Love And Shattered Dreams In SE Asia

Posted on by Alex Watts


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This is the second part of an interview with Bangkok Noir painter Chris Coles whose new exhibition Night Vision is at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh.

Noir artist-witness Chris Coles has three pieces of advice for men looking for love in SE Asia – first never marry a bar girl, second never give a woman your ATM number, and third never live high up.

During his 17 years painting portraits from inside Thailand’s dark sex industry – from the prowlers to the hookers to the lady boys to the gangsters – he has given many deluded expats the same warning to try to stop them making the “huge mistake” that will ruin their lives.

But true to the broken dreams and hopelessness that make up his noir vision, he admits he has little success: “It’s like people are so stupid – if the antelope with the limp insists on going to the waterhole at 2am that’s populated with cheetahs, you can’t save the antelope.”

He adds: “When I meet these guys, and they’re about to get married, I tell them: ‘Don’t do it!’ It’s great to live here, great to have girlfriends, great to spread the money around, because everyone here needs money – don’t be a cheap shit and all that. But don’t get married, don’t, especially to a girl with a sixth-grade education, 30 years younger – the cultural and social gaps are so enormous. I mean, marriage is hard enough already…

“I don’t tell her not to marry him, because she has to get something better – it’s her duty to her family and her kids. She has an ethical obligation in a certain sense. He, on the other hand, is making a huge mistake of his own volition. When the ATM number gets given up, the next day they’re flying off the balcony. They die of a heart attack 40 floors below. Two guys a week in Thailand die flying off condo balconies…”

It is tales and images of these doomed desires, delusions, and mysterious deaths that Coles depicts alongside other painters, writers, and filmmakers in the Bangkok Noir movement. Following in the style of his “hero”, the great German expressionist Emil Nolde, he story-boards the tragic lives of sex workers he has befriended to find the truth carefully concealed behind the smiles.

He says it is a trust he has won by being a friend, and never a customer. Once you pay a bar fine, you’re always a customer, he adds, and even if you move in together, it’s still a game – the conditions may have changed, but it’s still about money. He says bar girls quickly learn that if they are to have any chance of surviving in SE Asia’s ruthless sex industry, they cannot get emotionally involved with customers.

“It’s very hard for some girls because they’re brought up in rural areas, they’re quite nice, warm-hearted, and they know if they work in the bar business and start falling in love with customers or start feeling too much, it’s always bad: ‘He’s going to go out with some other girl, he’s going to go back to his home country.’ It’s always going to break their heart in some way, and if you do that twice a month it destroys you.”

He adds: “I’ve almost had girlfriends a number of times, because on my travels around SE Asia I meet really nice girls sometimes. Smart, nice personalities. I’ve come this close and keep telling myself, ‘don’t do it’. And then I’ll be at the bar one night, and she gets bar fined and walks out with someone to a short-time hotel, and I’ll say to myself: ‘Chris, that’s why it’s good never to get involved, because every night she’s fucking other guys.’

“One girl I know earns 150,000 baht ($5,000) a month, and she says: ‘We could just be boyfriend and girlfriend, you know I have plenty of money, I don’t need any money, you know I like you…’

“She moves in, we have a relationship. I’m sure it will be great – she’s got a beautiful mind, a beautiful body – but I’ll always be thinking, ‘she’s already had sex with 5,000 or 6,000 guys over 20 years, and if she’s busy, she’ll bar fine once to twice every night. How can you have sex with someone like that? No matter what you do, it’s not going to be better, bigger, unexpected…

“And the second thing is, ‘it’s 2am, why isn’t she back yet?’ Maybe she’s doing a long time – it’s her job. A guy’s paid her 10,000 baht to stay in a five-star hotel overnight, what she’s supposed to do, say no? I’m not going to pay her 10,000 baht, so you can’t do it…”

He says many farangs end up with shattered lives in the noir of the neon night because they do not understand the nature of love in SE Asia. Others try to find a lasting relationship by dating a woman with a ‘normal’ job outside the entertainment industry, but he says that doesn’t work either – because “it’s still first world meets third world”.

“Romantic love is not part of the SE Asian system – even high-class Thai girls, middle-class Thai girls. They don’t get married for romantic love. It’s like: ‘What’s your job, how much money do you have in the bank?’ It’s about bringing two families together to survive and prosper,” he says.

“In Thailand, if you like someone then you want to help them. If you don’t want to help someone that means you don’t like them, whether you’re upper class, middle class, or a working class girl. And money is always part of the equation because everybody, except the richest billionaire group, always needs money because there’s always some part of their family that doesn’t have very much.”

Indeed, he says many Westerners underestimate the strength of family ties in SE Asia: “No Khmer, Thai or SE Asian woman or person lives alone. Westerners go and rent an apartment by themselves in northern Norway, never talk to anyone except when they go to work, or go out on a Saturday night, and think it’s wonderful.

“The worst fear any SE Asian person has is sleeping in a room alone. They’re never alone – they don’t want to be alone. There’s no safety net here, there’s no pension plan, their family and network is their whole life to them…”

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8 Responses to Love And Shattered Dreams In SE Asia

  1. Robbie J says:

    What a right on article, if one cannot get-it after reading this, well then it’s hopeless anyway.

