“HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!”
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews
Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich
Excerpt from The Preface by Dave Walker
…The love letters in this book were all written by men of various nationalities, many of whom came to Thailand on holiday, fell in love with a prostitute, then returned home to write love letters and send money. As many men soon discover, reality and common sense can be easily suspended in exotic Southeast Asia.
“Hello My Big Big Honey!” examines this relatively unexplored, and less sensationalized side of Thai prostitution through the love letters donated by the bar girls, and through intimate interviews with the women and others involved in Bangkok’s bar culture.
Some letters describe badly performed sexual encounters in short-time (pay by the hour) hotels, squalid guest houses, and even five-star hotels. Some letters are crude, while others are sensitive and beautifully written. There are the romantic letters of the French, German love letters, heavy and full of Teutonic angst, as well as letters from British, Australian, French, New Zealand, Canadian, American, Japanese and Scandinavian men.
What emerges are not-so-normal love stories and a very different look at human relations.
A foreign man arriving in Bangkok for the first time can be an easy mark for many scams. Jewelry, custom-made suits, and sex with anything he desires, are all endlessly offered by a variety of sleazy characters — usually driving a taxi.
He may walk into a go-go bar where he is treated like a celebrity by scantily clad nubiles in string bikinis. But like celebrities everywhere, this popularity usually lasts only as long as he is paying the bills.
He could be a nice guy who just finds it easier to empathize with the bar girls, due to their poverty and wretched lifestyle. Or he may be a sex tourist who bar hops and sleeps with as many women as he can. The women respect this type of man the least and will take him for what they can. Fidelity is highly prized by Thai women as many of them are working in the bars due to a failed relationship or marriage.
Another man may make a woman his travel companion and take her on holiday in Thailand. They may spend weeks, or even months together. Some bar girls have married the rich and famous, many have worked the bars in other countries, while others have done more travelling than Marco Polo.
Whatever reason a man has for frequenting Bangkok’s bars, he will be entering a complex and very alien world. There is little in the West that can prepare him for Bangkok’s bars, and the women may haunt him long after the jet-lag has worn off. The wild nights and the sultry, available (for a price) women will have left their mark.
The bars seem to bring out the best, and occasionally worst of male behavior. Bar relationships are not always “buy sexual,” and one hears of generosity and compassion that can give you a whole different way of looking at men.
In addition to Thai prostitutes, tourist men also fall in love with cashiers, tour guides, hotel receptionists, waitresses, co-workers, and bank clerks. These women also receive love letters. But it’s the bar girls who seem to inspire foreign men to write the most. The fantasy prevails.
Thai women who enter the sex industry usually come from the poor, rural, northeastern region (Isarn) where life can be extremely harsh…”
(Walker’s full Preface appears in the book.)
Excerpt from The Introduction by Richard S. Ehrlich
…The odds are against love. When she’s dancing on her tiny stage, a Thai bar girl might discover a row of men blandly watching, as if jurors at her trial. Or she’ll see a man whose expression is so mangled from years and fears that his face looks like a Rorschach inkblot, which only she can interpret. In the shadows, a quiet drinker might be waiting for human balm to satiate and sooth his antique body.
Her friends and competition will also be there, including the much too professional, pumped-up girls with their mercenary, split-level smiles beaming hot fake lasers of love. Other girls, jagged from smoking heroin or sniffing paint thinner or eating amphetamines, will scan the barroom with fierce, barbed-wire eyes unable or unwilling to conceal their own traumas. One girl’s face might be pulled by invisible hooks into a frown as she numbly goes through the motions of dancing to the blare of “Like A Virgin.” Other girls, gleefully laughing and trying to lure a crowd, will comically dance and strip. Some shows continue into crude cabaret.
Prostitutes have always driven some men crazy with love. Vincent Van Gogh may have chopped off part of his ear for a bar girl, though Van Gogh also threw his mind to the crows so he might not be an accurate measure of how deranged men can get when confronted by a female willing to pretend to be the answer to their dreams.
Throughout human history, the oldest profession has inspired in some men eloquent poetry, opulent feelings and an honesty which can be lacking in the courtships, marriages and vows of other relationships. Much of the commercial intercourse in Bangkok, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be so lofty. Men are willing to pay, but they often quickly demand her sunny side up while the meter is ticking. Or kinkier acrobatics. And these days with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus causing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome — people on all sides are increasingly losing their lives.
