(Part 7 of a 12 part series)
Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the seventh installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world's most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.
Part 7: SEX, DRUGS, & TSUNAMI RELIEF
Thailand is known for its beauty and culture but the country also has a seamy reputation. For decades it’s been a major stop for sex tours and a place for unabashed hedonism. Even with the tsunami that was still true and judging from the majority of tourists still coming to Patong the pursuit of pleasures of the flesh was alive and well. A ubiquitous site in Patong was fat middle-aged European men with small delicate Thai women. You would see them walking on the beach, shopping in town, eating in restaurants and drinking in bars. Foreign men without women would often be in the process of finding women and scantily clad Thai women would be in the process of finding foreign men. Some of the time the interaction would be a straight up exchange of money for sex which some men were fairly brazen about but in many cases these foreign lonely hearts would get a temporary Thai girlfriend to spend time with. They would take them out at night and to the beach while paying for their meals, buy them gifts and give them money. In turn the women would keep them company both sexually and emotionally for all purposes like any other happy couple on vacation. The Patong scene catered to more than just heterosexual men but there were also many slight Thai men accompanying foreign men along with others who catered to heterosexual women. According to a female visitor from Ireland a Thai women had even offered her services to her.
With tourism down there was an over abundance of Thai women, and men, looking for foreigners. In many of the bars it was common to see several skimpily clad Thai women sitting around looking for men. Anytime an unaccompanied foreign male would enter the bar these women would aggressively pounce on him and vie for his attention. To some this was a boon as Warrick an Englishman in his forties and a frequent visitor to Patong enthusiastically confided in me, “There are so many girls out there you can pick the best.” Also following the law of supply and demand he mentioned that now was a great time to get women because prices were down, “for about $50 you can get a girl for all night.”
Prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand but is tolerated and there seems to be no shame among the Thais about it. Thai culture has historically been accepting of having mistresses. At the same time the appetite for sex and companionship continues to draw many men to Phuket in spite of the tsunami. With tourism down overall it’s very likely that without these men there might not be any tourism at all.
Tsunami relief also came from indulgences besides sex. A few bars advertised reduced priced or special drinks because of the tsunami and even drug dealers chipped in to help. While I was there a local drug dealer of a type of mephamphetamine called “Ya-Ba” was arrested. His angle for getting customers was that he pledged to donate a third of his profits to tsunami relief. This proved so successful that he quit his regular job to deal full time. He also stuck to his pledge and by the time of his arrest he had donated about 13,000 Baht ($325) to the Army’s tsunami relief fund.
Thursday, May 4
(Part 7 of a 12 part series)