As Thailand prepares to open up again after the initial flurries of the coronavirus pandemic there is one subject in particular which is unlikely to inspire many frank admissions – the acceptance of the role of the sex industry in the economy and Thai society.
Thailand remains largely in denial when it comes to that lumbering elephant in the Siamese room despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are directly and indirectly affected by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the business.
I was educated in the practice of shifting sex under the carpet in the early days of my residence in Thailand by the very first student who I was paid to teach.
In the 1980s on several trips all around Thailand I had been astounded by the extent of the sex industry. At the time its openness seemed obvious even to a wide-eyed and fresh foreigner. Even the more secretive aspects in side alleys and country towns were barely hidden. I was shown around by people I met, both Thai and foreign. Becoming something of an expert during my steadfast research, I later introduced visitors to its obvious public displays and far seedier and more unpleasant underbelly.
In 1985 I began working in Thailand at a language school in Silom and my very first one-to-one student – I’ll call her Wipha – became a lifelong friend. A well educated office lady, she had just turned 30 and had a six year old daughter from a failed relationship with a Thai man. She was a volunteer for the Pearl S. Buck foundation that cared for the thousands of stateless Eurasian children abandoned after relationships between GIs and Thais turned sour.
One would have thought that her part-time work with children whose lives began due in no small part because of the sex industry, that she would have had more of an insight into its working. Not a bit of it. Though only a small part of our cultural and I might add platonic relationship, enlightening her about aspects of the sex industry left her flummoxed.
She was reluctant to talk despite having English skills to cope. What I detected was an unwillingness to accept the truth of how millions of Thais earned their living and gained access to funds for their extended families.
It was a denial that was all about maintaining face, ensuring that the mask of Thai conservatism didn’t slip no matter how patent the evidence to the contrary. I was to witness this countless times later as I understood that appreciating Thailand was about gaining personal experience rather than accepting what Thais said at face value. My experiences in years of knowing Wipha and her family were brilliant, but one always had to read between the lines when they spoke.
She married a man from California and we lost touch though social media later helped to rekindle our pasts. I still remember wistfully how I entertained ideas of marrying her younger sister and blamed showing my hand with all that knowledge of the nasty sex industry.
Perhaps it was for the best, though. I have always been a bit of a toe-rag and “nong sao” won a medal for shooting at the SEA games. A relationship could have ended badly.
Around that time the Longman dictionary suggested in an entry that Thailand was a land of prostitutes. Longman was summarily banned.
A Thai refreshingly not in denial about the matter of sex is party list MP Mongkolkit who appropriately enough is the head of the Thai Civilized Party. This week he spoke up about legalizing both the sex industry and the idiotic ban on sex toys.
Some have tried over the years and all have failed.
Mongkolkit is a member of a committee looking into how victims of sex crime could be better cared for and he wants to see sex workers destigmatized, taxed and able to apply for benefits. He is particularly concerned about sex workers and their mental health. Having met some, I can appreciate why that might be!
He spoke of Thailand being in denial and the law being chopped and changed since the days of the Ayuthaya Kingdom 700 years ago. Sometimes it was legal to pay for sex, sometimes it wasn’t. In fact, it’s been on and off more times than a Nana woman’s drawers. Ok, I said that, not him.
He also commented on conservative “dinosaurs” in the government against change. That is an accusation that could be leveled on the old elites over countless other issues, not least of all the pathetic attempts to follow through with stopping corruption within 20 years.
It’s six and counting for that.
The Thai government stumbled along this week treating us to snippets of their Post Covid intentions that caused anger and guffaws of laughter in equal measure across the Thaivisa forum and in the country’s social media as a whole.
The question of who will be allowed in and when was foremost with businessmen and investors, skilled laborers, those married to Thais and holders of residence papers favored. Several posters pointed out that this did not include those looking after Thai children, a very valid point and one often overlooked by the myopic authorities who can’t understand a basic premise that foreigners may have Thai kids but no spouse.
Quarantine seems unnecessary for short stay business people, government guests and tourists in the “bubble”. Could this be related to money, he asks rhetorically.
Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans were mooted as ideal bubble-bedfellows just as outbreaks re-emerged in Beijing and the land of kimchi.
Uncle Too burbled on about fearing a second spike. If I had a second spike I would absolutely know where to put it.
Absurdity reached new levels with 22 rules for opening clubs and bars on July 1st. A story called the regulations “iron-clad”. Khaki-klad more like from the KKK – Khaki Klad Klan.
It appeared that if one is able to stand on one leg, gargling Chang with a face mask while attempting to sing the National Anthem you might be allowed in. But woe betide if you talk to anyone in groups (especially the scantily clad) or dare to pick up darts or a pool cue.
Instant retribution awaits – don’t even think of being a pensioner and playing bridge!
The government’s idea of fun in bars made paint drying look appealing, so I think myself and Mrs R will just celebrate at home when THFC (my seven year old) goes back to school.
She’s done well in lockdown, better than her parents, but the Three R’s (religion, royalty and rote) await once more as the school opposite our Bangkok condo prepares to finally open its doors on Thursday.
