What It's Like to Work in a Thai Massage Parlour
"I've often had men threaten me, when I told them we don't give happy endings."
This article originally appeared on VICE Sweden
Two weeks ago, Stockholm police raided a local Thai massage parlour and arrested its 38-year-owner. Police suspect that about 40 of Stockholm's 300 Thai massage parlours are involved in illegal sex work by offering happy endings and massages to customers' private parts. Although selling sex isn't illegal in Sweden, paying for sex and running a brothel are.
While Thai massage parlours in Sweden are more often than not associated with sexual services, the majority of them obviously have done nothing to deserve that image. There's a Thai massage parlour next door to my flat, so I spent an afternoon there and spoke to its owner – a woman called Pin – to understand what it's like to run a clean business when some of your customers expect something else from you.
When I opened my first parlour, I couldn't imagine how shitty it was going to be. For the first two years, on a daily basis, I would receive phone calls and visits from men who were asking if we offered "happy endings". I was very naive back then and didn't understand what they were talking about. When I found out, I was shocked and disgusted. Soon these kinds of requests became just another part of the job.
Now, I own two Thai massage parlours in Stockholm. The first one opened 11 years ago and the second 18 months ago. Every day, I get up at 6 AM, and make sure everything is in order at home before I get ready for work. I say goodbye to my two teenage daughters, and take a taxi to work. I get there at 9AM.
My employees come in from 9:30 AM and together we get the parlour ready. We stock the shelves with ginger tea, massage oils and clean towels. At 10AM the first customers drop in. As my girls don't speak Swedish, I handle the bookings. Since I have two places to worry about, my phone rings all the time. Our standard massage costs 500 SEK [£45], but we also have a jacuzzi, sauna and manicure area.
At the newest parlour, I have four full-time masseurs and at least two interns at all times. I cook lunch every day at work and we take turns to eat. My parlours are open until 8PM, so I spend all my time rushing between the parlours. I go home at around 9:30 PM.
I started this business not only because I'm good at what I do, but also because I wanted to offer people, mostly couples, a time to relax. I'd say 90 percent of my customers are women, athletes or couples.
I'm originally from the North East of Thailand, and so are most of my employees. People from this area are known to be hard-working and dedicated. Thai massage is an ancient healing system – it's a respected practice that I'm proud to be part of. A traditional Thai massage practitioner is required to complete 800 hours of training before they get their diploma. I train my employees for free. We're like a big family, cheesy as that may sound.
But things weren't always this peaceful. When I opened my first parlour, I had no idea what I was getting into. I've had guys coming in asking for blowjobs, wanks or getting completely undressed ahead of the massage. I've received phone calls from strangers in the middle of the night. My two daughters have been affected by all this as well. They quickly had to learn not to answer calls from unknown numbers. Sometimes I let my ex-husband answer the phone so he would scare them off. I've often had men threaten me, when I told them we don't give happy endings. They say they'll write bad reviews about my parlour online. I've reported some of them to the police, but nothing has happened.
I don't blame parlours that do offer sexual services. There are women there in vulnerable positions – women who come from nothing, own nothing and have families they need to support. I don't think the women who get caught for performing sexual services are the reason that my line of work has a bad reputation. I think the problem is a combination of men, the police and the media.
It's sad how something I'm so deeply proud of is considered a dirty business in Scandinavia. There are over 300 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and the police suspect that around 40 of these offer happy endings. Although that's a lot, it's not the majority.
Of course this whole situation is related to Thailand's reputation for sex tourism. In a way, Thailand has become a holiday destination for the perverted. It's something that's been brought back to Sweden, resulting in the idea that all Thai massage parlours offer sexual services.
Every time news emerges about prostitution at a Thai massage parlour, I know I will start receiving strange phone calls again. I have to ride out the wave until it dies down, but they'll be another incident again soon. It seems to me that these news stories are published for entertainment purposes only – not to change things and protect us. My employees know they are safe when they work for me but they've also told me many horror stories regarding places they worked at before.
Even though the situation is much calmer now, my job has been both a blessing and a curse. That's why I wouldn't want my daughters to choose this line of work. I hope my work will pay off and give them a bright future. After all, I'm only doing this for my kids.