Monday, November 5, 2012

What It Feels Like for a Girl in Bangkok (If She's Unlucky Enough Not to Be Lady Gaga!)

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a female friend who trained a bright spotlight on a topic about which I had no idea I was in the pitch-black dark. I guess over the course of some 16 non-consecutive months in Bangkok, I've been so focused on my unique experiences as a black gay Western man living in the wild wild East that I'd never even bothered to consider what it must feel like for a girl here in the sin city/sex capital of the East.

"I don't really like Bangkok."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but there, she'd said it. I can recall only a few times that I'd ever heard an expat in Bangkok (my friend is French, though she's spent years living everywhere, including the U.S. and the Middle East, her personal favorite playground) or anyone here on holiday say anything bad about the place. I couldn't wait to hear her explanation why.

I expected to hear her gripe about the intense heat and the lack of cultural activities (shortcomings with which I'd definitely pad my "Not Hot" column), but her gender and how people here relate to her because of it? Apparently, the romantic prospects for her as a woman of a certain age (older than twentysomething), are as dim in Bangkok as they would be in Hollywood, another brightly lit big city that's much easier on white men.

From a purely sexual standpoint, it's not hard to understand why white men fall in love with Bangkok. It's so easy for them to fall in love here. Whether you're a gay or straight man, if you're white, and you've got enough baht to sustain their interest (and with an exchange rate of 30 baht to $1, you probably do), many locals will flock to you.

An overweight fiftysomething expat from Australia once told me that one of the biggest draws of Bangkok is that the locals find gray hair sexy. All I have to do is look around at the number of older pudgy white guys with beautiful young Thai women (or men) on their arms to understand what he meant. In Bangkok, white (as in skin) and gray (as in hair) are the new black. The old black -- as in my racial peers -- might not be as much in demand among the general local populace, but since everyone wants to know if it's true what they say about black men, some of them flock to us, too.

My white female friend from France, however, has had a completely different experience here, and not just because the sex trade caters almost exclusively to men. Yes, even outside of Patpong and the red-light districts, it's all about farangs (Thai slang for Westerners), she acknowledged, but only the male ones. In a lot of ways, the Western male is like a status symbol. Regardless of what your face and body look like, for a certain segment of the local population (the ones who have no interest in dating fellow Thais), if you're a white Western guy swooping in and picking up the tab, you're golden.

But as a woman, she asked me, "what do I have to offer? The men here aren't looking for a strong woman who will take care of them." Well, for one thing, I wanted to answer, you're very attractive, so there's that, but I reconsidered. If I were a woman in a city full of so many amazingly beautiful women, I certainly wouldn't want to be judged solely by my looks for fear that they wouldn't measure up.

Gray and/or balding overweight white men might have an edge with Bangkok beauties, but farang women are on a far more level playing field with local women. Though I know that unions between Thai men and farang women do exist (I recently met a guy whose father is Thai and whose mother is a Jewish expat from New York, and they've been together for more than 40 years), I'm not sure that I've actually seen any in real life. And I know for a fact that I've never seen a hot straight Thai guy with a fat blonde or even a gray-haired white beauty on his arm.

The pickings, I imagine, must be even slimmer for black women, who don't have antiquated urban myths to increase their stock. How different things are here than they were in Buenos Aires, where the female expats I knew were just as likely as the male ones to find love with an Argentine guy and more likely to marry and/or have kids with one.

My friend's dissatisfaction with Bangkok encompasses more than her romantic and sexual desirability here, but of all the things she mentioned, that was the one that interested me most because, unlike a distaste for the quality of consumer goods (first on her list of peeves), temples as the only architectural wonder, or the work ethic, it's something I'll never experience firsthand. If I were in the same position, I wonder if I would have lasted as long as I have in Bangkok.

Although I've kept mostly to myself here, and the city's appeal for me has never involved true romance or fast love (the prices, the food, and my apartment top my own "What's Hot" column), it's always comforting to know that they're out there, if I'm ever interested in finding them.

No comments: