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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Erik Cohen Department of Sociology and Social-Anthropology Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Rural to urban migrants from depressed areas of Thailand, and particularly the Northeast (Isaan), move into Bangkok in ever-greater numbers in search of employment and income for their own subsistence or for the support of their relatives back home. Prominent among these are large numbers of young women, many of whom hope to make enough money in the city to be able to support not only themselves, but also their parents, siblings and children. They soon realize that the employment opportunities for uneducated and unskilled workers are severely limited. In fact, it appears that in recent years the opportunity structure facing unskilled in-migrant women in Bangkok has even contracted.

As the price level of basic necessities rose continually in the metropolis, wages on the depressed labor market remained low, even as many recent in-migrants were unable to secure a job. Moreover, even if they can find employment as domestics or in a factory, the earnings of unskilled laborers will usually not even reach the 1996 legal minimum wage of 150B (approx. US$ 4.00) a day. Indeed, many of those who work earn less than Baht 1,000 (US$ 50.00) a month. This is hardly sufficient for their own upkeep, not to speak of support for dependents. Many of the women, finding employment opportunities unsatisfactory, turn to hawking and peddling, a sector which is notorious for its apparent ability to absorb practically unlimited numbers of self-employed sellers (Geertz; 1963 : 29). But even here it becomes increasingly more difficult to establish oneself, and marginal hawkers are frequently driven out of business.

Many migrants are thus caught in a predicament from which there is apparently no exit. Under such conditions, prostitution provides one of the few ways out. Despite the very large number of women in Bangkok engaging in prostitution in its various forms, conservatively estimated at 300,000 (Phongpaichit: 1981: 14-15), this occupation still offers to most women an income considerably greater than anything they could hope to earn in another line of work. Massage girls, for example, according to Phongpaichit (1981: 19) reported incomes which "range from $75 to $750 a month, with over half earning $150 to $300, and another quarter earning more than that." Brothel girls probably earn less, but even those -- insofar as they are not "bonded" (Phongpaichit, 19~1: 1T) -- earn more than they could make elsewhere.

Prostitution existed in Thailand long before the country became a popular destination of sex-tourism. Tourism, however, had a crucial impact on the trade. Not only did the number of girls engaging in prostitution grow considerably, but the nature of the occupation changed with the emergence of the new clientele. The interaction with white, foreign, male tourists farangs (Cohen, 19~2) engendered a new subculture of prostitution. It is this which I seek to capture in the concept of "open-ended" prostitution and analyze on the basis of my study of an urban lane (soi) in the hinterland of one of the principal tourist areas of Bangkok, conducted as part of an ongoing longitudinal urban anthropological study.

I lived in a slum in the soi for two months at a time, and conducted observations and in-depth interviews with inhabitants and informants. In the soi life, several hundred Thai women derive their livelihood from tourists and other foreigners, mainly as bar and coffee shop girls. Many of these girls have rooms in the slum. I conducted extended conversations with several dozen girls and collected some biographies. Family background, education, work-experience in and outside of prostitution, and attitudes and relationships with farangs were the principal topics of investigation. I also talked to a large number of farangs in and outside the soi (Cohen, forthcoming a and b). Despite the reputation of Bangkok as a world center of sex-tourism, most prostitutes work in brothels and massage parlors with a predominantly local clientele.

Tourist-oriented prostitutes, operating from bars and coffee shops constitute a small portion of the total number of women in the trade, but one of considerable economic importance. They are in no small degree responsible for tourist spending, thus contributing to national foreign currency earnings. They are, in a sense, the elite of the trade: their life-chances, work conditions and income are incomparably better than those of most girls working with a local clientele. Indeed, the circumstances of their work enable them to deny that they are "prostitutes" (sophenee) and to define themselves as "working with foreigners" (tham ngan gahp farang) or with "guests" (tham ngan gahp khaek). These occupational self-conceptions closely resemble the designation "hospitality girls", by which their counterparts in Manila are known (Neumann, 19~9; van der Velden, 1982). The girls profess to be insulted when they are called "prostitutes"; some of their farang customers and boyfriends also vehemently oppose that designation.

The girls do not differ much in background and education from those working with a local clientele, but are, on the average, older than those working in brothels. They are mostly in their twenties or early thirties, of rural background, predominantly from the Northeast. Most have children from an earlier, disrupted marriage or cohabitation with a Thai man. They have usually already lived in Bangkok for a few years, having worked as domestics, factory workers or hawkers prior to turning to their present occupation. They have not generally worked as prostitutes with a local clientele prior to engaging in tourist-oriented prostitution. Those I talked to worked in bars and coffee shops for a couple of days up to -- mostly intermittently -- a few years. They are a highly mobile group, frequently changing their habitation and moving in and out of the trade. Some of this mobility is related to the special character of "open ended" prostitution, to be explained below.

The girls usually live alone or with another girl in a rented room. Several houses in the soi cater exclusively to the girls. Most of their free time interaction is with other girls in the trade. They tend to form closely-knit peer-groups of girls living in the same house or yard and working in the same bar or coffee shop (in recent years, the bar and coffee shop group also hang out in the popular discos and nightclubs). Members of such groups assist and support one another in times of need or crisis, financial or emotional. They often claim to be "sisters", even if they are not really related. Peers are their main reference group and much of their conduct, attire, and aspirations can be understood in terms of their relations and competition with peers. However, despite the mutual dependency, the girls are also suspicious of one another -- an ambiguity which runs through many kinds of primary relations in Thai society.