  2. Darling says:

    Great article. The pictures of those soulsick, creepy bargirls remind me of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Grey”. When will it be time for someone to comment on Cambodia in an honest, critical manner instead of this fourofour pomp and fluff.

  3. Khun Diddy says:

    This fellow thinks he knows what he’s talking about but he’s full of crap. I’ve seen guy’s do very well marrying Asian commercial women in my own country and overseas. Of course these bridegrooms aren’t the bloated drunks that one runs into in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and elsewhere in S W Asia. Bottom line is, “dude, if you are a loser in England, Australia, New York City and Sweeden, you are a loser everywhere on the planet”. If you come to Asia and honestly believe you morphed into Tom Cruise on the flight over, you deserve to do a Brody off the highest condo. And why as this writer suggests, would anyone give up their ATM number to another person? You suggest the “purpose women” only marry well off farang. How about your own country. Do the women in Farangland look for guy’s with low paying jobs and no future? Get a grip Mr. Artist. You are probably one of those Farang jerks I’m talking about and furthermore your art sucks. You copped your entire game from that Kraut artists…..Have a Nice Day

  4. Hester says:

    SW Asia? And where might that be…..somewhere off the coast of Mumbai? Khun Diddy seem to have an anger management problem.

    • Khun Diddy says:

      Anger….ME? South West Asia is a typo, sorry. Make that South West Phnom Penh. And …….Have a Good day

  5. Bangkok Frank says:

    Sorry, but the idea that Thai women don’t get involved with men because of love is an absurdity. Even Thai bar-girls have committed suicide when their Thai lover has left them for another girl.

    • BKK TONY says:

      Kudos to Bangkok Frank. In the Thailand, Cambodia, PI night slash prostitution scene, the INDIVIDUAL ACT is what usually guides. So here goes:

      SOME of these women will go with and admire(though not love) any Farang, Asian, Latino or Black male; so long as she LIKES him. MANY Thai and Filipina Prostitutes will HAPPILY support a broke Farang. SOME will take from their own families to help him if he is sick or homeless. I have seen this happen. It has happened to ME:

      On one trip to Pattaya I myself was stricken with food poisoning from that shit they sell on Jomthen Beach. You all know where. A big (Meaning Chunky, with Huge Tits) prostitute named Dang I JUST MET in casehardened South Pattaya could have rolled my ass at any time and there was nothing I could about it, since I could not so much as leave my bed or the can. Instead, this buxom half Thai-Khmer PROSTITUTE stayed with me for four days, shopped for my meds and saw to it that I was okay. She cleaned the room and brought in fruits and other simple foods for my busted belly. In the end she wanted nothing beyond what I originally offered her days before: 2,000 baht. And even then she took this reluctantly. I will forever call Dang my Golden Buddha. At either rate she LOOKS like the Buddha.

      MAMY of these bar girls only want to entertain foreigners as simple tour guides PROVIDING the Farang acts accordingly. This is why they will want you to take them out in groups of three or four. Most Farang will see this as a hustle, though it is not–the Japanese–the perennial cultural sticklers–do this. It is how things are done among the Thais as a people–Thais and Filipinas LOVE to go out and have fun! If the foreigner–sex or no, takes these same women out to their favorite spots for the third time, stays sober and acts his age, then something magical happens. The bar girls wil start spending their own money on the Farangs and their mates. Buying the men simple gifts; neckties, cakes and such. This is the truth! Among other Asian women this sort of treatment takes significantly longer.

      MOST Thai and Filipina bar girls want little if anything from a Foreigner EXCEPT respect as a woman. A few words of their native language. And SOME appreciation for their culture. A Thai man thanked me for giving a high wai to a Spirit House in Pattaya once. His wife also smiled and waved.

      And needless to say, none asked for a single baht.

      Many men of all stripes (Meaning nationalities or colors) have come to Asia; pimped Asian women, stolen from the women and their families, beat them, stabbed and murdered them and fled the country, closing the door behind them. STILL these bar girls will not mention these horrible crimes to the next foreign man they meet.

      In SE Asia as in Germany, England, Australia, of America: FIRST OF ALL, KNOW THYSELF. THEN GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE OF THE COUNTRY. BE PATIENT! THEY DEFINITELY ARE. LIVE AS THEY LIVE; AND ABOVE ALL–BE HUMBLE, SENSIBLE AND FAIR IN YOUR DEALINGS. You are the visitor; so accept the situation as it stands.

      NIGHTLIFE above all is business-oriented; treat it as such. SE Asian women–bar girls included–are the true ambassadors of their varoius countries and will become EXCEEDINGLY gentle and understanding to the right man or groups of men. And this takes TIME. Little sympathy should be given to ANY man who gives the ATM store to ANY woman he barely even knows; whether in Asia, Europe or America.

      Too, it is a half-myth that the bar girls are first concerned only about their families. MOST will FIRST consider their OWN creature comforts than that of a country family they more than likely fled due to hard work, frustration and abuse. So it is unlikely that they care much about further enriching or rewarding them.

      So keep this in mind.

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