In the imaginations of some people, Thailand is synonymous with sex - prostitutes, massages, ladyboys and sex shows. Actually, when you are here you discover that the vast majority of Thais live decent lives and are as distant from that legendary seediness as normal people are in other societies.
When I was in Kanchanaburi, I found myself in a little Australian-owned bar. It was early evening and the night of my companion Jon's birthday. We had met up with a Norwegian psychologist, a young Dutch woman whose longterm boyfriend had recently been taken away by leukemia and an English IT specialist who has spent eighteen years working in aviation in Saudi Arabia. But it's not them I want to talk about - it's the beautiful young barmaid called Noi.
|How do you react to this picture?|
I had a conversation with her and she told me she had only recently moved to Kanchanaburi from an eastern province where her family were peasant farmers. She said that she wished she could go home and felt rather lonesome in this faraway town. She was perhaps twenty years old. I complimented her on her passable English and asked how she'd learnt to speak my language so well - "I learn from book," she said.
We shook hands and her pearly white smile radiated from her flawless brown face. And then the drinking and the chitter chatter continued as I ordered a Massaman curry and Jon treated himself to birthday pie and chips!
Half an hour later, I looked deeper into the bar where an old western man was sitting. I noticed him talking to Noi. Then it was more than talking. He was perhaps seventy years old with snow white hair - easily old enough to be Noi's grandfather. To my horror, I saw him pulling Noi towards him and attempting to kiss her. A few minutes later they were both in a motorcycle tuk tuk, heading off for half an hour of wild passion. She was not just a barmaid but a "bar girl", employed to satisfy the carnal lusts of lascivious customers. And now I knew why she wasn't happy and why she wished she was home. But no doubt, even her family would have encouraged her to go down this route - it is a familiar pattern in Thailand. To climb out of abject poverty - you do what you can and you use what you have got.