Cambodian Barworld Studies: A Vindication of the Bargirl NarrativeJuly 6, 2006
Let’s get this out of the way right now. I’ve had a professional interest in bargirls for some time. Some would say too much of an interest and for too long.
I can’t help it. I find bargirls fascinating. It’s not because I?m obsessed with sleeping with them, or I’m always on the prowl for a bargirlfriend, or even that I really enjoy their company.
Often they’re insufferably boring old slappers. But interest in bargirls is far from puerile. And anyone who says otherwise hasn’t considered the full, labyrinthine complexity of the barworld.
The stories that come out of the barworld, I think, are more than stock narratives, with stock characters, who end up doing stupid things. There’s an archetypal nature to them. But the same is true of many stories.
The punters who think the barworld is for suckers, that they’re old-hand Asia expats who are wise to it all, are often the ones who’ve simply tried bargirl relationships, found them unworkable, and maybe even came to find them embarrassing.
They are embarrassing.
But they’re also fraught with psychological drama, damaged egos, desperate love, brutal callousness, selfish cunning, fierce jealousy, aching regret, and black, black despair. These stories play out the neediness, the insecurity, the frailty of all people more than the tepid, bourgeois ideal of marriage to a lily white office nymph. That makes for a happy life, not an interesting story.
Writing barworld stories is no mean feat, either. The writer faces the singularly difficult task of making his reader identify with suckers who blow all their money on hookers who are inspired by greed and powered by delicate piteousness and raw sexuality.
Most readers would resist sympathising with either of the two basic characters of every barworld story, the punter and the bargirl, but it is only by doing so that the feelings, the struggles, and the pathos are universalised.
Obviously, the people who say barworld stories are boring haven?t been made to see their how we?re all caught up in the same needs and frailties and obsessions that propel men through pathetic dramas with bargirls.
But I think there’s enough there for more than a few good stories, if you’re willing to look.