Some pairings in life seem odd at first glance, but make perfect sense upon closer inspection.
Peanut butter and jelly for example. Or the phenomenal harmonisation of OG mumble rapper Jay Chou and operatic-crooner Fei Yu Qing. And if you believe the legion of Singaporean men who frequent Thai discos or siam dius every other night: Singaporean men and Thai women (colloquially termed ‘siam bus’).
When Singaporean men realised they might actually have a shot with these beautiful entertainers-cum-hostesses, they flocked to siam dius in droves because where there’s hot girl, there’s horny man. But sometimes, horny man actually falls in love.
As siam bus make a living off the law of attraction, their modus operandi includes making every single one of their guests feel special by giving them the “girlfriend experience”. And feeling like a gorgeous lady’s chosen one is one hell of a drug, strong enough to make one forget they’re still a sucker being played.
As a result, they fall madly in love with nothing more than an illusion, making it rain, and doing crazy things in the name of “love”. They can even become so infatuated—or “gong taos”—that other than waiting for them to snap out of it, there’s literally nothing anyone can do to put an end to their ridiculous actions.
Having personally never understood the allure of Thai clubs, I got in touch with the help desk for a crash course in gong tao kias, siam dius/bus, and everything in between.
As the admin of the page frequently travels between provinces in Thailand (yes, really), he gives me the low-down via email.
GTHD: Sawadikap Justin. The job scope of a siam bu ranges from entertaining and accompanying patrons to singing and dancing. In appreciation, patrons tip the girls in the form of flower sashes or drinks such as shots or waterfalls.
Gong tao (降头) is a Hokkien dialect term that Southeast Asians use for black magic. However, nowadays I believe we use the term so casually that it’s changed from meaning literal black magic to somebody who is smitten with someone to the point where he or she starts to do ridiculous things in the name of love.
Being gong tao-ed is just like having body odour, everybody around you knows you have it but you don’t realise it yourself. Being called a “gong tao kia” isn’t exactly an endearing term. It’s what you’d use to scold your friend for doing something stupid because he’s in love, such as waking up at 3 in the morning to drive to a Thai club in order to fetch his siam bu from work, despite the fact that he has to be in the office at 9 AM. That’s a perfect case of being a gong tao kia.
Justin: Can you tell me the story of why you created GTHD? How do you know so much about being a gong tao kia and siam dius?
GTHD: It all started when I had a terrible hangover one Friday morning and couldn’t get any work done. Instead of resting, however, I decided to mess around with Photoshop. One thing led to another and Gong Tao Help Desk was born. I’ve been frequenting Thai discos for roughly 7 years so I’m not exactly a newbie to the scene. I guess that’s why I have a decent amount of knowledge regarding siam dius.
GTHD: Thai women tend to be more family-oriented as compared to their Singaporean counterparts who’re more focused on their career.
I wouldn’t say Thai women are more jealous or controlling but I have a friend who had to install a tracking app on his phone. There was once where he merely drove past Parklane Mall (an area that’s a hotbed of siam dius & KTVs) and his then-girlfriend immediately called to question him on his whereabouts and what he was doing. I also had a friend whose girlfriend had access to his apartment’s security camera. I was there once and when I showed him a picture of a girl on my phone, his girlfriend called a mere 30 seconds later asking him who the girl in the photo was!
I think a number of Singaporean men go for Thai ladies not because they have no luck with Singaporean women, but because they just prefer the type of love that Singaporean women cannot or may not be willing to offer.
And for the guys who are Thai club regulars, as the saying goes, “Siam diu for life, Siam bu for wife.”
Justin: It seems like siam bus are all about money. Is that accurate? Are there other misconceptions about them?
GTHD: To be fair, the main reason they come to Singapore is work so I’d say money definitely is an important factor to them.
That said, they’re not obligated to sleep with you just because you hang a flower sash or buy them out—paying a certain amount of money to the club (eg. $500) which then allows the girl to leave with you to do anything such as going for dinner, going to another club or just simply chilling.
I mean, you can always go to a brothel if you’re just looking for meaningless sex.
