Thursday, 27 August 2015

Blackmail - The Ashley Madison Affair

I must say that every so often something hits the news that I fell that I really should write about it, and the Ashley Madison hack is one of those things. Well, there are actually quite a lot of things that I could write about, time permitting, but there are a couple of things that I tend to stay away from: Politics (such as the Border Farce) and Economics (such as the China Crash). The reason why I stay away from political posts is simply because while I do hold some strong political views, there are plenty of other people that also write such posts, and once again I really don't have the time to analyse Tony Abbott's blunders (which seem to be occurring on a daily basis). As for economics, I tend to stay away from that sphere because there are restrictions on what you can write about in Australia in regards to financial advice, and since I do have an interest in the markets, it would be quite easy for me to cross that line.

However, while quite a few people have written about the Ashley Madison debarcle, it was something that caught my attention and I felt that I would also throw in my two cents worth. What I intend on doing is simply analysing the events, as opposed to providing any specific Christian advice on what has happened. In any case there are a couple of good articles, such as the one on Desiring God (Life is Short, Love Your Spouse) and Relevant (5 Things we can learn from the Ashley Madison Scandal).

100% Secure

I was actually quite amused when I was looking for some pictures for this post and discovered this one. I'm not sure if it is a joke, or whether it was a real ad, but I suspect that before the data dump, people felt that all of their information was safe. The truth is that in the modern world nothing is safe. As far as I am concerned any computer that is connected to the internet is vulnerable to hacking, no matter how secure the site. I remember back in the 80s I would hang around a group of people at the State Library of South Australia who were all interested in computers. The thing about the State Library was that they had a couple of Commodore 64s, and us teenagers would congregate around them and trade computer games. This is relevant because programmers had been looking for ways to protect their works from copying, but the thing is that with every new copy protection that was produced, the crackers (people who would crack the copy protection and then distribute the game) would always find a way around it. This is still a problem today, and I suspect that online games such as World of Warcraft still are vulnerable to cracks.

Security is a big thing in the age of the internet, and such IT professionals are always going to be in demand. However even the most robust security measures are susceptible to hackers. One form of security that I am familiar with is what I term as the 'rotating password'. This is a form of protection where the system forces you to change your password every month, meaning that if an employee's account is compromised then the hacker has only a short window of opportunity to make use of the breach. Another form I would term as the 'Three Strikes' method (though sometimes it is more than just three). This is where the computer automatically locks you out when you get the password wrong three times in a row (though as I have suggested sometimes it allows you a little more leeway). These days some systems require you to answer multiple security questions in addition to the password, and banks will also send text messages to your mobile device when you attempt to transfer money to an unfamiliar account. However, as I have suggested, despite all of these protections, data that is connected to the web is always going to be vulnerable.

Social Engineering

Many of us picture a hacker as sitting in their room, on their own computer, attempting to breach a security system, however this is rarely, if ever, the case (though I suspect a lot of the teenage hackers continue to operate this way - but that is a sure fire way of getting caught). First of all any hacker that is any good would not use their own internet connection simply because each connection has its own, unique, IP address. Sure, there are ways and means of hiding that address (such as using Onion Servers such a TOR), however the hacker is still vulnerable. I suspect that when hackers actually go about their trade it is not on their own connection. It doesn't even need to be a public connection - they could hack into a private connection (particularly since many private homes are really bad with their passwords). Also hackers tend to use other methods of gaining access to computer systems - a term generally referred to a social engineering.

Social Engineering is where a hacker will garner information about a computer system through persuasion and deceit. One of the common methods is to create a dummy website (such as Ebay), and then send emails out to individuals indicating that there is a problem with their account and they need to click on a link and then enter their password (this actually happened with Ebay). However, when you enter your password you don't actually go to the site, but the hacker gets your password, and can then access your account (this is known as Phishing). I'm sure we have all heard of the Nigerian Email Scam where the person who sends the email endeavours to get you to send them an amount of money in return for much, much more (apparently what they do is that they request your bank details and advise you that you will receive something like $30 million dollars, but for the transaction to go through they will need you to send them, say, $10000  - once they have your bank details, they then make a $30 million dollar deposit that ends up bouncing).

John McAffree has suggested that the Ashley Madison hack was actually an inside job, and I am inclined to agree. While a part of me initially thought that it may have been a dissatisfied customer, or a jilted wife, his arguments in relation to the information that was released, and where it is normally stored on computer systems makes a lot of sense. It also seems that he is very familiar with the hacking community, and a part of me suspects that jilted lovers, and dissatisfied customers, may not necessarily have the knowledge to perform such a hack (though you never know).

Virtual Identities

I've used dating sites in the past, and I have even managed to score a couple of hits in the process. However it is interesting that the hacker suggested that Ashley Madison was little more than a con where males made up 90% of the subscribers. I would also read through reviews of various dating sites to see what people generally said about them. The thing with these review sites is that they generally attract people who didn't seem to have all that much success. While I have played around with the scene (though the main dating site that I used was Okcupid, though I have also played around with Plenty of Fish) I ended up getting bored with them. You do need to spend quite a lot of time on the sites to for them to work, time that I could use doing other things. Anyway, I must admit that I'm really not all that interested in a relationship.