But among the bars’ clients and public dancers are some foreign men and Thai women who are looking for love, though sometimes even they are unsure how to find it. Many of these infatuated men write love letters to their store-bought girlfriends. Even tonight, some Patpong women are carrying paper envelopes stuffed with foreign hearts. In some cases, a gorgeous, sweet, stunningly erotic Thai bar girl is the indescribable explosion that a man suddenly sees as a faint glimmer of hope. Though customers usually return to faraway nations, Bangkok becomes the place where they fall when they fall asleep.
Male chatter with their bar girls might be sexist, obscene, humorous, profound, scientific, pathetic, disgusting or just a delight in the pleasures of the senses and the moment’s illusion.
“Want me to write your name with a bottle of wine in the streets, to show you how I feel about you?” an American whispers to a lady on his lap. “Has anyone ever done that for you? Wasted a bottle of wine writing your name with it in the street?”
Or a German advises his buddy, “My best time was being with a squad of deaf and dumb hookers who were really nice because they never got on your nerves with silly talk. No talk about how you must marry them or anything…”
(Ehrlich’s full Introduction appears in the book.)
Excerpt from The Prologue by Dr. Yos Santasombat
(Dr. Yos Santasombat is an Associate Professor on the Faculty of Sociology & Anthropology at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. He is also Research Director of the Local Development Institute in Bangkok’s Department of Medical Science and author of the book, The Community and Commercialization of Female Sexuality.)
…What the letters explain is that we’re not talking about a piecemeal type of relationship that describes other forms of prostitution in the West. In the cases here, the Thai girls themselves are prepared to extend their relationship for a number of days or weeks or even years. Sometimes the farang himself ends up spending the entire vacation with one girl and sometimes he comes back. Sometimes she becomes his mistress or even a wife.
I think in most cases, the girls enter into the relationship from a strictly pecuniary motivation. But of course she may stage a concern in a sense of a physical attraction or some kind of an emotional attachment.
The girl will attach herself to a client or a farang more permanently if she finds the relationship enjoyable. Those are the cases I find most interesting in open-ended prostitution in Thailand.
Once the relationship is extended, the girls’ involvement with the farang often gradually changes. Her stay with the man is usually conditioned upon his readiness to support her or to take care of her financially. The line between money and love becomes very fuzzy, because the money itself cannot be distinguished between signs of affection, tender caring and love itself. Mutual or material dependence frequently engenders some sort of an emotional attachment on the part of the girl herself.
So, what starts out as a money-orientated transactional arrangement becomes a mixed involvement, a more complicated relationship. In extreme cases it becomes even possible that the attachment comes from pure emotion. It somehow gradually detaches itself from the material aspects or the money. And in prolonged cases, open-ended prostitution can be characterized as an ambiguous compliment of love and money…
(Dr. Yos’s full Prologue appears in the book.)
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The following letters and interviews were given by bar girls in Bangkok. Women were asked for whatever love letters they had received from foreign men, and to tell about their lives. We rejected hundreds of letters and many of the interviews and selected only the ones which were interesting or displayed emotions.
It was impossible for us to find out the fate of many of these relationships. Often the women themselves didn’t know why they drifted apart. Sometimes the women were about to travel to join their foreign boyfriends.
To protect everyone’s privacy, we changed every bar girls’ name to “Darling” and all letter writers’ names were deleted. To ensure anonymity, we also deleted descriptions of the men’s jobs and removed the names of all foreign cities, substituting instead the name of the country. All dates were also deleted or replaced by “soon” or “recently.”
In the few cases where writers kept mentioning their own names in the text of the letter, and their names became intrinsic to the letter’s cadence and mood, we simply replaced their real names with two invented names: Hubert and Floyd.
The sometimes twisted grammar in the letters are the exact text — we corrected their typos and misspellings — and we only used letters which were written in English. The letter writers’ attempts at Thai phrases are translated in a glossary.
We relentlessly searched the bars to find letters and interviewees. And when we interviewed women, we concentrated on those who spoke relatively good English, and transcribed their replies verbatim.
The bar girls we interviewed do not match up with every published letter. This is because many of the bar girls who gave us fascinating, romantic letters, were not always the most eloquent or lucid interviewees. Similarly, some of the best interviewees declined to let their more intimate letters be made public — or simply never saved them.
The statistics are also a bit random: some women had only one letter worth including, while others received a handful of collectibles. To ensure confidentiality, we also jumbled the published order of the letters and interviews so no one reading the book would be able to identify which women received which letters.
In this edition, we added three bar owners, and photographs of nightlife in Bangkok.
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Men’s Correspondence to Bar Girls & Interviews
flying between _____________
I am writing to you on the aeroplane because I want my letter to reach you as quickly as possible.
