Sex, money, discreet charm of the bourgoisie

12 Apr

A good friend once commented, and I dare say others have thought it, that a man visiting South East Asia alone is likely as not driven by the desire to get laid with no strings attached.

(Steve: you clearly haven’t tasted authentic Thai or Viet cuisine!)

Compared with India this is a non-pestering culture but a male farang alone on the night streets gets used to the motorbike pulling alongside, its male or female driver asking if he wants ‘boom boom’. That’s not a reference to firework displays or sessions with an AK47, though those too can be easily arranged.

I like sex but am old fashioned. I doubt I could even get it on with some gum-chewing twenty-something with whom I haven’t even language in common. I do like to talk you know. Before. During. After.

The whole subject of sex, money, farangs and SE Asia is complex, meriting more considered treatment than I can manage on these crappy hotel keyboards and the crappier email interface of my Kindle Fire. (OK Apple evangelista, I admit it: shoulda got myself an iPad.) I’ve no wish to add to the mountains of simplistic guff already written and spoken. Take the PC puritan brigade with their kindergarten equations – brown skin good, white bad; youth and beauty good, age and money bad.

Or their mirrror opposites: it’s all natural and healthy, a fair exchange beween consenting adults. Well, maybe, but when you put sex and money together in the big-time way Saigon and Bangkok do there’s no way that’s gonna stay clean and wholesome. Sex slavery? Child­ren? Forget Gary Glitter. The Russian mafia are here and, unlike that chump, they know how to fix things with the people who count.

As it happens, one of the most interesting angles for me is this. I’ve long thought the pull of sexual desire to be no different for women than for men. What has for millennia been different is the relationship to that necessarily powerful aspect of the human experience. For women the stakes have been far higher. Interestingly, and I’d like to hear the female take on this, there are growing signs that now middle class western women have gained control over their fertility and finances, some have begun to behave ‘like men’ in that department. Mostly they don’t come to Asia for NSA sex with dash of romance. They seem more drawn to the Gambia and Dominican Republic.

* * *

What I didn’t say in my previous email is that one of the dancers on the riverfront, older and fuller figured, had caught my eye. She danced well and was aware of my camera in the way photo­graphers love. Afterwards they all crowded round to view the results. You get used to the press of male and female flesh in these circumstances. It’s sensuously enjoyable but, on my part and I’m pretty sure theirs too, innocent and sweet.

I asked, with some difficulty, did anyone have an email address? Dancer girl scribbled on a scrap of paper and handed it to me. I looked up in surprise. This was no email address. Just her name, Ha.

And her phone number.

Call me naive but I don’t think Ha came out that evening to pull a trick. I doubt she’s on the game at all but, like many in her situation, is aware both of her sex power and the size of the farang wallet. She’s a healthy opportunist and I respect that.

I hated Vietnam, a friend told me recently, following a tour of Cambodia, Laos and the country in question. All they were interested in was taking our money.

We were at a mutual friend’s yuletide gathering. It wouldn’t have done at all to tell her she was talking through her bum. I simply said that wasn’t my experience.

What is my experience is that otherwise sane, intelligent and educated Brits go soft in the head when it comes to money and what is euphemistically known as the developing world. The rev­o­lutionary idea that exchanges with farangs are for many Viets the sole, main or purely wind­fall means of putting food in their bellies and clothes on their backs seems too much for them. Or rather, what’s too much for them is the idea that just because for many Viets money is the main purpose of dealing with farangs – how on earth could it be otherwise? – it isn’t necessarily or even usually the sole purpose.

I took issue with Jarvis Cocker’s absurd proposition that everybody hates a tourist. I take issue with his mirror opposites. On this subject at least, simpletons both.

In case you were wondering, Ha’s number was last seen in a litter bin on the river front. In another world it might have been a delightful interlude. In this one? Way too complicat­ed.

* * *

Yesterday I toured jungled hills and coast – beaches like Cornwall’s on a good day – near Danang on a hired motorbike. Vietnam is develop­ing fast. Already some of the best beaches are private, the roads down to them guarded by armed  and uniformed men. The luxury villas jutting from the jungle canopy as it slants down to dazzling white beaches and coves are monstrous. What is it about new money, the whole world over?

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