I’ve never heard one single story about prostitution in my first months in Nanjing. I had to go to Vietnam to get stopped in the streets by pimps and prostitutes. It reminded me of a similar experience back when I was living in Bucharest.
The first time it happened I was in Hanoi, on my first night there. I was together with my friend E, returning home after a long stroll around the city. As it often happens in Asia, especially in the tourist areas, the streets were a mess. People and scooters were passing next to each other, sharing the street without producing any accidents.
In this haze a scooter stopped next to us and the driver asked in a simulated secretive way: “Sil, malijuana?” We told him we don’t want anything, but he got closer and asked again “Happy ending?” Pretending not to understand what he meant we moved forward, but with a last effort and gesturing he asked one more time if we want “Happy ending. Boom boom?!” We smiled and left, but nevertheless, accepted to write down his phone number.
The same scenario repeated over and over again in all the cities that we visited in Vietnam, from Hanoi in the North to Ho Chi Minh in the South. People would stop us in the street asking if we want marijuana or sex.
A walk on the streets of Vietnam’s sea resorts and it would be difficult not to become suspicious of all those foreigners sharing tables with beautiful Vietnamese girls.
In the touristic areas of Ho Chi Minh, pretty girls with leaflets in their hands would advertise massage parlors. No mention in those leaflets about paid sex and, although we had our suspicions, my friend and I decided to try the Vietnamese massage.
We paid for an hour full body massage and we entered the place. Although the saloon looked cozy in the pictures, we soon realized we entered a strangely improvised place, composed of two apartments located at different floors and linked through a narrow stairway. Down in the lobby, girls were immersed in routine activities, checking magazines and polishing their nails. I guess for them it felt like we weren’t there at all, as they continued whatever they were doing without taking notice of us.
Moments later, two girls took us up through the narrow stairway. In the two rooms upstairs several beds barely a meter apart, separated with nice curtains similar to the one from Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene.
One of the girls started masaging me, and in very poor English, complimented my physical appearance. Later, when she realized I wasn’t responding in any way to her compliments, she asked a coworker to come and help with the translation. 50 dollars in exchange for oral sex. Although I refused from the beginning, she continued to persuade me for several minutes.
That day happened to be the first day of the Chinese New Year (which is celebrated in Vietnam as well). She told me it’s a pity to refuse her because she came to work on this important day when others stay at home with their families. I almost felt guilty for having to refuse and, in an attempt to escape the situation, I told her I don’t even have this money with me. She then offered to come to the hotel with me and take the money afterwards.
Suddenly a story that I heard a day before started to make sense. My friend told me that he saw a girl shouting in the street at a foreigner, asking for her money. Possibly the guy took the services, but refused to pay as soon as he left the massage parlor. One hour had passed and I left the place with a broken heart.
Another interesting thing never happened to me just before this, on the Chinese chatting application Wechat (which is somehow similar to WhatsApp). This application has a feature that allows you to check which people are near you and add them to your friend list. Although this application is not very popular outside China, in Vietnam hot girls would add me and my friend on Wechat and send us naked pictures of themselves trying to negotiate a price. They sure knew how to approach the Chinese market.
Having young Southeast Asian classmates and friends and knowing how conservative they are towards sex, I was wondering how it was possible for countries like Vietnam or Thailand to have these flourishing prostitution markets. But, a friend of mine explained that this happens for the same reason the alcohol black market was flourishing during the prohibition in the US. Of course, other explanations are also to be considered.
In the next article I will talk about the streets of China.