The Bar Industry’s Darkest Hour

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Offline tiggs

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the only customers in the bars will be expats

The Bar Industry’s Darkest Hour
Bangkok’s bar industry has faced numerous challenges over the past 15 years, but nothing like Covid-19. Trips to Thailand are being cancelled or postponed as fear spreads. No-one wants to contract the virus, and no-one wants to get stuck somewhere, caught out by ever-changing rules and border closures. Soon, the only customers in the bars will be expats. Can the bars survive?

The problem the bars face is simple. Fewer visitors to Thailand means fewer punters in the bars. That means less money being taken by the bar and fewer customers for the girls. And that’s a big problem because these girls aren’t in it for fun. If they’re not making money, they won’t stick around. Already, many have seen the writing on the wall and have left the bar. Not for another bar. They have gone home. They’ll return when things improve. But when might that be?

A friend whose wife runs an agency supplying a big-name, foreigner-run gogo had this to say, “There is obviously a bit of a panic in the coyote agency world as girls don’t want to come to work (which is understandable) and bars can no longer afford to pay the ones that do want to work. Many girls, unable to make ends meet, are returning home.”

For bars using agency girls, all it takes is a phone call to the agency and their daily expenses are slashed. That’s a start, but it’s not enough.

It’s not just about the money – or lack of it – for the girls. Many have chosen to stop working for now because they’re genuinely scared of contracting the virus.

First there were fewer customers. That resulted in fewer girls. And now with fewer girls those punters who do make it to the bars find it quiet and less fun. It’s a vicious circle.

Bars popular with Asians have been feeling it for a few weeks and over the past couple of weeks, bars popular with Caucasians have been suffering too.

This month is shaping up to be really bad. April will be worse. May is usually the worst month of the year for visitor numbers. Things are dire now, in March, one of the better months of the year. Just how bad will they be in May?

With visitor numbers plummeting, will expats keep the bars going? Unlikely.

I’d be surprised if there aren’t widespread bar closures come the end of this month. I just don’t think it will be worth it for many owners to stay open beyond the end of March.

But perhaps the bar owners won’t have to make that decision themselves. It might just be made for them. The Health Minister commented yesterday that the government should consider closing pubs and bars as they are a fertile ground for spreading the virus. The authorities could order the likes of Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong closed. After 11 Thais were infected with the virus after a night out at a Thonglor pub earlier in the week, it’s the sort of knee-jerk reaction Thai politicians are known for.

But it’s not all bad news, and there is an upside for those in Thailand now. Girls are hungry. Some of the younger, prettier dancers who weren’t previously available are now open to offers. Word is that rates are very much negotiable.

A friend of a friend making the rounds in Pattaya says that right now it is the best he has seen it in at least 15 years. Far fewer customers around, and the girls are hungry.

At the same time, some girls are more picky. From the owners of Smooci, I hear that in recent weeks escorts have become much more selective about who they choose to meet. They will cancel a booking if they see a Chinese name or merely if the customer is staying in a hotel that is popular with Chinese.

Back to the bars, much of the problem is that rents in Bangkok are crazy high. Would landlords consider discounting rent for a period? And in the unlikely event that a landlord agreed, would it even be enough?

Back to the idea that bars will rely on expats to see them through their darkest hour, I’ll leave you with a thought. A regular reader emailed yesterday saying his Thai Mrs had threatened to leave him if he went out to the bars as he often does, like many Thais she is terrified of contracting Covid-19.

It could be months before Covid-19 is brought under control. What sort of economic carnage will it cause? How much longer can the bars stay open with trade so bad? And if bars close and remain closed for a while, will they ever reopen? Are there many bars resilient enough to survive this? Could the bar industry be reshaped forever? The bar industry is facing its darkest hour.

Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will become a vegetarian.

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I understand Soi Cowboy is now closed and all the staff unemployed. Terrible situation and this may be the death knell of the naughty boy scene. If the girls go back to Isaan, find jobs and husbands etc., how will the bar industry attract them back?

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I understand Soi Cowboy is now closed and all the staff unemployed. Terrible situation and this may be the death knell of the naughty boy scene. If the girls go back to Isaan, find jobs and husbands etc., how will the bar industry attract them back?

Firstly, Stickmans article is behind the curve really - all around the World, entertainment areas are being shut down, or people are being told to avoid, so I don't see it as a 'kneejerk' reaction if they do the same here, as he claims.

As for the above, I doubt the girls will find husbands, as the lack of one, or those that have run off, are generally the problem in the first place. Good luck to any that find alternative work, but the economy here is on the verge of collapse as elsewhere - the difference being that was Thailand before the virus. Families in the NE can live on very little bar debts, or family illnesses, so for the majority, they will be absorbed back into the larger family. And I suspect head back as soon as they can.

Offline tiggs

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Major Wife or Minor Wife, bit out of our cultural realm, but accepted by some it's all shh! but everybody knows. They gave him food and education. It was his duty to go along with their wishes for the good of the family.”  but was he happy.

Exploring the “Mia Noi” phenomenon

Asian men receive much opprobrium for being irresponsible Don Juans. A lot of this comes from their having Mia Noi or ‘Minor Wives’.

This phenomenon is spread throughout all levels of all Asian society. Stories of important men in society having ‘kept’ wives can be seen in both local and English language newspapers. Members of the military have been discovered to have more than one ‘household’. This is usually done ‘on the sneak’, although the Thai grapevine usually knows about these affairs long before the press.

