Saturday, September 24, 2011

Red-light district conversations: Old, fat white men in Manila

Two conversations with old, fat men tonight in Manila's red light district, two different takes on the women here. Plus bonus 30-second jaunt through a seedy, seedy bar. Read all about it!

(Note: this post is going to be wrapped into my long-read about Manila's red-light district, so it's going to disappear, probably in a week.)

Conversation un:

Norm Wilson, an Australian with his own company selling fruits and vegetables, just got married. He’s 60 years old. His bride, Diane, is 25. I met them eating Chinese food in a restaurant in the middle of the red light district. Norm is corpulent, but not unusually so. He's wearing a metallic polo shirt (hiding a pair of love handles, probably), which points upwards to his double stacked chin. He's halfway bald; his cheeks are blubbery. He looks like a fat cat, especially when he unbuttons his polo all the way to reveal a chest with wispy, pubic-hair-like curls as dense as the ones on his legs.

His wife – they were officially married yesterday, September 23rd, in city hall in front of 40 of Diane’s relatives (nobody from Norm’s side was there) – is less corpulent than Norm. In Australia, she would pass for normal-sized. In the Philippines, however, she's slightly overweight. Her features are shockingly normal: she has black hair, a cute smile, a pig-button nose. She wears sandals, like Norm. Her command of English is above-average: I can ask her questions, even in my normal, slightly run-on cadence, and she’ll answer without straining her ears or asking twice.

The chain we're at is called Next Door, Chinese fast-food that specializes in over-salted noodles, fried rice, and congee at adequate prices. When I arrived, I asked for a booth at in the back and started reading Poor Economics. A few minutes later, Norm and his new bride Diane walked in and sat down one booth over. He directed her into a seat and slid in right next to her; they got up and switched sides a minute later. I could hear Norm’s thick accent; could see his hairy, weighty arms splayed over the head of the seat, thin sliced that the couple was compatible but definitely not in love. He asked her questions occasionally; she responded haltingly. When the waitress brought over the menu, Norm couldn’t understand her English, so she brought over a fake display of the noodles offered here so he could point one out – the first time I’ve seen the verbal hand-holding happen in the 22 times I’ve eaten here.

“Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve been trying to figure out for the longest time – where’s your accent from?” I asked, sliding right next to Norm and tapping him on the shoulder. “Is it Australian?”

“Yes,” he responded. I looked him in the eye, and he looked back blankly.

“That’s what I thought. Where in Australia are you from?” I asked.

“Victoria,” he responded. Still no indicators of interest.

“Oh that’s awesome! I responded. Do you live here?” While I asked this, I started to stand up, as if I was going to go --

“No, I live over there. Just visiting here,” he said.

“Me too. I live in San Francisco,” I said. I slid back down.

“How’s it like over there?” he asked. I told him it was cold and foggy. Then he gestured his hands and his head towards the empty seat. I took my almost finished bowl of noodles over and sat down with them.

“How do you guys know each other?” I asked, once properly situated.

“Oh, we just got married yesterday,” Norm responded enthusiastically.

“You guys are a cute couple,” I said, trying to convince myself of it too. “How’d you meet?”

“Oh, online,” he responded.

It turns out they didn't really meet online. His friend back in Australia was married to Diane's auntie. They met online, at a site called RSVP. (Click on the link! Seriously. It might help you get married.) His friend then introduced Norm to Diane, and after a couple of failed webcam conversations, he flew out to Hong Kong, where Diane was working at Unilever at the time, and “hit it off spectacularly.” 8 months later, Norm was here for the wedding. It’s the second time he’s ever left Australia.

“She tried to come visit me before, but they rejected her visa,” he said.

“I applied for a visitor’s visa,” Diane told me. She had told immigration that she was going down to find work babysitting; but, as Norm mentioned, plenty of Australians can do that.

“They can’t reject a marriage visa, though,” Norm said, somewhat self-assuredly. “I’m leaving next week and she’s coming down after her situation goes through. She’s going to get her name changed, fill out the paperwork, stay at home until her can find her a job.”

“Are your parents happy?” I asked Diane.

“Oh, yes,” she responded. I realized it was a stupid question. What else was she going to say?

“So tell me about yourself,” Norm asked. I told him about myself. “You thinking of getting into a relationship here?” he asked me.

“Oh no,” I responded. Then I paused. “I’ve lived in California all my life. I actually don’t find Asian girls attractive. So I’m not really looking for anything here.” I looked at him and waited for a response. He just kept eating his noodles, and didn’t say anything.

"So have you ever been married?" I asked. The conversation was running out of steam, like the noodles in his bowl. (He had asked for a fork and spoon from the waitress.)

"Nope," he said. "But I have a 17 year old son. He's living with me right now. Not going to uni, but starting an apprenticeship soon."

"Has he met Diane yet?" I asked. 

"Not yet. Over the phone. He wanted to come down to...but I wouldn’t take my son on my honeymoon," Norm says. 

"Oh, it's your honeymoon!" I exclaim. "Are you guys going anywhere?"

"No, we're just staying here," he replies to me.

"Oh," I say. The disappointment is clearly etched on my face. This is pathetic. Diane sees the look and tells me, "We might visit [insert Filipino tourist spot here]."