Some girls have Thai boyfriends who live with them when they are not in the company of a farang customer. These Thai men leech on the girls, but do not usually control them, protect them or hustle customers, and hence cannot be described as pimps. They often take a large share of the girls' earnings which they spend towards their own subsistence, oftentimes on alcohol or gambling, which creates an additional strain to an already fragile "relationship." Most girls work in a few dozen bars and several big coffee shops not far from the soi. With the exception of those who serve as go-go dancers in bars, the girls are not employed by the establishments, but operate on their own. Bar-girls, however, are not free to leave the premises at will.

Customers who take out a girl from a bar (but not from a coffee shop) have to pay a "barfine" to the bar. The girls are however, free to keep any money they receive from their customers. The bar and coffee-shop girls thus differ from prostitutes working in brothels, massage parlors and similar establishments, who frequently receive only a fraction of their customers' payments -- the bulk of it going to the owners, procurers, taxi-drivers, etc. (Khin Thitsa, 1980). Bar and coffee shop girls are thus essentially independent operators or freelancers. Their independence is a crucial precondition for open-ended prostitution, increasing both the chances and the hazards of their trade.

The girls who work in bars derive their income from three principal sources: go-go dancing, for which they are paid a fixed sum of about 6,000 B (US$150) a month; drinks with customers, of which their cut is usually Baht 20-40 B (U5$0.50-1.00) per drink; and prostitution, which usually pays about Baht 500-1000 for a "short time" and Baht 1000+ for a night; but being "open-ended" the relationship may be extended beyond that, and eventually bring in many times more. Of the three sources of income, prostitution is the one the girls are most interested in; go-go dancing and hustling for drinks, though in themselves financially not unimportant, seem secondary sources of income -- a stabilizing counterpart to the uncertainty of prostitution. They are also ways to attract customers and start a liaison. Coffee-shop girls, in contrast, on occasion drink with the customers, but derive their income exclusively from prostitution. Still, their trade is considered more lucrative and convenient, and many bar-girls switch after some time to a coffee shop, or move to coffee shops after the bars close for the night.

The girls use the various services in the soi which cater to their needs, such as general stores, stalls, restaurants, seamstress shops and beauty parlors. Those living in the slum rarely depart beyond its limits except for work. They live seemingly frugally, and indeed spend little on food and other basic necessities. But, once they have money, it passes quickly through their hands on clothing, cosmetics, drinks, gambling, and, in some cases, drugs. Almost all have family obligations and support their children, parents or younger siblings from their income -- although the actual remittances seem to be smaller than they claim. Few girls remain in tourist-oriented prostitution long enough to make a career out of it. However, many girls do stay in the trade longer than they had originally intended (cf. Phongpaichit, 1981: 18-19). A few are in their mid-thirties, an age which is considered old for a prostitute in Thailand (Khin Thitsa, 1980: 14). While I have not systematically examined their patterns of mobility and the factors influencing their eventual success or failure in the trade, the latter seems to depend essentially on their ability to exploit changing opportunities, while at the same time building for themselves a basis of economic and emotional security, which will enable them to overcome the uncertainties inherent in their situation.


Prostitution has been conceived of by sociologists as an emotionally neutral, indiscriminate, specifically remunerated sexual service (Lamert, 1951: 238; Gagnon, 19G8: 592-3). Prostitutes were pictured as meeting their customers in temporarily limited, usually brief, well-defined encounters. Even though a prostitute may build up a permanent clientele, each encounter is typically a discrete, separately remunerated affair, during which a specific sexual act is performed. Repetitive encounters with the same customer are ordinarily not supposed to create a continuous relationship, nor to lead to any emotional involvement on the part of the woman; indeed, professional prostitutes develop psychological defense mechanisms which control such involvement (Rasmussen and Kuhn, 19T6: 2T9).

Though prostitutes may differ considerably in their income, depending upon the nature of the establishment in which they work, the class of their customers, their attractiveness and the kinds of services they provide, remuneration is routine and usually fixed or agreed upon in advance. There are few uncertainties in the situation, and if there are, these relate primarily to the dangers of AIDS, venereal infection or physical attack upon the prostitutes, rather than any extraordinary rewards or benefits which may accrue from their customers. I suggest the term "open-ended" prostitution to characterize a kind of relationship between a prostitute and her customer which, though it may start as a specific neutral service, rendered more or less indiscriminately to any customer, may be extended into a more protracted, diffused and personalized liaison, involving both emotional attachment and economic interest. The tourist-oriented bar and coffee-shop girls living in the soi illustrate such "open-ended" prostitution, but the concept is also applicable to tourist-oriented prostitutes in some other developing countries, and especially the "hospitality girls" of Manila (van der Velden, 1982).

My analysis departs from the difference between the opportunity structure facing the tourist-oriented prostitute in bars and coffee shops and that facing brothel and massage parlor girls working with a local clientele. Whatever the size and distribution of the earnings of brothel and massage-parlor girls, they derive from essentially routinized and brief encounters with clients; hence, given the type of establishment in which they work, their earnings depend primarily on the number of customers they serve. Bar and coffee-shop girls probably earn, on the average, less than massage parlor girls in the first-class establishments, but more than girls working in brothels. They operate on a buyer's market -- the number of girls in bars and coffee shops usually much exceeds the number of prospective customers. There is also less turnover of customers: while a brothel or massage parlor girl may have intercourse with several men a night, bar or coffee shop girls rarely have it with more than one, and in off-season periods, they may go for days without a customer. The important point to note, however, is that their opportunities are differently structured than those of brothel and massage parlor girls, owing to the much less routinized character of their relations with customers.