This ‘institution’ draws a lot of righteous criticism from moral luminaries of the Western world. Institution is the correct word, as Thailand wisely changed her laws (not wanting to give Western Powers reason for invading, colonising and ‘civilising’ Siam) and made having more than one wife illegal.

Viet-Nam, having fallen to the French in the last century, need not worry about escaping, having been already colonised.

Until very recently, all Viet-Namese birth certificates had spaces for the name of the father and mother of the child. One of the columns under the mother’s name had the words Vo Chanh hay Vo Thu. In Vietnamese this translates as “Major Wife or Minor Wife”.

Before feminists start painting banners and organising protest marches, remember that women in Tibetan and Polynesian societies were allowed more than one husband at a time. One needn’t worry about most of the Polynesian societies anymore, as pious missionaries brought Christianity and diseases such as measles, which killed most of the people as well as their customs.

In the past, having more than one wife was due to various reasons. This was not always a cause of pain to the concerned parties. This is not an excuse or an opinion but rather a story that I heard as a boy.

While young I learned about the Chinese community’s thoughts on this. Not from a man but from our Chinese landlady.

When I was age 14 and living in Bangkok, we discovered that our landlady was the ‘minor wife’ of our landlord.

How did we know? She told us. At that time she was forty-five and her husband was fifty. They had been together for 21 years. It didn’t seem to be a case of our landlord being bored with his first wife, deciding to have a ‘lollipop’ on the side. As our very beautiful landlady was so candid, my mother confessed that she did not understand the situation.

Laughing, Madame Chao told us that her husband, being a good Chinese son, was compelled by tradition to go along with his parent’s choice of a wife. His first wife’s father and his father were old friends. They had agreed if one had a son and the other a daughter, they would have them marry each other for the purpose of binding their families and respective businesses together.

In such cases, the young man and women are not consulted about this matter and Confucian ethics give the children no right to refuse. Our landlady told this story with very good humour as she knew it was out of our cultural realm.

“So, my husband knew from the age of 8 that he was to marry the daughter of the pearl-merchant down the street. His father was a diamond dealer. So you see it was a good match for the families.”

“But did they love each other?” my mother asked.

“Mary, Chinese society is different. This is not the most important thing between husband and wife. My husband’s first duty was to his father and mother. They gave him life. They gave him food and education. It was his duty to go along with their wishes for the good of the family.”

“But what about his own happiness?”

“Why shouldn’t he have been happy? He had everything he needed and a lot more than many other people. Sometimes I wonder about cultures who think that ‘romantic’ love is the only true happiness. If my husband had not had good food and a good education, would romantic love have made him happy?”

“All right,” my mother said, still locked in to her own values. “What about your life?”

“My family had just enough money to educate us. We were tailors. Nowhere as rich or as important as my husband’s family.

“I was sent to Chinese school for eight years and was very lucky to have that much education. My father was rather enlightened. He believed that educated daughters were much more valuable than merely decorative women.

“When my husband finished Chinese university, he and his major wife’s marriage contract was negotiated and they were married.”

“What was his first wife like?” Mom asked.

“His major wife. He is still married to her. I would call her typically ‘Chinese’. She never went to school. She likes to sew and keep house.”

“But if she came from a rich family, why wasn’t she given an education?”

Madame Chao explained patiently, “Her family was rich. She didn’t need an education.”

“It sounds like you know her,” my poor mother rejoined.

“I do! I go to Malaysia to see her almost every year.”


“Are we supposed to hate each other? She and my husband have four boys. My husband and I have two children. He has responsibilities to both families. We like each other. She is a good woman.”

“Doesn’t she feel resentful that you took her husband from her?”

“How could I have done that? After she and my husband were married, they had children and he began to travel to do business. If Chinese couples are lucky, arranged marriages often turn into love. In their case, this didn’t happen. They didn’t have anything in common personally. But they respected and liked each other.”

“How did he meet you?”

“I’m from Hong Kong. My husband was on a business trip. He had started a banking business with colleagues in Malaysia. He had his clothes made in my father’s shop and we met there. He came in regularly and I could tell that he liked me. I found him to be an attractive and dynamic man.”

“Did you know he was married, with children?”

“Of course! He told me. He was not ashamed of having a family. He told my father that he liked me.”

“I’m totally confused. If your families would have not allowed you to marry in the first place, didn’t they object to you?”

“You must understand. My husband had already fulfilled his parent’s wishes. He had married the woman they had chosen for him. He had grandchildren to continue the family line. He has been and is a responsible father to all his children. If he now wished to find personal happiness with a woman he loved, it was his right.”

“What about his first, uh, major wife’s personal happiness?”

“Ah,” Madame Chow said with a naughty smile. “The Chinese are very discreet. Some things are better not talked about. I don’t think my husband’s major wife is personally desolate!”

“Why did your husband become attracted to you, do you think?”

“Mary! I’m insulted! Look at me! I’m not so ugly. The other reason is that I have a good business sense like my husband and enjoy commerce. We find each other very stimulating. His major wife is more of a homebody and doesn’t like to travel.” Another naughty smile. “And I think she also has ‘interests’ in Malaysia.”

My mother’s Western ethnocentrism was a bit disappointing to me.

Madame Chao continued. “My husband’s major wife and children are coming to spend Chinese New Year with us. I hope your family will join us for this most important of celebrations. Seeing us all together will show you that we are not so unhappy.”

“Oh! Now I understand.”

I didn’t believe her.

Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will become a vegetarian.