Reading 'Private Dancer' means diving deep into Bangkok's nightlife and particularly into it's sex industries. It's a thrilling story about what's going on in the business which shaped Thailand's image worldwide so much.
Pete, a newcomer to Thailand, fells at one of his first visits in a nightbar in Bangkok's notorious Nana Plaza redlight surrounding in a kind of love with Joy, a Thai dancer, bargirl, prostitute. The relationship between both becomes a detailed story stretching out for about a year. Really thrilling is that the book is not written from the point of view of Pete alone or an omniscient narrator, but from the viewpoints of a number of people who are anyhow involved into the story. Everyone has his own view on the things going on. And it's such a contrast to see one telling a story how he sees it and then the same story in the view of another participant.
Particularly interesting is to see Joy's, the Thai girl's interpretation of the story. She sees the things from her point of view only. She isn't able to abstract what's going on; for her is, what she is experiencing, absolute. That's typical for simple, uneducated people. Typical for a majority of people in Southeast Asia - they are incapable for abstraction.
Actually Joy is clearly an uninteresting person. She has nothing one could call a personality, no life experience, no visions of her future or anything what makes her anyhow special. She's on an emotional and intellectual level of a child. Hard to understand what the fascination is which Pete has on her. The only interesting thing about her is the cruel family background and that she is such a surviver. And that's what Pete doesn't really understand.
It's one of the really great books to read, because it gives not only a deeper insight into Thailand's sex industries, who attract so many Western sex Tourists every year to visit Thailand, but also into the psyches of Thai's and a great number of Westerners - some who refuse to see what's obvious, other's who just come to take advantage of the situation, or, better spoken, take it hedonistic. And, more than that, the book alows insights into parts of the Thai society, particularly the background of people from Thailand's poorest part, northeastern Isaan. That's the part of the country where the verymost girls who are working in the sex industries are recruited from.
Well, Pete is not a young fool. He was married in England, divorced, coming to Thailand for writing articles for a traveller guide like 'Lonely Planet' or 'Rough Guide' are. Pete is thirty six years old and intelligent, western middle-class. He's doing a job in Thailand, and probably feels lonely. No wonder, considering his mates, the other guys who are hanging out in the scene. In fact they all are pretty crazy. Modern social life is widely destroyed by money, everywhere on earth. Pete is looking for a more serious relationship with emotional reliability. But that's not available in the redlight scene. He refuses to understand that and tries the impossible.
It's a mad society, we are living in, and everybody tries to make a sense out of it. Many people live in quite primitive circumstances and never learn anything. Others have a better status, but, well, they neither learn much more. Verymost people, doesn't matter if Thai, Asians in general or Westerners, are fixed to their personal lifes and views on it. Very few people have a wider view. Here we get a good deal of sights of people who see things very lively. Sexists, racists, fatalists, cynics, ignorants, alcoholics - even the ugly German appears several times. But it's not a black-and-white painted story. One of the most intelligent guys of them, apart from degenerated Big Ron and a smart Thai private detective, is a German professor who gives interesting insights on Thai society, studying it and developing an objective view on it.
In the sex industries just business is going on; it's a buyer - seller relationship. No Westerner would go in a western country into a brothel, paying for sex and expecting then the girl becoming his girlfriend and later his trustworthy wife with which he can establish a happy family future. Here in Thailand a great deal of Westerners believe exactly in that.
I have personally heared so many stories about broken Western-Thai relationships, after certain frauds came out. In many cases the Westerners never even realize that they have been lied on. But there are permanent arguments and the marriage breakes off. Of course, establishing a partnership with a redlight background gives a lot of reason for mutual mistrust. And well, one has to say that the verymost Westerners in Thailand are really not the brightest. Many of them come to Thailand as sex Tourists and they are from a simple, uneducated social background as well as the girls they encounter. Honestly I sometimes wonder, how people can survive with so little brain. Most of them are already alcoholics when arriving here, and hanging out here without having anything to give their days a structure doesn't do them any good. Due to the exchange rates western money is high valuated, what makes life in Thailand relatively cheap - and make Westerners feel like rich guys, being somewhat better because they have money and are from another, far away country. In many cases they feel like they were an incarnation of their countries, as they were England, the US or Germany personally. That gives them identity and they feel strong. Once an old drunk introduced himself to me as: "I am Holland". They are in their way as same sticking to a limited horizon as the most Thais do. The only difference might be that they are better educated as certain specialist, they did a particular job for a (long) time. But aside of that they don't know more about what's going on than other simple people (concerning science, technics, politics, economy, psychology and so on). They don't even wonder that twenty years old girls 'fall in love' with twenty, thirty, fourty years older men.
Highly recommended to avoid a closer contact to such guys. They don't make good friends and are not seldom always in trouble. And there are masses of them particularly in Thailand.
Not seldom I asked Westerners who are married to a Thai wife where they got to know each other. Of course, nobody would confess that he met his wife in a night club where she was working as a prostitute. They always tell me it was in a department store, where the woman was working, or it was in Bangkok generally without specifying a place or circumstances. Then they spend some time to explain how difficult it was for them to convince her to go with them, e.g. travelling around in Thailand, what lead then to the marriage. Personally I would estimate the number of Thai women who worked in a bar et cetera before marrying a Westerner of far above 90 per cent.
The vast majority of people worldwide has to work for an income. We are used to qualify ourselves in schools and selling our skills, in fact ourselves, on labour markets. Some qualifications are worth more money, some less. Many people never get a regular job - unemployment is rising. It's Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' who's ruling godlike on markets. But everybody who has to sell himself is actually doing a certain kind of prostitution. What's the difference between selling oneself as a plumber, a clerk or as a hooker? One gives away his freedom and independence of thinking. One has a master. I met guys who work for the arm industries. Making really good money. Who blames them? After all they supply trained killers with arms, enabeling them to kill innocent people! They claim they would just make a living. That's what the prostitutes do as well. So, I guess it's not fair to blame them more than others.
A crucial thing here in Thailand is, that Westerners are not allowed to own real estate. All the many Westerners who buy land and build a house here are not in legal possession of it. It's owned by their wifes or any other Thai. The Thai women can do with it what they want. And they don't hesitate to do so. They might be different than Western women are, but they are not any better when it comes to money. In many cases the Thai women sell the property soon after everything is established. In other cases the whole Thai family moves in and that wasn't really, what the (paying) Westerner had in mind before. They just force the Westerner out of his 'own' house. In many cases it comes out that the Thai wife is already married - that does not mean too much in Thailand. A Buddhist marriage is easy to settle. There might be a Thai husband as a kind of a pimp waiting in the background, benefitting from the whole affair.
Strange thing is, if I see things going on like that and I try to give a warning or just an estimation of mine about the ongoing affair, the Westerners don't want to hear it. They just ignore any advice of being careful. They don't want to see in what they are running in until it is too late.
'Private Dancer' is defenitely a great book on human tragedy. For a time it was free to download on Stephen Leather's website, but it's no more. Though, I found it a few month ago still circulating in the internet. However, it's worth for every Tourist or visitor to spend some money for that book before coming to Thailand.
Stepen Leather is himself living in Bangkok since many years. He knows what he's writing about from first hand. The described places and the characters do either exist or they are derivated of real existing places and people.