I will try to write in very easy English so your friend can tell you what I
say in Thai.
I (Hubert) was very, very sad to say goodbye to you this morning at Don
Muang (airport). Like you, Hubert also cry. But do not worry, Hubert will
come back to see you very soon. I will try to come back to Bangkok to see
you soon. I think I can stay for about two (2) weeks next time.
I want to tell you so many things. I feel very bad on the aeroplane because I miss you already. Also, I feel very angry because I cannot write to you in Thai. Sorry.
I want to say very big thank you for coming with me to the airport (Don Muang). I know it was very sad time for you (and sad for Hubert too), but Hubert was very pleased with you and very proud of you for being very brave.
I will try to help you with money. But please do not expect too much from me — because now I have to save money to come to Bangkok again soon.
I will write to you again to tell you how much I have (money) in the bank. Not very much I am sorry.
I was very pleased to give you the little presents (gifts). I will send you some more little things soon.
Now comes more important words:
VERY IMPORTANT AND “TOP SECRET”
I wish I had met you as soon as I came to Bangkok. We did not have enough time together. But I really enjoyed your company and Hubert feel very good with you. I think you are very good-looking (very pretty) and, first of all when I see you dancing, I am very attracted to your lovely, young body (very sexy!)
But, as we spent more time together, I start to think darling is a lovely person. You are fun to be with and have good heart. I really enjoyed taking you to places and you make old Hubert feel very young again. I say old Hubert. Please understand darling that Hubert is in his forties. Old enough to be your father! What do you think of that? Perhaps you think that Hubert is a “dirty old man” to have sex with a young lady (you). Hubert felt very good to make love to you, but because you are much younger, sometimes old man Hubert find it difficult to please darling. You have so much energy. This is why I say (joking to you) “Doctor, Doctor, please save me, give me some medicine (vitamins) so I can make love again to my darling.”
No joking now.
Making love is good now and again and I hope you enjoyed it too. But there is more to life than making love. I think we became very good friends and I hope I will always stay a good friend to you. You speak only little bit of English and I speak only little bit of Thai but I think we are very good for each other.
I was sad when you tell me you have no mother and no father in Bangkok. Do your mother and father die? Please tell me about your family, I would like to know more about you.
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(She resides upstairs in a bleak building typical of many bar girls’ living quarters. A ceiling fan churns humid air which smells of food cooking on a hotplate placed on the floor in the hallway. She has shiny, pink toenails, and six finger-rings, some of them gold. Her elderly mother, who is emaciated and extremely wrinkled, comes in from the bathroom topless and puts on shirt. The bar girl points to her mother and boasts, “Sexy!” Her mother gives a toothless smile and departs.
Dust-covered cobwebs dangle and sway in the ceiling’s corners and the room is sectioned off by turquoise-painted plywood. Someone has rubbed purple lipstick all over the mouth of a young Thai actor in a big poster. Another poster shows a larger-than-life baby. Five people share the bedroom — which is little bigger than the bed — two children, the bar girl’s sister, the sister’s boyfriend and a girlfriend. In the only other room, she sleeps with her son and mother near a VCR and dart board. As she speaks, a nude baby boy sleeps on his back on the bed. The room’s floor is covered with thin, roll-down linoleum. On a top shelf rests a gray, stuffed animal with its eyes missing.)
(what do you think of the letters you receive?)
Too sweet. All letters be sweet. One German write, also he do send money. He very good. Other man forget about me because just like to make letter and after never heard about again. I like this German because he very good, he young but have very good thinking. I never see anyone German like him. I like him, him good care, good love, not butterfly. Two years I know him. I never love him, only like him. It hurts too much and is too scary to love him. Because the first one hurt me really bad, from England. German love me too much.
(do you believe his letters?)
I do. About future, I talk to him already. If I marry I want to stay Thailand because have too much to take care. My family. My mother, my son. The town of my boyfriend is not in the city and is very boring, like in the village. I went Germany two times. I like him family, very good care of me. I don’t think so I like Germany, too cold for me. He say, “OK,” but he also will like to stay Thailand but difficult him. Because he don’t have job. Now I 27. Old? I from Bangkok. I worked Patpong but I don’t like. I don’t like show people my body in go-go bar. When I dance, I have to be drunk first so I not shy to do it. Some girl she not too much like, but she have to do it. Because Thailand difficult to find job. Girl come from everywhere. It not easy. You want a job. My whole family work in carpenters. Difficult. (laughs) Not my style. Very hard work, very tiring. Take a long time for my mother to know what I doing.
