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In the movie Cool Hand Luke, the prison boss has a famous line: “What we got here is failure to communicate.” Paul Newman, in the title role, was the one not capable of comprehending and it earned him a long stay in the box, a harsh form of solitary confinement used to punish disobedient prisoners. Many visitors to the gay gogo Bars of Bangkok fall victim to miscommunication too. And their reward is often just as onerous, though it usually results in a lack of pleasure rather than the delivery of pain and humiliation. Even if that is what you are into.

Cool Hand Luke’s problem was his failure to understand the rules and workings of the Florida prison farm’s system. In his case it was more of a disregard for that culture than not knowing. In the case of gogo bar patrons it’s often more a case of not understanding the cultural workings of Thailand. Their inability to speak Thai coupled with bar boys’ limited knowledge of English exacerbates the problem. And it’s often times not words, but actions that lead to the miscommunication. Regardless, the customer ends up walking away with a foul taste in his mouth, unhappy with his not so happy ending. If he fails to learn from his mistakes, he soon becomes one of the masses who swears all bar boys are scammers interested in nothing more than lifting as much money off of customers as possible for doing as little as necessary.

The vocal majority of customers tend to fall in one of two camps, a black and white world where bar boys are either downtrodden angels in need of saving by the Big Bawana, or devilish scammers who treat customers like walking ATMs. Neither is a true picture. Most patrons of gay gogo bars in Thailand realize that like with any group of people there are good folk and there are bad folk. The truth is that the majority of Thai guys working in gay gogo bars will provide good service for a reasonable tip. The devil, however, is in the details.

On one year-end trip to the Big Mango I stopped into Dick’s Cafe on Soi Twilight for dinner. The restaurant was packed and I stood at the bar waiting for the next available table to open. Another customer’s arrival coincided with a table becoming available and a waiter, not realizing I’d been waiting, started showing the new guy to his seat. The host who’d been watching for a table for me rushed over and got in his face. Rather than get into an argument, I suggested to the other customer we share the table. We did, and he was an affable guy with whom I got along great.

David was an Aussie, a not-out gay man on his third night in Bangkok. We shared tales about bars and guys we’d offed and decided to hit the bars together after dinner. Not too old, not too bad looking, David had a ready smile for everyone and made for a great running partner. We shared a taste in men and joked about which of us called dibbs on the few muscle guys on the soi. Tawan is the bar for muscle aficionados, and it wasn’t belong before we headed down Suriwong to Bangkok’s muscle paradise. On the way, David told me that he’d been to Tawan the night before, had offed a guy, and had not been happy with the bar boy’s behavior.

“He had an incredible body!” David told me. “But pushy. Non-stop. It was all about money.”

I sympathized with him. Guys at Tawan tend to get top dollar. They are a slightly different breed than guys working the other bars and are used to getting lots of baht for little to no work on their part. “He didn’t want to do anything?” I asked, knowing that is the usual complaint about Tawan boys.

“No, no,” he replied. “He was willing enough, gave me a great massage, and told me in the bar he wouldn’t bottom. But he wanted me to take him to Australia with me! He even showed me his passport.”

Hitting up a new customer for a trip to Oz was a bit brazen even for a guy from Tawan. I could understand how the boy’s aggressiveness would be off-putting, even if he did perform as promised. I figured David had run across one of those bar boys who tries to cash in big time off any customer who offs him. David finished his tale just about the time we arrived at the bar. We’d barely sat down at our table before Nut, a bar boy with whom I had a history spotted me and came running over. I’d been offing Nut for years, had been his very first customer, and usually hooked up with him on every trip. Often for nothing more than a lunch or dinner. We’d become friends over the years and saw each other more often on a noncommercial basis than a business one.

Nut was all smiles, gave me a big hug, and then turned to David and greeted him by name before having to take his place on stage. When he left, David leaned over and whispered, “That’s the guy!”

Huh. I know Nut. He’s a sweetheart. And not in the least bit aggressive. I mulled David’s story over, comparing it to what I knew of Nut and quickly figured out where the problem laid. Nut had managed to get a passport earlier in the year and was quite proud of it. I’d already seen it three times. He kept it wrapped up in a cloth, obvious a valuable treasure. Showing it to David wasn’t about pushing for a trip, it was Nut sharing his good fortune, proud of owning a passport. I have no doubt in doing so, he’d said something to the effect of, “I go wit you.” But that would have been nothing more than his pride at being able to travel. Knowing Nut, more likely it was a joke.

I explained my take on what had happened to David. He wasn’t any more enthralled with Nut after I told him what his true intentions had probably been. David offed some other guy, I offed Nut, and we went our separate ways. I considered talking to Nut about David’s reading of him, thinking maybe it’d be a good thing for him to know. But then decided that it had just been Nut being his usual enthusiastic self, something I’d never want to see diminished. Nut, however, was curious about my relationship with David and asked if we were friends. When I explained we’d just met, he nodded, grimaced, and declared, “He not good customer.”

Nut was no more pleased with David than David had been with him. The problem had been partially that neither spoke the other’s language well. And they had miss-read the other’s motives. David, who was not addicted to being a butterfly, missed out on a pleasurable few days with a cute, and hot, companion. Nut missed out on the profits of a multiple-night off. All due to a failure to communicate.

“I do everyting,” is undoubtedly one of the most frequently misunderstood bar boy statements. Customers who assume that means the boy will in fact do everything the customer desires, once back in their hotel room discovers that is not the case. And then bitch to others that the boy lied. I’ve no doubt that some boys know how customers will read that claim and use it purposely to ensure they get the off. At the same time I also know that most guys working the bars learn their English from bar mates and that phrase just translates different in Thai and English. I also know that when a customer asks such an open ended question of a Thai, it’s probably his reticence over asking about specifics at work and the resulting miscommunication is his own fault.

