Sex, money, lies and desperationOctober 14, 2009
So there I am again, sitting on the beach, an inert lump watching the sunset, quietly absorbed in my own thoughts, when a young local lass wanders up and asks whether she can sit next to me. Ha! I think – I’ve obviously still got it! It must be the youthful, devil-may-care demeanor, the rippling abs, the six-pack and the steely gaze … Then I remember my liver spots, double chin, sagging belly, myopia, man boobs and general air of dissipation and think, nah, it must be my vibrant personality which is so attractive.
OK, I lie like a cheap doormat – I know exactly why she’s there. After the standard Bali preliminaries (where are you from, how long have you been here, where is your wife – you know the drill) she cuts to the chase. Miss Bright, Bubbly Personality says, with great eye-contact, “You want to go to my room? Only 900,000” Sigh. It wasn’t my rugged Bruce Willis looks and masculine persona at all – it was the bulge in my shorts. The one in the back pocket, where my wallet is. I am slightly shaken, but not stirred. I tell her that I’m sure she’s very good, but no, I’m not interested, thanks. Without prompting, the price drops in rapid increments to 200,000. Mind you, I’m not haggling, just repeating “no thanks” over and over like some sort of celibacy mantra. So she gives up on the romantic part of the evening and I wait patiently for her to leave, to seek out more fertile ground, perchance to find someone who might even be interested in her as a person rather than an orifice.
But she switches strategies with the seamless ease of a war-weary general who has fought, and won, many campaigns. “I only do this for my mother”, she says, suddenly wearing the pathos-laden face of the mother-and-baby beggars in the streets. “Your mother is a pimp?”, I enquire with feigned surprise. My insensitive irony goes over her head. “No, no”, she says, “My mother is sick in hospital and has no money to pay the doctor. I am trying to help her. I only need another 900,000”. Oh, that mother. Sigh. I was hoping for something more original, like her motorbike is pregnant, or the last earthquake damaged her kost and she needs to pay a surveyor, but no such luck. It would actually be so nice to get a bit of basic honesty for a change.
So yours truly, Mr. Sensitive, says, “Oh, that’s very sad”. She can’t quite conceal the momentary look of triumph, the one that you see on the face of an angler when he feels a fish take the bait. I then proceed to ruin this magic moment by saying, “It would be even sadder if it was true”. Her transformation from self-sacrificing pathos to angry, thwarted harridan was not instantaneous, but close to it. There was some high-speed Bahasa (which I fortunately failed to follow), some sand-kicking and a lot of flouncing about. I think there was some mention of my probably being impotent anyway, and a question or two along the lines of “Why are you wasting my time when I’m working?” It was all very theatrical, and like all good theatre, quite entertaining. I’m such a heartless bastard. Oh well, I do have faults too …
And where did my jaded outlook come from? Well, I’ll tell you, but it’s not pretty. It’s not that I’m asexual, or that I think that consensual relations with or without cash transactions are wrong. I personally have no objection to prostitution per se on religious, moral, or any other grounds. I believe that people’s beliefs, lifestyles and peccadillos are their own – as long as they don’t expect me to adopt them. After all, I don’t expect them to adopt mine. My cynicism (the sad, despairing sort) comes from an episode a few years back in Tuban. While out for an evening stroll, I was approached by a girl on a motorbike. She looked about 18. Same spiel as above, but the difference was that she was offering two for the price of one. The ‘freebie’ was her pillion passenger, a scared-looking girl-child of about 11. I don’t normally moralise, but had to ask, “How can you do this?”. Her reply was simple: “She is my sister. I am teaching her”.
I was talking about this to a couple later that night, and the husband confessed that he was approached by the same pair the night before. His response was different – he gave them 300,000 and told them to go home, thinking it would help, perhaps keep them off the streets for a night. It didn’t. He saw them pick up a client 200 metres further along. Sometimes things are so broken that you can’t put them together again.
And there it is. My liberal-minded attitudes to the sex industry, whether in Bali or anywhere else, are in conflict with the realities of how it is conducted. Lies, scams, sob-stories on the one side, straight-out paedophilia on the other. Pimps, touts and other bottom-feeders preying on everyone in the middle. When I was younger, I thought it was all harmless fun. Now I’m not so sure.