Asia’s a unique place, for a variety of reasons. It’s also a huge place with a variety of culture, both indigenous as well as adapted. This is to say that while you will find “Lady KTV” in Taiwan and China, you will not see “Gogo Bars” like you do in the Philippines and Thailand. To me, the most unique nightlife offering, popularized by Japan, is “The Talking Bar.”
Talking Bars are popular in Japan, but since Taiwan does so much business with Japan and has so many Japanese travelers that come here, Talking Bars are for more common than strip clubs (which are often illegal and only found outside major cities). While most popular with the Japanese, Taiwanese will also frequent them. Knowing the owner of a Talking Bar here in Taichung, I have a better insight than most Westerners, on this subject; it is extremely rare that a Westerner would go to a Talking Bar, for a variety of reasons.
First: what is a Talking Bar? Simply put, a Talking Bar is a place where a person can go to drink in the company of a woman – guaranteed drinking companionship. The process is fairly simple. A client goes to the Talking Bar and buys a bottle for $2000NT ($65US), minimum. The bottle will be labeled as theirs and there is no obligation to finish it. In fact, many Talking Bars prefer clients to not finish the bottle, as they can charge a small entry fee each time the customer visits and still has a bottle on the shelf.
So, you walk in, you order your bottle of (usually) Scotch whiskey, and then you take a seat. The bottle is delivered by a girl, but instead of waitressing it, she acts as a hostess for your private party. Sometimes beautiful but always quick-tongued, a Talking Bar hostess brings a style that is absent in much of Japanese and Taiwanese culture. She’ll crack dirty jokes – she’ll actively flirt – some will act tough and some will act coquettish, but all will do their best to entertain their clients as they drink.
These girls are not whores. This is not the same as going to a Lady KTV, where you order certain girls for a “good time” for two hours. This is not a Gogo Bar, where you can order girls for the night by paying a “bar fine” (i.e. paying their pimp). You know, going in, that the girl is not leaving the bar with you. You also know that, if the girl isn’t entertaining in the ways you would like, you can pass her off to the next table and a new girl will replace her, as one becomes available.
One reason this isn’t popular with Westerners is that, for one thing, we’re used to girls cracking dirty jokes and talking trash and flirting – this is normal bar-fare, for most anyone from a Western nation. Beyond that, there is no “payoff,” in standard Western terms. The general consensus among Westerners is, “Why would I pay for an overpriced bottle of whiskey just to have a girl talk to me?” And even beyond that idea, many Westerners with an Asian Fetish (aka “Yellow Fever”) are looking for a girl that appears to conform to traditional standards of behavior – most white guys are looking for sweet submissive girls, not cheeky spitfires. So that is simply that.
The main difference between the Taiwanese and the Japanese is that there are more Japanese than Taiwanese…and the Taiwanese tip better, for whatever reason (as there is otherwise no tipping in Taiwan). Guys can act “themselves” and crack jokes, make perverted comments, and girls will conform to what they are wanting – perhaps to act offended and fire back with something of their own – perhaps to act interested – perhaps to act aloof. Even with the lower demand for “traditional girls” in Talking Bars, they do exist, simply to fill a need – but, no truly traditional girl would ever work in a Talking Bar – these girls are all entertainers, plain and simple.
To be fair, the same can be said for strippers. The real difference between a stripper and a hostess is really just in how much they talk versus how much clothing they take off. Some strippers are happy to talk and some hostesses are happy to take off some clothing, but the primary emphasis of their jobs is what it is: strippers strip and hostesses talk. What’s interesting is that the same problems you’d find in a staff of strippers, you find in with a staff of hostesses.
Owners of either establishment have the same issues: good help is hard to find and, when it is found, it tends to have an attitude that isn’t necessarily conducive to doing business. This is to say that most girls don’t have an interest in being a hostess, because there is still a “naughty” connotation within society (which is part of its allure to Asian men), so finding enough asses to fill the seats is a constant struggle. And once you find a girl who is comfortable with the job, you will have to eventually deal with her getting too big for her britches and thinking that the bar needs her more than she needs the bar…which is understandable, given the problem Talking Bar owners have hiring/keeping staff. The on-site drama is what you’d expect from any job with a sales quota: the better a girl is at entertaining, the more in-demand she is to repeat-clients, and the more money she is inevitably going to make. This brings about everything from jealousy to admiration. Imagine a highly competitive sales firm staffed only by women and selling only to men. Now add liquor.
This is the long-and-short of the ins-and-outs of your average Talking Bar. It’s not what most people think, but on some levels, it is. Most Talking Bars pay hostesses around $200NT/hour, almost double the minimum wage – with tips on top of it, a girl working eight-hour shifts five days a week can make some very decent scratch: if that girl works hard, she can make around $40,000NT/month, which is significantly more than many of her peers who work ten-to-twelve hours a day in an office. While the social stigma is a powerful deterrent, the financial appeal is certainly an attraction. As with anything, it’s all about supply and demand, and as long as there’s a demand, there will always be a supply.
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