The range of their incomes is considerably greater than that found in other types of prostitution. The earnings of a girl may also fluctuate widely --- between utter pennilessness one day and considerable riches the other. It is this extreme variability and uncertainty, which endows the occupational culture of open-ended prostitution with some of its distinguishing features. The girl who meets a customer in a bar or coffee shop in most cases retires with him initially for a "short-time", usually one act of sexual intercourse, or "longtime", a single night. That initial encounter is normally of a purely mercenary character (Cohen, 1982: ~15); but it is significant that the girl frequently underplays the commercial side (cf. van der Velden, 1982) and often "stages" affection for the customer (Cohen, 19~i2:415-16). Such an approach facilitates the extension of the initial brief encounter into a more permanent liaison.

If the customer desires the girl to stay, and he is agreeable to her, she may simply stay on; the customer then continues to pay the bar money. The relationship in such a case often changes from a purely mercenary one into a mixed liaison, consisting, on the part of the girl, of both economic interests and emotional involvement; in some cases, it may even be transformed into a love relationship (Cohen, 1982: 416-I7). If the couple stays together for more than a week or two, the girl usually leaves her job in the bar or coffee shop for the length of her partner's stay. In some cases she returns to the bar, but abstains from relations with other men and she usually demands the same of her partner. The fact that she does not "work", however, can be used by her to put moral pressure upon her partner to reimburse her for her losses.

It is important to note that most short liaisons are generally not purely contractual economic relationships. Khin Thitsa (1980; 15) writes that "one woman costs for the night about $40; for a week's rental (i.e.: seven days and seven nights service) the bargain price of $100 is offered"; while correct in substance, this statement is somewhat misleading. In some instances the couple may agree that the girl will receive a given sum a day. But the girl's reward is rarely stated in such fixed, commercial terms. Rather, it depends on and fluctuates with many factors, such as the farang's wealth and generosity and the girl's skill and willingness to extricate money from him.

If the partner is a well-to-do, short-term tourist, the girl may "give it up" during his stay, move with him into a luxurious hotel, eat in the best restaurants, receive expensive gifts of clothing or jewelry and enjoy a holiday in a fashionable seaside resort, such as Phuket or Ko Samui. Upon his departure, she may receive a considerable amount of money. If he is less wealthy, she may just savor the agreeable relationship as long as it lasts. In any case, the girl tends to become tense prior to her partner's departure, both in anticipation of the size of her remuneration and of the emotional impact of the rupture of her liaison and of the return to her ordinary routine in the bar or coffee shop.

In fact, in many cases the liaison does not explicitly terminate with the farang's departure, but is expected to continue even after separation. Addresses are exchanged, promises of continual love and of return and renewal of the liaison are made. Afterwards, letters are exchanged, through which the relationship lingers on for a while, but then usually peters out as both partners get otherwise involved. Some liaisons, however, continue intermittently for years, the farang returning regularly to see his girlfriend. Some girls get invited for a visit abroad -- indeed, a surprisingly large number of those in the soi have visited various European countries. A smaller number of girls get married; some of these remain abroad and get out of prostitution altogether. Others, however, return after a short while as their marriage breaks up, and resume their previous occupation. Still others go abroad, and either willingly or unwillingly engage in prostitution there.

The prolongation of a liaison beyond the actual departure of her partner has both an economic and an emotional significance for the girl. It gives her the feeling that there is someone who cares for her and on whom she may depend in times of need, in her insecure and frequently changing predicament. A Thai boyfriend, is thus a haven of emotional security, even as the girl passes from one temporary liaison to another, a process which she frequently finds emotionally taxing (Cohen, 1982: 421). Many girls therefore maintain a lively correspondence with their past boyfriends, telling them of their problems and often asking for financial support to help them out of real or contrived troubles. Some, indeed, have developed considerable dexterity in corresponding with a number of men, from whom they solicit, and receive, support (Cohen, forthcoming a). Indeed, one way for a girl past her prime to insure her future, is to build up a coterie of boyfriends who visit her regularly and to all of whom she serves intermittently as a mistress.

Traditional Thai culture emits contradictory messages, which facilitate conflicting interpretations of the nature of Thai society and the extent of change in contemporary Thailand (Cohen, 1984). This generalization is well illustrated in the current debate surrounding the status of women in Theravada Buddhist ideology. Khin Thitsa (1980), taking up a theme first developed by Kirach (1975), argued that the inferior position of women in Buddhism preconditions them to become prostitutes: "With the low value attached to the female body and the female spirit by Buddhism, woman has been sufficiently degraded already to enter prostitution. If historically woman has served men helping him as wife, minor wife or mistress, it is not such a big step to become an actual prostitute. Indeed, the traditional emphasis on polygamy in Buddhist society encourages the widespread practice of prostitution in modern Thailand (Khin Thitsa, 1980: 23). This position has recently been severely criticized by Keyes (forthcoming), who emphasized the elevated position of women in Buddhism, and argued that the urban secularized image of woman as sex symbol is a completely new cultural pattern, "unallocated with any tempering Buddhist message". It follows that impoverished rural-to-urban migrant girls are forced, under the pressure of circumstances and against their better cultural convictions, to adopt this novel image, as they enter prostitution in their struggle for survival. If Kirsch and Khin Thitsa's position is adopted, prostitution is thus just a contemporary form of an ingrained cultural pattern. If one adopts Keyes' position, however, it is a novel form of sexual relations, based on an essentially Western "market mentality", which tends to commercialize everything, including sex.

