Private Dancer by Stephen Leather

 

  • Monsoon Books Pte. Ltd. (December 15, 2005), 288 pages

A “No Kissing Till Marriage” book will leave you feeling like the devil amidst blue eyed, yellow haired saints. It might be a good idea to surround yourself with ‘judases’ every now and then. No seriously, there’s no topic not worth reading. There was a month last year when I was given a series of Bangkok flights , 4 times in a month, one after the other. I think it was given to me deliberately because I got into a frenzied misunderstanding with the schedule team…(Koreans, what can i say..)

So to sort of “pre-empt” me or to at least give me something to look forward to, I started reading “The Beach” but then a day-long layover won’t ever give me the privelege of going out of town, so Ill just frustrate myself reading on Ko Samui and Phuket. Since I will be stuck in the streets of Bangkok, I might as well read up on what’s very prevalent along the area: Farangs (foreigners) with local girls. Its not just in Thailand, anyway. Even in Manila, Phnom Penh, almost everywhere in Southeast Asia, we’ve seen couples like this. White men–ranging from the old, emphysema-ish, to the beefy korean/vietnam veteran, to the average middle aged joe, to the youngish student who’s ventured into somewhere new other than Cancun for springbreak. Arm in arm with a diminutive local girl, who is, although, a ‘bar girl’. (didnt want to use the P word). These types of women dont fit the standards of ‘beauty’ that Asians generally perceive. Whereas “white skinned and western facial features” are considered to be ‘pretty’ for Asians, most of these women are dark skinned, short, and have facial features which would never land in a “get white skin in just 3 weeks” Ponds advertisement.

Private Dancer ‘stars’ Pete and Joy (the ‘farang’ and the local). Pete supposedly is a smart single 30 plus guy who works for a travel guide company (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc) and Joy is a 19 year old Thai who works in a bar. Pete falls in love (ridiculously in love) with Joy. And such is the typical sad cycle but now beginning to be viewed as ‘thats how nature is’ with a foreigner-bar girl relationship.

Set in a format that you can the point of view of all the characters involved, it shows how Pete’s life is graciously destroyed by Joy. Leeching him his money, cheating on him, treating him like a stupid cow, and later on, he loses his job, and even his LIFE for the girl.

Note worthy in the book are the occassional exceprts from a study called “Cross-Cultural Complications of Prostitution in Thailand”. It perfectly and professionally explains how such relationships work. There are 2 kinds of foreigners who frequent the red light districts. There are the tourists who go only for short time fun. And then, there are the expats. And these are the ones that the girls look for. Becuase expats are lonely, and most often, alone (left girlfriends/wives/children) abroad. Its ineveitable that they visit the districts. And most of the time, they are dispatched by their companies for several months/few years, and they are apt to look for a ‘permanent’ (for the time being) partner. Meaning, the more emotionally involeved they get, the more the girls get. Pete’s character is not the sleazy type. He would be the last type of guy you would think that would enter a ‘go-go’ bar, much less get into a relationship with a bar girl. But, as it is:

“I dont know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen, jet black and almost down to her waist. She had soft brown eyes that made my heart melt, long legs that just wouldnt quite and a figure to die for. She was naked except for a pair of black leather ankle boots with small chrome chains on the side. I think it was the boots that did it for me.”

They fall for these girls, because they (the girls) are trained / or it just comes in the Asian culture, to be showy of giddy affection, and laugh at all his corny jokes. The girls, naturally, like them for one thing. But before we see these girls as goldiggers, the book also shows how the girls also play the role of the used and abused foreigner–these girls of course do not let their emotions fall for the white guy. They also like to have a ‘real’ relationship, and more often than not, they get in a shallow but ‘as real as the situation would let it’ relationship with the Thai guys in the pub–the DJ, the bouncers, the pimps, etc. And these guys, in turn, use these girls for their benefit. They allow their girlfriends to get into a ‘relationship’ with the white men, even coaching them how to leech for more money. And naturally, there are the families back home, several miles away from Bangkok, who depend on these girls.

The main victims of this cultural set up are both the foreigner and the bar girl. Reading on the progress of the story, I cant help but be frustrated at how stupid Pete is, for him not to realize he’s being cheated, and there are even times when he Knows he’s being cheated but he cant seem to do anything about it.

“I love you long time…”

I say to this book , “I read you long time…” the story takes you to one too many ups and downs of the relationship until you yourself gets exhausted–before it reaches the devastating climax. And the way it depicts how Joy talks, (Yoda is more tolerable) “Pete I love you too much. I not go with farang anymore. Only you Pete.” And Pete finds it cute. I was afraid Id put down the book speaking like that. But the ‘realness’ factor in it is so clear that its hard to think that this was a fiction.

But think about it, it doesnt take much of an imagination to create a fiction like this. Its practically everywhere. There are thousands of Petes and Joys all over the world that its hard to not put them in a Pete and Joy packaging when you see a farang-local couple. This book was a bestseller in Thailand, and one review says that “This should be compulsary reading for all first timers to Thailand. Buy one for your friends”.

Personally, no, I wouldnt suggest this to a friend who would be going to Thailand for the first time. It would be better for someone to see things in his own eyes first before expecting generalizations. It might make or break their holiday. Depends on what their agenda is anyway.

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