A Year in Bangkok – Teaching, Go Go Bars and….

13 08 2010

I work as an English teacher and, when I first came here, I made up my salary by working in an expensive, air-conditioned private school on Saturdays, teaching spoiled rich brats who didn’t want to be there. It was a nightmare and the brats were totally out of control. When I raised this with the manager, he just said that’s how it is here. I soon decided that if the students didn’t want to be there then nor did I and packed that in. Shortly after, the school contacted me to offer me a full time job but I reasoned that if I didn’t like being there for one day a week, there was a fair chance that I would dislike five days even more.

I also worked as a volunteer one evening a week, teaching English to bar girls as the language is a ticket to reasonable employment over here and, for those who want to, can help them escape from the sex industry. That was fun and it was a privilege to start getting to know some of the bar girls in this way. It was also great fun to hear what they really thought of their customers. They used to come to my apartment block and I taught them in a common area downstairs. They often noticed Stephen, a young and very good looking colleague of mine who also lived in my building and would tell me how much they liked him.

However, rapid promotion to Head Teacher meant I didn’t have time to continue that although I have occasionally gone and done a couple of hours teaching with the girls since then. Of course, I am not Head Teacher in a conventional English sense. We provide the English teaching in about fifteen different schools and I am responsible for all of our English teachers in those schools. My salary is less than thirty five per cent of what I was earning back home but you don’t need much to live well here and my standard of living is a lot better than it was in England.

That standard of living attracts a lot of people to this country. Coupled with that, Bangkok is not just the city of angels, it is the capital of sin. That attracts its fair share of people too. Richard, who has an apartment in the same block as me probably exemplifies such a person. He retired here two years ago at age sixty. He receives a pension of just under fifteen thousand pounds per annum. On that income, he maintains not just his Bangkok apartment but a bungalow upcountry in Isaan. He has a ‘wife’ in each residence and, in his own words, lives like a king. I asked him where he met his ‘wives’ and he replied “In the go-go bars, where else do you meet girls?” Whatever your views are on the sex industry here it is not difficult to see the attraction for people like Richard. And yes, those stories you’ve heard about Bangkok are probably true – it is hot and steamy in more ways than one. It does seem a pity though that so many western men only meet Thai women through the ‘sex for sale’ places.

One day, Richard decided to organize a ‘boys’ night out’ to some of the go-go bars and he asked me to invite Stephen. This I did, only to receive a lecture on how sad it is that people go to these bars. The two bar girls I taught work in Patpong, a particularly seedy area in my view but there are also places there not associated with the sex industry. For instance, somebody I know runs a music bar there and had invited me along several times. When I eventually did go, I realized it was very close to where the girls I had taught worked and, as they had often asked me to visit them at work, I went along and found their place of employment. I was invited to sit in the girls’ rest area which is a great vantage point for watching what goes on in one of those places. If a customer wants to take a girl out of the bar, he must pay a fee to the bar, called a bar fine and he must pay the girl a pre-agreed sum of money. I was fascinated, watching what was going on in the bar but the girls, for whom it was common place of course, couldn’t wait to tell me their news.

It turned out that, two nights previously, Stephen (who despises such places and their customers) had been in that bar and had tried to take not one but two girls home with him. He hadn’t wanted to pay the bar fine though so had waited outside the bar when it closed, thinking they might go with him because he was such a great catch. Imagine my delight at hearing this little gem and, even better, when I got home, I spied Stephen drinking alone in the downstairs bar. I ordered a pint, sat down opposite him and told him that I had heard he was in Patpong on Thursday. He denied it. I said that was funny as I’d heard he was in the such and such bar. Again he denied it, reminding me what he thought of those places and the people who go to them. So I told him about wanting to bring two girls home but refusing to pay the bar fine and waiting outside at closing time. To say he was shocked at my having such detailed information would be an understatement and, at this point, he caved in and asked me how I knew about it. “Stephen” I said “Nothing is secret here, Bangkok is just a big village.” I never did tell him how I knew.

The truth is that the go-go bars tend to be fairly unpleasant, sleazy places. The first time I visited Bangkok, it was with a tour group and it was decided that the guys would visit Patpong one evening while the women went for a massage. I think we all felt slightly embarrassed at what we saw but, when I went home, several people asked me if I had been to a go-go bar. When I said that I had, they wanted to know what they were like and I said that they were basically full of fat middle aged men watching skinny young women pole dance. Some of us had one of those silly conversations which are facilitated by plenty of beer and thought it would be a good idea to have fat middle aged men pole dancing instead. So was conceived a notion which transformed itself into reality for my fiftieth birthday party when two of my Harley riding friends, donned large Y-fronts, big black boots and lots of baby oil, and made their stage debut as the fat men pole dancing. We borrowed some rusty scaffolding for the poles which made interesting marks on the back of their Y-fronts when they slid down them. Unable to find a garter to push it in, one of the guests pushed a fiver down the Y-fronts thus fully entering into the spirit of things. I asked people not to buy presents for my birthday but instead to contribute hard cash and we managed to raise quite a lot of money which went to a Vietnamese charity working with street children enabling them to find real alternatives to working in the sex industry over there. The guys who did the pole dancing were great and it has to remain one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

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