My material on open-ended prostitution holds forth the possibility of mediating between the conflicting views of Kirsch and Khin Thitsa on the one hand, and Keyes on the other. Whatever the Buddhist ideal of womanhood, there is little doubt that the actual standing of women in the traditional Thai social hierarchy is fairly low. This lowly standing may well inculcate young rural Thai women with a diffuse service-orientation, which facilitates their acceptance of such inferior roles as prostitution. At the same time, however, the fact that they fail to realize the cultural ideal of womanhood, as described by Keyes, fills them with shame and a feeling of "loss of face", particularly in cases where women who had been married before feel forced by circumstances to enter prostitution. This sensation, however, is tempered by another cultural principle, that of individual freedom of mobility: as Kirsch (1975) pointed out, the fact that Thai women are in daily life less subject to religiously inspired restrictions facilitates their involvement in entrepreneurial activities.

I suggest that open-ended prostitution is one area in which such entrepreneurs find expression. It demands no initial capital, and, if one is willing to take risks and dare one's "luck", holds forth the promise of considerable opportunities. One way to interpret the girls engaging in open-ended prostitution then is to see them as risk-taking, small-scale, entrepreneurs. The culturally patterned role of the girls as daring entrepreneurs, relieved from some restrictions incumbent upon men, fits remarkably well into the structure of opportunities in open-ended prostitution. However, the uncertainty, insecurity and impermanence involved in the trade, call into play the contrary cultural theme of hierarchical dependency of a lower status person on a higher status person or patron (Hanks, 1975: 198-200). In the context of open-ended prostitution, this means that the girl will seek to establish a permanent relationship with a man toward whom she could play the role of a mistress. While the attitude of individualistic entrepreneurial opportunism induces in the girls a tendency to trade-off sexual attraction for money, the contrary attitude of hierarchical dependency induces a tendency to combine the quest for emotional attachment and material benefits in a master/mistress relationship. In my earlier work (Cohen, 1982) I have conceptualized four types of relationships between the girls and farangs, based on the mix of economic interests and emotional involvement which they embody:

1. Mercenary -- based on an emotionless "economic exchange". 2. Staged -- also based on "economic exchange", but accompanied by faked or staged emotions on the part of the girl. 3. Mixed -- based on both "economic exchange", as well as emotional involvement on part of the girl. 4. Emotional -- based primarily or exclusively on emotional involvement or "love" (Cohen, 1982: 414-17).

This is an essentially etic typology, i.e., one constructed by an external observer with the help of general theoretical concepts taken from Blau's (1967) exchange theory. Whatever its adequacy, it disregards the emic conception of the Thai girl-farang man relationships, i.e. the manner in which it is interpreted in the Thai culture. I shall now attempt such an emic reinterpretation of the typology. Such an analysis is intended to examine to what extent the prevailing conception of tourism-oriented prostitution is essentially a Western or also a Thai one: i.e. whether, under the impact of exogenous factors, the girls adopted a Western view of their trade and their relationships with their customers; or whether they reinterpreted the traditional Thai cultural codes in a new context.

An analysis of the girls' own conceptions and attitudes to the four relationships indicates that each is the subject, for different girls, and perhaps even on different occasions for the same girl, of both a Western and a Thai "emic" interpretation.

1) Mercenary: This type comes closest to the kind of prostitution prevalent in the modern West (Gagnol, 1968: 592-3). Indeed, many of the girls interpret this type of relationship in essentially Western terms, as a clear-cut economic exchange in which a specific sexual service is provided for money. However, this type of relationship is frequently factiously assimilated to the culturally more acceptable gift-relationship. The girl refuses to quote her price explicitly, preferring to leave remuneration to the generosity of her customer (Cohen, 1982: 411). Her remuneration thus becomes a kind of gratuity. Though remaining an essentially economic transaction, its implicit character has several advantages for the girl. It enables her to disassociate herself from the ordinary prostitute and thus to enhance her self-image as one who "works with guests". Simultaneously, it is also a display of Thai opportunism by appealing to her customer's generosity, she may extricate from him a much larger sum than she would ever dare to ask for explicitly. Finally, it also helps to "open up" the initial brief encounter into a more protracted liaison.

2) Staged: While the purely mercenary relationship is a purely sexual affair, without any display of emotions, in the "staged" relationship, the girl fakes feelings, emotions or sexual attraction to the customer, which she does not, in fact, experience. Staging, however, may also be easily understood from two contrasting perspectives. From a Western perspective as a trick played upon the customer as a means to attract him, bolster his ego and attach him sexually to the girl, thereby enhancing her material rewards (cf. Rasmussen and Kuhn, 1976: 279); or from a Thai cultural perspective as a playful display of personalized service (cf. de Gallo and Alzate, 1976), expressing a culturally induced motive to please her sexual partner, as she would a Thai man to whom she is wife or mistress. While like Amittatapana in the story quoted by Keyes (forthcoming), she may do so in order to receive greater material benefits from an emotionally unrewarding relationship, she thus also acts out a Thai cultural theme -- an obligation of those lower in the social hierarchy to please those higher up on it.