I suspect that there are a lot of dodgy site out there, and those ones are probably hidden behind paywalls (meaning that you can't actually talk to anybody unless you pay for access). However the two sites that I mentioned allow you to chat with people, and even meet up, without actually spending any money. However they do offer premium services if you are willing to fork out the cash (their free service is usually supported by advertising, which means that the premium service will be add free). I must admit that when I first tipped my toe into the world of online dating, I paid for access to a site, and discovered that while there were profiles, none of them seemed to be active (or if they were active, it was because the user was on Facebook). It was only when I had a chat with another friend that he directed me to a couple of legitimate sites.

However, as I mentioned, I'm not really a big fan of online dating namely because I prefer to meet people face to face and get to know them that way. The thing with online dating is that you create what is termed an Avatar - a virtual presence. While I did enjoy reading people's profiles, I suddenly realised that it was actually quite difficult to write messages, particularly since many of the profiles would actually reveal so much that you ended up knowing all about a person and thus there was little more that I could ask them. The thing is that these profiles aren't actually the person whom you are talking to - they are only their online representations, so you aren't actually talking to that person, you are talking to their avatar.

Okay, I still have an active account on Okcupid, and personally I really don't care whether it is leaked or not. It isn't as if I am in a relationship, and while it might be a little embarrassing if it came to light that I was on that site, it isn't as if revealing that would expose some deep, dark secret. Okcupid is, as I have said, a dating site - it isn't like Adult Friend Finder - where the users are only on the look out for sex; or Ashley Madison - which is geared towards married people having affairs.

Secrets Exposed

The one thing that came to mind when the hacked data from Ashley Madison was dumped onto the dark web for everybody to see was that secrets will be exposed. There are many people who had registered for that site, and having affairs, believing that nobody would ever find out. The thing with the data that was stolen is that it was always going to be made public. While this may not have been the biggest hack so far, it is certainly the most publicised. Okay, the Sony Hack, and the Ebay hack in 2014 were also widely publicised, but this particular hack has far greater implications - people's deep dark secrets have been exposed for the world to see.

When I learned about the data dump it reminded me of this Bible verse: For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open (Luke 8:17). It was obvious that when this data was released there were going to be an awful lot of scalps. Sure, the data theft and its release was a criminal act, but that doesn't make cheating on your partner okay. What is not surprising are the number of prominent Christians who appeared on the list. The problem is that while their names may have appeared on the list, it doesn't necessarily mean that they were active users, or even had an affair. However the question that is raised was why did they go onto that website in the first place? The problem that they face is that even that moment of indiscretion is going to raise questions and cast doubt on their integrity.

To say that Christians have only started having affairs with the rise of the internet is similar to suggesting that they didn't look at porn until the internet came along. That simply is not true, however what the internet does do is that it makes it much easier for them to do so, and do so discretely. However, the thing is that secrets have a really nasty habit of coming to light and being exposed for everybody to see, as happened this past month. While I doubt this is going to stop Christians, or others, from cheating on their spouses, what it does do is that it can make some people think twice about walking down that well travelled, but secret, path.

Creative Commons License
Blackmail - The Ashley Madison Affair by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Dysfunctional Family


Well, this year the Bell Shakespeare Company decided to put on a performance of Hamlet, quite possibly because it is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. This sort of baffles me though because Hamlet happens to be one of those plays that school kids have to put up with studying, and we all know the story about books that we are forced to study in school - they are hated.

Hamlet - Front CoverI still remember the teacher telling us that the next book that we were going to read had everything - ghosts, murder, a high body count, and a sword fight. Upon hearing this all of our ears pricked up with anticipation right up until the point we saw the copies of Hamlet sitting on his desk to which the class responded with a collective sigh. I also remember reading this book in class, line by line, and our teacher arduously pondering over every sentance. In fact everytime I hear Polonius say 'never a borrower or lender be' I think back to those days in High School when our teacher would tells us how in this scene Polonius was giving his son Laertes advice on how to survive in the real world.

Honestly, I don't mind Hamlet all that much, but it certainly isn't my favourite Shakesperian play. For instance there is one where we have an illegitimate child playing the nobility off against each other, seducing the two most powerful women in the kingdom, framing his own brother for treason, and finishing off the play as the defacto king. Okay, it may not have a ghost, but for political intrigue you simply cannot go past King Lear.

The Bell Shakespeare Production
Bell Shakespeare PosterI'm not sure if I've seen Bell Shakespeare do Hamlet before, though I do vaguely remember seeing it once on stage in Adelaide. The thing about Hamlet is that it is a very well known, and really popular, play so for a theatre buff like me it would be surprising if I hadn't seen it performed (even in a place like Adelaide which doesn't seem to get as many productions as some of the other cities - and for some reason Bell Shakespeare never seems to stop off there on their tours around Australia). What was even more fortuitous about the production that I saw was that it was performed when I was studying the play in year twelve.

