Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Go-Go: South Asia & South East Asia Are Worlds Apart

While I was in Cambodia I was sitting at an American owned restaurant and overheard a couple of American male expats who essentially summed up that happiness is abandoning woman in the west for those in the east. The argument went something like how eastern woman understand the simple things that men want and appreciate; a focus on family, a certain amount of catering like making a sandwich or getting them a drink when they got home, and apparently a lack of nagging. Later while I was on Ko Samui I overheard a group of what I think were a mix of British/Australian/Canadian woman commenting on all of the men they saw with Thai woman, and how they were all just dirty old men or little boys that couldn't handle strong woman. Somehow I think the truth is lost somewhere between both views, and while there might be a bit to both thoughts neither approaches from the right direction.

What is clear is that it's simply a trade off of what men think they want and what woman think they want. For men it's young woman that, at least in the short term, hang on their every word, inflate their egos, and cater to them at all times. For woman it's money, and potentially the easiest way to a huge amount of social mobility. From conversations I had with some people it appears that factory workers outside of Bangkok make roughly 10$/day, for roughly nine hours of work. Now imagine people are visiting your country and they make in one day what many people in your home make in a couple of weeks or months. For many of these girls, landing a western spouse means that they can live abroad and provide serious financial support for family members back home. For western men, it's simply a way to get woman that would otherwise be light-years out of their league, and  for many the perception of a spouse that respects a certain amount of dominant male authority, though I'm skeptical that this exists in practice and is more likely a simple difference in approach. It also highlights that men are far less interested in what woman do for work, or what their earning prospects are, where as that is the primary concern for the flipside of this equation.

Anyway my reason for recounting all of this is it occurred to me that you simply do not see this same dynamic in south Asia. All of the same conditions still apply, as far as differences in earning powers and somewhat similar social dynamics. A claim that south Asia, at least it's Hindu and Buddhist populations, is more conservative, I do not think is entirely true. While south east Asia's sex industry is known well around the world, it becomes clear that there is also a good deal of flesh trade done in India, and to a lesser extent in Nepal as well. The biggest difference seems to be that the industries of south Asia appear to be completely geared toward local populations and do not attempt to attract foreign visitors, at least not on any level of availability that exists anywhere else in the world. This is not a topic I know all that much about, so some premises here may be completely off, but I can't help but wonder why there is such a marked difference between the two regions.

Possibly it's the market, I mean western people traveling to south Asia are a different set of travelers than those heading to the beaches of south east Asia. Maybe it's the caste system, and social shame involved with relations with foreign men, though I believe that exists in Thailand and neighboring countries as well. Maybe it's a different view toward foreigners as a whole, or possibly a difference in value systems toward money and status... though experience in both regions doesn't bear this out. Possibly it's just a difference in openness about certain topics, and I get the sense that south east Asians are a much more assertive bunch who go after what they want, while south Asians might be some of the most passive people on the planet.

All in all I'm glad that this doesn't exist in Kathmandu, the constant call of 'Maaasaaaaaaaaaaaaage?' or the cat calling that comes from the girly bars will be one less type of street hawking I can avoid once back in Nepal. Still I'm a bit at a loss as to why these regions developed so differently in this trade.


  1. For the record, you didn't mention that you were employed as a dishwasher when you got married, so I think your wife must have married you for your looks! heh ;)

  2. Heh...so true, it was certainly not my allure of money and power that brought us together.

  3. Lol, Kimmay. Classic.

    The two of you certainly know far more about this than I do, but I was reading recently someone saying that the caste system is irrelevant when dealing with foreigners; they are treated with respect always (relatively speaking), and only those within the are scorned.

    I know some people don't have a problem with it, but I can't imagine living with someone with who I really didn't share any cultural background.

  4. With the caste system it's a little more complicated than that.For instance high caste Bramins can't share a table with foreigners, and this is a barrier to trekking in parts of western Nepal because there are not tea houses you can stay in as there are many people of this caste out that way. While foreigners are in theory always treated well they do hold a post within the system and it is considered quite low. Also marriage is almost exclusively done within the same caste and ethnic background here, and going outside of that is often considered bit scandalous, though that attitude is changing.

    Yeah, most of the middle class girls who were raised in the major cities and received decent educations are easy enough to relate to, but those aren't the girls most western guys are interacting with. These girls from rural parts of Issan province or up near the Lao border, who make up the majority of bar girls, come from an entirely different cultural and intellectual background. While some people find the difference as part of the attraction, I imagine it would be a barrier to any meaningful intimacy. Who knows.


Related Posts with Thumbnails