How Expats Explain Their Sexual Behavior in Southeast Asia
I was having a tuna sandwich at the Nordic House in Phnom Penh when I met the three foreigners who had come from Thailand, on what is known as a visa run—to renew their visas because Thailand unlike Cambodia makes it difficult for foreigners to stay for any length of time without leaving the country to get their visas renewed. You can get the visa run problem solved easily enough if you have money and know the right people, or you put enough in the bank and do the paperwork for a retirement visa.
The four of us got chatting about small things for an hour or so, went our separate ways, and then got together in the evening, something we would then do for the next couple of nights. I began to know a little about each of them, each one as always a unique story about why the decision was made to forego living in his own country and become an expat in Thailand, and inevitably got involved with a Thai woman, the nature of the involvement with the woman often as complex as to why the foreigner became an expat.
There was Peter, the Swede, who was sixty-six. Tall, with a good and firm body and short hair that had largely turned gray. He had an everlasting smile that drew attention to his small teeth and an empty space between the front two. He liked to joke irreverently, and he enjoyed—as did I—the back and forth repartee that the two of us got going soon after meeting. Peter was generous to a fault, picking up drink and dinner tabs for all of us.
For several years, he’s had an on-again, off-again relationship with a Thai woman in Pattaya. He’s with her for a couple of months, they get into an argument and he or she leaves, and then a couple of months later they’re back together again. He can’t seem to do without her, she can’t seem to be away from him too long after cavorting with other men and finding things she doesn’t like. It’s very much one of those classic cliché relationships: he can’t live with her, and he can’t live for long without her. It might be love, it might be something else, Peter doesn’t know what the attraction is.
On this particular visa run, Peter has found a Phnom Penh bargirl that’s become his visa-run girlfriend, as he likes to think of her. It’s okay being with her sexually and long into the morning because he’s in a season in between with his Thai girlfriend. What this really means is that this is how he feels at the moment, his self-serving construction of reality, not how the Thai girlfriend feels, he confesses; but she is not around to take issue with his current Phnom Penh reality.
On Peter’s second night in this quiet capital, he met this one particular bargirl and paid for her services for two nights running. But after the first two nights, quite satisfying nights to hear him tell it, he decided she was too expensive. He gave her sixty dollars on each of the nights, in addition to paying a ten dollar barfine. Now he would no longer pay for her services. He did something right by her apparently, though, because after these first two nights she was, he claims, quite willing to be with him for nothing, as long as she hadn’t been barfined by the time he came to where she worked at one in the morning.
I found Peter’s unwillingness to give the bargirl at least twenty or thirty dollars on each of these nights after the first two a little strange, especially since he proved to be so free with money around the rest of us. But then if there is any one thing that consistently comes to the fore in expat stories, it’s that their lives are full of contradictions and inconsistencies, and ways of reasoning about their all kinds of things that most people would find more than a little odd. It could be the sun because of the kinds of jobs most had. It could be in the genes, the easy place to place the blame. It could be something in the beer that permanently damages those neurons responsible for rational thought.
Did Peter, in fact, give nothing to this bargirl that he kept returning to after midnight, and not once having to open his wallet? Foreign men in Southeast Asia, one comes to realize, lie almost as much as Asian women do, and they consistently lie in one particular way. They are always eager to make themselves look good, get for free what every other man has to pay for. Or catch the incredible bargain that makes one envious and disbelieving.
There was Ben, the American from Chicago. He was fifty-seven. He was small and with a dark complexion and wore black framed glasses and an old tan visor cap too small for his head, and that he never took off, and by the time I’d seen the last of him I was certain that he wore it when he showered and when he slept and even when he f@#$ed—if that was something that he did anymore.
He had been married to a Filipina and something went wrong and he got rid of her. Then he discovered Thailand and lost his head—both heads—in Pattaya and married a bargirl who was twenty-two years old and managed somehow to get her into the U.S. on a marriage visa. It didn’t take him long to realize what just about every man who marries a bargirl realizes: they’re the worst bet to be found anywhere. She sat around all day looking through the window at the snow and the cars going by and didn’t want to go to school or improve her English. And when she wasn’t doing all this mindless gazing out the front window of Ben’s house she was watching cartoons on TV, and then recording them to watch a second and a third time. When she was doing none of these mind-numbing activities she was sleeping. Ben didn’t say whether or not there was any time left over in her busy schedule for f@#$ing. Maybe he didn’t want to remember why he had married her, the only reasons besides being young and pretty were what she could do when naked. But then baring one’s body for one and all to stare at and going with just about anyone who wants to take you for the night for one or more rounds of bouncing around on a queen-sized mattress bears no more relationship to living any kind of indoor or outdoor life in Chicago than growing up on a rice farm prepares one for talking with someone whose whole adult life—Ben’s—was spent installing land-line telephones and drinking with his equally intellectually challenged blue collar friends .