I can't say that I was all that impressed with this version of Hamlet. It wasn't that it was bad, and maybe it has something to do with seeing way too much of Hamlet in my time (especially since there have been multiple movies made of the play), but I ended up finding that this version was a bit painful to watch. Possibly it also has something to do with the Hamlet in this play being an incredibly violent person, particularly where he viciously attacked Ophelia in the 'get thee to the nunnery' scene. However, this is to be expected, and I will discuss more of this when I get to the section on the madness of Hamlet. In any case the audience seemed to enjoy it, particularly since the actors received a standing ovation at the end - but then again it is Hamlet.

Mad Max
The thing with Shakespeare is that every production is different, and the style generally reflects the time in which it is being made. I won't go into too many details, but I do remember that back in the 80s and early 90s Shakespeare was still being set in the traditional settings, namely a castle in Denmark, though Kenneth Branaugh's version brought the setting forward to the 19th Century. I still remember a comedy sketch series back in the 80s called Fast Forward, which was around when Mel Gibson's Hamlet was released. It was really amusing because they had a skit in which Mel Gibson, dressed as Mad Max, burst into the castle on a motorcycle, whipped out a skull, and began sprouting Shakesperian lines. Unfortunately I can't find that particular sketch on my brief search of Youtube, but you can always check out some of the other sketches (if you are really interested).

However these days the trend seems to be staging Shakespeare in modern dress, which I quite like because not only does it add to the timelessness of the stories, it also enables us to relate to the stories and the themes therein. In a way I find that Shakespeare is one of those few playwrights whose plays are able to transcend time and space and able to work in many and varied settings, from the battlefields of Ancient Rome to the boardrooms of Corporate America.

As I have mentioned, all productions are different, and as the audience will see something different each time they attend the play, the director also will seek to emphasise different aspects that he or she consider importants. For instance many of the productions leave out the war with Norway, while this production dropped the lines spoken at the end where the messenger enters a corpse littered throne room to pronounce that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. On that topic, there was a couple of nods to the Tom Stoppard play 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead' (namely a couple of coin tosses that turned up heads) but it seemed that the audience didn't get the joke. Anyway, the director, Damien Ryan, has written an essay called 'Hamlet's Unweeded Garden', where he reflects on some of the themes that come out of the play.

Madness of Hamlet
A lot has changed with the understanding of mental illness since the days of Shakespeare, though in many cases it has more to do with classification than anything else. If we explore some of Shakespeare's tragedies we will notice that he actually has a strong understanding of the workings of the human mind, however while this may be the case he did not have the luxury of the modern DSM. These days we tend to shy away from the term madness and rather use the term 'mental illness', which I must admit that I feel somewhat uncomfortable using. The reason I say that is the line between mental illness and personality trait: where does one draw the line between an emotional reaction and mental illness. To me, the modern medical profession seems to be more than happy to label somebody as being mentally ill if they are either different to the bulk of the population, or simply responding to stresses and pressures placed upon them by modern society.

David Tennant as HamletHamlet is no exception. He is criticised for spending too much time mourning for the loss of his father, yet this is a natural reaction to the sudden death of a father figure. He rages against his mother for remarrying so soon after the death of her husband, yet his concerns are simply laughed away as being little more than a spoilt brat. No doubt there is something much more sinister underneath, but I will touch upon that latter. However, we also have this idea of Hamlet 'feigning' madness, though I would be inclined to suggest that this is little more than an interpretation, if the plan was not spoken by Hamlet himself.

I have seen numerous versions of Hamlet and in many of the productions that I have seen his madness has been simply an assumed disconnect from reality. However consider the scene where Ophilea reports him entering her room with his doublet undone. To us in the modern world, and many of the productions that I have seen, this has simply been interpreted as him wandering around the castle in casual dress. However in Shakespeare's time the nobility did not dress casually, even in their own homes. To us, where our homes are our sanctuaries which are not pierced by the outside world, we will dress in a way that is comfortable and we only dress properly when we go and interact in society. However in the time of Shakespeare the concept of the private place existed only within one's chambers (or bedroom). Outside of your chambers you were in public, which is why Hamlet's dress was so scandalous. It is like us wandering down the streets dressed in only our underpants.

Hamlet is not the only character struck down by madness. Ophielia is torn by grief at the death of her father, moreso at the hands of the man whom she loved. Laertes is also struck with grief at the death of Polonious to the point that he is so overcome by rage that he succumbs to the plots of Claudius and agrees to the sword fight where he plans on slaying Hamlet. It is only on his deathbed that his mind clears and he realises that the tragedy that has befallen the family all stems back to the ambitions of the usurper Claudius.

The madness in Damien Ryan's production is a madness of violent rage. Each of the characters, struck by grief at the murder of their loved ones (and Laertes blames Hamlet not just for the death of his father, but also the death of his sister – beginning with the fight in the grave and finishing with the fight in the throne room) flies into a vicious rage, attacking all those who they believe to be responsible for the murder. Hamlet attacks Gertrude in her bedchamber, and in a fit of rage inadvertantly slays Polonious. However, Hamlet also rages against Ophelia, blaming the death of his father not just upon Cladius, but also the woman by whom he feels betrayed. Seeing his wife marry within days of the death of his father his faith and trust in women are shattered, and in the eyes of the innocent Ophelia he also sees the heart of a murderer.

