By: Duc Hanh
Journalism Magazine – Vietnam
Patpong– 10 PM – the coloured lights were twinkling on many bodies of beautiful girls. They were standing like a line in front of show girl bars. They were just wearing their underwear to attract tourists. The smell of cosmetics, the sounds of stimulating music and the advertising of show girls overwhelm the senses. In a 10minutes walk around the Patpong area at least nine men insistently invite visitors into their bars and show off a list of show girls. Inside the “Heaven” bar, visitors follow the bodyguardup to the second floor by the dark staircase. The only thing that can be seen clearly was a sign: NO PHOTO!
In the bar, there were about 40 customers. Almost all of them were Western, and at least a third of them were women. Each customer was charged 300 baht and given a drink. The bar manager takes care of all the customers, but beautiful sex workers just focus on the single men. When a single man comes in, five girls pour in. They massage his shoulders, inquire after his needs, and make an offer of whatever he wants. Then one or two girls leave with him. The price for the girls is 1000 baht to 1500 baht an hour.
Customers sit around a u-shaped stage while women dance by. Some sofas lined the wall. On the stage were six dance poles and a front end of an old car. The weak light, strong music, cigarette smoke and perfume made the atmosphere in the bar dense.
Not far from the sitting customers, there was a girl sprawled on the sofa. She looked so tired. “Now is the balloon show of the Burmese girls!” said an announcer. The girl woke up immediately and ran to the stage. She took off her pants and picked up a bunch of balloons with her hand. She was ready for the balloon show.
She lay down and used her vagina to shoot small arrows at the balloons. Her face was emotionless. At the same time, six other girls took off their bras and danced around the poles. Some of them raised their legs into the air while holding on with their arms. Their faces were cool. They didn’t look at anyone. They didn’t smile. They just danced and did their work like a farmer works alone in the winter’s field.
When all of the balloons were popped, customers clapped and the girl walked around with a small bucket. Some customers dropped 20 baht in, even though a sign on the bucket said, “Please give me 100 baht.”
The next shows were more of the same. Three girls had to do many things with their vaginas and bananas, razors and Coca Cola bottles. Other girls walked around the bar dancing and soliciting. If they were not taken up on their offers, they grumbled with each other in Burmese or Thai.
SEX WORKERS UNIVERSITY
One sex worker can clear about 10,000 baht a month after she pays for her meals, lodging, her bar fees, her cosmetics and sends money to her family, according Ms. Pornpit, a coordinator of EMPOWER, a nongovernmental organization that works with sex workers,
Ms. Pornpit considers herself very understanding of sex workers. It is not because she been awarded the first annual human rights award for defending the rights of women sex workers by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand in 2005, but because about 4,000 sex workers who are members of EMPOWER Organization in Thailand share with her their problems.
“In the past 21 years, we always help sex workers have a job that is professional, fair and safe. EMPOWER is a place where sex workers meet for friendship and to share their daily experiences and ideas about working, dealing with health, safe sex, HIV/AIDS, survival, and new opportunities,” Ms. Pornpit said.
With four centers in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Sai and Phuket, the EMPOWER Organization is called a Sex Workers University.
Many activities are organized for sex workers. They join the English classes so they can have conversations with customers in the bar, learn massage and dance skills, learn social skills such as how to send money home or using ATMs, how to have safe sex to prevent HIV/AIDS, and inform themselves about laws relating to women. They also are educated on what to do if arrested.
They are given brochures, newsletters and cassette tapes for study. Every Monday and Friday afternoon, sex workers can go to the EMPOWER center to join classes. It is an informal education. In October, EMPOWER organized a dancing competition for sex workers. Many bargirls joined and learned how to dance without injuring themselves. They also joined in a boxing competition.
The Thai government, a handful of NGOs, bar owners, and the embassies of England and Canada sponsor programs for sex workers in an attempt to improve their lives. Not every activity organized by EMPOWER has the support of bar owners, who may refuse to let the girls participate in the human rights meetings, and try to stop them from fighting for labor law protections.
The girls in the Patpong area have to pay 30 percent of their earnings from each customer to the bar owners.
The slogan of EMPOWER is: “I sell my body, I don’t sell my country.” According Ms. Pornpit, sex workers have difficult jobs and confront many difficult situations. Many girls in Patpong come from Burma, Lao,s Cambodia and Russia, she said. “Maybe they were sold by a trafficker or they are working for an agency. But all of the sex workers just do this kind of job because they need money for their life. EMPOWER hopes that all sex workers around the world can add their job’s name to the labour law,” Ms. Pornpit said.
“If you can count stars on the sky, you could count the number of sex worker in Patpong,” she said. “But I am sure that they contribute a lot of money to the Thailand economy. That is why the government still supports our work.”
According to the COR-Thai website, an online newspaper based in Thailand, tourism in Thailand in 2005 added 409 billion baht to the country’s economy. Sex workers in Thailand earn more than 200 billion baht per year, the website said. Patpong “heavens” attract many tourists when they visit Bangkok.