When sex is on tap good behaviour is abandoned
I’m sitting in a bar, watching the punters. One guy’s scrawny neck is poking out of a cheap rip-off Manchester United top. He’s tried to prop up his wispy hair with too much product, and his eyes bulge so he looks vaguely alarmed.
He stinks of body odour and beer. His mate has womanly, swaying hips and a soft face that melts into multiple chins. His pants are too high and his lips are big and wet.
It’s a busy bar, and every time a woman walks past, these men make a grab for them. For their bums, or their boobs. They drape their arms around the woman who brings them more beer. They leer.
The women – who are uniformly beautiful - roll their eyes, shift away subtly, but no one kicks up a fuss, because this is Thailand.
Thailand, the Land of Smiles, is also the Land of Sex. It’s also been called the Land of Happy Endings. For many it has become a sex destination.
Legendary pits of seediness like Patpong and Soi Cowboy in Bangkok offer sex on tap, and coastal towns like Pattaya are practically dedicated to “happy endings”.
Thailand’s well-known but little-understood “third gender”, the ladyboys, are a part of the heady mix. So are children. But it’s mostly women sucked into the vortex of the sex industry – hundreds of thousands of them. Millions, some reports say.
In countless bars you can stroll in and pick a woman by the number hanging on a sign around her neck. Or you can just watch them swing desultorily around a pole and uncomfortably sip your overpriced drink.
Most of these women are probably poor. They’re badly paid – although they earn more than they could hope to in the rural areas they come from. The prostitution industry is rife with corruption, abuse, disease.
It’s an issue Thailand is struggling with, and it’s a complex problem that’s difficult for an occasional tourist to comment on.
But what is obvious, and nauseating, is that there are thousands and thousands of farang – foreigners - who all too easily throw away any respect for women that they feign to have back home.
In this bar, in Bangkok’s Soi Cowboy, one girl tells us “Fat and Skinny” are refusing to pay for “friendship”, or to buy the women a drink – the equivalent of a tip for their company – and yet they are groping madly. She shakes her head, but indicates it’s not worth a fight over.
And it could turn ugly if these women try to stop them, because these men have a proprietorial gleam in their eyes, even though they are not actually paying for anything other than their beers.
They have girly bar fever and they are beyond reason.
You see hordes of farang walking down these alleys, dazzled by the neon lights and mindlessly flattered by the range of gorgeous women calling to them, flirting with them, beckoning them into bars and sex shows. And it seems that is all it takes for them to discard their morals, and that is really quite frightening.
It strikes me, watching them, that far more men than I ever imagined only keep a check on their behaviour because of a fear of reprisals. Put them in a more liberal place – in a hotel room with their rugby mates and a drunken fan, or down Soi Cowboy – and suddenly all the rules are out the window.
A couple of young guys, wobbling slightly, yank a young-looking girl down from her seat and start whispering in her ear, and pulling on her skirt. One catches sight of me over her shoulder and blushes slightly. His mate pushes the girl against a pole briefly and kisses her neck as she struggles, giggling nervously, then they both walk away laughing.
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