When Khun Roren installed a “used panty” vending machine just inside the front door of the Black Pagoda bar, he knew it would probably be a hit with his Japanese male customers. What he couldn’t have predicted, as your WoWasis correspondent discovered, was that western women would buy more of these aromatic panties that all the Japanese customers combined.
Located on Bangkok’s Patpong II, Black Pagoda is a club where music, art, and go-go all cross, in a pastiche that’s unique in a city that’s formidably unique. Having seen a panty vending machine in Tokyo, Khun Roren installed one on-premise. It’s something of a cooperative venture with his go-go dancers, who provide the basic material. It’s hard not to miss the vending machine. It says “Bangkok Pagoda Pantie Machine: Fresh Hot Used Bangkok Panties.”
The panties are beautifully packaged, labeled, and documented. The name and a photo of the dancer is provided, along with the date last worn, the number of days worn, the body perfume the dancer uses, and whether she’s shaved or not. The ultimate is a package with a red dot that indicates that the dancer was on her period when they were worn. The level of data is extraordinary, “kind of like baseball cards,” notes Khun Roren. Each package carries a lipstick print of the lady on the cover, too.
“I’ve really got to refill the machine, we’ve just about been bought out,” Khun Roren continues. The Black Pagoda has become something of a draw for western lesbians, who are among the biggest customers of the panty machine. “But it’s not just the lesbians,” he says. “Western women come in with their boyfriends and buy them as souvenirs. Khun Roren, who sells the packaged panties for 300 baht (about $10 USD) a unit, gives 100 baht of the profit to the dancer, along with a new pair of panties to be worn. “Extra profit for the dancers,” he says. Everyone wins, especially the lady who now has less to do on laundry day. Dancers like Nan think it’s all part of Thailand “sanuk,” and she even flashes a “V” for victory sign, thinking about the additional baht going into her pocket.
It’s not just about fragrant panties, though. It’s readily apparent than Khun Roren is an archivist. “I’ve got a back-stock of 300-400 pair ready to go into the machine, but I have another thousand that will never be sold. They are in the permanent collection.” Thus, he’s morphed, quite accidentally, into the world of the archivist, with metadata meticulously collected and referenced to each pair. In terms of displaying this archival material, he’s looking at building a wall to artistically display the finest in the collection.
Unlike archivists working for educational institutions, he doesn’t have to worry about endless arguments on the subject of what to keep and what to de-accession. Filmmaker John Waters famously used “odorama” cards to accent one of his films: scratch, sniff, and enjoy the experience. One wonders whether this technology can be that far off in Khun Roren’s world of “underwonders.” He smiles, with the look of a man with the Mother Lode all to himself. With an eye to keeping the best material for the archive, he can de-accession at will, fill the machine with old classics, and cook up new candidates with just several days’ notice.