Not-So-Slim Pickings

Tis’ the season to be jolly, and few Bangkok establishments reflect the holiday spirit better than the dozen or so bars at the foot of Soi 4. The ones clustered around the entrance to Nana Plaza in particular are packed with reveling expats and tourists most nights cheering on some English Premier League contest on the big screens. Or maybe nursing a Tiger beer on one of the stools facing out onto the sidewalk, swapping raucous stories with fellow boozers as they watch the jet-lagged, gawking new arrivals wander by. 

Despite earnest efforts, I have never become a bar regular here. For one thing, I don’t care for soccer (excuse me, football). A bunch of sweaty fellows running about kicking a ball back…and…forth, back…and…forth, and if you can endure this monotony for a half hour or so, you just might see a goal scored. Nor am I fond of beer, a beverage totally alien to my sweet tooth. (Some people throw up after consuming five or six bottles. I can vomit after but five or six swallows.)

But it’s not the booze or cable sports that draw people to the Soi. Such enjoyments are commonplace in any Western nation. One doesn’t need to fly halfway across the planet just to guzzle down a Heineken. What attracts the customers is the exotic female presence that garnishes these watering holes. For newcomers fresh off the plane, these bar companions can appear very alluring (and become even more so after the third round of drinks has been consumed). I was myself overwhelmed my first few weeks here back in 2011. It’s a kid-in-a-candy-store experience. But recently I’ve noticed a disturbing change.

It began when I found myself able to walk past the bars with barely a glance at the women seated out front. At first I thought I had finally become numb to the ubiquitous boozing and sex trade that is the hallmark of my neighborhood. But then when I started taking a closer look at what was on display, I realized the girls are simply not that pretty anymore. Meander through a Bangkok shopping mall and your neck will be sore from swiveling your head from side to side as one slim beauty after another passes by. Alas, that kind of eye candy is now absent in the bars, some of whose occupants are just plain dumpy while others have a trashy air about them — even by Soi 4 standards. Personally I’m glad they keep their heads buried in their smartphones instead of trying to entice the passing tourists. The few times one of them has looked up and beckoned to me, I’ve had to repress a shudder.

It is not just me who has noticed this deterioration. Other long-term ex-pats are complaining too, and a local blogger has devoted an entire post to the problem (see below link). The best explanation is that because of Thailand’s improving economy, young women now have more opportunities and are increasingly opting for jobs that do not require them to have sex with aged, potbellied Westerners. If you can imagine that. This leaves the ones who are usually less ambitious (and, quite possibly, less concerned about their personal appearance) to man the Soi ramparts. The dregs, if you will.

For those still seeking a measure of beauty, the go-gos are probably the best option, though it sounds like they are also are suffering from a decline in quality. But it is all relative. For example, I’d take an average looking go-go dancer over a “cute” bar girl (an oxymoron nowadays) any time. Gyrating in front of customers night after night under the flashing strobe lights requires a firmer body and better looks than what’s needed to skulk on a bar stool in some dark corner of a drinking joint.

For those contemplating a visit to Bangkok in the near future to sample the “cuisine”, by all means stop in at a one of the street-side bars and take in the atmosphere. Just do your…shopping elsewhere.

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Holiday Vacation Notice: Next posting will be Sunday, January 12, 2014.

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