Hamlet - Better than Twilight

Family Matters
It is suggested that the plays of Shakespeare play out just as well on the political stage as well as the domestic arena. While the events occur within Castle Elsinore, the seat of the government of Denmark, we are also being given a glimpse into the private lives of a family torn apart. In a way the characters in Hamlet could be those of the wealthy elite, or those of the working class. It is not so much a family that has been torn apart by murder, but indeed there is murder most foul, but it is the collapse of the family unit as the father is driven out and the son riles against the mother and her lover, blaming them for the destruction of the innocence of his childhood.

It is not necessarily the case of a brother murdering a brother and then marrying the mother, even though this is indeed the case. Mind you, I do raise the question as to why Gertrude marries Claudius so soon after Hamlet Snr's death? Was there something going on that we are not being told about? Was there an affair that required Hamlet Snr to be put out of the way so that the adulterous relation may bare fruit. Some (including Tom Stoppard) have suggested that Hamlet's anger towards Gertrude and Claudius is because Claudius has stolen the throne that was rightfully his, but there is no mention of this at all in the play (though I could be wrong). No, Hamlet is angered not so much that Claudius has stolen a throne that is rightfully his (and Claudius even suggests that he is still entitled to the throne), but rather that before his brother is in the ground, he has stolen the place in his bed – and he is angered that Gertrude has allowed him to do so.

That Awkward Moment when you realised you stabbed the wrong guy
The question of incest keeps on coming back as well. While Gertrude is not Claudius' blood relation, they are still related through the marital bonds. Mind you, the Old Testament does allow for the brother to take the widow as his bride, but this was only to preserve the deceased's line, and only if the deceased had yet to bare children. While this was allowed, it was allowed only in very limited circumstances. However, what we have in Hamlet is perceived as unnatural, at least in Hamlet's mind. Numerous times he cries against not just the fact that his mother re-married so shortly after her husband's death, but of all people she married her brother in law. To Hamlet this is utterly wrong.

While the play is set in the royal palace in Denmark, in many ways this could easily be set in the suburban household in the outer suburbs. Okay, maybe Hamlet's father was not necessarily killed, but for numerous reasons he could have been driven out, leaving Hamlet not just with his mother, but with his mother's new boyfriend. A common theme has children being in conflict with the step-father, especially if there are suggestions of adultery, which is something that I suspect may have come about in Hamlet. Okay, Shakespeare may not have directly stated this as being the case, but in my mind it is implied.

Death in the Garden
The Graveyard Scene
Damien Ryan writes in his essay about the significance of the garden in Hamlet, even though none of the scenes (with the exception of the graveyard) takes place in one. As he has pointed this out it is probably an idea to discuss this concept, particularly since it is one concept that I hadn't picked up before. In a way he does have a point – the garden, and flora, play an important role in Hamlet. King Hamlet was murdered in a garden, Ophelia dies by falling from a tree, and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are killed by being hung, while not necessarily from a tree, the gallows from which they were hung originally came from a tree (in the same way that while Jesus Christ was executed on a cross, the Bible refers to him having been hung on a tree; which is another interesting metaphor since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are killed in place of Hamlet – it was he that was supposed to have been hung).

The murder of the king happens in a garden, and through Ryan's production there are references to serpents. In fact in the play within a play, the king is handed a tin which, when opened, causes a serpent to fly out. This is important because King Hamlet was murdered by poison, the typical method with which a serpent will use to kill their pray. Claudius is in fact the serpent – he sneaks up on Hamlet at a time when he is at his weakest, and kills him through the use of poison, and the death also takes place in the garden. It is from this death that the entire kingdom becomes poisoned. As Ryan points out, of the eight characters that are killed in the play, four of them are killed through the use of poison (and of the remaining four, three of the deaths are related to trees).

Hamlet - Graveyard Scene

This image brings to the front the idea of the Garden of Eden. It is implied that prior to the death of King Hamlet Denmark was a strong and prosperous kingdom. Sure, they were at war with Norway, but the Norwegians had sued for peace and taken their expansionistic endeavours elsewhere. However, the death of King Hamlet completely changed the dynamics of the kingdom resulting in its eventual fall. Claudius, the serpent, brings about this fall through poisoning the king, but the poison doesn't just kill the king, it flows through into the entire kingdom. As it is said, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it is rotten because the poison has taken root and is killing it slowly.

The Cold War
Another interesting idea is that of the cold war that exists between Norway and Denmark. Many of the productions that I have seen simply leave this aspect out, however Ryan brought it front and centre. Right at the beginning we know that there is a much greater power to the north threatening Denmark's liberty. So, the question is raised, why, during a time of war, does Claudius seek to undermine the kingdom by killing the king?

There are a couple of possibilities, but they are both speculations because Shakespeare never actually addresses this issue. In fact, the question of why King Hamlet was killed, and why Gertrude married so quickly, isn't something that I really thought about until quite recently, namely after watching this production (though no doubt I will be seeing it again, and in time further revelations may come to light – the fact that this is a pretty popular play suggests that I will be seeing it in the future).

