Palad khik (token penises, commonly carved from wood) are used in a ritual that takes place nightly in many go-go bars in Bangkok, and derives from Brahmanistic tradition. Here, in the tam sak (make pestle) rite, the palad khik is knocked against tables, chairs, poles, walls and doorjambs, is passed through the legs of girls who are desirous of finding success in love, and spun in a manner to rest pointing at a dancer or waitress who could be destined to find her future that evening.
The palad khik used in this ritual must have originally been a pestle stolen from the mortar of a widow. The pestle becomes a relic that remains on the hing (altar) of the bar, until removed to perform tam sak. It has now gained the status of possessor of magic, it is waiied (bowed to), given garlands and incense, and protected from theft or mishap.
To begin, the woman initiating the ritual lights incense at the hing, waiing while holding the joss sticks between her hands. She removes the palad khik, then dips it in a glass of liquid, typically Mekhong whisky and sugar (it is believed that the inclusion of the alcoholic beverage will cause customers to drink more, and spend more money in the company of the girls). She then repeatedly dips the palad khik in the glass, stiking it against all four sides of the door frame of the entrance to the bar. She then tosses the contents of the glass over her shoulder, and out the door of the bar. After refilling the glass, she returns a turns her attentions inward. Standing again inside the door frame, she bends over, opens her legs, and rapidly passes the glass of alcohol and the palad khik around her thighs, several times. Several girls line up behind her, and they all bend over, each holding the girl in front of her by the hips. The girl who initiated the ritual now tosses the remainder of the sugared alcohol through her legs, and outside the bar.
She proceeds inside, where she begins to knock the palad khik against chairs, tables, the stage, and the bar. Next, she takes the lead in a lineup group of girls in skirts, each holding the hips of the girl in front of her. While the girls’ hips gyrate, the lead girl, using the palad khik as a stylus, repeatedly draws representations of male genitalia on the floor, using a repeating series of circular motifs. The leader now shoots the palad khik backward along the floor, through the legs of each girl, finally coming to rest against a far wall. The palad khik is retrieved, more nearby objects are knocked with the palad khik, and the line-up process continues several times more, until the interior parameter of the bar has been circumnavigated.
Up until now, the participants have been relatively small in number. The dancers, meanwhile have been on stage, dancing to music, casually ignoring the tam sak ceremony. Their turns have arrived. The lead girl has now jumps on the circular, revolving stage, the dancers fanning out in a 360 degree arc. The girl spins the palad khik, and the bulbous head eventually comes to a stop, pointed in the direction of one of the dancers. The girls all scream… chok dee, Good Luck! The girl is high-fived by her colleagues. Twice more, the palad khik is spun. On the second round, the palad khik luckily points to the same dancer, who now has twice the fortune.
After the third spin, the lead girl jumps off stage, and begins to bounce the palad khik against the white board upon which girls who are selected by customers for the evening will have their names placed. She then moves to the tip jar, located near the front door, and repeatedly thrusts the palad khik into the jar. Then, she removes money from the jar, places it to her forehead, then rubs the money against her chest, several times. She knocks the palad khik inside the bar’s cash drawer, being careful to touch every slot. The ritual finished, she returns the palad khik to the hing, and the ritual is complete.
This Brahmanistic ritual celebrates sexual regeneration, and is metaphorically rich, from the use of a pestle to the open legs of the participants, through which the phallic symbol must pass. It occurs at many Bangkok bars, and most girls are active participants in at least some form of the ritual, even those who don’t believe in the precept. The fact that men have the traditional responsibility of taking care of women ensures that tam sak will continue to be performed at adult venues for the foreseeable future. This forms the basis in value for tam sak, as female employees of the bars seek their own financial well-being, and that of their families. The ritual of tam sak carries the hopeful promise that the woman who is favored by the lucky spin will tonight meet a wealthy and kind man, with whom she can chart a future.