3). Mixed: This type, involving both material interests and a genuine emotional attachment on the part of the girl, is also subject to both emic perspectives. It may be approached from a Western perspective -- in which case it will be based on the assumption, generally taken for granted in Western cultures, that economic remuneration and emotional attachment are substitutive (hence the maxim that "love cannot be bought"). In that case, the greater the girls involvement, the less she will look for material rewards from her partner as an inducement to continue the relationship. From the Thai cultural perspective, however, economic remuneration and emotional attachment are often seen as additive; girls tend to assimilate their "mixed" relationships with farangs to the cultural model of the relationship of a Thai mistress to her master. Such a perspective induces the girl to react emotionally to her partner in accordance with the amount of material benefits she receives from him, interpreting these as a token of her value, attractiveness and desirability to him, as well as of his generosity. The girl in such cases is in a state of emotional dependence with her partner, rather than in love, in the Western sense -- but her feelings cannot be said to be faked.


4). Emotional: In this type, material benefits cease to be a significant factor in the relationship, which depends primarily or exclusively on the mutual infatuation of the partners. Here too, however, two emic perspectives can be distinguished. From a Western perspective, the girl may well perceive such a relationship as an instance of the imported cultural model of "romantic" love. But she may also view it from a Thai perspective as an acting out of the culturally approved pattern of selfless devotion of the wife to her husband. While my materials indicate that each of the various types of relationships is, indeed, emically interpreted differently by different girls and on various occasions by the same girl according to each of the two cultural models, I have no precise data on the relative incidence of each interpretation. My hunch, however, is that the traditional Thai interpretation is more ingrained and more common than the modern Western one, especially among recent arrivals on the scene.

Relationships between Thai girls and farang men are thus a fertile area for cross-cultural misunderstanding. A relationship which appears to a Westerner highly westernized, may be acceptable to the girl because it fits a Thai cultural pattern. Precisely in the more protracted and intimate relationships, the differential interpretation may suddenly lead to an acute crisis, as the cultural gap separating the partners dawns upon them. Moreover, it is doubtful whether the alternative emic models of interpretation of the various types of relationships penetrate the consciousness of the girls themselves, or that they distinguish them clearly. There are cases in which they interpret a relationship equivocally in terms of both models, switching precipitately, in moments of conflict, from one emic perspective to the other. Such ambiguity adds to the bewilderment of their uncomprehending farang partners.

Their lifestyle also creates many situations of conflicting interests, wherein the girl must create a complex system of stories and lies to protect herself from the realities of having numerous boyfriends, and accommodating each of them when their visits overlap. When this occurs, girls often use the excuse that they must return to their villages to see their families, a story the farang cannot usually confirm, but which sounds both reasonable and safe from his perspective. Lying about where she goes and who she sees also covers the time she spends away from her customer, during which the girl sees her Thai boyfriend or takes an occasional offer that she cannot refuse. The deception factor therefore becomes an integral part of the womans lifestyle and often becomes too complex a system to remember, leading to more and more contradictions that become evident to her farang boyfriend over time. This aspect of deceit is interpreted by the girl as less of a moral sin than as do Westeners, who value honesty as the cornerstone of any kind of relationship. Whereas in Thai culture, such deception, on all levels, is linked to the Thai cultural notion that what one does not know cannot hurt them.

Open-ended prostitution is a non-routine occupation. By the same token it involves a strong element of chance -- in the sense of both risk of life and limb and opportunity for success and riches, which is significantly greater than in more routine forms of prostitution, such as brothels or massage parlors. As a side note, open ended prostitutes have a higher incidence of suicide, attempted suicide and substance abuse than brothel and massage parlor girls, seemingly due to the transitory nature of their lifestyle and the economic and emotional instability that brings about.

This element of chance, which cannot be completely reduced and mastered through knowledge and skill, takes on emically the character of "luck" (chok) (Cf. Mosel, 1966: 193-5; also Zulaika, 19-i1). Work in open-ended prostitution thus becomes a skilled game of hazard or "luck". This forms an important ingredient in the motivation and attitude of the girls toward their trade. Safety and security is one of the reasons for prostitutes to work in establishments or to attach themselves to pimps. The open-ended prostitution of bar and coffee-shop girls is devoid of any of the safety-arrangements found in other establishments. The girls are on their own, and once they depart with a customer, they are essentially at his mercy.

In this situation, they face three kinds of risk: a. Material: the most common risk is that the customer may exploit the girl, i.e. make use of her sexual services and then abandon her or refuse to remunerate her most girls are helpless against such exploitation, and routinely take it in stride as part of their job. A more devious risk is the demand for payments, made by corrupt policemen, in exchange for the girls liberty. This risk is faced especially by coffee-shop girls. The coffee-shops are frequently raided by police, mostly in token attempts to erase nominally illegal prostitution (Hail, 19~0: 14). Instead of going to jail, many girls prefer to pay off the police, usually to the tune of 500B (about U.S. $15.00). The girls, scared of being arrested, therefore carry with them to work a sum of money -- but then they are exposed to another kind of risk, that of theft: Cases are known in which farang men took girls to remote locations, and after intercourse, robbed them of their money.

