What a month this has been so far ! I really have to write about what has happened to me this month. It is a sign of the times in Thailand. Businesses are closing, tourism is way down and jobs are being lost. Many of the local businesses which remain open are losing money.
The end result is that poor families are getting poorer. With no state aid to fall back on they have to resort to other means of earning a living, and as normal it falls on their young daughters to do it.
I live in a condominum complex well away from the 'entertainment areas' of Bangkok. The people living here are hard working Thai's and Foreigners. The complex has some laundry shops, small restaurants and some other shops. Over the last 13 months I have got to know the staff of these shops quite well.
Last week two things happened. I popped into one of the laundry shops where a mother ( the owner ) and her two daughters work. The mother must be about 40 years old, one daughter about 14, and the other about 16 years old. The mother explained to me that business was 50 per cent down and as a result she will have to put up her prices ( typical Thai business mentality ) or her shop would have to close.
I sympathised, and tried to explain that by putting up prices might increase income in the short term but would lead to less business in the future as other local places will be cheaper.
I also told her that foreigners in Thailand had problems as well and that my income was effectively 33 percent lower than it was 18 months ago. She understood that, but she needed the money NOW. Then out of the blue she asked me to buy her 16 year olds !!!!!!! and she was not joking.
Now, first of all this would be illegal because of her daughters age, secondly I am not into younger girls, and thirdly I couldn't afford it if I wanted to. The mother wanted 20000 baht - no mention of what the daughter thought of this, but knowing Thai culture the daughter would have seen it as helping her family and gone along with the idea.
I wasn't shocked by the request as I have had similar propositions in bars ( more on this later ), I was shocked that it was happening in a laundry shop in a middle class area of Bangkok. A sure sign of desperation setting in.
But it gets worse. Last night I ordered some food to be delivered to my condo from one of the restaurants. I have done this countless times and always give the waitress who delivers it a 15 baht tip. The food was delivered as normal and I tipped the girl 15 baht. As I went to close my door the girl asked me if I could let her have more. I laughed and she responded 'I will make you happy for 500 baht' I said 'what do you mean', and she replied 'I will go with you for 500 baht - I am sorry for asking but my family really need the money'.
She is a lovely girl, she is educated and speaks good English. She has been delivering food to me for months. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In fact I thought she was joking, but she wasn't. I politely declined and promised to increase my food orders ! She looked glum and went on her way.
Now, I would never have expected this, not in the part of Bangkok I am in. I have been propositioned before by maids cleaning my room, and by the cleaners of apartment common areas in the other places I have lived, but not where I am living now. It is certainly a sign of the times.
To top it all, my friend owns a restaurant close to the complex. He had a couple of Thai girls working there. One was about 17. I went in there recently and realised the 17 year old had left. She was a very outgoing girl, and always on her mobile telephone talking to friends. I asked what had happened to her and my friend told me that her mother had sold her to a wealthy Thai man ! Apparently this is quite normal in parts of Thai society.
Thats three instances of desperation I know about in three weeks. What else is going on I hate to think. I can understand it in the 'entertainment' and tourist areas but in a decent area of the city ?? I suppose that the if the girls needing money here don't get it they will be off to the bright lights....
Anyway, talking about the entertainment areas. I must tell you of my experiences with families working in the same bars.
Two scenarios are typical and actually involve close blood relatives - not extended families.
Firstly, in one 'go go' bar I frequent I have got to know the mamasang very well. She is 50 years old now. When we first met her 16 year old daughter was working in the same bar as a waitress during school holidays. It was clear to me that the daughter was being groomed in the art of bar work. In fact the daughter explained to me, through her mother, that she could not wait until she was old enough to work properly and earn 'big money'like her mum.
Even though the legal age to work in a bar is 20, it is often ignored, and during the daughters 18th birthday party ( 18 years old is the legal age for sex ) she started dancing 'topless' on stage. The mother was really happy and cheered ! Moments later I was introduced to the mother's 2nd daughter who had just arrived to take the now vacant position of waitress ! Guess what she was 16 !!
I later found out that the 18 year olds virginity was sold to a Norwegian guy for 35000 baht ! The girl is still dancing and is now making her 'big money'. Her mother is retiring soon ( when the new house she is having built is finished ) and the younger daughter is waiting for her own 18th birthday. Apparently she has already received offers similar offers. So sad, but such things are all too common in Thailand.
The second scenario involves an offer which I did not take up. I was in a normal beer bar last year talking to a girl who worked there. I have known her for a few years. She introduced me to an older woman who she said was her mother. The 'mother' could not speak English.
This is a normal bar girl trick to make you feel obliged to buy drinks for a girl's friend who isn't doing very well. So I said I didn't believe that the older lady was her mother and that I wasn't buying her a drink. Then after a few minutes of chit chat out came the ID Cards. Sure enough they had the same last name, in fact they even had similar physical characteristics. I had to buy her a drink :)
After a while the girl asked me if I wanted her and her mother together for 3000 baht! Now three is ok, but not with a mother and daughter ! Talk about keeping it in the family. I know this form of 'family entertainment' is quite common in the tourist bar areas of Thailand, but its not for me.
Lets hope the economic conditions in Thailand do not get much worse.