But Ben, contra what anyone would predict given his description of his bargirl wife, didn’t get a divorce. He has in fact yet to consider one. He simply sent the former bargirl back to Thailand and more or less forgot about her, or so he claims. And yet he continues to use her as an excuse when tempted to go with bargirls either in Cambodia or Thailand. He will buy them drinks and he will play pool with them, and he enjoys having them sit on his lap with an arm around his shoulder so he can admire up close their thin and small legs and equally small breasts. But before long he informs them that as much as he would like to take them for the night, he just cannot do so because he is still married. And like all good married men he does not want to be unfaithful to his wife. It’s the kind of story that even the most hardened whore will believe, and also make Ben unusually desirable, because if his story is true he’s not like other men.
This was Ben’s second story about why he wouldn’t go with any of the quite willing Cambodian bargirls who would be more than happy to spend the night with someone who has not removed his dirty visor cap in a decade. For when the four of us first met, Ben had informed us that for several days he had been taking pills to deal with a “cold kidney,” one that got so cold in an air-conditioned room about ten days before we met that he woke up one morning and peed red. That got him to quickly find a doctor for medication that he’d used in the past for a condition that he said he’d had off and on since the age of nine. On doctor’s orders, Ben was told not only to take every last pill prescribed but he was to drink copious amounts of water. Which he was doing, and we were informed in great detail exactly how many bottles of water he was taking daily and how often he had to find a toilet to pee. This was one hell of a thing to have do, pee so much water and be around toilets all the time. Do you guys understand what this is like? The upshot of this cold kidney condition and all the water that Ben was having to take made it impossible for him to be with a girl for the night, not even for a simple all-night squeeze. The presumption, we were to understand, was that if he got a hard-on and tried to ejaculate he might well be back in blood alley and then be out action for three weeks instead of ten days. Ben, on the other hand, was a self-confessed aficionado of dining at the Y, and he could only stay away when the smell was more than any mortal man could be expected to deal with. This, I gathered, was what he liked most about finding himself with a woman, and it was even more enjoyable that watching his first wife—the one before the Filipina—squirt, sometimes a trickle, sometime a whole glass, of clear liquid all over the bed. But this pussy-eating pleasure and all other pleasures of a sexual matter had to be foregone once in Cambodia, because of the cold kidney condition, making me imagine that once he got around to dining at the Y he simply could not imagine taking a break to pee. Whatever, this cold kidney business was no longer a topic of discussion by the time we were into our third night together and Ben was knocking down orange juice vodkas—he couldn’t stand the taste of beer, and now repeatedly returning to his other story, the one about the wife he wasn’t eager to divorce.
Before we saw the last of one another, I found myself considering the idea that either Ben could no longer get it up, or that he could but simply could not longer imagine barfining any bargirl for fear of again getting married. Maybe, to give him every benefit of the doubt, he had found a perfectly rational way to keep himself out of trouble. So there could always be the cold kidney story, and then the wife-I-haven’t-yet-divorced story, and there might also be one or two more I’d hear were I around him long enough. Expats can be as inventive as any path-breaking molecular biologist; it’s just that no one will ever be much interested in their sequencing methods, how and why they do or don’t move from one pretty set of youthful genes to another alien set.
John, the third member of this unchartered group of meandering expats, is an Englishman in his late fifties. He was the jolly clown, and very much overweight, all the fat nicely concentrated between the bottom of his rib cage and mid thighs, enough to push him well above the 100 kilo mark. He laughed all the time, and he made light of everything, with one major exception. And the exception was the gypsies you find in England. Out of nowhere he would begin ranting about them: their conniving, their filth, their wealth, their revengeful ways, their cohesiveness, the two-mile funeral lines of family and kinsmen that would take over a major thoroughfare when one of their kind died. John would not just tell stories of them stealing petrol and how the police were afraid to go after them and prosecute them because of the feared blowback, or how dirty and smelly they were beneath all the jewelry they wore. He would then launch into a loud and hateful diatribe, insisting that Hitler had to be brought back from the dead because he hadn’t finished the job he started. He had to return to quite literally exterminate every last gypsy from every edge and corner of the earth. John wouldn’t even be satisfied if all of them were taken to gas chambers. He wanted every known gypsy piled into one large collective heap and then covered with petrol and burned in a well-advertised public spectacle. I never could figure out what got him off on these harangues against gypsies, and from all I could learn he had never personally been affected by them. Perhaps he got this hatred from his parents? Or while reading trashy stories about them in newspapers and waiting for news on his latest investments? The mysteries of the mind are legion.
