Posted by: facetothewind | March 27, 2007

Ping Pong Pussy and the Money Boys: my maiden voyage to the underworld of Thailand’s sex trade

“Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them.”
— Reverend Jerry Falwell

It seems that whenever I mention my newfound fascination with Thailand, I am offered the following two statements:

1. Oh I hear there’s prostitution everywhere there. That’s disgusting.

which is usually followed by this…

2. You didn’t have sex with children, did you?

I don’t have any interest in children as such here or in Thailand. But I can tell you a few titillating details about my first foray into the sex trade…

Undeniably, there is an element of prostitution in Thailand – however and maybe unfortunately for me, it isn’t nearly the presence you’ll hear about in American media. If you hadn’t already figured this out, American media outlets focus on the most scintillating and scandalous aspects of any place they feature. As we all know, Americans are obsessed with money and sex so all you hear about with regard to Thailand in mainstream media is health care bargains to be had and of course, the sex industry.

Before I went to Thailand, I rented Globe Trekker and watched the rambunctious Ian Wright wandering about the sex district of Bangkok with a look of disgust on his face. This area consists of one block for the straight guys buying and one half-block for the gay guys buying. It is, even by my gutter-based standards, how shall we say…sleazy? But it is only a couple blocks and in fact, during the day this area is open for business with galleries, restaurants and non-sex related shops. Business people dine by day in what by night becomes a throbbing spectacle of pussy palaces and go-go bars.

One night in Bangkok (I hear a song coming on), Darren I walked through the Silom Road district to get a closer look. Two single westerners walking this area are targets for the hawks – barkers come up to you enticing you to enter their establishment as they would an old time freak show – “step right up and see the two-headed baby…” They open the doors and let you look in to see a dozen fire poles with women in bikinis at each one writhing up and down as if trying to climb giant cocks. (Darren said they looked like snakes in a box.)

I had heard about the legendary “pussy ping pong” and thought, OK, when in Bangkok… let’s just give it a quick peek. A guy approached us with a sandwich board of things like:

Pussy Ping Pong
Pussy Write Letter
Pussy Smoke Cigarette
Pussy Check Email (Pussy check email??)

He told us that we could see Pussy Ping Pong for the price of one beer: 100 baht = $3.00. Darren didn’t want to go in but I insisted. Outside of the movie Priscilla, where will we ever get to see this again? I begged Darren to give it a try, “Please, come on Darren, we gotta go see Pussy Ping Pong!” He relented and we went in the colorfully lit door and up the stairs to a big, loud, steamy room full of over weight western men and over made-up Asian women with big fingernails. OK, my “sleaze-o-meter” was pegging.

But I had to ask myself – WHAT about this is sleazy? Couldn’t pussy ping pong be done a little more respectably? I mean, if a woman can make a living at shooting balls out of her twat why does it have to be sleazy – this could just be entertaining, we could be wearing suits and sipping martinis. It could be an HBO special like Puppetry of the Penis or Le Pétomane – the legendary 19th century Frenchman who sang songs out his ass.

There was not much happening on stage – a couple women in bikinis were dancing. Maybe we had arrived at intermission. We were immediately offered bar stools at the stage-side bar and a beer was placed in front of us. No less that 6 women with long, sharp fingernails began to flirt with us and massage our necks with their fingertips. Working dangerously close to my jugular veins, I was concerned they would slice through one and I’d be left slumped in a pool of blood at the bar while women shot balls over my dead body.

Suddenly the bartender demanded 300 baht. I countered, “Wait, the man told us 100 baht!!” He did not understand or if he did, he wasn’t going to let on that he did. The price went up to $9 for a beer and the salesman with the sandwich board was, of course, gone.

Darren and I were covered with pointy-nailed women poking at us like wasps stinging ripe fruit. They all were demanding we pay the 300 baht. Darren relented but I didn’t. I tried to ignore them, waving them off and turning my back to the legions of Edwina Scissorhands. They got very pushy and grabby and started squawking at us to pay up. “Darren, we gotta get outta here,” I yelled in his ear. He seemed to want to stay now that he had paid his $9. A woman who acted more official stood next to me and pretended to be calling the police on her cell phone – to report us. I was certain it was ruse – police in Bangkok in a sex bar – hah! Plus, there was no way she could press buttons on a cell phone keypad with her fingernails. Agreeing only to pay the quoted price, I threw my 100 baht note on the bar and dashed for the exit with a trail of high-heeled women chasing after us. We ran down the stairs and disappeared into the crowded street.