Fortinbras Invades Denmark

As I have suggested there are two possibilities: Claudius was in league with the Norwegians and King Hamlet was a week king. The second idea I am less likely to accept namely because of the speed in which Gertrude and Claudius were married. If Claudius killed King Hamlet because Denmark was losing the war against
Norway sort of undermines the idea that he may have been having an affair with Gertrude. However, the first idea may hold more support because it would suggest that Denmark was actually winning, which meant that the affair was actually the weakness that could be exploited. Note that as soon as King Hamlet died, Claudius sued for peace, which was accepted. However, Fortinbras, the rather cunning general, knew that by killing King Hamlet would weaken the kingdom and, in the end, allow him (or as it was in this play, her) achieve her goals.
Creative Commons License
Shakespeare's Hamlet - The Dysfunctional Family by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Bar-girls of Phuket

Bangala Road Sign

Thailand in parts is a lovely country, and it certainly is very, very popular with tourists from all over the world. Okay, it is a developing country, and that part of it certainly shows with ramshackle buildings and electrical wires haphazardly connected to the poles (especially at the junction boxes which make a professional electrician's heads spin). I must admit a part of me likes that side of the country, though I have to say that I am not really a beach person (in the four days that I was there I went for a swim once, but that may have had to do something with the weather).

However, there is a side of Thailand that is actually really sleazy, and sadly it isn't actually hidden. In fact when you mention Thailand to people the usual images that come up (other than beaches) tend to be go-go bars and lady boys (in fact there is one guy that I know that seems to be obsessed with lady boys - but I suspect that it may have something to do with them being a tourist attraction in and of themselves). Before I go any further though I wish to make it clear that this post is not about having sex in Thailand, or how to go about it simply because there are plenty of other internet sites (I'll let you find them) that do just that. However, if there is one piece of advice that I will give and that is make sure your banana is always wrapped (not that it will do any good at times). Actually, stuff that, my advice is control yourself and keep your pants on (if that is possible where some people are concerned).

Phuket Night LIfe


Before I go any further I wish to say a few things about prostitution, and that is that I don't like it. As far as I am concerned prostitution is little more than the exploitation of women (and in some places, such as Sweden, it is considered a form of violence against women and the buyers, as opposed to the sellers, are the criminals). When I talk about prostitution I am not necessarily talking about girls who are kidnapped and forced to work in brothels, but also women who apparently claim to be doing it voluntarily. The thing is that while it may, in one way, be voluntary, it can be very difficult to escape once one is involved in the scene. It also has the effect of destroying one's character, let alone one's soul.

Okay, there are a lot of people out there who claim that there is nothing wrong with having multiple sex partners, however I am not one of those people. As far as I am concerned one cannot have such an intimate relationship with another human and not actually take a part of that human into themselves, and thus having not just multiple, but a lot of sexual partners has the effect destroying one's soul not just through the multiple intimate relationships, but also devaluing the act to a point that it is simply another physical act with no meaning at all. This in turns makes it much harder to actually form intimate relationships simply because the uniqueness of such relationships no longer exist.

The Australian Scene

I'd be lying if I said that I have never been to a brothel - I was young and curious once, but lets just say that it is a scene that I really don't like. There is one thing that a brothel lacks and that is intimacy. In our modern consumer society it is just another business that sells a product, in this case sex. Sure, there are guys (and girls) who have their favourites, but the thing is that nothing is ever going to come out of it. At the end of the day the sex worker simply goes home and thinks nothing about her clients, even if some of them are regular. At the end of the day this isn't Pretty Woman - she is not going to fall in love with you, quit her job, and run off into the sunset holding your hand. It just isn't going to happen.

Anyway, prostitution in Australia is highly regulated. It falls into the category of law known as decriminalisation - the government doesn't particularly like it but they feel that the law enforcement authorities have much more serious areas to focus their resources. That does not necessarily mean that all prostitutes fall into this grey area - they don't. To be tolerated the brothel, and the workers, need to be licensed, and also undergo regular medical checkups. Most importantly they need to be drug free. That doesn't mean that all prostitutes are clean, just the ones that operate within the narrow confines of the law.

This is another thing that I don't like about the legalisation of prostitution. It doesn't actually deal with the problem. Rather it opens the doors up to women who normally wouldn't consider becoming a prostitute due to the legal issues. However, this option is now available and she will see it as a quick and easy way to make a bit of money on the side, maybe to help her get through university (and by using the feminine article does not necessarily mean that I believe all prostitutes are female - they aren't, they just make up a large portion).

That does not necessarily mean, as I have suggested, that the brothels have cleaned up their act - they haven't. Okay, you now have legitimate, and illegitimate, brothels. You may not see many street walkers around anymore (I remember a time when Darlinghurst Road would be packed full of them), they have just gone underground. Okay, you still get a few wandering around St Kilda, however a lot of them have retreated to the internet to hawk their wares. As for the clients, not all of them are simply up for a wham, bam, thankyou mam - some of them want a lot more, and once again the internet has opened that marketplace up for them.

