I was 21 and didn’t know what I know now.
Still, that’s no excuse. Ignorance is never an excuse. Myself, Aimee and our new friend Olly (who we’d picked up in Koh Phangan) had been in Thailand for about 5 weeks. We’d hit up the islands, just got back from Chiang Mai and were hanging out in Bangkok, drinking, shopping the markets, behaving like, well, tourists and having a BLAST! What do you do if you’ve got time to kill in Bangkok and want a fun night out? Something a little different? You go to a Ping Pong Show! Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy are the three Red Light Districts in Bangkok where you’ll find all the Ping Pong action. Patpong is Bangkok’s oldest red light district and Nana Plaza is the largest.
So off we went! Strolling down a bright neon lit street we find a fun looking bar, one of many, pay a small fee to enter and are shown to some golden seats which face a small stage in the center of the room. There were about twenty or so Thai women crammed onto this stage. All in itsy-bitsy fluorescent string bikinis and mini skirts that covered that important area just below the belly button to just above the crotch. Hey I grew up near enough to Newcastle to never be able to judge. Actually it reminded me of why I hate factory farming so much. No I’m NOT saying cows have bad dress sense. Anyway, it was quite inside with maybe just a few other tables taken, it wasn’t busy at all so I’m not sure why so many girls needed to be packed onto that stage.
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I had imagined, beforehand, that the ping pong show might consist of one or two adventurous Thai Dita Von Tease types, with feather boas and nipple tassels, who would do something Cirque du Soleil-esque and then with some acrobatic skill, in the vaginal region, shoot out a ping pong ball as the grand finale to a large round of applause from some big tippers. How fabulous!
The reality was a stage full of very tired looking Thai women, some young, some old. If they had wanted to do anything other than rock their bodies from side to side, not really a dance, more the kind of rocking back and fourth that you see zoo animals do to relieve boredom, they wouldn’t have had the space to. Breaking out into a River Dance however was clearly the last thing these ladies felt like doing. Most looked as though their minds were very much elsewhere, perhaps they were dreaming of being back in rural Thailand with the family they’d been forced to leave behind. They all looked thoroughly bored. For a paying onlooker, the ladies lights are on but no ones home expression is generally preferred to them looking mortified, depressed, ashamed, desperate, perhaps a bit suicidal – never a good look.
As well as kind of half dancing but not really dancing, certain ladies would occasionally pop out some ping pong balls, others would do things with beer bottles and large pieces of glass (for the sadomasochist in the audience of about five). One lady was given some extra space to perform and as she lay on her back with her pelvis thrust upwards and legs akimbo she slowly but surely pulled out a meter long string with about 15 razor blades attached to it. They just kept on coming, one razor blade, then another would appear and then another. Of course they must have been blunted, but it makes you think doesn’t it. How long did it take to get them up there and what if one got stuck? What if one wasn’t blunted enough? Doubt there’s many Gynecologists on call in Patpong. Plenty of paying wannabes though.
The three of us had an overpriced drink each and felt a bit seedy still sitting there. We’d really seen enough, far too much in fact, after about 15 minutes. As we were on our way out the door we came face to face with the scariest, meanest looking (and larger than usual) Thai woman. I think it was a woman. She was in a business suit and not a g-string so it was hard to tell. She shouted at us that we needed to pay our inflated bill, which had an extra zero added onto it because we breathed the air inside the club. She shouted and looked scary for quite a while as me and Aimee clung to each other not knowing whether to laugh or cry or say our prayers. Aimee had definitely wet her pants at this point (I hadn’t though, not even a tiny bit, ok maybe like a really tiny bit but not as much as Aimee). Olly gave the scary lady a couple of extra hundred baht, I think he was afraid of getting beat up by a woman and we all made a run for the door. It was a relief to get outside and even better to get out of the red light district.
I’m not against the open-minded attitude that Thailand has towards sex, I’m actually all for it. I can’t condone the Thai sex industry though because I believe it’s very much intertwined with sex trafficking. Separating the two could be possible (but not easy) and I’m all for the legalization of sex work in general.
What I do not love is a freak show and I don’t want to watch someone’s mother, sister, child and simply a fellow human being, degrade themselves, not in any country, not ever. How do I know that Ping Pong Shows are degrading and not empowering to the women who participate in them? I don’t for sure, but I did look at their faces and they didn’t look empowered to me, not at all, that is all I can go on, that and my modicum of common sense.
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Know this, there is nothing sexy, titillating or even fun about a Ping Pong Show. The women who work in Ping Pong Shows simply don’t have a better option, or worse, a choice. Who wants to shoot ping pong balls and various other objects out of their va-jay-jay for crying out loud and who the hell, more to the point, would want to see that? (va-jay-jay was voted No 9 of worst vagina names ever btw, just so you know).
Well, me and my mates when I was a 21 year old dip-shit.
Would I visit a Ping Pong Show ever again? Absolutely not. What sort of person would knowingly participate in and contribute to the degradation of desperate (and highly likely) sex trafficked women? For a fun night out? Because they’re cheap? Am I judging? Hell yeah.
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