ILLUSTRATAIONS: 123rf; ART: Kanokthip Khunteeraprasert
The woman gyrates in front of the camera from the comfort of her little room in the Bangkok suburbs.
She is no more than 21 or 22. She is dressed in a polka-dot bikini top that reminds me of Katy Perry. She’s also wearing hoop earrings and way, way too much make-up.
As she chats she thrusts her breasts towards the camera. She pouts, stares doe-eyed, then starts jiggling again along with her animated speech. Her shoulders heave and stretch, and now and again her myriad bracelets clink as she brings a hand, festooned in bright red nail polish, up to casually rest in her cleavage.
No, dear reader, this is not a pornographic video picked up from that DVD vendor on Silom right at the foot of the stairs to the Sala Daeng BTS station. This is Facebook Live. Her name is Nong Gift, and she is selling sunglasses.
She has a live audience of 800 people when I stumble across her. This irks me, because anytime I’ve done a Facebook Live English lesson, I have never had more than 500 people. Could it be that people prefer pornography to English lessons? Perish the thought!
An audience of 800 is more than she will ever get standing at a stall flogging sunglasses at Chatuchak.
Nong Gift may not be the ideal Thai girl to bring home to introduce to mother, but she is well-known.
She is what Thais call a “net idol”. She comes onto Facebook live around 9pm every night wearing something skimpy, then proceeds to sell sunglasses to an audience of predominantly men. That audience has one hand on their smartphone, and I have a good idea where the other one is.
Nong Gift is now tapping her breasts absent-mindedly with that pair of dark sunglasses.
“It’s a great buy at just 499 baht and I’ve only got three of them left,” she says, smiling a little too teasingly. “You’d better hurry! Just write jong [order] in the comments box and a pair is yours! Well thank you Charn-narong, you have the first pair. Only two more left. Ronnachai gets the next pair — who is lucky last? Girls will just love you if you wear these — they’re perfect for guys who haven’t been lucky in love. Well too late everybody! Somkid just bought the last pair! Now … what else do I have for you today?”
Charn-narong. Ronnachai. Somkid. I close my eyes and imagine three lonely Thai guys lying on cheap mattresses in tiny rented rooms, unlucky in love, torn between having enough money to pay the rent and Nong Gift’s breasts. And the latter conquered.
Nong Gift wasn’t the only net idol I watched that night a month or so ago, but she was certainly one of the more — how shall we put it –titillating. Each net idol entertains in their own special way; if they haven’t won the gene pool lottery like Nong Gift has, then they are wacky over the top types, or more earnest personas.
There is an entire slab of the young Thai generation that no longer sits in front of the TV. Instead, they trawl YouTube and Facebook watching net idols such as Nong Gift sell their wares.
This is the definition of a “net idol” in Thailand. We called them “shop assistants” back in the olden days. They no longer stand behind counters filing their nails; they go live on the internet with “TV shows” devoted to selling products. This makes me pine for the good old days when television was restricted to 13 minutes an hour for ads. Nong Gift’s homemade show features 60 minutes of ads per hour … and still she gets more hits than me! What’s she got that I haven’t?
Other net idols sell cosmetics, cameras, shoes, hair growth serum, clothing, soap, acne cream … everything their parents’ generation used to find in a shopping mall or at Chatuchak.
I have no idea if, on that night I channel-surfed those net idols, I chanced across Nong Preaw, the cosmetics-selling net idol from Khon Kaen who captivated the nation this past week. Though Nong Preaw didn’t captivate the nation selling cosmetics.
Her real name is Preeyanuch Nonwangchai, but she is better known in the Thai media by the cute moniker Nong Preaw. “Nong” means “little sister”. “Preaw” sounds a little like the city of Rio with a “B” in front of it. It means “sour”, but in an idiomatic sense it means someone trendy, fashionable and edgy.
Our trendy and edgy Nong Preaw was a net idol with a strong following … before allegedly strangling a female friend to death, chopping up her into little pieces and burying her in a forest. Net idol one day, fugitive the next.
She escaped into Myanmar, got arrested there, then got sent back to Bangkok via the Chiang Rai police. Her every move was televised live on Facebook.
Why? Why was Nong Preaw suddenly the hottest commodity in the online world?
She is the Kim Kardashian of Thailand — beautiful, talentless, and catapulted to stardom for actions considered less than salubrious.
But it’s the beauty aspect that pulled everybody in. Preaw is a femme fatale who became a personality for the sole reason she was so damned attractive. For a few days there we even forgot she hacked her friend to pieces with a saw.
It was Thailand’s equivalent of following OJ Simpson in his car along the freeway. Thanks to Facebook Live, one could tune into the Preaw saga almost 24 hours a day. Even the cops in Chiang Rai fell under her spell and afforded her all sorts of luxuries, in between taking selfies with her.
Why did Thailand stop for this and not, for example, Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement? That happened the same day Nong Preaw fled the country. The London terrorist attack hardly merited a blip over here either, since it happened the day Nong Preaw was located and arrested by Myanmar police.
Did you read about the novice monk who was brutally murdered, then buried in temple grounds with a concrete path poured over the top of his body? Police investigating the incident came across a locked room. Inside was the 78-year-old abbot of the temple who’d been kept hostage in those quarters for two years with temple officials feeding him every day. Nong Preaw even smothered that story!
In these modern times, entertainment has morphed into amateurish sex shows in order to sell sunglasses, or Facebook Live reality shows of beautiful young fugitives chatting like friends to the arresting cops.
And speaking of online sales …
It appears our soldiers are emulating the Nong Gifts and Preaws of the online shopping world. Two airforce personnel were arrested this week after setting up their own little online shop … selling weapons of war. You may have missed that story; it was the day Nong Preaw held a press conference.
I wonder if the troops employed the same sales strategy as Nong Gift.
“Now just look at this long, sleek AK rifle in my hands, and if you order within the next 60 seconds, I’m gonna throw in a bag of M67 grenades. Charn-narong just purchased the first one! Good choice, Charn-narong, the girls are gonna love you with that rifle slung over your shoulder. Ronnachai too! Just one left. Come on guys! A great long rifle makes up for any shortcomings you may have elsewhere — well would you look at that! Somkid’s in!” n