The last thing I think about when offing a bar boy in Bangkok is just what it is that resulted in him spending his nights sexually servicing complete strangers, often men he would not otherwise want to have anything to do with. Actually, that’s not the last thing I think of. I don’t consider it at all. Even dwelling on the question would put a dampener on the evening’s fun. If I did, I’d feel guilty about those circumstances and double or triple his tip. Or, if you are not a fan of the plight of the poor theory of working as a bar boy and prefer the thought that they do it because they are too lazy to get a real job, I’d be too busy planning on everything I was gonna make him do to make damn sure I got my money’s worth. Either way, contemplating motivation never mixes well with sex. That’s why the gods put your brain in the head that they did.
Having become friends with several bar boys over the years, I have had the opportunity of learning more about their lives and why they decided to make prostitution their career. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s always about the money. Those who I have become friends with turned to bar boy work because their options for employment were otherwise severely limited. Yes, some of them could have landed jobs as a clerk at a 7/11 – although I say ‘some’ because even entry-level jobs like convenience store or fast food counter help often entail education or skill requirements beyond their abilities or experience – but faced with the choice of the minimal take home pay from an eight to ten hour six days a week job compared to the chance of hitting it off with a rich farang because you were willing to get naked with him, I think I’d go with a life of blowing for dollars too.
None of the guys I’ve built a friendship with over the years are of the mercenary bar boy variety, the guys who are strictly in it for scamming every satang out of customers that they can. That’s not to say they don’t exists, just that there’s not much room for friendship in a relationship where your goal is depleting the other man’s bank account. And it’s not that those I have built a friendship with don’t know all those tricks too. They’ve just decided not to employ them. Or to only employ them with customers who, by their own actions, demand it. The prostitute with a heart of gold is undoubtedly as big of a fantasy in Thailand as it is in the Western world. But as in any other type of service industry, there are those who value giving and those who value taking. There are those who believe that providing good service is the surest way to just rewards, and those who believe that it is incumbent upon themselves to grab whatever they can as quickly as they can.
Regardless of motivation or mode of operation, money plays the leading role. Because working as a bar boy is a job. And anywhere in the world, with any job someone takes, the basis is always the pay. For many employees the world over, cash is the only consideration. Whether you are selling sex or a Happy Meal, the reason for doing so is the same: the money you walk away with at the end of the day. But anywhere in the world and in every type of employment there are also those who love – or at least enjoy – the work they do and those who struggle to get out of bed and force themselves to show up for another day at work. Often working in the same job, side by side, at the same pay rate. And that goes for the boys in the bars of Bangkok too. The difference is the rewards that are not as tangible as cold hard cash. And while your wallet may not feel that difference, your heart does.
There have been numerous studies done on what motivates employees. Everyone assumes it’s cash – and it is – but surprisingly beyond a pay level that meets an employee’s basic needs, those intangibles mean more. Money really doesn’t buy happiness. It helps. But it is not the only consideration. And you can see the difference between a bar boy whose focus is on his customer’s enjoyment versus those who want to do as little as possible for as much baht as possible. Even when they themselves can’t articulate the difference.
The twist in the bar boy / customer paradigm is that the same can be said of the customer. Those who focus on the amount of cash their orgasm costs them – and what they get for that cash – seldom enjoy themselves as much as those who consider that money secondary. When the state of your penis’ happiness is at play, no one wants to stop and think about what motivates the guy you’re paying to make your best buddy happy. But maybe you should. Because there are orgasms and then there are orgasms. And just a bit of effort can mean the difference between a memorable night in the sack and landing yet another dud.
I’d like to tell you I know the secret to making every off you pay for in Thailand a successful one. ‘Cuz then I’d publish this blog on a paid subscription basis and get filthy rich off of your orgasms. But I can’t. Because I’ve had my share of duds too. Although possibly far fewer than you’ve experienced. The small number of bad offs that I have suffered through, after the fact, I’ve chalked up to letting my little head doing the thinking. There were enough warning signals that I shoulda known better. But my successful off batting average is high enough to earn me a spot in the Hall of Fame. And even those that didn’t end as happily as I may have wanted, I’ve often enjoyed just for the companionship of the bar boy I picked. So while I could scam you out of a buck or two for sharing my vast knowledge and experience, the fact is you already know the answer. Because what promises to ensure you get the most out of the interaction you have with a bar boy is no different than what motivates you in your own personal interactions with others.
