I wrote a couple of pieces a while ago for a Bangkok web site and here is an updated version of one of them.
Who is that bar hostess? I am not interested in here real identity or where she comes from, her family background, education, how dark her skin is or her social class. All this is discussed and laid out infinite on web pages and in bestseller stories. It’s all trivial and they all really don’t get it.
No, what interests me is her role in the realm of imagination. This is for two reasons:
One relates to the equivocal essence of romance or romantic love. We recognize it when we feel it but we can never be sure if it’s real or an illusion, a mirage of sublimated erotic desire. A long life’s experience, or even more the comedies of Shakespeare or the comic operas by Mozart – aren’t his female characters just amazing – has bent me in the direction of the latter connotation. Romantic love is an illusion and it basically belongs in the domain of imagination.
This goes for the erotic experience as well. Proof: jealousy is a consequence of passion and the only authentic jealousy is erotic (or sexual if you prefer) jealousy. Read Shakespeare’s Othello again to be convinced. Thus the erotic experience is linked to passion and passion is – again – linked to imagination. Only animals enjoy sex without imagination (however some Swedish feminists believe that men are like animals).
The second reason relates to the first one. Bar girls or rather bar hostesses are masters of creating the illusion of romance, subconsciously aware that human imagination is so much stronger then our senses, in the same way that a master film director understands how to manipulate the audience by provoking fantasy rather than spelling it all out explicitly. If I look into other peoples’ rooms from my apartment I – usually – experience not much more than some vague curiosity. But if I do it through the eyes of James Stewart and by the cinematographic mastery of Alfred Hitchcock in ”Rear Window, the thrill and excitement is intense! Not to mention the effect on our imagination of the incredible beauty of Grace Kelly.
The most refined form of this illusionism is the eroticism sublimated into fantasy so skillfully evoked by the Japanese hostess in the tradition of the geisha, mostly only by means of stylish and refined manners and conversation.
There is a sublime element of irony in this: the illusion of romance is almost real and “real” romance is ultimately an illusion. The hostess, the lover and the “real” girlfriend or wife are all acting in a fantasy play. The difference is that the hostess brings an element of artistry to the play, casting an ironic light over the pathos of the “real lovers”. The image of a romantically loaded Westerner together with a Thai bar girl acting her professional role is loaded with irony. It would take a Luis Bunuel to portray this irony like he did in “That Obscure Object of Desire” with the superb Fernando Rey portraying the aging bourgeois gentleman’s vain attempt to buy the love of the beautiful young object of his lust, evasively and seductiveley played by Carole Bouquet and by a second actress, the equally beautiful and sensual Angela Molina! Actually I do I think the Bunuel movie quite accurately parallells the odd coupling between the typical Western Romeo and the Thai bar hostess. Indeed many Western males are so singlemindedly focussed on Thai women as “objects of their desire” that they, like Bunuel’s gentleman, fail to detect she can be more than one person (although Bunuel probably only meant to show off his skill in immersing us into the movie that we didn’t notice that there were two actresses in the same role, but then, again, also demonstrating the power of artistic wizardry and thus of imagination).The Thai hostess equally acts in the sphere of illusion but in a much more involving and ”functional”way: she is able to totally immerse herself in the role of mistress or girl friend to the extent that the illusion of reality is complete.
Obviously, it happens that the hostess transcends the frontier between illusion and love and really falls in love with her partner. But then she appears to possess an ingrained sense of the futility of her feelings, to be subconsciously aware of the inevitable illusionism of romance, and quickly adapts to acting her role with a new partner as soon as the previous one has returned to his home country. As to him, he will continue to live under the spell of illusion, maybe sending money to her, buying a house for her and doing other extraordinarily strange things, finally succumbing into pathetic misery until he one day wakes up, hopefully wiser. Or so they say on the web pages; frankly I have never heard anything first hand to verify that such utterly eccentric behaviour on the part of the male Westerner is common.
A Bangkok bar hostess carries in her personality and attitude setup all those traits attributable to the Thais in general. This typically means a strong emphasis on surface value in relation to other people, which obviously corresponds well with her professional activities. Surface is the meaning, there is no hidden meaning beneath the surface. The illusion of romance, even the fake of it is all there is; this attitude explains how easily she can act out her emotions as if they were real; indeed, at the moment they are in a way real, though, at the next moment they are gone or, again, directed towards another partner.
The emphasis on surface values also corresponds with the obsession with face, gaining or – not being an option – losing it. Life on the surface also implies emphasis on appearance such as dress style, behaviour, although coupled with a surprisingly tolerant attitude towards les faux pas commonly committed by the typical Westerner.
This “serious” superficiality affects a hostess’ relations with men. In order to live her life on the surface at its fullest she needs to clean her mind of all “noise”or mental ”garbage” such as problems, sorrows, worries about the present and the future, in short all negative emotions. This cleaning act spills over to her partner as well, adding a certain lightness of spirit to the illusion of romance.
This also means that you cannot expect to involve aThai bar hostess in a serious discussion about global warming, German domestic politics or gender theory – or in fact about any “serious” matter at all – but then, why would you want to?
This text could not be linked to in my home page text archive – where it belongs – which is why it is published as a blog,