33. Notes from Abroad

It’s been a while since I updated – a combination of reasons, mostly being made up of being sick, work taking over my life, and a two week holiday in Indonesia. Given it’s been a long break I’ve decided to do something a little different on this post. Instead of updating you on the dating project I thought I’d talk about a subject I was talking about whilst on holiday – sex tourism.

Now I’m not professing to be an expert on sex or tourism for that matter, but my holiday did get me thinking about how sex tourism is perceived differently for and by men and women. Whilst in Indonesia, I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding of an English guy to an Indonesian woman. They’d been dating for several years and were finally getting married in Bandung, a city about two hours’ drive from the smog and congestion of Jakarta. They were totally in love and had a wonderful traditional ceremony – the groom even wrote and sang a song – yes of course I balled like the big romantic sop I am.

Heck I cried during the ceremony and I’d only met them two days before – I blame this on my age, it’s a well-known fact that as we get older, women weep earlier and earlier in the matrimonial proceedings. I figure in the next couple of years I’ll be crying when I get the invite!

Mixed relationships between Indonesian women and western men of any other race are not that unusual especially amongst the ex pat community – in fact it’s more of an anomaly if you’re a western man and not in a mixed race relationship. I specify men, as to be honest I saw so few foreign women out there and of those I did see in the cities, none appeared to be with Indonesian men.

It made me think about how mixed relationships in South East Asia are more common between male foreigners and females from the country in question. I sometimes wonder if this is partly due to gender roles being more clearly defined in South East Asia and Eastern Europe for that matter. It’s discussion I’ve had with my Romanian friend a few times, and one I’ll come back to in another post.

A couple of days after the ceremony, a few of us went to Bali where the Bride and Groom continued their week long celebrations. One night we were all chatting at a bar when the bride told me about the last time they’d been to Bali about a year before. She’d been sitting at a bar when her husband to be went to the bathroom. A “Bule” (foreigner) then came up to her and started chatting to her. After a short while he asked her

“How much?”

“How much for what, a drink?” she asked.

“Well if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, I’m asking how much for sex?”

The short version of what happened next is she told him not so politely to go have sex with himself and her boyfriend came back and punched him in the face.

We talked about this for a while and as we looked around the bars in the area you could see why the guy had jumped to the wrong conclusion – not about her of course. But there were a lot of couples that looked like they were more transactional than conventional holiday flings. It’s a fact in lots of countries relying on tourism for a large part of their economy, that sex can become just one more commodity along with the tours and souvenir shops. And it’s not just the men who are looking for a little something extra.

A day into my stay in Bali and a very good looking Balinese guy offered me his “services” for the duration of my trip. I politely declined after several appeals promising me that he was “small and hot as a chilli padi” (that’s a birdseye chilli by the way)… Things may be desperate at times but I’m not quite there yet. But it did get me thinking about the women who do go down this route.

It’s not the first time I’ve been propositioned like this either (do I reek of desperation without meaning to???), it happened several years ago when I was on holiday in Jamaica. I’d barely left the airport before a guy asked if I wanted a boyfriend for the week. In Jamaica these guys are known as “rent-a-dredds” and for the rest of the trip I saw plenty of “couples” where it looked suspiciously like the guy was being paid by the hour. I’ve also heard Turkey is well known for temporary transactional relationships for women and I’m sure there must be plenty of other well-known destinations.

As much as sex tourism doesn’t shock or surprise me, I do find it interesting how these relationships differ when it’s the man who’s “for sale”. Like I say I’m no expert but from what I understand, when the guy is the buyer it’s very clear that a sexual service is being paid for. When it’s a woman doing the buying, the payment is less defined taking the form of lending money for a “family medical emergency” or dinner, drinks and a bed of course, for the week. Men tend to buy sex, plain and simple, whereas women buy the pretence of a relationship – with sex included like a gift that comes free with every purchase.

Sex tourism services men and women alike, and I’m not here to condone or pass judgement on either the buyers or the sellers. Where there’s economic hardship and people with nothing else to trade but themselves, then prostitution in some shape or form will continue to exist. I guess I just find it interesting how the two sexes differ in their honesty about what they’re doing.

Is it any better to admit paying for sex outright than to dress it up as a “relationship”?

Does either party see it as prostitution or do both male and female tourists legitimise it as something else?

I also wonder if some female tourists even realise they’re entering into a transactional affair?

I’d love to hear your experiences, so leave me a comment below…

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