(what is the difference between men from different countries?)
Different country, I think all think the same. Some very good, but some very crazy. For me I don’t care about the country. The farang are the same type of people, have to work hard. I marry with a husband went to England. I think not different than my country. One thing is he can find a good job, not like in Thailand. And if can’t find job, government can take care him, not like in Thailand. I marry with him about five years, but now not together. Very funny I meet him. I come to bar to drink and see him stop motorbike and he ask me, do you know what he ask me? “Have ganja?” I said, “What you think I like that?” And he say, “You look stoned.”
(why did you separate?)
Always fighting. He crazy. The problem was he too much jealous because I open the bar I have to take care customer, I have to keep talking. But he don’t understand. He think I have to go with the man. He buy the knife, (laughing) tell the customer, “You can speak with my wife but can’t touch her.” I never tell customer I have a husband, because the business, so I keep talking. After he buy the drink, he think this bar very good and he come again. I have son.
(who is the father?)
I don’t want to say. First time you work you don’t know from who. Now he’s around six years old.
(any advice to a new girl who is thinking about starting as a bar girl?)
Working this not good. Better she can find the other job. I think the old girl is better than the young, because young think work for fun. But old girl think how to get money tonight to pay tomorrow, not work for fun. I think next year I going to get married to him. Then I only live Germany one year, but not for life. But if I can find a job there, I stay there because Thailand make me crazy. When I go with farang in Thailand I never hold hand, I let him walk ahead because many Thai people don’t understand why Thai girl go with farang.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I’m in receipt of your letter which just arrived
The girl you met when you came to see me at NANA Hotel, I didn’t know that he/she were an hermaphrodite and when somebody told me about I decided not to see her again.
I went twice to your place but unfortunately you were travelling to your father’s home.
When you write that you came at Gent Hotel, it was at Grace Hotel I went when I returned after NANA’s.
I was so disappointed not to see you.
I have kept a so nice “souvenir” of my first stay in Thailand, when we went to the “Disco.”
Please answer me as soon as you receive my letter, I might come to Bangkok very soon, I will let you know when.
Darling, I miss you, I do hope that you will continue to write me, telling what you are doing.
Are you still at school, are you working, how many boys friends have you got?
Many kisses from your lover.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(She is a good-looking, short, tough woman, 23, who sometimes appears as if she’s on the verge of tears. Her painted, pointy fingernails torture a tiny piece of cellophane wrapper from her cigarette package as she speaks.)
If Thai boyfriend is good and take care of girl, Thailand not be full of prostitutes. But they have baby and not take care, not get married. That’s why they have prostitutes. Also, somebody not want marry girl second time if she not virgin. That’s why they become prostitutes. I have a lot of friend do work like I did before. Thai boyfriend never take care their baby because he have to work hard, can’t find the money to take care of baby. It’s a problem of money also.
(do bar girls make good money?)
If don’t take smack, don’t take a drink, don’t have Thai boyfriend to look after.
(why did you attempt suicide?)
Want to show, when boyfriend shouting, want boyfriend say, “Sorry.” I try two times. With knife, and one time with scissor. First time two and a half years ago because I have problem with my boyfriend. We go out to Patpong, have a drink. Some people talk to me. I like to talk with somebody else. So we fight. Just jealous. Sometime another boyfriend call me for his girlfriend, so he don’t trust. Stupid thing. I do silly. Sometime I learn English, I come home late.
I try to kill me second time, last year, because my boyfriend he go back Europe for nearly four months. Tell me about the place he living no telephone number. One day, I drunk in Patpong. I want to talk to him. I feel lonely. I just wait thinking how I feel. I miss him. Have no telephone number. I call his mother to get his number. Then I call his apartment. A woman answer. She ask, say, “Who are you?” I told the farang girl, “Ask the boy, he know very well.” Boyfriend say how I know this telephone number? I say his mother give to me. He say he call me back tomorrow. I say, “Why you not talk with me now? Because you have lady? Tell me the truth.” Next day he call me. We fight. Before, he told me he come back now. On telephone, he tell me one and a half month more. Say he not finish work. I say, “What happen about lady?” He told me the story what happen. Lady from Denmark have no find a place to live, sleep on his floor. I think 50 percent I do believe, 40 percent no believe. I thinking I lonely. Not have man four months. Woman same like man. I go Koh Samui. Meet man. Nice. Denmark come back. We fight. I tell him, I love him but I feel lonely, that why I do this. So he don’t talk with me, don’t kiss me, don’t look at me for nearly one week. I cut my arm because he don’t trust me. I try to kill me because nobody trust me.
