended, and reformed almost all over the globe on a yearly basis, and are consistently basis for sincere moral ambivalence, religious rhetoric, and interminable controversy.
While severe poverty coupled with the absence of social welfare is certainly a direct stimulator of the sex industry, it can’t be said to be the sole reason for it. Governments in some countries have advanced the blanket victimisation stance, or have bypassed their laissez-faire embarrassment, and through regulations have afforded sex workers improved safety, labour rights, and independence from unscrupulous agents. More so, taxation with representation (especially Thailand) in such a mammoth industry could create substantial revenue to be re-thread into society. Perhaps in the future sex workers might not have to extend an embittered closed palm to the many reaching hands of a police force that continually finds ways to exploit the law.
The stigma attached to promiscuous sex is in some ways inhuman. It is our ceaseless virility that ensures the industry of the human race remains intact. Taboos are just protracted toothaches, they require treatment. So rather than embrace the verdict handed down to us from centuries of ‘enlightened’ moralists concerning the vice of voluntary sex work, these so far counterintuitive principles might be subdued and we can accept a human condition while administering human rights to it. Maybe then there might be a happy ending, or at least a better sequel, for the sex workers of Thailand.

...for more writings by James Austin Farrell go to his blog at the following link:  http://goo.gl/PWns8

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ratchada Fishbowl Bangkok

Ratchada Fishbowl - Chris Coles

.....in world of the Bangkok Night, the Ratchada Fishbowls seem so ordinary, so everyday, the ladies sitting around chatting, waiting, checking their mobile phones, thinking about their children, their mother and father, ready to get up whenever their number is called, to provide "service" to whoever shows up and takes a fancy to them. But at the same time, it's a scene from another planet with another set of rules and expectations, populated by extraterrestrial beings whose lives can not be understood, at least by us, the inhabitants of this world.......

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Monday, April 14, 2008

U.S. Senator Lost in the Bangkok Night

U.S. Senator Lost in the Bangkok Night - Chris Coles/2008

........visiting Bangkok for an International Conference, the U.S. Senator has wandered out of his five star hotel and privileged, protected world into the chaos and wonder of the Bangkok Night...........where will he end up and what will he do and how will he explain himself.......when it comes to the vastness of space between what is actual and what is pretense, he's always been second to none...............

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Nana Plaza Elephant

Om Pang Lost in Bangkok - Chris Coles

..........torn from his mother at age two, distraught, disturbed, desperate for affection, warmth and the slow plodding rhythms of his cooler home far to the north, Om Pang, the baby elephant is brought to the entrance of Nana Plaza every night to play on the drunken sentimentality of the tourists from afar, making money for his handlers and the Big Boss of all the Bangkok elephants, a man with no heart, destined to come back in his next life as a dung beetle rolling endlessly in a heap of elephant shit..................

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Elliot Spitzer Looking for Hi-End Love at Bed Supperclub in Bangkok

Elliot Spitzer Looking for Hi-End Love at Bed Supperclub in Bangkok - Chris Coles

.......only interested if the cost is so high he knows he's a special guy, Elliot Spitzer wanders through the Bangkok Night looking for hi-end love...................

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Client Number 9 Elliot Spitzer's Girlfriend Kristen (aka Ashley Alexandra Dupre) at Bed Supperclub Bangkok

Client Number 9, Elliot Spitzer's Girlfriend Kristen (aka Ashley Alexandra Dupre) performing with her band Aime Street at Bed Supperclub Bangkok - Chris Coles

Ashley, aka Kristen, is a party girl on speed. Getting down, having fun, doing lines. She sings pretty good too. But is two hours of Ashley's time really worth 130,000 Baht? That's a year and a half's wages in Thailand, eight year's earnings in Cambodia, forty years for those unlucky enough to work in Burma.

And if the two hours aren't worth the price, what do Ashley's men think they are paying for?

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