But I digress, as John digressed and could not let go of his gypsy stories, except when laughing and making light of just about everything and most of the time. Though not exactly light in the same way when he talked about the five-year relationship he has had with a Thai woman twenty years his junior. Unlike Peter, he’s been with her full-time all the time, except when on visa runs. He is faithful, and she is faithful, or so he wants to believe that she’s faithful when he leaves the country and she’s with her Thai friends and he cannot contact her because her cell phone is not working as it should. To assure himself that she’s faithful he relates how daily when he’s away she spends several hours talking with friends on Skype. I conclude that this is one highly productive and intellectually fascinating woman who knows what she has to do to remain faithful, assuming she is indeed merely talking with friends of the same sex.
When John goes on a visa run he has his own way of defining fidelity, and it doesn’t exactly accord with his live-in girlfriend’s definition. He will take a Cambodian girl for the night, and night after night, but only to sleep alongside her, never to have sex with. Having sex with her, even getting a Washington via Arkansas blowjob, would be his definition of being unfaithful. His girlfriend sees things quite differently. She doesn’t care how many girls of any genre he has as long as he doesn’t spend the night with them in bed, a kind of Asian thinking that I’ve heard on other occasions. Her great worry is attachment, as she’s of the by no means unique view that involvement doesn’t really come about from getting between someone’s legs for a half hour or whatever but instead from being arm and leg glued to one another throughout the night. She’s a wise woman.
I don’t talk about the logic of any of this with John, deciding that with one heart attack behind him and full of all kinds of medications and very much overweight he’s not got much dick in him no matter how dick is defined, so perhaps the option his girlfriend would like him to take isn’t really an option at all. As for what he’s actually doing, he claims that it’s the sort of behavior that allows him to more easily tell his girlfriend that he did nothing at all. Which may well be the case, the act of fucking and infidelity so inextricably linked in the minds of most men and women just about everywhere. On the other hand, what John is doing, and what his girlfriend does not want him to do, does seem to be affecting his mind just as she would predict. He’s confessed to all of us that he’s having doubts of late about his relationship, and more so since he came on this trip. Should he or shouldn’t he stay in the five-year relationship, even though he can’t think of anything specific to complain about? There is simply something not quite right between them, though he can’t pinpoint what it is. Is it boredom? He doesn’t know. Is it opportunity, what with all the women about in Thailand and here in Cambodia? He doesn’t know. Is it age and his increasing sense of mortality? He doesn’t really know. Is it…well, what is it that has him wondering on this visa run if he should return to Thailand and just tell the woman, who is thirty-eight and meets his every need—or most of them, that it’s all over? Maybe it’s nothing more than all these young Cambodian bargirls who are so nice to him and make him laugh even more than he’s accustomed to laughing, at least when not getting into another tirade on gypsies.
And then there’s Bill, the sixty-five year old American who really wasn’t part of this small group of expats, and me—many things I am, but never the expat. He just came out of nowhere on the night we decided to pay a visit to Martini’s Bar. Yes, Bill, who was vague about where he was from—somewhere on the West coast. He had a monk’s haircut framed in white, and sad watery eyes that hinted at a long mourning or that kind of a break with a wife and kids that no man would have the courage to tell anyone about. And then he had this trait of not knowing or wanting to give a straight answer to any question anyone asked him; yes and no; perhaps and maybe; I guess, I don’t know, I have to think about it. He was all indecision, when he wasn’t being decidedly ill-mannered.
Bill was that kind of guy that none of us much liked, and right from the get-go, and then he did something after we got to Martini’s that I didn’t hear about until the following day and by then had become a flash point when his name came up. Martini’s is famous in Phnom Penh for the number of freelance hookers that populate the airy and shadowy bar, about equally divided between young Cambodian women on the money make who are reserved and don’t speak much English, and Vietnamese women who give new meaning to the word aggressive and speak fairly good English.
The five of us arrived at Martini’s a little after nine in the evening in a couple of tuk-tuks, and then headed down the tunnel-like entrance with the cement parapet where there are often a couple of young Vietnamese hookers in quite okay evening dresses sitting and waiting to grab anything that looks or smells like a foreigner. We took a large circular table and ordered beer, Ben the exception of course, never content with anything but orange juice and vodka. It was only a matter of minutes before three of the Vietnamese women seated at an adjoining table approached us and invited themselves to sit down. The one who slid a chair in beside me and stuck her face on mine was big boned and rather tall and light skinned, and maybe a seven on a fallible beauty scale. I’d soon discover she was twenty and claimed to be from Saigon, a claim that I had doubts about, having previously found that almost all of the Martini hookers have come out of the Delta. The Delta connection is trafficking lite, one might say, depending on how eager one is to see human trafficking every time you see a woman doing something you wouldn’t do. This hustler after my dollars introduced herself and wanted to know where I was from and was I “on holiday” or working—standard hooker questions in Asia; and then without missing a beat told me that she would very much like to suck my dick and fuck me as much as I was up for. Was I up or going to be up, and interested? I looked her over and up and down and didn’t right off give her an answer, and then bought her a drink. I wanted to see if I could add to my meager knowledge of trafficking lite—no mafia that I’m aware of–in these Vietnamese girls, if trafficking there was. I never knew what surprises I might get when I got talking with one of them, if I could get them to be even a little honest. As it turns out, I didn’t get much from her at all, really nothing more than the repeated claim that she was from Saigon, just like the others who were seated at the nearby table and those advertising their offerings while in the company of Peter and Ben and Bill. When she finally realized that I was all questions and had no interest in what she had to offer with her twenty year-old body she got up and returned to her hooker friends at the next table. And that was the last I ever saw of her.
