I might start with the bar scene as I know that’ll be of particular interest to the male recipients of this newsletter and I did say that I would cover this topic previously.
My vast experience of bars and bar girls 🙂 is purely based on Nai Harn, which is a quiet backwater by Phuket standards. It is very different and I would think lot less interesting in somewhere like Bangor Road, which is the widely known bar capital of Phuket, and has large, very commercial nightclubs designed to attract the huge number of horny and drunk male tourists.
Nai Narn nightlife tends to be a lot smaller and more relaxed and has a base of regular drinkers who are there for an evening out, not just as a pickup joint, although that is available too if wanted. Most of the bars are small shop fronts and employ a handful of locals. I think many of them are owned by foreigners who seem to employ managers to run the operation rather than front up themselves.
The standard environment includes loud music, of course, a television that is always on showing movies with the sound turned off and if possible subtitles on so the staff can follow the plot, if there is one, over the music. A pool table is quite often included mainly for staff use as far as I can see to fill in endless hours of inactivity. The front of the bar is totally open to the road and cars, motorbikes and food vendors pass by within meters. Getting fresh food is as simple as waving in a vendor and selecting from what’s available. It reminds me of the scene in The Fifth Element, a science fiction movie, where Bruce Willis opens the window of his multi story apartment and there is a Chinese food vendor in his floating “junk” ready to sell a meal.
A pole on a small raised concrete platform is also a standard accessory, which may be used by bar staff if they have a dancing role. Not in a true pole-dancing way, which is a hugely athletic and demanding activity in its legitimate form or in various stages of undress in its other form, but as a support and minor prop in dance routines.
For me the enjoyment of having a drink here is sitting out the front and watching the marvellous parade of humanity of all types passing by. The locals, as in most Asian countries, use their motorbikes as family transport. Four people is the maximum I have seen but the best missed photo opportunity was the baby being carried, fast asleep in his father’s arm while he rode one handed through the traffic. Helmets are required by law but I have yet to see one being used.
The bar staff have mixed functions. There is a manager, or someone who handles all the money. When you order a drink a tab is created and placed in a small pot which is kept behind the bar or placed in front of you. Each drink ordered is recorded and another tab is added to your pot. At the end of the night the manager adds what is owed and you settle up with a tip if appropriate.
There will probably be a bar girl or two who can be borrowed for a fee. If the girl is taken away the bar gets a release fee, being the price of losing the earning potential of the girl for the night. The girl is an independent operator outside her bar job and negotiates separately (so I’ve heard). I was having a drink one night and a pushy, aggressive German bloke tried to buy one of the bar girls who told him in the nicest way to get stuffed. So they do have choice and I was so pleased to see it being used in this example.
Many bars will employ ladyboys as part of the mix of personalities. Some of these are just gorgeous and others maybe aren’t heading down the right track. The plastic surgery business must be based on enhancements for ladyboys because some of the shapes on display aren’t all padding. I am told that breasts, lower body part renovations and bums are all on the ladyboy Christmas list.
There will be just normal bar staff too who are there to ensure that as soon as you finish a drink another is waiting to replace the empty glass.
The enjoyable thing about bars here is that the staff put on a constant floorshow in a spontaneous way. A song will come on that they enjoy and suddenly the whole bar is dancing and customers can get involved if they want. If you are a regular drinker the staff will recognise and be hugely happy to see you and chat away as though you were part of the family. There is no delay for service and it’s provided in a consistently cheerful way. Australian drinking places are boring and dull by comparison and staff totally disengaged on the whole.
The relationships between staff seem to be very informal and family like. A shift goes from 2 pm to 2 am and the number of customers is limited, so they live almost a home life based around the bar. Food is cooked out the back and eaten in the bar, pool played and movies watched. Friends pop in, ladyboys visit to use the mirror to straighten hair and apply makeup and boyfriends drop in for a game of pool.
There is no obvious social distinction between those who work as bar staff only and those who have chosen to work as what we’d regard as prostitutes. I suspect this is unique to areas where there is a high concentration of Farang, foreigners, because absent family members are not aware or choose not to be aware of the way the money sent home is made. It makes for a more “natural” environment for those who earn a living this way.
Many of the girls here are from rural areas of Thailand and leave family behind to earn money in the tourist destinations. I spoke to one girl, call her Pom, and she seemed to be a good example. She was married to a Thai man and has a 12 year old daughter. Her husband played up constantly and they separated, he with house and car in exchange for leaving the daughter with Pom. She works here and sends money back and talks with her daughter daily, who is being looked after by her sister and brother in law. Isaan Thai like Pom are darker skinned and are so envious of us Farang with our white skins, while we are desperately burning ourselves to get a suntan to take home.
There are many Thai girls with older Farang men as a long term arrangement. I have had a couple of drinks with an Aussie bloke, a 76 year old VERY traditional Queenslander (“bloody communist government run by that lesbian bitch”) has a permanent Thai girlfriend who would be in her late 20s. At first glance you’d be appalled at such an arrangement but I think it deserves a less prescriptive conclusion. From my observation of this relationship, and obviously there will be the whole range of examples from good to bad. The Thai girl has enormous influence in the relationship. The Aussie, who you’d think has the upper hand because he has the money, is so keen to have the young beautiful partner that she gets exactly what she wants in exchange for her main asset, youth and beauty. She has gained a new motorcycle, mobile phone and has her own ATM card although prefers to use The Aussie’s 😉
I would compare it to the relationship say between a doctor and patient. Both are interdependent and although you’d think the doctor has the upper hand he is equally dependant on having patients otherwise how would he be recognised and earn a living?
If local people ostracised the Thai woman for selling herself, that would be one thing, but the relationship is totally understood and pretty well accepted. It is one of choice, acknowledging the monetary requirement of girls from a poor background. It is not a sex worker trapped in Australia with her passport held by a brothel.
Women in these relationships wear a single ring on the wedding finger, which shows they are off limits to other men.
The other bar girl and manager in the bar where I have based myself is a drop dead beautiful woman of 25. She wears the ring for a 20 year old Thai Aussie bloke who comes over and tends to get into wild fights. She is someone with great potential and is tired of just spending the day sitting around listening to loud music, wasting her life and waiting for her man to make an appearance. What will be the end result of this I wonder? (Since heard the bloke pulled out and the girl has left the bar for who knows where).
It is the other side of the bar scene that I have observed. I have seen the living arrangements for the three people at my bar. There is a lower market resort out the back but one still goes past spacious, air conditioned accommodation for farang to the three room box, which is provided for the bar staff. Each “room” is large enough for a single mattress on the floor and a small wardrobe which sits right against the mattress. The room would measure maybe 5 foot by 8. No air cond of course.
The power of our money, so easily earned is humbling and yet we love coming here because the outward appearance of many of these people is one of fun, cheerfulness and relaxed engagement. What have we lost in the process of our materialism and which race has the more balanced lifestyle?
I see that I have rambled on just covering this one subject. I find the people, culture and observing relationships far more interesting than the tourist destinations so suck it up 🙂
Until next time.