LETTER FROM BANGKOK
A sign of the times, Patpong, Bangkok’s girly bar district, now has its own museum. Because the three alleys of the emblematic place of the “gogo bar” are but a shadow of themselves: posters hang here and there from the facades corroded by humidity. The Madrid Bar is entrenched. A homeless man has spread out his mat in front of Glamor’s iron curtain. Patpong, in a coma, has not recovered from Covid-19. Nearby department store construction sites threaten their survival. The Patpong Museum, which had opened in October 2019, just before Covid-19, and had been less affected by health regulations than drinking establishments, is usually the only buzz.
The museum is the brainchild of an Austrian, Michael Messner, who landed in Bangkok in 2001 at the age of 22. There he opened several bars under the wing of the district godfather, a protégé of high-ranking army officers. The economic model of prostitution in Patpong has flourished thanks to a gray area of the law: the girls make drinks for the client, who pays a fixed price at the bar if he goes with the lady. Then it is up to them to negotiate their prices with complete discretion. Key money is often sold at exorbitant prices to foreigners. The forty-year-old Austrian has held shares in the nightlife industry, but Covid-19 has finally decided him to dedicate himself to his passion: the history of Patpong, those few streets that are still privately owned by the family of the same name. His museum brings together thousands of files, photos and objects.
It all started with a young Chinese man, Tun Poon, who arrived from Hainan at the end of the 19th century.me century. He took over his rice business from a relative in Bangkok and made his fortune by recovering from farmers a derivative of rice husks, which was used in the then-thriving cement industry. His ingenuity was rewarded by King Rama VII: he ennobled him in 1927 with the name Patpongpanich, shortened to Patpong.
Sent to the United States during World War II, his sons joined the Thai resistance movement in exile against the occupying Japanese. They were trained by the US Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA in 1947. They returned to Thailand in 1945 via Sri Lanka accompanied by an American intelligence officer, one Jim Thomson, who served in Bangkok. as an undercover hotel manager and silk entrepreneur. , until his mysterious disappearance in 1967.
With the war in Vietnam, Patpong collapses
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