I want to say a few things about strip clubs (or as they call themselves: Gentlemen's Clubs, but  I would hardly say that gentlemen frequent them) before I move on to Thailand. Look, I'm not a big fan of brothels because, well, I don't think sex is all that fantastic (and considering what they charge I have much better things to spend my money on), so I don't see the point when all you get is, well, sex. As for strip clubs, well they are even worse. Personally I find them boring, pointless, and a way to lose a lot of money before you realise it. Once again I would be lying if I said that I have never been to a strip club, but one of the reasons is because I had a friend that would regularly frequent those places.

In the end all you are paying for in a strip club is to have a naked woman gyrate in front of you - that's it. Okay some places you are allowed to touch, but they are few and far between, and even then it depends on the girl. Oh, don't get me wrong, if she likes you then you might get a special dance, but in the end your pants (and your shirt - they all have dress codes) stay on. Sometimes you will get girls who will want to talk to you, but once again they are few and far between. In the end they aren't paid to talk, they are paid to remove money from your wallet and put it into the cash register, and for as little as taking their clothes off and gyrating naked in front of you. Sometimes I wander if the girls laugh at all of the stupid men who are willing to part with their money for what is in effect nothing (though there have been instances of men complaining of being ripped off, but their complaints never get all that far - the best way of not getting ripped off is by not going inside in the first place).

The Land of Smile

When I first went to Thailand and saw them advertising it as the land of smile the first thought that crossed my mind was sexual, you know that glowing smile you have just after you get laid? I guess there is a bit of innuendo there, but unfortunately the country does have the reputation of a place where people go to have sex, and a lot of it. One particular image is the fat and balding sixty year old walking hand in hand down the road with a twenty something Thai girl. To be honest with you it is a reputation that no country should have.

Anyway, I guess the main reason why people flock to Thailand to get laid is because of two reasons: it's cheap and it doesn't feel like prostitution. I remember first going to Bangkok and hearing of the go-go bars, and a part of me thought that, like Australia, it all happened behind closed doors - it doesn't. I discovered this when I walked into my first bar for a drink and immediately had a girl come up to me and start talking to me (despite the fact that I was trying to read my book). The next bar I walked into I had a flock of girls descend upon me all wanting me to by them a drink (and when I made a comment about that on Facebook, a friend of mine remarked by suggesting that I must be in hell).

Anyway, having been to Bangkok I thought I knew what I was going to expect when I arrived in Phuket - I wasn't. It turns out that Phuket (in particular Patong Beach) is Bangkok on steroids (and there is another beach resort that is even more full on than Patong Beach). In fact the bars are literally everywhere, and when you walk down Bangala Road you can't help but not see the huge bars full of women with some of them gyrating on poles on the bars (and one thing I have to say is that Thai Girls can't dance).

Anyway I spent some time talking to people around the place to find out about what goes on here (other than the prostitution that is). So, these are some of the numerous places where people end up having a happy time in Patong:

Massage Parlours: Not all massage parlours are fronts for a brothel - just the ones with private rooms. Okay, you do get these parlours in Australia, but they are illegal. However in Patong you cannot help but trip over them all over the place. The other difference is that in Thailand they will actively proposition you, sometimes coming out and grabbing your hand. They won't actually tell you that it is a brothel, they will offer you a massage (for around 300 baht) however they will suggest that they do have private rooms, which usually consists of a oil massage with a happy ending, though the ending does cost more (depending on what you can negotiate, though it is usually 1500 to 2000 baht). Many of the girls work in these places because the bars are just simply too loud, though they need to be able to give a good massage.

Street Walkers: You will encounter them, but not many. They generally do so because, once again, they simply do not like working in bars because they are too loud. They also keep pretty much all of the money. However being independent is actually quite dangerous because you never know who you are going to encounter or what is going to happen to you. If you go missing there is nobody to go and look for you (not that the bars particularly care anyway). However the money isn't always constant, and as such they are more likely that not to resort to stealing. The street walkers are no doubt the least trustworthy of the women in Thailand.

Go-go Bars: You can tell these places because there are poles on the bars with women gyrating on them. All along Bangala road you will have women trying to bring you into the bars for a drink, and possibly more. I don't particularly like the go-go bars because there is generally no room to actually talk with the girls. They might talk for a little while, but they have work to do so will generally go off and do that work. Also, as I have mentioned, Thai girls simply cannot dance (or should I say pole dance because I did dance with a couple while I was there), and I am not really all that interested in sitting down watching some woman gyrate around a pole. Actually, I remember the first night I was there and I was having a beer in one of those bars and a couple of girls came in, climbed up onto the bar, and actually showed them how one should pole dance.

