Searching for Magic Mike in Bangkok
It was Valentine’s Day in Bangkok, and I was drinking away my sorrows with my two single best friends. My boyfriend was out of town and it seemed like the golden opportunity to do something stupid: go to a women’s-only escort club.
“Magic Mike” had just come out and, perhaps naively, I expected the escort club to be just like the movie. In Bangkok, there are a lot of male strip clubs with buff guys strutting around in thongs, but they all cater exclusively to gays. We had recently heard about a venue called Eighteen Plus One where only female clients were allowed. It was only a five-minute taxi ride away. It was destiny.
We jumped into a cab and got dropped off in front of what I was certain was the wrong place – a towering grey office building. We walked through the front doors into a sobering burst of fluorescent lighting where an old Thai security guard was slouched way back in a plastic chair.
He smirked at us but all he said was “sip baert”. “Eighteen” in Thai. Bingo.
We took the elevator up to Floor 18. The elevator doors opened onto a hallway covered in sparkly streamers and balloons next to a sign stating “No Photos.” It reminded me of the entrance to my high school gymnasium.
My girlfriends and I were swept inside into an interior that was not what I had imagined at all. Bad ’90s Thai pop was booming and the walls were covered in black flatscreens around an empty dance floor. We were immediately shown to a booth. In one of the booths at the back sat a group of Thai guys in button-up shirts and dress pants sharing Johnny Walker and a bucket of ice.
I was already cut, and it seemed like the best thing to do was to just go with it and keep drinking. So we ordered a whiskey bottle and paid 600 baht ($22 CDN) for the only non-Thai escort, a Peruvian guy named Juan, to come hang out with us for as long as it takes to enjoy two drinks.
Juan was 20 years old and fairly new to Bangkok. In the daytime he works as an elementary school English teacher. He said he saw an ad on the internet for Eighteen Plus One a couple of months ago and got into it for the extra cash. He wasn’t really good-looking, but kind of charming in a nerdy way, and talked about his love for Japanese manga and fencing competitions in high school.
Juan gave us the low-down on the club, explaining that the clients were all Japanese, Singaporean, Korean and Thai. We were the first group of Westerners he’d seen walk in. He said if a customer wants to take a guy home before his shift is done, they have to pay a bar fine. It doesn’t guarantee sex, which could cost extra.
Soon a few middle-aged women started trickling in, and we decided to invite another guy over. The club manager appeared at our table with an entourage of ten button-up boys, standing side-by-side like soldiers at attention.
It was totally awkward. I had no previous experience in this kind of decision-making. We asked who spoke English well, and a couple of hands meekly went up. Nobody was exactly outgoing, but that’s a Thai thing – polite and reserved at all times. But my Western pedigree just made me feel more pressured to hurry up and pick one, so the rest could get back to their whiskey. We unanimously picked the most “smiley” of the pack.
As it turns out, that was not a good strategy. Guy No. 2 had severely exaggerated his English skills and we couldn’t really get a conversation going. I ended up just getting drunker, while my two friends fawned over the Peruvian.
Now I’m not proud of this next move, but blame it on Johnny Walker. I asked the manager if we could perhaps exchange Guy No. 2 for someone who spoke better English. Well, unfortunately there are no “tradesies” allowed, but he did offer a third guy for a discount. That, my friends, is customer service.
So the boys paraded over again and we chose at random. Guy No. 3 couldn’t speak very much English either, but he could salsa dance and play drinking games. Guy No. 2 just continued to sit around awkwardly.
It got late and one of my friends enjoyed Juan the Peruvian so much that she decided to take him home. She paid his bar fine of 1,500 baht ($55 CDN) and we all stumbled into the elevator carrying some loot from our crusade: lollipops, chocolate hearts and pink flashing Minnie Mouse ears. Guys No. 2 and 3 came down to walk us to the taxi. That seemed like more of a house rule than a gentleman’s gesture.
We didn’t finish the bottle of Johnny Walker, but were told we could shelve it and return another time, which we all agreed we would definitely do. That, of course, never happened, and it’s probably still sitting there as a half-empty tribute to our shame. My friend got Juan back to her apartment, sobered up and told him that he could stay, but they wouldn’t be sleeping together. Needless to say, he was really disappointed.
I woke up the next day with the cruelest of hangovers, a pissed-off boyfriend, and the realization I’d spent my meager salary on buying drinks for male escorts (although that’s probably nothing compared to when my friend woke up with Juan). I also had a few new revelations about life.
While men seek scantily clad women and sexual favours at an escort club, women want conversation and salsa dancing. And while I believe that if there are such venues for men, there should be ones for women too, I can’t help but think working there wouldn’t be a good job for anybody. An endless routine of being marched out, looked up and down, and then paid for or rejected seems like a really shitty deal.
So I would steer clear of any male escort or hostess club in Bangkok. It may be a funny story, but it’s not one of my fondest.
By Barbara Woolsey
Photo by Anthony Cheung