Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Subject of Inexhaustible Interest Regarding Thailand

Here is a lengthy article on Thailand regarding...what else...that subject which has seen more ink spilled about it than any other single aspect of this country; prostitution. The writer claims to be a jaded denizen of Sukhumvit soi 4 but at times offers up tripe similar to that from which he claims to be offering a respite. Being closer to the action doesn't necessarily provide sharper insight or more believable hypotheses.

He starts off well, debunking some statistics that could be dismissed by a moderately trained chimp. The problem is, he adds to the mix his own litany of absurdities and hard-to-believe claims that he likely gleaned from local bullshit artists who bolster and reinforce a take on things that sits well with his view of the world.

Among the gems: that Thai prostitutes clean the feet of paying customers before they shag them. Now, In my time here I have never paid to have sex with a woman but I have talked to plenty who have. Never have I heard this unlikely tidbit, something that many scum would probably gain a hearty and patronizing sense of pleasure from if it were true. Before receiving a traditional Thai massage your feet will be washed by a young girl whose sole responsibility is just that, only to allow the masseuse to avoid touching filthy foreign feet. It's not out of the realm, but again, I have never heard about this regarding prostitutes.

Another claim, that does seem plausible and has a ring of truth to it, is that Thai prostitutes are generally free agents and not beholden to pimps. Of course, there are reasons that drive them towards the profession but an abusive, controlling individual who skims off most of the profits and keeps the girl desperately reliant, is not a sense many have gained from the girls working at the beer bars of Bangkok. While the writer of this article, like many before him, makes this observation, a significant portion of the piece is devoted to that almost unquestioned issue of human "trafficking" in the region. I don't know the extent of this or how true many of the claims are but the free-agent phenomenon and the trafficking horror stories just don't seem to jibe. How and why are those being trafficked out of Thailand so easily snared and in apparently such large numbers while an even larger number of girls remain in Thailand, unfettered (except for the slobs they endure.) Even on occasion hitting the jackpot, marrying a farang and, as the author states, returning to their villages with "no social disgrace attached."

Fuck!! No stigma attached to a poor Isaan girl who is in any way connected to a farang? This alone tells me that the writer is relying on input from those he thinks are hip to the scene. Like many minorities in the west who are more conscious of their differences than the majority they feel threatened by, poor Thais are as hyper-conscious of social stigma as anyone in Thailand and usually more so. The foreigner-with-a-Thai-woman-must-be-a-prostitute canard is one that is alive and well amongst the lower classes.

The writer does have questions for assorted NGO's about the reported statistics of such trafficking but this core contradiction of relative freedom on one hand and the international trade in flesh on the other, doesn't cause him to ponder this dissonance to the degree it deserves. So instead of bracing those who potentially benefit from such half-truths and the belief that this supposed murky underworld exists, he dances around the issue. I'm guessing it's because he is likely part of the world of NGO's himself.

Some more problems I have with the article are regarding the claims of wages paid to rural Thais. Most importantly, are these figures based on unemployed people as well, which, if grouped with those who are working, would drag down the average. His figures are that 1/3rd of Thais make less than 2 dollars US per day. This would be the equivalent of 80 baht per day. Poverty and exploitation of the poor is horrific here and I personally know of numerous people being screwed in various hell-on-earth jobs. However, I do take issue with the specifics. I have never heard of anyone in the last few years getting less than 100 baht per day for a grueling 10-12 hours of physical labour. That in itself is beyond sickening as far as a true crime against humanity and I am only quibbling over a difference 20 baht but still, it seems articles like this take liberties in order to ratchet up the *gasp* factor. He further claims that 1 in 6 make less than 1 US dollar a day. Less than 40 baht per day? 10 million in Thailand at this rate of pay? I don't believe it unless there are some credible sources and statistics provided to back it up.

Another matter concerns the core of scum who gleefully trip on shamelessly using, exploiting and discarding young vulnerable Thai women and who perpetuate the myth of them as cagey vipers so as to absolve themselves of any guilt. There is no doubt these men do exist. But as usual, a uniformity and a kind brotherhood of such people is implied and stated outright, which imbues that sinister and easy-to-loathe pall that adds to the appeal of such an article, a kind of sensationalism which the writer himself takes issue with.

However, he makes a few valid points throughout. One I have long echoed, and that is the fact that prostitution is far more accepted and thus indulged by Thais and other Asians than it is for western tourists and expats. The garish-street front bar/hook-up joints and the strange and pathetic acting out by the core of western fools who do partake gives many a sense that perhaps the numbers are greater than what reality would show.

A generalist piece which offers no new insight, arrives at few conclusions save for the obvious, and at times is maundering and unfocussed, it is still worth a look.

Cross-posted at Blogcritics