Pretty Woman, our own modern fairy tale gone wrong. Richard Gere, played in real life by some guy called Pete, is now a travel writer, not liquidator of businesses, who visits a sleazy go-go bar in Bangkok, and falls in love with the ankle boots which adorn the otherwise naked body (yeah right, of course he was looking at the boots, not the boobs) of Joy, pretty girl who plays Julia Roberts. Here’s where the fairy tale diverges.
He falls head over heels in love with her, and she plays along, siphoning money from him, until he winds up the target of a hired killer, and dies on the streets of Bangkok. Not quite the end I was expecting.
Stephen Leather chronicles the beginning to the end of this torrid affair between Pete, Joy, her family and his friends. Through the firsthand accounts of these people, we grasp an idea of the events that occur.
An ugly picture is painted of the Bangkok prostitution scene, mostly through the eyes of the farang, or white men. In Private Dancer, the expatriates are seen to be the victims of circumstances, of Thai women and the Thai men they keep, and of course not forgetting Hollywood, for if it never produced “Pretty Woman”, who would begin to dream of true love with a hooker?
Leather does a bit to justify the plight of the women involved, but at the same time, pits them as the cause of countless scams and scandals of many Westerners who visit Thailand’s red-light district. While of course,
I’m not saying that the women have no responsibility in this issue, still, if a foreigner is stupid enough to believe the words of someone who will say “I love you” after you’ve paid them for sex, I say, play them for whatever you can get out of them. And hope I never fall for these cheap parlour tricks.
Well, the bonus of reading this book (at least for the single men) is that you become very familiar with the red-light district as of 1996. (I’ll verify its accuracy in a few weeks, and get back to you. I’m very dedicated to my job.) Leather uses real names, real places, real stories as he looks at the follies of foreign men in Thailand, whether they are aware of it or not. Every character in the book is scammed by these women, and it certainly adds a level of amusement to the book, although it isn’t quite Ulysses, not by far.
Still, the methods of these bargirls are impressive. The Chinese have a saying for women, “First is to cry, second to go into hysterics, and third to suicide." Not quite as poetic in English, but you get the gist. And since the silly tourists are so willing to think with their dicks than their other head, everybody wins if you play along.
Through one of his characters, the author asks an interesting question: Did Joy love Pete? Who can say? Maybe, maybe not. It brings to consideration one of the age-old questions of all time: what is love? And what will a man do for love, or what he thinks is love?
All in all, Private Dancer is a fascinating read, a look into the Thai scene of bargirls and white men. Still, considering all the events that occur in the book, perhaps the book should have been titled Not-so-Private Dancer. I’m just looking forward to the Thai reply of this book, Of Stupid White Men.