notes: bangkok tattoo, by john burdett

bangkok tattoo, by john burdett, knopf 2005

“chemistry is at least as important for commercial sex as it is for the more art-house variety, which is where you start to differentiate between the supporting cast and the superstars.  here’s the secret:  your superstar makes the chemistry.  she is a tantric master in a g-string, a topless sorceress, a dancing dervish with wicked allure.  she knows how to turn herself into a mirror that reflects the many and varied fantasies of the men she seduces.  guess how many have come up to me to confide they’ve finally found her at long last, the woman of their dreams, the girl they’ve been waiting half a lifetime for, the one they are so sure of they will marry her tomorrow i only she’ll agree, the saintly chanya?  answer: roughly fifty percent of chanya’s customers.” p15

“‘a girl goes through many phases.  she’ll start out believing what the customers tell her and get on some ego trip, until one day all of a sudden she starts to wonder if the johns are not exploiting her instead of the other way around.  like with any service industry, nobody ever really knows who is bullshitting who in this game.  she gets past that stage and starts to take a professional pride in what she does – she wants to be a star, because there’s nothing else to aim for.’  my mother exhales thoughtfully.  ‘then she realizes that time is passing, younger women are getting the attention, a bigger star than her comes to work at her bar.  another rite of passage she has to cope with – a period of depression perhaps, before she comes to terms.’

i furrow my brown. ‘but none of that seems to apply to chanya.’

‘no, i know.  she passed through those stages years ago.  i’ve never seen such a pro.  so it must be burn-out.  it happened to me once.  you become a victim of your own success.  you forget one little thing: all you’re doing is fucking for money.  your whole life turns on the male member, you become as obsessed with it as men are.  somewhere inside you a resistance builds up.  some women really freak.  i myself had to stop for a whole year when you were ten.’ ” p29

“for her, prostitution is mostly a sport in which the huntress uses charm, guile, and the power of sex.  the object is for the john to voluntarily transfer the cash in his wallet to her purse without noticing what a sucker he is.” p39

“thwarted craving shows us our darkest places, our deepest fears, our basic cowardice.” p107

“‘the bottom line is that for more than three decades the people of isaan have been kept alive by what little cash their daughters in bangkok have been able to send home.  there are whole towns, roads, shops, farms, water buffalo, cars, motorbikes, garages – whole industries that owe their existence to our working girls.  these courageous young women are the very essence of the female genius for sustaining, nurturing, and honoring life with life.  they are also everything that is great about the thai soul, with their selfless devotion and sacrifice.  they ask for no help or gratitude, they don’t expect admiration, they gave up looking for respect decades ago, but they are the heart of our country.’ ” p111

“everyone agrees that to survive on the game in america, you more or less have to be on dope of one kind or another.  pretty soon chanya understands what they mean.  the men hardly trouble to ask her name, there is no repartee, no fun – even less fun than in texas.  to her it makes no sense at all, since imposing a layer of misery has no effect on the popularity of the trade.  on the contrary, it may be the puritanical monotony of the working week that drives the men to seek relief in vegas:  not raging bulls, exactly, more like cows waiting to be milked.” p149

“you are a ramshackle collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging, there is no center at all, everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the environment, your thoughts depend on whatever junk floats in from the media, your emotions are largely from the reptilian end of your dna, your intellect is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator, and even your best side is a superficial piece of social programming that will fall apart just as soon as your spouse leaves with the kids and the money in the joint account, or the economy starts to fail and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor.  to name this amorphous morass of self-pity, vanity, and despair self is not only the height of hubris, it is also proof (if any were needed) that we are above all a delusional species. (we are in a trance from birth to death.)” p213

“‘most people don’t stay in the agency very long.  it’s like any other job in the states – americans get restless, bored, enraged that their talents are not properly appreciated.  we move on.  we move on – change the view every ten minutes, and you can convince yourself for a while that you’ve escaped the treadmill.  but not forever.  after a certain specific moment in life, you start to look back.  you discern a pattern.  something ugly, manic, cramped, tortured, and repetitive.  that pattern is what you are, what your culture has made of you.  but that’s not a reason for giving up.  it’s not a reason for becoming a mitch turner.  it’s not a reason for changing sides.  you got to soldier on, right or wrong.  how you ever gonna know how wrong you are, how you ever gonna learn your life’s lesson, if you’re just a feather in the wind?  you gotta suck it all up – there’s no other way.'” p232

“chanya had nothing against my mother’s bar, but it was a drag, frankly, to return to that sordid mind-set just when you thought you’d escaped.  she had nothing against the johns either – in the whole of her long career, she had come across no more than five or six who’d given her trouble, and she knew how to deal with that.  more than anything it was the indignity.  being twenty-nine simply was not the same as being nineteen.  you couldn’t laugh it off as some game you were playing on the way to growing up.” p262


About jeanne

artist, grandma, alien

Posted on June 29, 2010, in research. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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