There will be no standing at the flagpole at 8am. That’s something I suppose.
Down in QUOTES renowned ecologist and uni lecture Dr Thon was most effusive saying he had never seen Pattaya so clean, quiet and lovely in 20 years. This positivity inevitably brought every curmudgeon worth his weight in barstool, foaming to the forum.
Not least of all because this “expert” had said the condition of the water gently lapping those expansive sands was now “chai dai” (acceptable). Dr Thon seemed to make a lot of sense to me and if his Facebook comments were designed to promote tourism then it impressed this columnist.
I think it may be time to once more dip a tentative toe in those waters especially as the thought of no diesel spewing Chinese tour buses is quite appealing. I have always had a grudging appreciation for Pattaya despite my regular mockery.
The story was notable because of a brilliant typo in the first paragraph. The media meant to say “chai haat” but letters were transposed in a Siamese Spoonerism and came out as “chat hai”. Thus, “beach” was more like “nationalities disappearing” – rather appropriate for the real reason why bars and clubs are reluctant to open in the resort.
In a report quoting an industry chief it was not just the expense in trying to fulfil the “Catch 22” rules but the salient fact that there really are not enough tourists to bother opening.
This is not going to change any time soon despite the Thai media banging on about foreign and Thai tourists flouting the rules at Tree Town in Soi Bua Khao and local plod supposedly cracking down but doing what comes naturally:
It was very sad to see that the Scala or La Scala cinema in Siam Square will be closing its doors next weekend. It is the last of Apex group’s iconic four theaters to shut including one that was burnt down in the 2010 arson outrages.
I was a frequent visitor to La Scala in the 1980s with Thai “friends” who were thrilled that a farang would want to see a Thai movie. My motive was always the same – not to smooch in the back row but to learn Thai. Occasionally I would sneak out to the toilets to consult my pocket dictionary or make a note so as to better follow the plot.
Star of the show always seemed to be my heartthrob at the time, a beautiful actress around my age called Sinjai. Years later as a Thai teacher at international school, my eyes nearly popped out of my head at a parent consultation when Sinjai and her equally famous husband Chatchai Plengpanich, wai-ed, smiled and sat down to discuss the progress of one of their children.
I had no idea that the child in my class was theirs as I always focused on nicknames rather than surnames. I was gobsmacked In fact it was reminiscent of Harry Enfield’s teenage character whose father was equally smitten in a sketch with an attractive blonde teacher in similar circumstances.
Fortunately I managed to regain my composure and mutter the usual nonsense about the importance of submitting homework on time and tucking one’s shirt in.
Also in the 80s I was lucky to go to the home of famous director Chartichalerm Yukol. His films often aired at places like La Scala. I’d been hired to work on a translation of one of his films. It was the most palatial mansion I had ever entered. There was a 1920s Rolls Royce on show in the drive. Despite being a “Mom Chao” (a junior royal title) he was declared bankrupt in 2012.
I wonder what happened to the Roller?
A more modern day hi-so member of celebrity ‘royalty’ is Akarakit or the easier to say “Benz Racing” who was nabbed by Bangkok rozzers for burning up the Viphavadee Rangsit on a Yamaha this week. Plod has never liked Benz after he escaped a long sentence for laundering drug money in 2018.
Consequently when mumsy turned up with 40,000 bail money for him and six others she was made to wait all day! They all appeared in court on Friday for street racing and somehow contravening the emergency decree.
The decree is set to continue throughout July; this was presented to an increasingly wary and incredulous public who were expected to believe the extension was to protect children and the elderly. Sometimes I think that even Donald and Boris must marvel at the audacity of the Thais to say one thing and mean the other.
Trump’s performance and words in Tulsa and Boris’s rhetoric about giving the British public their summer in the pubs despite the mothers of all cock-ups in both their countries over the last few months, quite literally beggared belief.
In Liverpool the red half of the city won their first Premiership title without kicking a ball. Thousands turned up at Anfield to celebrate and the police did nothing. I resisted the temptation to troll their supporters on Facebook. I’d rather just suffer in silence. One diehard Thai supporter who put a Liverpool logo in his field, was preparing another plot for a vast trophy celebration.
He remembered the days of watching Ian Rush. Well mate, I played against him, so there!!
Far more light-hearted international news was a story about six postal workers in Bavaria being taken to hospital after a large consignment of durian arrived and wafted out the post office. Wusses! Here in Thailand we actually pay top dollar and EAT the stuff with relish. It costs me a small fortune at this time of the year especially as my little children have taken a great liking to the “King of Fruits”.
Finally, after a long hiatus, I would like to award a best post prize to “Lupin”, especially as it is related to my sex theme. “Ezzra” had ridiculed the new rules for Pattaya saying he could see himself sipping through a straw while a girl wearing mask, gloves and face shield fondled him.
Too much information, perhaps, but wag “Lupin” responded with the lovely:
“Some in the BDSM crowd call that Tuesday night”.