Physical safety: the girls are defenseless against attack by disturbed or dissatisfied customers. They may suffer physical attack, and, in extreme cases, even pay with their lifves, as did one girl in a hotel room in the summer of 1996 -- a case which provoked widespread apprehension and fear among the girls in the soi.

Health: AIDS and venereal disease are widespread among prostitutes in Bangkok (Khin Thitsa, 1980: 13; Suthaporn, 19E~3), although it is apparently lower among those oriented to tourists than among those working with a local clientele. Still, many tourists do infect themselves during their sojourn and transmit the disease from one girl to another. Girls who are new to the trade are often terrified of V.D., whereas the older ones take it as part of their occupational risk. Many girls go regularly for V.D. check-ups, and carry "V.D. cards". Some bars actually demand such regular checks. Still, the checks are not wholly dependable and infected girls continue to engage in the trade, thus contributing to the spread of such diseases.

The challenge facing a girl engaged in open-ended prostitution, is to develop those skills which enable her to maximize her opportunities, while minimizing these and similar risks. These consist primarily of the ability to discriminate dangerous and unpromising from safe and generous clients. The skill to attract the latter; the capacity to create the most advantageous relationship with them often means transforming a single encounter into a more permanent liaison.

Skill and chance are obviously in an inverted relationship: the greater one's skill, the more control one has over the situation, and hence the smaller the element of' chance. However, whatever the degree of skill, an irreducible element of chance always remains (Mosel, 1955 : 195; cf. also Zulaika, 1981). This is greater for the less skillful, smaller for the more skillful girls. It is this element which is emically conceived of as "luck" and plays a prominent role in the occupational culture of the girls. In comparison, the development of skills, through not unimportant, plays a secondary role. Many girls depend in their work on their natural endowment, for which, indeed, they are appreciated by their customers. There is none of the professional training, found in American prostitution (Neyl, 197T). To the extent that there is some development of skills, it is distinctly amateurish and informal. It comes mostly from contact with more experienced girls, who advise the newly arrived ones on how to deal with customers.

The principal area of skill in which the need for training is most often perceived by the girls is that of foreign languages, which in practice means English, the lingua franca of the trade. Many girls profess a desire to learn English, which, they claim, will enable them to find more and better customers. Many indeed begin to teach themselves the language, mostly with the aid of Thai text books for self-instruction. Few, however, persist in their study, finding that it overtaxes their learning capacity, which was stunted by their inadequate and limited rural education. None of the girls attended the English conversation club in the soi, a medium of instruction very popular among the young Thai middle class. Most girls after some time in the trade do acquire a basic sprinkling of English, but their conversation is severely limited to a few routine topics. Indeed, communication with customers is usually conducted in a simplified "foreigner talk" (Him no speak). An additional constraint is the visiting non-Anglophone farang's incompetence in English. The point to note is that the girls are aware of the importance of English for their job, but are still unable or unwilling to study it systematically and persistently.

Another area of skill, in which the girls are more proficient, is the care of their attire and general appearance. Even a casual observer will notice the fast transformation in the appearance of a newly arrived girl in the first week or two after her arrival on the scene. Girls, especially if they came recently from their village, usually start work in their rural finery, use little make up and do their hair in a rural or provincial style. Soon, upon earning some money, they acquire the working outfit of tourist-oriented prostitutes: tight jeans, T-shirts (often imprinted with some English word, such as "Yes") and high-heeled shoes. They put on make-up and paint their nails. Later on, gold jewelry, frequently received as a present from their boyfriends, is added, and constitutes the most conspicuous symbol of their occupational success. More recently, material possessions such as mobile telephones have added further illusions of status to the garb. On the whole, however, the appearance of most girls resembles that of the urban Thai lower-middle class, but is a shade louder. Older women, who have experience in the trade, but whose charms have suffered with age, develop considerable dexterity in improving their appearance when preparing for work -- so much so that they are hard to recognize in their nocturnal work attire, for one who knew them in their diurnal leisure appearance in the soi.

Girls who specialize in late night work in the discos or coffee shops often put on fancy or outlandish attire -- such as provocative clothing, complex hairdos or fingernails painted in a variety of colors. However, it is important to note that though such attires are purportedly intended to enhance a girl's attractiveness to prospective customers, they also tend to become part of a game which the girls play among themselves. Clothing and hairdos, and especially gold jewelry, are a subject of much interest and concern for the girls. Self-care takes up much of their free time and is a principal subject of conversation in the small, tightly-knit groups in which most girls spend their leisure time. I suggest that, in their endeavor to outdo one another, a tendency to wear outlandish clothing, tattooing and piercing develops, which may well be detrimental to the chances of a girl's success with farang customers, but serves the game of one-upmanship which the girls play with one another.

In contrast to brothel and massage parlor prostitution, the girls in open-ended prostitution enjoy considerable discretion in the choice of their customers. Since open-ended prostitution is both risky and promising, the girls' skill in the selection of the right customer seems to be crucial for their success. As far as can be established, the girls are in fact motivated by two kinds of consideration in this respect: the attractiveness of the customer, and his seeming affluence and generosity. Pecuniary considerations, however, in many instances take precedence over sexual ones, and the girls frequently decline to stay with a customer who is sexually gratifying but fails to remunerate them sufficiently. If they dislike a customer, however, they may decline to go out with him, even if promised a considerable amount of money. They therefore tend to prefer pleasant, affluent-looking, recently arrived tourists, who are known to be safe and generous with money.