(why do some girls take drugs?)
I tell you the truth? Because people want good sex. Because the tourists like. They have money. Say, “Come on, we have good fun together.” The girl don’t know what this is. I drink and smoke ganja because we go to discotheque to meet some people.
(what is your advice to a new girl thinking about becoming a bar girl?)
A lot girl from north Thailand finish with Thai boyfriend, have broken heart, ask me, “What about farang boyfriend? How can have? I want have same as you, go another country. Have gold, have house, have good money in the bank, have nice dress, buy things for parents.” She see some friend who have more than her. She say, “Why? What her story?” I tell, “Please forget about this. It’s not fun. Now AIDS coming in Thailand. People look down at bar lady. Some people go work first time, get lucky, meet man, take care this girl. But maybe you don’t find man take care you. You have to sleep around. Sometimes man look like shit, have to fuck him.”
(do you know any bar girls who married foreigners?)
Eleven of my friend in the same bar stop work and marry with farangs. Netherlands, England, German, Denmark also.
(when you go with a customer you don’t like, what do you think about while making love?)
Thinking about how to be strong. What tomorrow to pay. What tomorrow to eat. Want some money to send back to parents.
(why do so many Western men like Thai bar girls?)
They like the brown skin and black hair. A lot of farang women, after get married, get fat. Thai women different from farang. Europe women are prostitutes only to take drugs. Thai women are prostitutes to take care their families…
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Excerpt from an Interview With an American Bar Owner
(how do you hire the girls?)
Five years ago, I went up country in the small villages where I previously
worked in intelligence and knew the village elders. I recruited the girls
and brought them back. My girls go back home, and tell other girls what a
great bar this is, flashing the gold, and bring other girls back. The new
girls go through an orientation period. I pay them 30,000 baht for that 90
days. I determine her experience level sexually. If she’s a virgin, I say,
“You can proceed slowly. Go when you want to go.” If there’s a mama-san, she
tells her to go the first night. I tell her, “It’s up to you.”
(when you hire a new girl, do you also try to judge her personality along with her looks?)
Personalities are very hard to judge, initially. Usually, when she first
comes in, she’s quiet. Maybe she’s never been to Bangkok. She’s probably
never been in a bar. She’s afraid of me. My size and voice is intimidating.
You can only tell her what to do, and hope she’ll listen. One girl worked
here, and she was great until she brought in her younger sister. She told
her younger sister, “Don’t go with a man all night. Do something to piss
them off, so you can get another bar fine.” I was getting complaints from
the customer. I have an evaluation form for customers to fill after being
with the girl. I told those sisters, “You’re fired. Turn in your numbers,
your bikinis, and get your clothes.”
(what do you look for in a new girl who you want to employ in your bar?)
A new girl off the street will say, “I’ve never worked in a bar before.”
I’ll hire her if she never worked. If she speaks good English, I won’t hire
her. Because she’s worked too much. And they’ll bring their problems to my
bar. At my bar, 95 percent are fresh off the farm. From upcountry. They don’t speak English.
(if a customer wanted to marry a bar girl, and asked you for advice, what
would you tell him?)
I would tell him, “Proceed extremely slowly. Observe her in many, many types
of situations over a long time. Expose her to some different cultures before
you get married.” When a guy goes back to the States with a Thai girl,
married or not, the girl experiences culture shock. Her diet is changed. The
weather is different. There’s no wat (Buddhist temple) nearby. No
Thai-speaking people. She’s totally isolated and dependent on this one
individual. And she doesn’t know how to react. It is easier if he is from
LA, they have a wat in LA, they have Thai-speaking people, even a channel in
Thai. But if he takes her to Indianapolis, Indiana, the girl is in for a
rough time. Guys don’t realize this. Guys can adapt to cultural differences.
But a girl who’s never been out of Thailand, and you put her on a plane and
haul her to Timbuktu, and expect her to be the same like she was at home?
It’s not going to work. It’s traumatic for her. And the majority are not
going to make it out there. With a Thai girl, her family is first, and you
(how did you find the first girls to work at your bar?)
I’d go upcountry and into a restaurant, meet the woman there, and say, “I’m
a bar owner in Bangkok.” And I’d tell her a little about what I want. And
she’d be half-listening. And then I’d say, “And a good girl can make 40,000
to 60,000 baht a month.” Then all of a sudden, she perks up. I’d go in the
next day, 40 girls would be there. I go down the line and pick them out.
“Too old.” “Too ugly.” “Had any kids?” “Are you a virgin?”
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