For the rest of our conversation, we talk about his self-employed business, the occasional 12 hour days, the heat in this country, how great Diane's family is ("Beautiful family. We're staying at a hotel a ways down, but we're with them most of the time"), how much he loathes the beggars on the streets ("All Filipinos want is to steal your money," he says, while I think about how he feels about Diane), and his unfamiliarity with Asian food ("Diane can cook Filipino. I'll do the Aussie food"). 

"Great meeting you," I say. "I'll tell them to bring over the check for you. My name's Peter, by the way." 

"Norm. Norm Wilson," he responds.

Conversation deux:

Because this conversation was three and a half hours, I'm going to make this an interview format.

"I have 3 girlfriends. I should be out getting some right now, but I'm sexed out, can’t do it anymore, it’s too much for me now." 

"How did you get into this?"

"My Russian friend introduced me to them in Hong Kong a few months ago. There are just 60 girls there, all gorgeous, looking at you, and they're literally pawing at you, like you can't get rid of them. I got hooked. At the club they’re wearing scanty clothes, there are 50 on the dance floor, a couple look at you, come over, you can touch their pussies right there. 

They’re not shy."

"You like Asian women?"

"Yea, but too small, pussies are too tight. Problem." 

"I can’t stand white girls anymore. They’re all so stuck up, like they’ve got sunshine in their pussies. Asian girls are actually insecure. You tell them they’re beautiful and they’ll start adoring you."

"The girls there – you have to see them yourself. It’s like fucking a 8 year old, I like one with big jugs because they’ve got a little more meat on them."

"I would take you to the one downstairs, but there's one girl who's a nymphomanic. Seriously. I shagged her once and she still wanted more, if I go back she'll be all over me. I can't take it tonight."

"How much is it?"

"All together, the drinks, everything, it will run you 6-8,000. In Hong Kong, it's the same price, but in Hong Kong dollars. Which means it's 5 times more expensive. The ironic thing is, there, 9/10 girls are Filipino, one of them Thai, which is the exact same here. You know what they call Filipinos in Hong Kog? Strawberries. Because they’re just fruit, to be plucked.

There’s no obligation if you pay – kick them out the next morning. 7-8am they leave. Once you find one, 10 feet away is the hotel lobby. It’s ridiculous, unbelievable. They'll do whatever you want."

"What do you mean, whatever?"

"What do you mean whatever? It means they’ll take off your clothes and get on top of you."

"How do you feel about it, morally?" 

"Well," he hesitates, thinks a bit, then says, "First, you know it's East Asia. We’re in East Asia right now. It’s very liberal here. And it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Plus, you know how poor these people are here, they make 3-4,500 pesos a month. A girl can make that in one night. And they’re not going to go back with someone that they’re not already interested in. It’s not like that. There has to be chemistry. The club wants there to be chemistry."

"So you go to the clubs?"

"I know the madame at the place. She's actually the hottest one there."

"Don't take the ones off the street. They'll rip you off. And then they'll disappear, and you'll never find them again."

"The free ones are the most expensive. They’ve got families, they want to get married, get the cops involved sometimes, call abuse. Drama. Too much."

"Do you have any bad stories?"

"Yea...with the ones on the street. Think about it, you’re already in a bad spot, because they’re the ones that the club rejected already."

"Aren't you worried about STDs?"

"The girls at the club get tested once a month, have papers and everything to prove that they’re clean. Plus, condoms. They always carry them too. They make them strong these days. Haven't have a problem yet."

Other notable quotes:

Texts: I see texts like "Love ya"; "I’m still working right now"; there's 10 a day.

"Those guys, always trying to sell me Viagra from their packs. 4 pills. They last 6-8 hours, take one at a time, and if you drink anything, a glass of water, it goes away faster."

"Yea, I’m already having trouble getting it up."

"No kids, no wife. There is good and bad. I went to 60 countries last year – saw things that no one ever saw, but good and bad."

"You can do almost anything if you’re stubborn enough."

"I’m a loner, a loser, and I’m extremely stubborn."

"It’s the land of milk and honey."

"I’m not condoning what happened what happened during 7/11, but you brought it on yourself. The wars you're fighting abroad."

At the bar:

My co-worker told me, "You should make friends with one of them and get you to show you around in them. Get the inside scoop -- I'm sure it'll be juicy." So that's what happened. I didn't last very long. 

So I was ignorant of this before, but: one of the "girlie bars" is literally right next to my hotel. 10 girls. No guys. All of them under black-light. The madame sits you down -- then three of them are immediately there, asking what drinks you want. Scantily clad. A stripper pole in the middle. They're all wearing white, it looks like. I bounce after 15 seconds, and outside, shake the cooties off. Ugh. 


  1. These kind of stories makes me sad. The women resort to prostitution because of poverty. I wouldn't envy the old bald guys however, those women look very different when you see them with the lights on.

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  2. Your talks with foreigners are very interesting! It got me excited when you asked about their moral stance. When I was first exposed to these scenes i.e., seeing a foreigner guy and Filipina together, I also wished I could interview them. I'm really curious about their circumstances.

    Your post reminded me of this story!!