For a long time, I had been unable to find the right words to describe the hordes of western men who flock to Thailand in order to harvest the ripe and fresh crops that the country offers in abundance. Did I say crops? Sorry, I meant girls, young girls.
Yesterday, whilst on the motorbike, I looked over at the inept driver to our left, wondering who it was that was blocking out the sunlight. Not to my surprise, it was a severely overweight, unhealthy looking Caucasian man in his fifties or sixties. He took up the majority of the motorbike seat, leaving just enough room for his extremely young, female companion to straddle what little seat was left. She clung to him in the pretence that she really depended on him, was not at all used to motorbikes (not that she had been riding a motorbike since birth) and really loved him.
Here comes my moment of clarity. Thailand is a time machine for these men, whisking them back to what they imagine to be their “glory days”. A fondly remembered (imagined) period of time where women would throw themselves at them. At least, that is how the cliché goes. Men of any age, shape and size can walk into any bar and be treated as demi-gods. Perhaps when, in a hazy stupor, sex tourists look into Thai girls’ eyes, they see reflected back at them an image of how they are desperate to be seen: handsome, funny, interesting etc.
It does not stop there. This is not any time machine; it is also a portal back in time, to another era almost. Men come from the West where, in theory, women come first, are opinionated, have a voice and expect you to open the door for them. They then embark upon their long awaited escape to Thailand, a place that is still seen by many as an exotic country where the ‘other’ lives. Edward Said called it long ago. If still in doubt, watch The Hangover II or Only God Forgives. This distant, oriental country is the stuff that dreams are made of (if you have nothing better to dream about); a place where your drink is always topped up, you receive what you want before you have to ask for it, and women come second. It is not all too surprising that for some men, this is a haven. Albeit a haven of prostitution, go-go girls, trafficking, AIDs and the infamous Thai smile.
As Thailand continues to develop economically, politically and socially, it is time for tourists to respect these steps, get out of their time machines, and stop supporting a shadow economy where women and children often serve as the currency. To see Thailand as a playground to escape to, a ‘land of smiles’ and beautiful women, is to conform to the misconception that Westerners are blind to cultural and traditional history and unable to break free of the self-imposed blindness wherein ‘the East’ is perceived as one big Oriental and exotic mystery to be revelled in and played with.
Time machines don’t exist anyway.