Wheew! OK, sleazy beyond belief. In fact, my sleaze-o-meter was violated – smashed to smithereens.

But still, I was not convinced that the prostitution – the exchange of money for sexual pleasure (or as Camille Paglia calls it – mopping up the excess of male sexual desire) is inherently sleazy. Anytime you have something that is a commodity (a beautiful person), desire (a horny male – and isn’t that redundant?), shame (religious belief), and illegality, you’ve got the recipe for corrupt underground syndication. The same could be said of the drug trade. Most reasonable people would concede that marijuana is harmless and yet the commodification and illegalization of it creates the sleaze, and the legal system finishes it off by ruining the lives of countless thousands of people incarcerating them for years, while creating a black market for something that basically makes you laugh and eat entire bags of cheese doodles.

Now for all the sex I’ve had, and trust me, I’ve had plenty, I have never actually hired a prostitute. Once on a late-night walk on Miami Beach, years ago, a guy offered to give me a blow job for bus fare home. I refused on principle – at the time I would never have allowed a monetary exchange for a sexual encounter. I would have sooner given him the bus fare than paid for the sexual service. But, now I regret it – getting somebody on a bus immediately after anonymous sex is my idea of a good time.

For a gay western man in Bangkok, there is absolutely no need to hire for sex unless you truly enjoy the aphrodisia of money. Being poor and dumpy in the US and rich and beautiful in Asia, I thought, well, it would be interesting to see what money can in fact buy. After all, I had paid $3 for a sip of beer at the pussy ping pong show and didn’t get my full view of the underworld. Besides, that show was for straight men – I wondered what it would be like if I crossed over to my home turf.

So a few days later, when Darren and I went to Patong Beach in Phuket, I decided to give it a try. Darren and I strolled the empty streets of the gay section of this honky-tonk beach town on a weekday afternoon. We walked past a couple of quiet gay bars and a few guys came out to greet us enthusiastically. They were the so called “money boys.” Point of clarification for the paranoid: they are not boys. They are over 18.

Most of the sex trade one finds on the street are not appealing to me – they looked too street-tough and saucy and at the same time were aggressively flirty. I’m attracted to refined little guys – shy, intellectual elves and was fairly certain I was not going to find anyone like this street side. So I just gave the friendly brush-off to the guys who solicited us. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and surrounded us, walked with us and even stood in our way. The desperation level was making me sad. But we smiled and laughed and shook our heads, “No thank you…NO!” I had to actually pick one guy up and move him out of my way and give him a friendly spank for being in my way. I think he enjoyed it, actually.

I mentioned to Darren that if I saw someone who intrigued me, I might go for it, but had little idea how to make a smooth transaction happen. It’s a complex move – you have to face your own issues of money, power, shame, illegality, then negotiate for what you want to do (if you even know) and do it all with someone who is likely not going to be speaking your language in a foreign currency that requires you to divide everything by 35 on the spot. You are expected to do this with aplomb, smiling all the while, this is after all, Thailand, the land of smiles.

We walked up another side road and out came another gaggle of boys to solicit us. I stopped in my tracks as one would when being pursued by a pack of wild animals. Hold your ground, I told myself, don’t run…just back away slowly. At last, one guy appeared from behind the crowd, who caught my attention. He was not one of the grabby ones. Looking over the top of his buddies, I smiled at him and he smiled back at me revealing a mouthful of braces. Oh no, braces – too young! It is particularly challenging to judge ages in Thailand – their creamy, smooth skin seems to age so well in the tropical humidity that someone in their 40s can look like their 20s while we westerners end up looking like hairy, sun-damaged lizards. I beckoned him with a backward nod of my head and asked him his age. He said, “22.” Taking him for his word, I put him back in the running for my maiden voyage.

In Thailand, the money boys are the “property” of the bar they hang out in. They sit at the bar waiting for customers to approach. The bartender or the bar owner makes the sale. The bar keeps track of them and I suspect offers some protection and validation that they are healthy and of age. It’s all informal but nonetheless solid. At the very least, the bar provides witnesses should anything unsavory happen to the boy.

The other boys could see that I was focused on the one. I felt strangely like I was at a seafood restaurant picking out a lobster from a tank. The others backed away out of respect for the boy who might have a sale – a professional courtesy that didn’t subject me to a territorial bitch fight. I was left standing alone with the boy in the street – Darren stood about 500 feet away watching. He came closer and I asked his name. Day-Arh was the best I could make of what he said. It kind of sounded like Dear. I told him I thought he was very cute and that later I would come back after my friend went to bed. He smiled and nodded and we said goodbye.

