Lek, a Bar Girl in Pattaya
‘Behind The Smile – The Story of Lek, a Bar Girl in Pattaya’, (which is in Thailand), is the title of a trilogy of books about the life of Lek, the eldest daughter of a typical rice farmer from a village in the northern rice belt of Thailand. The three books, written by Owen Jones, are called: ‘Daddy’s Hobby’, ‘An Exciting Future’ and ‘Maya – Illusion’.
‘Daddy’s Hobby’ takes its name from the bar where Lek goes to work in Pattaya when the bank threatens to foreclose on the farm after the unexpected and early death of the pater familias. It is a family decision to send Lek to work in the sex capital of South-East Asia as a bar girl, but one which Lek accepts willingly for the good of her typical rice farming family as a whole.
Lek’s reasons for going and the circumstances of her employment are clearly revealed in this first novel. The story is told from Lek’s point of view and reveals her anxieties about the job that she ends up doing. The reader gets to know some of Lek’s colleagues in the sex tourism industry and some of her clients, whom the bar girls euphemistically called ‘boyfriends’ in the trade.
You learn of Lek’s hopes and fears and actual experiences, but you are left to make up your own mind whether you think that Lek is a victim or a predator; a good girl or a bad one; to be pitied or to be censured. You also get to meet Lek’s family: the mother who sent her away to work and the cousin whose bar she went to.
You are shown exactly how she gets started in the sex industry, because she actually goes there to work as a barmaid with two of her best friends. They set off on an adventure together, not realising that they would become working girls.
This is not just the story of Lek, that is clear. It is the story of millions of girls the world over and not only girls in poor countries either. Large rings of people-traffickers for the sex industry are being uncovered in the West on a weekly basis.
The books leave the reader to think about whether the existence of such bars that attract foreign ‘rich’ tourists for the purposes of sex is a good or a bad thing. Lek, like most Pattaya bar girls, does not complain about the business she is in. It is just ‘how it is’ and could turn out to be a good thing or a bad one.
Readers of ‘Daddy’s Hobby’ and the other two volumes will come away with the feeling that they understand the predicament of the tens of thousands of Lek’s in Pattaya alone a lot better after reading the trilogy. They will also understand the Thai psyche far better as well.
Without giving too much away, the second novel follows on seamlessly from the first. It shows how ten years in Pattaya as a bar girl in the sex industry formed Lek’s new way of thinking. It shows how it affected the way she deals with men in general and her fellow villagers, whom she no longer resembles in attitude.
The third book continues this theme, but leaps forward in time a few years. The second and third books explore the difficulties of moving back into a farming community where no-one has left their fields, after having spent ten years as a bar girl in an international city in the company of ‘rich’ foreigners.