Owing to the open-ended character of the form of prostitution practiced by the girls, their success depends on their skill at a "soft sell"; rather than hustling the customer to buy a more expensive service -- a skill taught to American brothel prostitutes (Iieyl, l9TT) -- the girl learns how to extricate money from her customer by appealing to his generosity and compassion, rather than by outright demands for payment, and to attach him to her by subserviently attaching herself to him.

The girls develop a great dexterity in keying (Goffman, 1~T1~) their personal stories so as to stress their poverty and financial problems -- e.g. their need for money to pay the rent or hospital bills for themselves or their relatives, or to support their children, parents or younger siblings. Some indeed straightforwardly fabricate nonexistent financial needs, rather than ask their farang boyfriends expressly for remuneration. Entreaties for help, indeed, do not stop with the departure of the farang, but usually constitute the principal raison-d'etre of the girls' correspondence with ex-boyfriends (Cohen, forthcoming a).

There are certainly considerable differences between the girls in their skills in attracting customers and profiting from the relationship. These find expression in the wide discrepancies in the economic and personal success of similarly endowed girls, some of whom have accumulated significant amounts of money in their bank accounts, enjoy a steady stream of support from ex-boyfriends or marry rich and attractive foreigners, while others remained poor and lacking any security for the future.

The importance of skills is generally perceived by the girls themselves, who say appreciatively that a girl is keng (clever, skillful) at doing this or that. Still, they are even more aware of the fact that skillfulness in itself is not a sufficient guarantee of success, owing to the irreducible element of chance in the trade -- "luck" (chok). Open-ended prostitution is thus, from the emic perspective of the girls, essentially a "skillful game of luck", for success in which one has to be both keng and have chok. I suggest that in open ended prostitution in Thailand, a greater emphasis is given to luck than in the more professional prostitution in the West. If this is correct, then the readiness of the Thai girls, trusting their luck, to take incalculable risks becomes more comprehensible.

While Theravada Buddhism is lenient towards prostitution (Keyes, forthcoming), it does not approve of it, nor does luck have a place in orthodox Theravada theology. Still, in Thai folk religion, Buddha (and other supernatural beings) is frequently supplicated for luck and good fortune (cf. Piker, 7,968: 387). Indeed, the girls working in open-ended prostitution are not only frequently devout, but regularly supplicate Buddha prior to going to work, for good luck, success and protection -- whether at their house altar or at an altar erected in the bars. Though they might be ashamed of their trade, they certainly do not see it as so radical a deviation that it places them outside the fold of religion and denies them religious succor and protection. Indeed, as McDowell (1982: 504) commented, "In Thailand, the prim and the prurient meet and merge, and Buddhist monks may be invited to extend their benediction to a girlie bar" (ibid: 500).

To enhance their luck, the girls also appear to employ a good deal of love magic (sanee) (Thongthew-Ratarasarn, 1~T9), though precise information on the subject was difficult to get hold of. While the quest for luck in open-ended prostitution, by means of religious ritual, is an indicator of a perceived absence of disruption with tradition, if not of continuation, it does not yet explain the source of the game element in the trade and the playful willingness to take risks. Theravada Buddhism certainly does not approve of games of luck and gambling. Whatever the standing of gambling in official Buddhist ideology, however, it is a fact that Thais are enthusiastic gamblers -- as illustrated by the popularity of the national lottery and in the widespread betting common in the traditional Thai sports of cock-fighting and Thai-boxing (muay). Indeed, many girls in the trade are inveterate gamblers: card playing sessions in the soi are a favorite pastime and sometimes last for several days, involving considerable sums of money. The girls' profligacy in gambling stands in sharp contrast to the frugality of their daily life-styles. They frequently risk all their money in a single gambling session, after which they have to sell or pawn their jewelry and other possessions, or borrow money from their friends to meet basic necessities.

The attitude of many girls to their job also resembles that to a gamble. Most girls claim that they dislike their job, and complain of "boredom" (beua). Rather than relating to it neutrally as "work", whose reward is in the earnings, they seek to make it an enjoyable, gratifying activity (sanuk); Phillips, 1~65: 59-61). They prefer partners with whom they have a satisfying, enjoyable relationship--a "good time". Their attitude to their job also includes an element of excitement and indefinite hope, characteristic of that found with gamblers. There is always, in the background, a vague expectation of winning the big prize or making a killing -- whether by catching a wealthy and generous customer, becoming a mistress to a permanent boyfriend, or even finding a husband who will take the girl away from the prostitution scene altogether. The highest prizes in this game of luck are those which enable the player eventually to leave the game.

For most who leave, however, the departure proves to be merely temporary: lovers go away and marriages disintegrate, and the girls return to their previous job, recognizing, as Keyes (forthcoming) pointed out, "through their own experience of the loss of lovers ... the truth of Buddha's teaching about suffering". Still others, though economically secure, cannot permanently forego the excitement of the game itself -- and when they have the opportunity, e.g. during a visit from abroad or the absence of their boyfriend, they return to their old haunts, to "butterfly" (jouchu ). It is neither the quest of money nor sex which brings them there, but rather the excitement of the game itself: particularly the desire to find out whether they are still attractive to farangs and capable of making a killing. More than anything else, such girls exemplify the character of open-ended prostitution as not just "work", but as a "skillful game of luck", played for excitement and not only merely for gain.