After dinner and a drag show at Tangmo – I walked Darren back to the hotel. He got into bed with a 101 fever. I, however, had a fever of another kind. I wanted to go out and hire my first money boy. I said goodnight to Darren, packed some lube and a condom into my shorts and set out into the street.

I stopped in the ramshackle lobby of our gay hotel to talk to the owner Phytoon to ask him about money boys. He seemed like he either had been a money boy once or would have likely been part of that syndication that keeps track of them…there was a certain friendly-netherworld quality to him. I smiled and approached him and told him I want to buy a money boy. He gave me back a half smile and a knowing look – clearly I’m not the only one who has ever approached him about this.

His English was excellent and so I barraged him with questions: “Phytoon, I want to do this but I’m not sure how. What do you pay them, how long do you get and what are you allowed to do?” Feeling the power of being the one with all the information he had me sit at the bar and laid it out for me in long form.

“Well, this is how you do it,” he said, tapping his cigarette in the ash tray…”first you choose the boy you like and then you go to him and negotiate with him about what he is willing to do. You can ask him anything about the details. Then you ask him how much. He’ll tell you. You can negotiate with him but around here it’s usually about $1,000 baht. Then you have to pay the bar.” He gave me a few more pointers and then like a coach, he patted me on the shoulder and sent me into the alley leading to Day-Arh.

The conversation with Phytoon was getting me all excited. How easy is this? How simple. How forthright. What a great opportunity to be able to negotiate exactly what you want, the price, and then actually do it. No shame, no skulking around, no hours in front of the computer.

Adrenaline was now coursing through my veins and my pulse quickened as I turned up the deserted street where I last saw Day-Arh. The boys all saw me coming. But this time they stayed seated and I heard one yell into the bar, “DAY-ARH – he’s HERE!!” He came bouncing out of the murky disco bar with a cigarette in his hand. My excitement was dashed seeing that he was a smoker. I hate the taste of smoke on someone. He came right up to me and saw the smile fall off my face. I frowned “you smoke.” He quickly hid the cigarette behind his back and flashed a big smile at me as if to say, “who ME? I don’t smoke.” We both laughed. He immediately dropped it, mashed it out with his shoe and put a breath mint in his mouth. I wasn’t going to let this be a deal breaker – unfortunately everyone smokes in Thailand. (Breath mints are an excellent addition to anyone’s little sex toolkit.)

He came in a little closer and I said, “are you free?” Ooopsie – that was not the right phrasing. He said, “You want go with me?” “Yes,” I replied. “You pay bar. Not free,” he told me with an indignant frown. I laughed and corrected myself – “you are AVAILABLE?” “Yes,” he said. “Now?” I asked. He nodded and smiled, swishing the breath mints around more rapidly.

“What do you like to do?” I inquired of the boy as if I was on line or something. Dammit – another wrong question. Phytoon was going to kick my butt – I’m striking out! Deep breath, start over. Remember now, I’m the paying client – he’s here to please me. You tell him what you want to do and he agrees to it or not. Thus began my confusion over who is the sex worker and who is the client? It seemed I wanted to make him happy – to please HIM. Although it was a noble thought, it was confusing the guy.

He starts back at me: “What YOU want?”

This time I got it right, “I want kiss you,” I told him, remembering to keep the sentences short and simple and in the present tense, maybe leaving out the prepositions. He gave me a definitive nod and smile. I leaned in to kiss him like one would try a sample of the pistachio ice cream. He gave me a nice freebie kiss. Soft, wet lips and gentle tongue. Excellent! I was all flush with excitement, if you know what I mean, standing across from this beautiful young man with rosy lips, black hair, brown eyes and gorgeous, thick eyebrows that almost met in the middle. He was clearly not pure Thai – some Malaysian or Cambodian blood, I was guessing.

Just then one of the other boys came running out of the bar on a mission for something and swooped in past us. “DAY-ARH you got good one. Handsome!” and he grabbed my hard dick through my pants. Wow – was it that obvious? Day-Arh was unfazed by this drive by groping.

I was now flying on the dopamine and adrenaline that a man gets when he’s got a live one on the line, I was ready to pick him up and carry him to the bar.

But, I continued feeling him out a bit: “You like to get fucked?” You’d think I would have learned – I was still trying to think about what would please him. Being the professional he was, he turned it around and asked me the more appropriate question, “You want fuck me?” I smiled and nodded. I couldn’t contain my glee about negotiating something that over the course of my life, I’ve spent thousands of hours stuck in the mystery of will he/won’t he.

