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Henderson Consulting International, Manila, Philippines
Manila is a complex concrete jungle, a pulsating, stimulating, and intriguing beast of a city. Everywhere you go you're surrounded by masses of humanity, testimony to the reality that this is the great dumping ground of the hinterland, the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road, the be-all and end-all for the thousands of poor country folk who arrive here each and every day in search of a better life.
Most of them don't find it.
The faces on the city streets tell many tales -- tales of abject poverty and desperate hunger, tales of loneliness and loss, tales of bitter disappointment and lost hope. But they also tell tales of grit and determination and faith in God. The well-known Filipino cultural value of bahala na (basically "the will of God," in practical terms "what will be will be") has often been blamed for complacency, lack of discipline, and escapism. However, it can also help people persevere in the face of the most horrendous hardships and life ordeals.
Consider, for example, a young lady who introduces herself to her customers as "Eva -- Eva, from Cebu," always in a seductive, suggestive voice. Eva, age 22 years, is one of the thousands of mostly uneducated girls from the provinces who ply the world's oldest profession in end-of-the-millennium Manila. She works as a GRO (the euphemistic "Guest Relations Officer") in a karaoke joint in Makati.
Like most bar girls, Eva will welcome you with a warm smile and lascivious hug. For an absurdly small bar fine, she'll go back to your room with you and provide sexual services more or less to your specifications, at least if you rinse off in the shower first. She carries a package of rubbers in her purse and may ask you to use one, but if you balk at the idea she'll quickly shrug her shoulders and get down to business. She tries to act enthusiastic and smile at her customers no matter what, but always hops out of bed immediately after the act to wash up in the comfort room. After hygiene is attended to, she closes her eyes for a moment, prays her rosary, and cries for a few minutes before steeling herself to return to your presence.
What Eva doesn't tell you -- and can't tell you unless you speak Tagalog or Cebuano -- is that she is lonely, alienated, miserable, tired, and sometimes near-suicidal. It's not easy for a shy peasant girl, deeply religious in her Catholic faith, to work as a prostitute in the big city. Like most working girls in Manila, she is from the bundoks; although she bills herself as "Eva from Cebu," she never even visited Cebu City before coming to Manila. She's from Tabogon, a small town about 60 kilometers north of the provincial capital.
Eva has a 4-year old daughter back home, living with her parents, a tremendous source of pain for her. Her husband abandoned her when the child was six months old, and shortly thereafter Eva took the Negros Navigation ferry from Cebu to Manila. Other girls from her home town had already paved the way, and it was easy enough to get a job. Early on, each and every trick was an excruciating and terrifying experience; after a few months, however, she became totally numb emotionally and learned to daydream about a better life while her johns pounded away at her.
Like many, if not most girls in the sex industry in the Philippines, Eva is the sole source of economic support for her family. As a hard working GRO, she can earn up to 15,000 pesos a month (about US $400), twice what Manila office girls make, and a small fortune for someone from her poverty-stricken rural origins. She goes home only twice a year, and faithfully remits 80% of her earnings to her parents. She has to live as a "bedspacer" in a dangerous slum to send that much, but she knows that her family eats much better than they used to and that they're almost finished building a new nipa hut. They were so poor before she left home that their hut didn't even have walls to protect them from the elements during the rainy season. When Eva prays each night, she thanks God for her many blessings.
Eva lives with a great deal of fear and anxiety. She dreads being arrested and knows girls who have been entrapped by undercover policemen who have sex with them in the back room. The arresting officers always time the bust so that the undercover cop achieves his release just before they do their gangbusters routine. She's scared to death that she'll get herpes or AIDS, and knows that her unsafe sex practices entail a certain risk of the ultimate penalty. She also knows that some of the girls she works with are as young as 14 years old and has a nagging fear that her own daughter will end up the same way. She is absolutely determined to somehow give her child a better life, no matter what it takes. Eva's younger sister, now 17, has repeatedly offered to come to Manila to take her place, but Eva insists on sticking it out and paying tuition for her three younger siblings, all of whom are in boarding school.
