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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Phuket: No More Maaaak Maaak

One of the first things I noticed in Phuket was that there seemed to be fewer bar girls. Maybe it was the beach I chose, but there were a lot of families and older couples, and very few ugly old white men with impossibly young and beautiful girls, each one emitting the horrible bar girl screech. Maaaaak maaak. I had sort of put it in the background in Chiang Mai, like the dust and the sidewalks blocked with motorcycles. Then when I got to Phuket, I really noticed the difference. I noticed how much it had annoyed me.

The bar girls are a funny phenomenon in Thailand, as a lot of face saving is involved. The girls work in bars, and men "hire" a girl to travel with them, paying a fee to the bar owner to "make up for the temporary loss of his employee". Usually they leave the bar and travel with the men, who of course pay all expenses and buy lots of presents. The girl will have at least one family emergency during the trip, and the man will be expected to pay for her brother's hospital stay or her mother's doctor. Both act as if they are terribly in love, then he gets on a plane and goes away, and she resumes her hunt. She does have to eat, and she has parents, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews to support.

One of the strange aspects is that the men, especially the young men, frequently do not seem to recognize that the girl is "hired". They truly believe they just paid the bar owner for inconveniencing him, and the girl gets no cut of that money. And worse, they believe that the girls are in love. The girls do other work around the bar, taking turns being the cashier, for instance. This allows the men to pretend she "isn't one of the bar girls." Then later it turns out that "she was just like all the others, after money."

Interestingly, it is possible for a girl to get out of the bar contract that her mother put her in and become an "independent", taking one step up on the social ladder. Some manage to work their way out of the situation, starting a business, or even marrying a farang (foreigner).

Because they never see any part of Chiang Mai but the tourist area, the men never realize that there are no respectable Thai women hanging out in the bars alone. They swallow the stories they are told. This is important, as it allows the girl to save face. Or maybe they don't. Face means a lot in Thailand, so maybe they just let them have their little stories about being a beautician. That's a euphemism. "Beautician in Bangkok" or "Secretary in Pattaya" are common expressions.

One sad thing is that legitimate relationships are tainted with the bar girl brush. As are legitimate jobs. I pity the girl who really is a secretary in Pattaya.

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