Most muscled or masculine bar boys consider themselves ‘men,’ meaning they do not bottom. As a customer, you are supposed to know this. Thinking that bar boy may bottom is almost an insult. If you asked him, in plain English, if he does, in most cases he’ll almost say no. The more experienced will give you a definitive ‘no’, but Thais don’t like to say no. Its part of their culture to not disappoint. He may instead say something about pain, or size, or give a quick shake of his head as he addressees some other subject. Many times you’ll get the infamous, “I do everyting.”

When that happens, the customer hears, “Yes.” Because that’s what they want to hear. But the answer really is more of a “I do everything you should expect a man to do.” Which does not included bottoming.

Thai are big on not saying things directly. Their culture is built around avoiding confrontation. Thai societal rules ensure that everyone knows how they are expected to act. So there’s no need to spell it out. That’s where the ‘up to you’ comes from in asking how much a boy expects to be tipped. Sure, part of it is his hopes you’ll be more than generous. But ‘up to you’ means you know what the normal tip is and are expected to do you part. And yes, it is up to you so if you want to short-tip a guy you off you can. But as soon as he gets back to the bar he’s gonna tell all of his bar mates how cheap you are and the next time you walk into that bar, if not the entire soi, you’ll find none of the guys wants to be offed by you.

Some time ago I read a customer’s post on one of the gay Thailand message boards about the dud he’d offed from Tawan. He wasn’t as vicious about the experience as some who recount their tales are, but went into detail about all of the things the guy had done that pissed him off. Three quarters of the way through reading his post I started laughing. I knew exactly who he was writing about because the boy’s errors were quite familiar to me. And yup, it was Nut once again.

The customer had spent some time in the bar with Nut, chatting, drinking, and enjoying the show. He’d intended on offing Nut, but had not said so directly. Nut called one of his barmates over and introduced him, then started singing the guy’s praises, telling the customer how good of an off the other boy was. The customer was pissed, thinking Nut was hitting him up to off both of them. That was not the case. Since the customer did not tell Nut he wanted to off him, Nut called his bar mate over, hoping the customer would off him. Not both of them. He thought he’d struck out and was trying to find a boy acceptable to the customer.

The customer then told Nut he wanted to off him. And was pissed that Nut immediately went and got dressed, and then told the customer he would wait for him outside. The customer was unhappy because he felt Nut was pushing him, he wanted to watch the show, not immediately head back to his hotel for a night of pleasure. Again, it was a misreading of the situation.

When you agree to off a guy, he often asks if he should go change. Experience has taught the boys that once a customer decides to off them, the customer is ready to get back to his hotel and start enjoying himself. “I go change?” is really more of a “Are you ready to leave now?” Which makes sense. If you are planning on spending another hour at the bar, why would you want your boy to go put his clothes on? Who in the world would prefer a dressed guy sitting next to him over one wearing a skimpy pair of underwear?

Nut is one of those guys who actually knows how to give a massage. Before he bulked up, he used to walk on my back. I love the additional muscles he has put on over the years, both for their look and because being a muscle stud has always been his deepest desire. But I miss the days of having him walk all over me. It was not unusual for Nut to go across the street and pick up a bottle of oil in preparation for giving a massage when he was offed. When he did, he’d suggest I wait at the bar, giving me a few more minutes to drool over the guys there which was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than watching Nut buy a bottle of oil from Family Mart. That’s what he’d done with this customer too. But the customer read it as a, “Hurry up, let’s go, I’ll wait for you outside.”

So the customer was unhappy, did not have a happy ending with his happy ending, and made sure to post his displeasure so everyone would know how rotten the boys at Tawan are. Though it was a failure to communicate, I have to wonder why the guy went through with the transaction if he was so unhappy even before leaving the bar. Would it not have been better to not agree to the off, or if having already done so slip Nut 500 baht and say you changed your mind? There are guys at Tawan, as well as in the other bars, who will push for the big bucks, who will rush you along, and who will try and get as much money out of you as they can. They are easy to spot. They are the ones who push for an off and quote a figure for their time up front. If you decide to off them, then who is at fault when your night doesn’t go the way you want?

Failing to communicate in the gay gogo bar world in Bangkok is easy to do thanks to both the language barrier and differences in culture. We travel to their country, have a smattering of Thai at best, expect them to know our language, and then assume the little they do know means they are well qualified to speak and understand English. Few of us take the time to learn about their culture or how their society operates, assuming instead it is the same as back home. The bar boys know little about how our minds work either and assume we think like Thais do. It’s no wonder miscommunication occurs as frequently as it does.

Fortunately, avoiding being the victim of miscommunication is easy too. Be up front about what you want. Be specific, don’t rely on euphemisms or slang the boy may not understand. Realize that as a customer you have obligations, too. And take responsibility for your own orgasm. The guy you off is probably straight and only knows what a gay guy likes or wants through the experiences he’s had with other customers. Which may have nothing to do with what curls your toes.

Most bar boys want to please you if for no better reason that doing so may result in multiple offs and even more money in their pocket. But your cultural norms are as unfathomable to them as theirs are to you. They are not mind-readers. And farangs’ minds are truly strange things. If you’ve done your best and things still don’t go your way, before you blame the boy, consider that neither of you may have been at fault. The problem may just be due to a failure to communicate.

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