As anti established religion as I am, most of the major faiths share a common tenet that holds true. In Christianity it reads ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Uh, that’s about how you treat them, not how good of a blow job you give. Conversely, for the glass half full folks and those who often land a dud, there’s ‘You reap what you sow’. The positive aspects in your interactions with others, those things they do or say that make you feel good, are no different than what a bar boy will find attractive about you. Regardless of how unattractive you are. A bit of respect goes a long way. Flattery even further. Everyone (well, most of us) would prefer spending our time with someone who is fun to be around, with someone with a smile on his face rather than a dour look that broadcasts his widespread resentment in life. And never underrate the importance of status to a Thai. He gets his from yours. And you get yours from the pride you show in yourself. You may scoff at such basic measures, but they mean a lot in Thailand. And those are the things that really get a bar boy off when he’s being offed.
Empathy too matters. Especially for those frequent posters on the gay Thailand message boards who like to claim bar boys are nothing more than prostitutes and should be treated as such. “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes” is a well-known adage that can be traced back to the Native American Cherokee tribe; Harper Lee rephrased that sentiment in To Kill A Mockingbird when she wrote, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That doesn’t just mean you shouldn’t dismiss a bar boy’s emotional or social needs because of the work that he does, but that you should also consider how your actions impact his both status and his view of you as a customer. Which takes a bit more work. But it is well worth the effort.
For example, there is currently a thread on one of the gay Thailand message boards about buying a drink at a gogo bar when you already know who you’ll off. In other words, you go to the bar having already picked out the guy you want to take off with the question being are you then obligated to buy a drink – which often serves as a cover charge – or can you just pay the off fee and skedaddle. I cringe whenever sexpats and sex tourists start talking about money on the boards. You’d think saving a buck was their main goal rather than the orgasm they traveled to Thailand in search of. Not surprisingly, everyone who contributed to this thread agreed that under those circumstances you should not have to pony up for the price of a drink; you are not there for the show, you don’t plan on being in the bar any longer than absolutely necessary, and often you may only be there to pay the off fee for a bar boy you already offed – it’s night #2 of your time with him, an unexpected pleasure, and you are only at the bar to pay his off fee again.
At first glance not buying a drink sounds perfectly reasonable. Although I’d question whether being reasonable or saving a few bucks is the motivation behind the act. Nonetheless, I can’t disagree. You are there only to hand over some cash, not to enjoy an evening at the bar. I’ve been in the same situation and arrived at the same conclusion. Primarily because I was thinking of it solely from my point of view. Fortunately the bar boy I was with was also a friend and felt comfortable enough in our relationship to point out what I’d missed.
Bar boys get tons of both status and good-will for bringing a customer back to his bar. The bar manager notices, appreciates the extra income, and will treat that boy accordingly. His barmates also take note of the ‘good’ customer he landed and his status among the group rises. Now you just have to decide which you value more: your $10 or the affect that money has on his self-esteem and the respect he gets from his employer and fellow employees.
Using the boards for advice back when I was a newbie, I learned that when you off a bar boy for a week or so it is not unreasonable to barter for a discount on the total of off fees you pay. The logic in that claim was based on two points: the basic idea that when you buy in bulk it should be cheaper, and that since bar boys are not slaves and get one day off per week, you shouldn’t have to pay an off fee for his day off. I dismissed the former. Bartering for off fees or tips based on the idea that you are owed a discount, or that neither the boy or the bar would otherwise get seven days worth of pay, is just plain cheapskate thinking. The little bit of money you save will cost you much more in the long run. But the latter made sense. Why should I pay a bar an off fee to cover a night when the boy would not be working at that bar anyway?
In this case it was a bar owner who provided me with the glimpse into the bar boy’s side of the equation. And again, it had not been a viewpoint I’d considered myself. Despite what we may think, a week in Phuket, for example, is not the jolly holiday for a bar boy that it would appear to be. It’s a stressful seven days of being away from his friends and family, spending 24 hours a day trying to take care of you, his customer. By paying that ‘extra’ day’s off fee, when he gets back to Bangkok he gets a free night off. Otherwise he ‘used’ his regular day off on your trip. And has to go right back to work again. That may matter little to you, but matters greatly to him.
It’s easy to think of the guys who work in the bars as sex objects because it is because of sex that we meet them. But they are human beings too and have the same emotional needs as everyone else. Even those who have become hardened from the years they’ve spent working in the bars. It’s amazing how something as simple as stopping on the way back to your hotel so he can have something to eat – that’d be food he is used to and enjoys – can make or break your night together. That’s the kind of thing that costs you little but can pay off big time. ‘Cuz a happy bar boy invariably leads to a happy ending. And he might even surprise you and not ask you for taxi money at the end of your time together.
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