While I was talking to her I was not paying much attention to Ben and Peter and Bill and the girls they were with, other than to note that the women could be anywhere in their twenties, and that one of them was rather stunning in a white blouse and a black tight skirt. She had on red lipstick and large hoop earrings and would stand out in any shopping mall in America. At one point I noticed that Bill has a hand on her leg, but beyond this I didn’t let my eyes linger and instead found myself turning back to the girl seated next to me who was eager with her professional hand to measure the size of my dick. I politely informed that he was in sleep mode and didn’t much like being disturbed while I was enjoying my San Miguel Light.
It wasn’t long before we collectively decided to return to the dark alley at the front of Martini’s and all the motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks and head over to Street 104, where there’s a good dozen girlie bars, several of them with pool tables where we could play a couple of games and chat with bargirls, and Ben could get into excuse mode for not taking one of them, and Peter could have a merry time pretending he would definitely barfine one or two of them, knowing that he wouldn’t because of his late night rendezvous with the freebee visa run girlfriend who was a full-time bargirl. John for his part might take the tiny 38 kilo wonder sitting on his lap, though there was the very real possibility that he’d wait until we got to the next bar on our list, the Zanzibar, to see if he could find something that was a better fit, one with longer arms to wrap around that huge hunk of flesh that he actually took pride in. I mean, why worry about another heart attack when it’s inevitable?
The next morning, at a breakfast at the Nordic House that began on toward noon, everyone there but Bill, Peter started grousing about Bill’s bad behavior the night before. As Peter told it, Bill was sitting with the Vietnamese hooker with shopping mall star potential for a mere minute or so when he stuck his hand inside her blouse and gave her breast a hard squeeze. She yanked the ugly claw out and complained about his behavior. But then a few minutes later he made a similar grab at her groin. And this time, rather than give him some sour mouth, she said, Will you now buy me a drink? He refused, and never did buy her a drink by the time we’d left.
Can you imagine that cunt refusing her a drink after what he did? Peter said, not sure that everyone really understood just how bad his behavior really was.
Soon everyone was taking a shot at Bill, and based on what I was hearing I saw no reason to not be as vocal as anyone. I simply can’t deal with mongers or anyone treating any woman badly in public. Or in private—but this is something I cannot know about other than what I hear about from bargirls, the Filipinas the most vocal about the uncouth and often nasty behavior of Koreans, widely acknowledged as the most boorish bastards in all of Asia.
It’s another day before Bill joins us, a couple of hours before I’m to get a tuk-tuk to take me to the airport for my flight to Bangkok. As far as I know no one has said anything to him about the way he treated the Vietnamese hooker at Martini’s, and another hooker on another night when I wasn’t around. Everyone seems content to just bitch behind his back. Not me.
Bill, I begin. I’m curious about something. Where did you get the idea that you can treat any of the bargirls, here or in Thailand or elsewhere, disrespectfully? I don’t quite understand where you think you get the license to simply grab a tit in public or put your hand between their legs. What’s up with you?
I saw some men doing it at Baby Doll’s in Pattaya.
So that means it’s okay?
Sure, why not?
I’ll give you a little piece of free advice. One of these days you’re going to do that and another monger—and there are plenty of them about as you must know—is going to make corn mash out of your face for doing that. All these girls deserve respect, the very same kind you would give a wife or girlfriend. Understand what I’m saying?
Bill looks at me and his eyes look redder than usual, and he says, I hear what you’re saying.
I hope so. I wouldn’t like to hear you’re all bloody red meat and in in need of a couple of serious transfusions.
I hear you.
I stare him down and I say no more, and shortly leave, shaking hands and saying goodbye to all of them with the exception of Bill. A prick I would’ve loved to have slugged, and just might have had I been sitting next to him at Martini’s and witnessed what I heard repeated half a dozen times.
I’m not judgmental about all kinds of things in this part of the world, but I somehow just can’t mind my own business when bargirls are being treated badly. There’s been more than one time when I’ve nearly lost it, and probably would have if I hadn’t caught myself at the last minute saying to the rational side of my brain: Don’t, you’ll wind up in jail and it could be expensive getting out.
This really is vintage Korski and I loved the quote about expats in Asia lying almost as much as the bargirls!