But we have to keep in mind that at the end of the day, just like us, they’re also human beings with feelings. So it’s not entirely impossible for a siam bu to want to go back with you regardless of whether you spend on them or not.
These cases, however, are far and few between.
GTHD: The worst case I’ve seen firsthand would be this guy who couldn’t afford a cab and would walk from Serangoon all the way to Parklane Mall at Dhoby Ghaut almost every day. He’d reach by 3 AM just for a chance to see his “girlfriend” before she either cabs home with her sisters, heads to another club, or haves supper with one of her customers.
Poor guy couldn’t take a hint.
Justin: And some of the most common questions/issues you get asked for advice about? What are the common situations those who kena gong tao find themselves in?
GTHD: I always receive messages from concerned friends claiming that their friend might be gong tao-ed just because said friend went a little overboard hanging flowers. I have to constantly reiterate and remind that I’m just somebody who has Photoshop and a huge chunk of time!
Contrary to popular belief I am not well-versed in the art of black magic. However, there have been a few legitimate cases of real black magic being cast on their partners and the best I could do was to refer them to a family lawyer and spirit medium.
A few common traits that those who kena gong tao exhibit would be a sudden change of behaviour for the worse: easily irritated, looking haggard and tired all the time, giving off a “zombie” vibe, inciting drastic actions such as threatening divorce or violence towards loved ones such as children, and suspicious bank transactions.
GTHD: That’s not true at all. Casting black magic on a specific person requires a lot more effort such as collecting locks of hair, fingernails, blood or birth date. It would often take an experienced sorcerer to cast and invoke a real black magic spell which would involve items such as effigies or even ashes of the dead. That’s the price you have to pay if you ever want to dabble with these.
I could write a book if I had to list out every do and don’t to prevent getting gong tao-ed by a siam bu, but the general consensus is to just be wary and listen to your gut if feels like something is wrong, such as not readily accepting gifts like amulets or ornaments from a siam bu you don’t know well.
If today’s the first day you met her and she tries to give you a necklace to wear, don’t do it. Don’t be an idiot…
Justin: Is there any way to tell if a siam bu is genuinely interested in me? What do I look out for? How do I know I’m special? Please tell me how I should “force-prep” for love!
GTHD: A siam bu’s time in Singapore is very precious so if she tells you that she will always be available to meet you no matter what, chances are that her feelings for you are genuine. If she perpetually gives you excuses for not meeting, (i.e “just wake up”, “need bring sister to see doctor”, “agent don’t let me go out”), then she’s just not that into you. And no, just because she video calls and introduces you to her family doesn’t mean that she’s interested in you. That’s just one of the many tricks they employ to trick you deeper into love.
Unfortunately, there’s no concrete step-by-step plan on how to force-prep for love, but both parties have to achieve a mutual level of understanding and respect for the cultural differences that will come in the coming months.
GTHD: Yeah, I believe that love between a Singaporean man and a siam bu can thrive. I don’t think there are any conditions to be met but obviously, the universal rules still apply—don’t be a cheebye and cheat. And if you cheat, you better don’t get caught. Not that I encourage cheating, of course.
Justin: Okay, last question: is being a gong tao kia always or so bad? Won’t it make you a better husband/father since you’re so devoted to your girlfriend/wife?
GTHD: It’s ok to be gong tao-ed once in a while, In fact, I admit that sometimes, I would willingly get myself smitten just to experience the “honeymoon” period of a relationship. The fact that the siam bus come and go so quickly means heartbreak comes fast but it ends fast as well because before you know it, another batch of girls are here waiting to be loved.
Being a gong tao is only bad if it affects other parts of your life. For example, performing badly in your job, causing estrangement between your family members and yourself, emptied savings, and having to starve because you spend so much on flowers.
I don’t think it would make you a better husband/father as that sort of devotion is akin to being a follower. What siam bus need in their life is a tough pillar that doesn’t sway like a lalang grass.
With the advent of international and cross-cultural marriages, and seeing that they’re on the rise, I believe the next generation of siam kias will be the ones who will bridge the cultures between Singapore and Thailand.
Sadly, you and I are born too early to be the change, just in time to see it.