Clip-joints: You will know these places because there are curtains covering the doors and people out the front trying to drag you inside. Some of them even hold signs saying 'no rip off' - they're lying. If you go into one of those places you will be ripped off - namely handed a grossly inflated bill and you will not be allowed to leave until you have coughed up the money. I did look inside a couple, but did not enter (namely because as soon as I looked in a room full of girls would suddenly turn to me and cry out 'hello' in unison, some of them were even topless - having a room full of girls all cry out hello is really disconcerting in my books). My recommendation would be that if you cannot see inside, do not go inside - there is plenty of fun to be had elsewhere..
Hostess Bars: I won't say that these are my favourites because I actually prefer the bars where you can sit down a read, and yes, there are some in Patong, but not many. You will know the hostess bars because there will literally be one girl per customer, and when you order a drink, one of the girls will sit with you and talk with you. One thing that caught my attention was when I sat down with one of the girls she pulled out a game of Connect 4 and asked me if I wanted a game. All I can say is that they are really, really good - never make a bet because you are guaranteed to lose. As somebody said, the day you beat a bar girl at Connect 4 is the day you say that you have spent too much time in Patong. Anyway, as I said I quite like these places because they tend not to be loud, and you have have an awful lot of fun with the girls. Okay, the drinks that you buy them tend to be more expensive, but that is one of the ways that they make their money.


The thing about Thailand is that it is very seductive, not only is it cheap, but pretty much anything goes. The girls (and the Ladyboys) have two options, a short time and a long time. Basically a short time is a quick trip to the hotel while the long time is basically a 24 hour period. For around 3000 baht per day (plus expenses and other goodies) you can literally rent yourself a girlfriend. You will also note that a lot of the websites will regularly advise you to make sure that your banana is wrapped, and the reason that they say that is because a lot of the girls simply don't care - it doesn't matter whether it is on or not, it's still on.

Personally I prefer the hostess bars, simply because you can sit down there, have a couple of drinks, and chat with the girls while playing a dice game or a game of connect four. That doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't interested in anything else, and they will make offers to you as well. However the girls in the go-go bars simply are not interested in talking. Sure, they will have a drink, but as soon as they realise that you are interested in anything else they will be off looking for the next opportunity. One of the bars that I was at the girl asked me multiple times whether I wanted to go upstairs for a short time, something which I simply wasn't interested in doing. Hey, you will even get girls at the massage parlours going off for long times as well.

What they really want are the long times, and in fact one of the girls that I was speaking to said that she only ever took long times, and wouldn't accept anything less than three days. The thing about the long time is that they will get meals paid for them, trips, and no doubt have clothes bought for them as well. As you wander around the streets you will notice that a lot of them are dressed really well - that is because their 'boyfriend's' had bought them clothes. Also note that they have mobile phones as well. Not all of the girls what long times - some of them simply try and sqeeze as many short times into a night as possible, but the problem with that is that the competition is so fierce that more likely than not they could go for days (or even weeks) without getting anything (especially during low season).

Another interesting thing that I have noticed as I perused the web is that numerous sites actively discourage ex-pats (and others) from forming relationships with these girls. There are two reasons that I raise this, and I will deal with the others (namely tourist) first.

The problem with 'renting a girlfriend' is that when you spend a week hanging around a beautiful woman that seems to think the world of you (and in many cases they do) then the danger of developing an emotional attachment increases dramatically. Sure they can be an awful lot of fun, and you certainly get the girl-friend experience, but then comes the time to go home, but she is staying behind. A lot of guys get caught in that trap and promise to send her money as long as she stays out of the bars - this never happens. In fact detective agencies have sprung up all over Thailand who make a lot of money keeping an eye on the bar girls and advising their 'boyfriend's back home' whether they are still working. 

Most of these girls come from the small villages to the north, north-east, and east of Thailand and they come to Phuket (and other places) looking for work. Most of the money that they make is sent home to support their parents or children (a lot of them land up here after failed marriages and have children to care for - the children are left with their parents while they head out to make money to support them). When the love sick guy parts company, she does not see him as a boyfriend, or husband, but rather some idiot who is giving her free money. As far as she is concerned he doesn't know what is going on, so she does what she likes (until she is busted, of course).

I mentioned the thing about the ex-pats who come to Thailand to work. There are instances of them forming relationships with the bar girls, however there is one really big problem - they are prostitutes. Sure, some of them are really attractive, and also real fun to be around, but they are still prostitutes, and the locals know that. Imagine bringing your girlfriend to a formal work function, a girl that is basically as rough as guts (I was going to suggest stripper, but some of them are incredibly refined), and then introducing her to all of your collegues. Every second word that comes out of this girl's mouth is profanity, and when she talks with people she pretty much uses street slang - that is what the bar girls are like. Those of us who don't speak Thai simply would not pick it up, but you can be sure the locals do. A lot of ex-pats lose a lot of face amongst their peers in not realising this.

The Girl at the bar

I do find it rather intriguing that when people are in Thailand they will willingly be seen in public with the type of girl that they would not be caught dead associating with back home. I suspect it is because the differences are so subtle over there, and it is much more out in the open. The whole rent-a-girlfriend scene has people associating with the type of women that no doubt their parents would have a heart attack if they knew what she was really like, but the thing is that the language barrier disguises that. The bar girls actually speak reasonably good English, however the English that they speak is generic and the subtleties of dialect do not come about. However, things change with body language - that says everything. When the bar girl walks down the road puffed up with pride because the guy that she has scored is not some sixty year old fat guy, or she makes that thrusting movement with her hips, says everything.