The preceding presentation and analysis leads to three significant conclusions concerning the structure and dynamics of the occupational culture of open-ended prostitution -- as practiced by tourist-oriented prostitutes in Bangkok:There exists a high degree of fit between the opportunity structure facing the girls who work in bars and coffee-shops, and their occupational culture. In contrast to the more limited but also more evenly distributed opportunities in brothel or massage parlor prostitution, these girls face greater but much more uneven and fluctuating opportunities. The difference ensues from differences in the institutional structure of brothels and massage parlors as compared to bars and coffee-shops, the different position of the girls in these establishments and the differences in the nature of the customers:

A Brothels and massage parlors are closed institutions, and the girls are prohibited from leaving with their customers, at least during work hours; hence they are limited to routine, mostly short-time sexual intercourse, and consequently are also more routinely remunerated than the more independently operating bar and coffee-shop girls;

b. Bar and coffee-shop girls, owing to their relative independence do not have to share their income with the establishment and various intermediaries; however, they also do not enjoy the protection which such establishments provide to their employees;

c. Bar and coffee shop girls work most with farang customers, who, being predominantly on vacation and free from normal obligations and impediments, are more willing to spend money and to get involved in an adventure than the more sedate customers of brothels or massage parlors, who are either locals or resident farangs, encumbered with various obligations or impediments. The number of vacationing farangs, however, fluctuates owing to seasonal and global economic factors, a circumstance which causes considerable fluctuation in the girls' income.

d. The work situation of the girls thus features both considerable opportunities as well as much uncertainty, and even risk. It is this combination of opportunity and risk which poses a series of dilemmas for the girls; the occupational culture of the girls can be seen largely as an attempt to resolve these dilemmas:

Opportunism vs. security: the highly skewed and fluctuating opportunity structure facing bar and coffee-shop girls induces in them a marked opportunism; but such opportunism increases the risks of their trade and induces its opposite -- a search for security through protracted liaisons. The great majority of these are temporary -- they last at most for the length of a tourist' s stay; some, however are more protracted, extending through correspondence and repeat visits, for several years, and leading, in some cases, to a master-mistress relationship. Open ended prostitution is thus an optimizing strategy which combines opportunism with the quest for security under conditions of a highly skewed and fluctuating opportunity structure.

It should be noted, however, that these two concerns, unaximal exploitation of opportunities and achievement of security reflect in a concrete, localized form the two poles of one of the principal pair of contradictory Thai cultural codes: the emphasis on individual independence, on the one hand, and on structural hierarchy on the other (Cohen, 1984)5. Opportunism in open-ended prostitution is the girls' version of the wider cultural tendency to individualism, while the emphasis on security is their version of integration into a social hierarchy, their waiving of insecure independence for secure dependence, finding its fullest expression in the wider Thai society in the diatic kinship or patron-client relationship, and in the concrete case of the girls, in the establishment of a mistress-master relationship. The hierarchical principal characteristic of much of Thai society is thus extended to the farang, who comes to play the patron's role and finds himself burdened, often to his uncomprehending astonishment and dismay, with a series of social obligations which automatically fall to his part. While even Thai patron-client relations are frequently unstable, relations with farang clients are even more so --since the impermanency of the patron's presence facilitates the girl's involvement in new relationships during his absences.

(2) Work and Game: etically seen, open ended prostitution, like all full time prostitution, is work -- the girl has to attend daily to her job, wait long hours for a customer, conduct repetitive and boring conversations with unattractive and often uncomprehending foreigners; emically, however, it is more of a game in which the girls compete, with skill and daring, and what they consider "luck", for the prizes which the prospective customers offer. While such an attitude may be foreign to the neutral, professional, Western prostitutes, it very much reflects in the concrete area of prostitution, a wider Thai cultural attitude emphasizing preference for activities which are pleasurable or fun (sanuk) (Phillips, 1965: 59-61), and an aversion to purely neutral, reward-oriented "work".

(3) Economic Interest and Emotional Involvement: open ended prostitution is predicated upon an extension of the initial mercenary encounter between the girl and her customer into a more protracted relationship. Thereby, however, the nature of the relationship is frequently changed into a "mixed" one, involving on the part of the girl both economic interests and emotional involvement; though such a development agrees with the girl's tendency to assimilate the relationship to a patron-client one, it also generates, from the farang's point of view, considerable ambiguity and leads to misunderstandings and conflicts.

This review of the contrary tendencies in open-ended prostitution leads to our concluding question: the extent to which open-ended, tourist-oriented prostitution signifies social change in Thailand, as Keyes recently argued, or, contrariwise, is just another novel expression of pervasive and persevering Thai cultural trends.

The concept of change is thus not an absolute, but depends on one' s frame of reference. Open-ended prostitution at first view involves considerable change; a more detailed analysis, however, reveals a surprising degree of cultural continuity -- though it could be claimed that the balance between the traditional cultural codes has, in open-ended prostitution, shifted so much to the individualistic (though opportunistic pole, and structural hierarchical checks have been so weakened), that Thai culture has been distorted out of recognition. Moreover, a clear break with the past and a definite, indisputable "change" has taken place in those cases where the girls themselves substituted a modern Western emic perspective on their job for the Thai one· that such a substitution exists has been shown by our analysis of their differential emic interpretations of the various types of relationships with farangs. Our data, however, is insufficient to determine whether the shift to a Western perspective dominates the scene of open-ended prostitution, or whether the majority of the girls still interpret their relationships with farangs in terms of a more traditional Thai emic perspective.