Ping pong show
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A ping pong show is a form of stage entertainment that takes place in strip clubs. The show consists of women using their pelvic muscles to either hold, eject, or blow objects from their vaginal cavity. Ping pong balls are the most iconic objects used. The show has been popular in Southeast Asia (particularly Bangkok, Thailand) for several decades, and is primarily performed for foreign tourists. The show is in many cases associated with sex tourism and human rights and animal rights concerns have been raised regarding the performers.
The show typically takes place on a stage or dance platform and often involve a single performer. Usually she performs while lying on her back, although some variations involve a standing performer. The earliest versions of the show involved ping pong balls, but diverse other objects have since been used in the performance. They include long strings, whistles, pens, cigarettes, candles, darts, spinning tops, bottles, firecrackers, razor blades, and chopsticks. A male member of the audience may be brought onto the dance platform to hold a balloon while a dart is shot at it, or the girl may do a shoot around the table at balloons tied to each customer's chair. Another activity is the shooting of goldfish into a bowl, or stuffing a rather large frog inside to see how long she can keep it in.
The popularity of ping pong shows in Thailand dates back to the early 1980s and a show is featured in the 1976 sexploitation film Emanuelle in Bangkok. The shows are officially prohibited under the obscenity legislation of Thai law, and in 2004 the government further limited what is permitted. Nevertheless, demand from foreign tourists and local police corruption usually results in the practice being implicitly condoned by Thai officials. Many women working at ping pong shows are also prostitutes. Although prostitution in Thailand is not strictly illegal, publicly soliciting and creating a nuisance is.
Customers are brought in by employees working for the ping-pong shows. They approach tourists and passers-by in streets such as Bangkok's Khaosan Road during the late evening and ask them if they want to see a show. They are frequently shown pictures of the show in a booklet. The shows take place on the upper floors of bars and strip clubs in locations such as Bangkok's entertainment district Patpong, while bikini-clad women dance in the ground floor bars. Once customers are inside, instead of a cover charge, the drinks are priced 3–4 times higher than usual and a purchase is required. It has also been reported that there may be an arbitrary "exit fee" if not enough was spent. This is in line with the tactics of the usual ping pong show, where customers are borderline coerced for "tips" at least once every minute.
The Laotian capital Vientiane was once famous for its brothels and ping-pong-show bars during the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the country's involvement in the Vietnam War. Travel writer Paul Theroux described a bar in 1973 Vientiane thus: “Your eyes get accustomed to the dark and you see the waitress is naked. Without warning she jumps on the chair, pokes a cigarette into her vagina and lights it, puffing it by contracting her uterine lungs." British journalist Christopher Robbins wrote that The White Rose, a famous Vientiane bar during the war, featured floor shows in which women used their vaginas to smoke cigarettes and fling ping pong balls. Such shows have since disappeared and brothels are now prohibited by Laotian law.
Human rights concerns
The ping pong show is designed to get people talking about it so that people will come to the bar to see it. Often customers come only to see the show and leave when it is over. This is good business for the bar, which makes much of its profits from drinks. However, the majority of the bar workers do not participate in the show. Research published in 2002 indicated that most bar workers regard the show as bad for business and do not like it. Many bar workers consider the show to be low-class and in bad taste, boring as it is the same every night, and liable to take attention away from the bar workers by focussing on the acts.
An article in 2009 described an example of the working conditions of women at ping pong shows. The employees arrived at 18:00 and left at daybreak. They stamped a time card and were penalized 5 baht (US$0.14) for every minute they were late. Each month, they received two nights of leave and, if they did not miss any additional nights, they earned a salary of 6,000 baht (US$181), supplemented by tips. In 2015 the average monthly income in Thailand was $489, according to the International Labour Organization.
Some human rights organizations (such as Not For Sale) denounce ping pong shows as inherently misogynistic. "The attitude that [sex work in places like ping pong shows] is empowering gives a green light to traffickers. We're trying to fight the commercial sex trade, not empower the sex trade," says Taina Bien-Aime of Equality Now. Performers in ping pong shows are often trafficked from poorer neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Laos. Thai women who work in the shows had often worked in factories before being laid off during an economic downturn. "Working 14 hours [a day] in a factory or blowing ping pong balls out of your vagina should not be a person's only choices in life," says Bien-Aime. Although no pain or suffering is generally experienced by female performers during the show, there have been rare accidents in which performers have been seriously and irreparably injured. The inclusion of a ping pong show scene in the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert led to the film being criticised on the grounds of sexism and racism.
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