Monday, March 2, 2009

Not a Bar Girl Anymore

This photo has nothing to do with the story. And yet, in an abstract and metaphorical way, it really does. This week a dear friend from my first days of traveling the world two years ago found me on Facebook. I met her at the hotel bar where I was staying in Bangkok, she was a bar girl. aka-Thai hooker. We became close and she confided much in me. Although this poem is partially about her, it is also about many of the girls I met there, often sent by their parents into the city to do this work in order to feed their families. Many of them have children, but not husbands. You would never know this unless you asked. Instead you will sit and feel loved and pampered and caressed and cared for. You can pretend that it is all about you when you are in Bangkok, the land of smiles, because these girls and their massage shop counterparts will make you feel amazing. And yet, they are real, with real souls, and real needs. I am happy that my friend is now working as a secretary and is no longer a bar girl. One up, thousands more to go… In the interest of protecting her identity, I am not using her real name, nor her picture.

This is for you, my MIA. Thank you for your words today. You are right, we can’t change the past, so why dwell in it?

Daw walks down Soi 18
Skirting between the changing shifts
Of food cart and hill tribe vendors
A white bag of offerings in her hand.
Arriving at The Rain Hut
She offers two rolls and a flower
Placing them lovingly
Into the birdhouse temple
She bows her head and says a prayer
Then kisses the golden Buddha
Hanging from her neck
Tomorrow, she thinks, will be better
If not this life then next.

She sits with the other girls
Combing mascara onto
Long dark lashes. An hour spent
Adept as Toulouse-Lautrec, they
Transform into their reputation
From village farm girl, to city bar girl
Ready for the long Bangkok night.

The evening shadows grow
As the city starts to cool
The sun and sweat have burned
Holes in the souls of those
Who come and fill the seats.
It’s the 50 baht per Chiang price tag
The cheapest on the Soi
That gets the crowd.

“Sohee, get me a Chiang.”
She brings him a cold beer.
Daw has another treat in store
POP. She slams her hands together
Extracting a cold wet towel
From the plastic enclosure
She dabs it lovingly over
His smelly sweating neck.

“Chokee!” He said, raising his bottle to the sky.
“Chokee!” Said the crowd in response.
They tip back their heads
Draining their bottles
“Another Chiang!” They cry in unison
Sohee doles them out and turns on the stereo
Blasting Thai rap out into the Soi
The crowd starts to dance.

A leering man twirls his fingers
In Daw’s straight black hair.
“Sohee, short time with Daw."
Sohee puts the cup on the table
The man deposits 500 baht
Taking Daw by the arm
They walk through glass doors
Up the stairs, and into a room
Filled with the scent of mold
And screaming with the songs
Of Malaria and the Dengue Fever
He pushes her onto the bed
And lives his fantasies
For half an hour,
Pretending she is there.

Grasping the Buddha between
Long painted nails
Daw closes her eyes
And thinks about the future.

Hours away in a small village
A little girl looks into her
Grandmother’s eyes
And doesn’t question
Why she gets to eat tonight.
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