Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prostitutes, Part 3: The Clients

The first topic Will discussed when we walked home from our shared workplace was how difficult it is to get a “good English breakfast, with proper sausages” in Vietnam. Since it was our first conversation, I declined to mention that, in my experience, the best place to get an English breakfast is England.

Now that he was on the topic of England (his home country, I need not mention), he expanded, going on to tell me about how fantastic it is – but only his county, called Shropwood or Devonrockham or some other absurdity; either way, he was aghast that I was unfamiliar with it. The rest of Britain, according to him, was “a bunch of lower-class football-playing louts with horrendous accents and names like Wayne.” His county was a  magical place, where one could enjoy “cheese, wine, and the BBC.” 

As he said this, I glanced at him and noticed that he talks with his hands perpetually raised to chest level, with his palms out. I guess it’s an upper class thing that I don’t understand, but as a firm citizen of the upper middle class, it just seemed wanky and pretentious to me.

As we crossed the street, he leaned his face towards a motorbike that had slighted him in some way, and screamed “FUCK OFF”.  Looking back up to my rather embarrassed face, he jumped into topic number three and said “yes, anyway I’ve only fucked two whores since I’ve been here.” 

Startled, I shuffled and mumbled, unsure as to what to say. Why would he tell me that with no conversational segue whatsoever? What’s more, it’s more than a small contradiction to wax lyrical on class and taste, and then go on to speak so coarsely. 

But that’s the typical customer. I’ve never met someone who frequents this service industry and thought to myself “that’s interesting, he doesn’t seem at all like the type to pay for sex.” Rather, every time someone has mentioned their predilection for prostitutes, my first thought has been “well, that figures.” 

I’ve never met anyone like these guys in the Western countries I’ve lived in. I’m not sure if the reason for this is because such men spend their lives flitting about the third world, or because they act completely differently when they’re at home. 

Either way, there is a definite stereotype of the expat prostitute connoisseur. He’s usually in his forties, and has a tremendous inferiority complex. His favourite discussion topics are friends who did him wrong, how fantastic his home country is, and how terrible Vietnam is. Prostitutes are not often discussed, but they are not hidden either. They’re just a normal part of life for these guys; discussing them is like discussing my breakfast cereal. So commonplace that there’s no reason to talk about it.

But, if someone displays an interest in my breakfast choices, I’ll happily tell them (toast or cereal with yogurt; I don’t like milk. I should have more fruit but I always forget to buy it). So too with these guys and their prostitutes, and thanks to my remarkable penchant for getting people to tell me excruciating details of their lives by merely sitting there, I now know a great deal about what makes these guys tick.  

They divide into two groups, and I became reasonably close with representatives from both of them. The first is the merely pathetic. Frank fell into this group. He’s a self-described hopeless romantic, who, in his mid-40s, has never married or had children, but not by choice. Rather, he is just unable to convince a woman that he is worth talking to. I’m going to try and avoid making fun of him too much, because really he’s just sad. He doesn’t sleep with prostitutes out of any kind of hate for women, or superficiality. Rather, he’s genuinely looking for love – but as the song goes, in all the wrong places.

The second type is the type Will fell into. Will is also pathetic, but he’s also an asshole. I hate to be so inarticulate, but it’s literally the only way to describe him and his ilk. As his behaviour with the passing motorbike indicates, he has zero respect for anyone who isn’t white. Actually, it even extends past that – he hates the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh as well. 

He’s a relic from another era, behaving as if the empire is still at its peak, when in reality it’s nonexistent. If he wasn’t completely unemployable in his home country, I have no doubt that he’d be back there, but as it is he’s stuck in Vietnam, making far more than the average university graduate while doing far less work. It’s quite the hand he’s been dealt. 

It’s quite clear why he frequents the street walkers. He doesn’t want to spend time with them; even looking at them is a bit of an effort for such a wine-drinking, cheese-eating cultured Englishman like him. He picks up women in motorbikes, does his business, and tells me about it later on.  

Frank likes the whole experience. When Frank told me that he used to be a hooker patron before he gave it up, I naturally asked him which ones he preferred. It was just sad when he said he likes to pick up the women who frequent bars and sell their company and a night in your bed in addition to sex because “I need the chemistry.” 

He then insisted we go to one of Ho Chi Minh City’s many bars packed with women whose job is to sit and talk to patrons and get them to spend more money on drinks. When I asked him what the point was – as it is quite obvious that these women aren’t going to be leaving the bar with anyone – he told me “maybe not tonight, but if I keep on coming back…” he trailed off knowingly, and my heart broke.

But that’s the thread that rings true for both types of men.  A profound ability for self-deception. Will told me one day that prostitutes prefer him. “Really?” I said, trying (and, again, failing) to arch one eyebrow.

“Oh yes. They like me the best because I go out of my way to make sure they enjoy themselves.”

Dumbstruck, I merely nodded. 

“And Sam, you won’t believe this, but one time in Bangkok, I hired a hooker who I’d walked past several times in the weeks previous, and she said ‘ooh, lucky me!’”

I groaned inwardly for the millionth time. Will’s type tend to be pretty stupid, but  deep down he must know that there’s no way these prostitutes are enjoying themselves as much as he imagines them to be. Even if their sexual desires are bordering on nymphomaniacal, after eight, ten, or twelve hours of men climbing on top of them, the moans simply have to be acting. Nobody has that kind of stamina. And even if that tidbit passed him by, surely he can put together that his Thai contractor probably spoke half of her English vocabulary when she congratulated herself on landing such a handsome (and doubtless well-endowed) client. 

That’s the nature of the industry. Self-deception. It’s about far more than sex; these women sell, in addition to their bodies, the idea to these sad, lonely, pathetic men that they are handsome, virile, attentive lovers, capable of driving these women to distraction. Like the tissue saleswomen, they’re selling dreams – with a side of sex.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Again, your writing style is amazing. Having never been to England, and gaining most of my knowledge via BBC on public television, I wipe my tears of laughter and "believe" I know the type of person of whom you write.

    I went from laughter to contemplative thought. I love that your writing has that capability. I am now an official fan!