Last week I got caught in a sudden rain shower while walking down Patpong Soi 1 in the early evening. No gogos were open yet, so I sat down outside King’s Castle 1, next to one of the mamasans who manage the girls there. She said a quick hello before launching into a story about a dancer who was recently fleeced by a tourist. At first, I was shocked. I thought all Patpong gogo dancers were savvy, streetwise, and cut-throat. As she related the tale, I learned how wrong I was.
To be fair, the girl was new to the biz. She’d only been in Bangkok for a month, straight from a small rural village, and was still wet behind the ears. After 3 weeks on the pole and no direct customer interest, she began to wonder if she’d chosen the right career path. Then suddenly, a few days prior, a middle-aged Indian man bought her a drink. He regaled her with stories of his vast fortune, and his desire to spend some of it on her. He showed her an American 5 dollar bill, and explained that it was the same as 1,000 baht. The mamasan leaned in and corrected him. They argued, then agreed to disagree. Soon after, he was haggling with the mamasan about the bar fine. He didn’t want to pay. Either that, or he would pay the bar fine but not the short time fee. Then he asked for a discount. When none of that worked, he paid the bar fine and took her on her first short-time outing. Before sending her off to fend for herself, the mamasan explained to her the rules: Always use a condom. Make sure he has the cash before you go to the room. Check for hidden cameras. Make sure he bathes, etc. etc. She barely listened, her eyes filled with baht signs. The two left together, both smiling at the prospect of what the night would bring.
An hour later, the girl returned. But she was no longer smiling. The mamasan asked her what happened. She said that, after he finished, he told her he didn’t have any money. But he promised he would come back the next day and pay her, and buy her another drink. She said this with a hint of hope in her voice. The mamasan shook her head. “You fool,” she said. “He will never come back here. You just gave him boom-boom for free.” But the girl was insistent. He will come back, she reassured the mamasan. He said he would. He likes me. “No, silly girl,” the mamasan replied. He tricked you, because you are naïve and you don’t know any better. That’s why you should’ve listened to me.” The girl burst into tears. “What do I do now?” she asked. “Nothing you can do,” said the mamasan. “Go back to his hotel. You will see he has already checked out.” “I don’t remember where the hotel is,” replied the girl. “Stupid child,” retorted the mamasan.
She ended her story by lamenting that sometimes the girls refuse to listen to the wisdom of people who are older and more experienced. I said she did the right thing trying to warn the girl, and that she will learn the hard way. Then the rain stopped, and I got up to leave. But I was really struck by the mamasan’s story. It changed the perspective I’d always had about gogo dancers. It seems there is a wide learning curve, and the girls at the low end of the scale are as innocent and gullible as can be. Usually the stories are the opposite—naïve tourists being cleaned out by shrewd heartless working girls. Turns out that knife cuts both ways. I never knew.
Just as I was saying goodbye, a lady walked up and showed the mamasan a photo of a man in the hospital. She didn’t say anything, but gestured toward her chest. The mamasan shook her head and shooed her away, whereupon she showed the photo and made the same gesture with each Thai person working on the soi. I asked the mamasan what she wanted. She said the woman was deaf and wanted money for her husband who can’t pay his medical bills. Then she added that it’s probably a scam, and that there’s no one in hospital who needs money. I asked her why she didn’t approach any farang for a handout. She said it’s likely that the woman can’t write English and so can’t make an efficient enough sign. I had reached for my money the second I saw the photo of the man in the hospital bed. It amazed me that the woman—scam artist or not—didn’t have the wherewithal to be hitting up foreigners for their change. Instead she was asking Thais making a few hundred baht per day for some of their money. Talk about a bad business model.
So the next time someone tells you that Thais are shrewd scammers and you have to be wary of their wiley ways, remember these two women. One got swindled by an Indian tourist and the other hangs all her hopes on donations from broke people. That’s not what I’d call “shrewd” or “wiley.” I just feel sad for both of them.
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