I confirmed for him: “Yes, I want fuck you, OK?” “Yes, you fuck me,” and he held his smiling gaze up at me. “Ok, I fuck you.” I had to say it one more time just to amuse myself at how easy this was. After all this deliberation, I was beginning to think my time was up and I should now pay my money and go home.

I asked how much and he said, 1,000 baht, which is about $35. I agreed and we basically moved on to the checkout counter. All the boys sat around the bar watching as I pulled out my wallet and thumbed through the notes as the bespectacled King’s emotionless face looked at me from the bills.

Then came the extras…oh yes, the extras…it’s the underground – nothing is written and so you don’t get a contract, receipt, warranty and waiver to sign like you would in America. Day-Arh says to me, “You have loom?” “No I don’t have room. We go your place.” “No. Loom cost 200 baht.” I was not aware of this detail. I started to back away from the bar and put my wallet away to think for a moment…hmmm. Could I bring him back to the hotel room with Darren next to us? Uh, not a good idea. I would have to go to HIS place – I assumed that’s where we’d go anyway. I got assertive. “You say 1,000. I pay 1,000. No more.” They all started squawking, “loom 200, loom 200.” Nope, sorry. And I started to walk away thinking I’d been burned by the system again – no ping pong pussy, no Day-Ahr.

Day-Ahr followed me out to the street and grabbed my hand, blinked his big girlish eyelashes pleadingly and said, “You pay 800 to ME and pay bar 200.” “Total 1,000 for everything?” I asked. “Yes. 1,000 total.” OK. Good. I went to the bar, he said a few things to his comrades to quiet them down and I handed the bartender a 1,000 baht note. They gave Day-Ahr 800 and kept the 200. Day-Ahr led me off down the street.

The momentary stress of that transaction began to fade as I focused on the back of Day-Ahr walking a few paces ahead of me. Everyone on the street knew what we were up to and it felt like all eyes were watching us…not in disapproval so much as curiosity and material for the gossip session later on. I may very well have been the only client for anyone that day.

On the way to the room, I found out a little more information about him. He is in school and lives with his boyfriend in Phuket. And in fact, the next morning I saw him drive by on the back of a motorbike holding fast to another young Thai man who I assumed was his boyfriend. He said his boyfriend knows that he is a money boy and gives his approval.

I couldn’t help notice what a cute butt Day-Ahr had as he led me up the steps to the “loom.” He didn’t really look like a sex worker American-style, but the jeans he wore were undoubtedly chosen for the way they presented his ass, his shirt tail riding just slightly above the round mass. We went up three flights of a very run down concrete building with only 1 tube of fluorescent lighting overhead and 2 mattresses on the floor amid piles of clothes. It was clearly the crash pad of several guys…friends he said who loaned him the place for an hour. The building itself was crumbling. The apartment had no running water – just a toilet down the hall with a bucket of murky water used to spoon into the toilet – which was nothing more than a porcelain hole in the floor.

I was thinking that maybe it would have been better to bring him to the hotel and hope that Darren was knocked out on sleep meds, but I opted out of that idea and we settled in on the dirty mattresses, undressing each other and kissing. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted the light on or off. Making love under a fluorescent shop light was not exactly appealing, then again, the visuals of Day-Ahr were half the joy. We did a little lights off and a little lights on. I discovered to my delight that he had hairy legs and forearms and a little patch of hair in the middle of his chest – something very unusual in Thai men.

The rest of what happened with this beautiful young man is probably more interesting to me than you. He did deliver the goods as promised on the street. He was a great kisser and very easy to fuck…a professional. Interestingly at first he wanted to only have sex facing me – I think that may be part of the unwritten code of safety – never turn your back on a client. But after a while he trusted me and didn’t insist on this.

We wrestled back and forth with who was the client and who was the sex worker. I kept trying to do things that would please him and he would lose his erection. When I let him please me, he would get turned on. So after a while I just stuck to my role as a paying customer. (FYI – we had safe sex – no fluids were exchanged, no one got sick and no one got hurt.)

Seeing Day-Ahr lying spread out before me, both of us smiling in the darkness, his body inviting and sensual as Thailand itself, I felt privileged that he shared himself with me. His beautiful body and his attention for an hour and a half cost me so little money. For him it was good money, an honest living (one could eat in restaurants for a week in Thailand for $35). For me it was money well spent, a chance to see into a world that is so shrouded in mystery and laced with shame. In the words of Justin Bond at the end of the film Shortbus, “Your demon is your best friend…and we all get it in the end.”

Not being Day-Ahr’s first, I’m certain that he would forget about me in some days or weeks. I could never say the same.


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