I guess one experience was evident to me as to what these girls are really like. I wandered into a bar and I was wearing my Leonardo Da Vinci T-shirt - the one with the Universal Man on the front. All of the sudden the girls behind the bar began to giggle and one one of the pointed at the penis. To say that I was offended was an understatement, not so much because they pointed at the penis but rather because they reduced a work of art to some drawing by a dirty minded schoolkid. If you are looking for a sophisticated and intelligent woman you are not going to find them behind a bar in Thailand.

Sure, Thai men visit brothels, but like those of us back home, they are subtle about it. They don't walk down the street flaunting the prostitute that they have just bought, yet for some reason us foreigners are more than happy to do so. However what is interesting is who you see frequenting these bars - they are all European. No matter how hard I looked I could not find anybody who was not from a European country sitting at the bar. I even asked one of the girls one night and she told me that it is only ever white men who come to the bars - they never have Chinese, Indians, and definitely not Thai.

I should say a few words about the ladyboys, especially since they are a big part of the nightlife. There are plenty of sites that give you hints on how to pick a ladyboy, though they tend to stand out simply because they have had plastic surgery to the hilt. In fact they will stand out like anything because they are literally too good to be true. Sure, people talk about them being tall, loud, and promiscuous, but in the end it is the plastic surgery that gives them away. If she is too good to be true, then she is probably a ladyboy. Another thing, if you are in a bar trying to guess who are the ladyboys and who aren't, give up - they probably are all ladyboys.

While it may be the case that there is at least one ladyboy in every bar, the Mamasangs don't always employ them. One mamasang that I spoke to said that she would have nothing to do with ladyboys simply because they are way too much trouble. This isn't always the case, and the girls will even point them out to you if you ask them. The other thing about the ladyboys is that they generally will always tell you if you ask them, however they will never volunteer the information (for that is where the fun lies). I did find that a lot of the girls get really annoyed if you ask them if they are ladyboys, simply because everybody asks them. However, from what I was told, they are not allowed to lie - if they do then it is instant dismissal.

The Dark Side

There is no two ways about it - prostitution is illegal in Thailand, and it has been since the 60s. However the government tends to turn a blind eye (namely because they were forced to outlaw it by the United States, however did absolutely nothing to clean the situation up). However, it is still illegal, and this is where you need to be aware of the scene you are entering. You are dealing with the black market, and there is no regulation when it comes to the black market. You are opening yourself to a lot of trouble if you continue down this route.

There are people who make regular trips to Thailand, and I am not surprised. On my first night wandering down Bangala Road all I could say was that that place was much better than the Gold Coast (and I still think it is). Wandering past the bars with electronic music blaring out everywhere was my type of party town. However you need to watch your back because Thailand is not a safe place - bad things can and do happen.

One journalist wrote about how he moved to Thailand because he loved the place so much only to find his drinks being regularly spiked and even being attacked numerous times. To be honest I am not at all surprised. It is not just the scam artists who work the beaches, but it goes on in the bars as well. This is the black market, and people who associate with the black market are no doubt asking for trouble. Moreso the Thai people are becoming really annoyed with this tourist craze, and it is not just the families, but it is the men who regularly come here, and even live here, who get drunk and act like complete pricks. For some reason a lot of people simply have no respect when they are overseas - a friend of mine told me that Australians are regularly bashed in Croatia simply because they are such jerks. As it turns out, the Americans are by far the worst though.

A lot of the hotels in Phuket don't like guests, and will usually charge a premium if you want to bring one back. This hasn't always been the case, but in a way I am not surprised. Bar girls are trouble, and a lot of the decent Thai don't really like them. As I have suggested they are crass and crude and are generally looked down upon. Some hotels may be guest friendly but if they get one too many complaints then sooner or later their going to say no (or even charge a premium). I still remember the hotel I stayed at in Bangkok - the first thing I heard when I got to my floor was the extra loud moaning coming from one of the rooms.

I wish to finish off by suggesting, at least for the girls, that this is a very, very dangerous occupation in which they are engaging. Unlike Australia where there are panic buttons and bouncers, Thailand has little to no security. No doubt a lot of these girls are bashed, and many of them disappear. The mamasang that I spoke to told me that lots of girls go through her bar, many of them leave and do not return. They don't care since there are a lot more from where they came. While the girl has to hand her ID card into the hotel when she comes in, the male generally gives nothing in the way of identity. No doubt the number of girls who go missing is so high that the authorities have ceased to care. From my search of the internet I have only found two cases of a bar girl being murdered, and in both cases the murder was so horrific (the girl was cut up and dumped in a suit case) that it couldn't be ignored.

Oh, as I have mentioned, the Thai generally don't think much of these girls. If you are wandering why there are girls working normal jobs for little pay it is because they have self respect. The girls you find serving at the hotels and working in the normal bars are probably the lucky ones. Sure the pay may not be all that good, but at least it is regular, and the workplace is generally safe. Just because Thailand (and for that matter all of South-East Asia) is bursting at the seems with bar girls does not necessarily mean that all Thai girls are easy.

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Bar Girls of Phuket by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.