Eva is now in a self-perpetuating loop, a trap from which there is no easy escape. After almost four years in the sex business, she sees no way out. She is pretty sure that her family will slide back into the direst poverty as soon as she quits selling her body. Her fondest dream is to find an American husband who will sweep her out of her dreary world and take her to the promised land on a big, shiny Freedom Bird, but she knows that the odds are hugely against that ever happening. She just prays that she can eventually save enough money to go back to school and return to the province and her family.
Like hookers around the world, Eva detests most of her clients, although she appreciates the occasional polite or thoughtful fellow. She understands at a subliminal level that she is making her living in a meat market, and that her body is the commodity for sale. The existential reality is that tawdry glitter, cheap perfume, and heavy make-up do nothing to alleviate her intense human pain, feelings of degradation, and alienation from her own soul. Nevertheless, in the best Philippine tradition, she soldiers on and does her best to be positive in the face of a most horrible reality.
Now -- having gotten that out of my system -- let me relax a bit and say that I'm not about to tell anyone how to live their lives. The structural inequality, exploitation, and sadness of the situation is pretty clear, and each of us has to make his own judgments. Besides, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. My own repository of ancient memories includes some rather blurry images of a chaotic R&R in early '70s Bangkok (sometimes referred to as I&I, Intercourse and Intoxication), images involving the Pink Panther and Lucky Strike clubs, chunks of rubbery opium, and topless girls dancing provocatively to a driving Motown beat generated by a high quality Filipino band playing songs by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Temptations. Let's just say I lacked the social enlightenment of middle age and that reasoned social commentary was a decidedly secondary concern.
The sex scene here has changed substantially since the 1980's, when it was centralized on Mabini Street in Ermita. Mabini was a prototypical red light district, comparable to Bangkok's Patpong, with plenty of dancers, prostitutes, and hostesses hanging out the doors and basically trying to drag any passing foreigner inside. There were also, of course, major sex districts at Olongapo and Angeles City associated with the American bases. When the Americans pulled out, the industry faded, putting many of the girls out of work and causing many of their families back home to go hungry.
Now, however, there has been a major resurgence, fueled largely by readily available information on the Internet and organized sex tours operating out of Australia, Germany, America, and elsewhere. Today the industry is more spread out geographically than it used to be. Mabini was shut down in a political flurry of self-righteousness a few years ago, and much of the activity shifted to more accepting locales where the local trapos (politicians) and lawmen were willing to look the other way for a little ligay (grease). Current hot spots include the karaoke bars and massage parlors of the relatively new sex district around P. Burgos Street in Makati, dimly lit bars and nightclubs along Roxas Boulevard, and the disco-type clubs along Timog and Tomas Morato streets in Quezon City.
The modus operandi, however, is basically the same as it has always been and similar to what you'll find in sex districts throughout Southeast Asia. The girls compete for your attention and pesos, sometimes aggressively, and you'll have to buy them watered down ladies' drinks at very high mark-ups. You can, of course, pay the bar fine, take your favorite girl back to the hotel, negotiate your own deal with her, and act accordingly.
Readers who are interested in availing themselves of the company of girls like Eva can pick up specific information on the internet, ask a taxi driver or hotel worker, or just follow their noses. Being happily married to a very jealous Filipina wife and long since retired from bar hopping of any description, I can't give much specific advice other than to observe standard security precautions and for God's sake follow commonsense safe sex procedures. It also wouldn't hurt to take a few moments to reflect on what these girls' lives are really like, treat them decently and fairly, and throw in a very large tip to atone for the sins and degradation of Western civilization.
|...from Clarence Henderson's Pearl of the Orient Seas|
|Clarence Henderson Henderson Consulting International Manila Philippines|
|Clarence has had over 20 years of consulting experience in New York, Los Angeles, and the Philippines. He brings to the forum many years of experience in the Philippines and his monthly column integrates the experience of working in the Philippines with business tips earned the hard way! You can learn more about Clarence by clicking on his photo.||
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|See also Clarence Henderson's Philippines Capsule and Prospect Reviews at Asia Market Research dot Com|
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