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Thailand COVID-19 Casualties - Soapy Massage Parlors

July 17, 2020

As it is unlikely that you are a subscriber to The Bangkok Post, Thailand weathered the Covid-19 storm exceptionally well. We were there for some three weeks after the virus first landed in Thailand and the Thai government took precautions that would have brought a smile to the lips of Dr. Fauci. He could use a few smiles these days as the U.S. government’s action regarding the virus ignores science and fact. Nonetheless, Thailand was one of the first to experience the virus and they took the appropriate steps that resulted in just over 3,227 reported cases and less than 58 deaths placing them as 100th in the world relative to the level of losses to the pandemic. Better not to ask how the western world fared in that ranking. Thailand is now beginning to open up a bit with required masks and social distancing. However, it is most unlikely the country will be open to the western world for quite some time.  

If you go back to the Vietnam War era, much of Thailand still bears the imprint of those days. It was top of the list for the untold thousands of U.S. troops that would go there for a brief respite from the death and destruction in Vietnam over a period of some fifteen years. One of the booming industries created during that period was “soapy massage parlors.” That is not to say Thai men were introduced to this industry during the war, but rather the market experienced a nuclear expansion which continued into modern times supported by tourism. Well, the Lunar New Year gift from Wuhan, China turned the lights off at Bangkok’s nightclubs and massage parlors. As shown below, Nana Plaza was an old standby of adult entertainment dating back to young G.I. soldiers on R&R in Bangkok.  
As a result, and as reported in The Bangkok Post, some 300,000 sex workers have been forced out into the streets. Sex workers who have been interviewed recognize the risk of the virus but face the obvious need for income to cover their food and room rental needs. Obviously, hustling clients on dark, empty streets is not the answer. Moreover, curfews from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am make walking the streets a bit more difficult as well. Several workers interviewed admitted that they had to go to the streets for customers as their incomes had dropped from as much as $700 per week to nothing.  
The Thai government introduced a scheme to give just under $200 per month to newly jobless people over the next several months. However, sex workers have been denied support as they are not categorized as laborers and legalized workers. It is strange behavior as most of the mega massage parlors have ownership links to members of government, the military or certainly the police. Moreover, it is a bit strange that the concept of compassion seems to be lacking in a largely Buddhist country. However, these people have advocates in the Empower NGO.  
Empower is also known at the Center for Sex Workers’ Protection. It was established in 1984 by Khun Chantawipa Apisuk as a non-profit organization in Thailand that supports sex workers by offering free classes in language, health, law and pre-college education. Further, they provide individual counselling and have facilities in five locations in Thailand. Interestingly, Empower estimates that entertainment venues contribute as much as $7 billion annually to the Thai economy.  
The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand shown below recently held the event, “Helping Thailand’s Most Vulnerable: Sex Workers & Covid-19, the Fallout.” Khun Suparnee Pongruengphant, project manager for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion at the United Nations Development Program, said, “The government was not doing enough to support this group of people and their immediate needs.” Associate Professor Chalidaporn Songsamphan, a political science lecturer at Thammasat University and president of the Service Workers In Group Foundation, said “Many sex workers cannot gain access to state assistance because prostitution has been an elephant in the room despite their contribution to the tourism industry.” Accordingly, there is a broader recognition of a need to help these sex workers. By the way, like press clubs in the Far East, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club has a great bar and is a good place to meet interesting people.  
As a daily reader of The Bangkok Post, it is clear that night curfews in Bangkok are being eased as are many segments of commerce. However, there is consistently a clear designation that “soapy massage parlors” are not included in that program. Therefore, the lights of a newer addition to the Thai entertainment venue, Soi Cowboy, which is relatively close to our “Bangkok place of residence," the pre-eminent The Siam Hotel, continues to remain dark. However, our immediate concern is being able to safely return to Bangkok and to The Siam Hotel to spend time with our old friends.

Tourism is the main source of income for most domesticated elephants and with the pandemic lasting longer that any of us could have imagined, these loving creatures and their caretakers (Mahouts) are in need of funds for the basics, such as food, maintenance of the sanctuary and veterinary care.
If you would like to help, please go to our website and select something you might like to purchase - either for yourself or as a gift for someone else - where the sales margin will be returned to the The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to support basic care, their latest rescued elephantvets and multiple external projects
People can postpone their travel, 
but the elephants still need to eat.

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