Saturday, November 24, 2007

White and Wild: profiles of Westerners in Asia

Some guys have a different take on what is means to be middle-aged or retired. Instead of living in the suburbs, playing golf, or cuddling grandchildren, they're more interested in smoking pot, drinking at 11:00 am, and fraternizing with working girls a third their age. They are also interested in living well but paying next to nothing. They like living on the rusty, disentary-infected edge. But they were all very unassuming: no crazy hairdoos, tattoos, or piercings. I met a bunch of guys like this in Vietnam and Cambodia. They ranged in age from mid-40's to late 60's. Some were divorced with grown kids. Some were white collar, some were blue. Some had married or planned to marry young Asian women. Being that they spoke to me off the record (usually while we were sitting on a bar stool), I did not use their names and changed some identifying characteristics.


E:
He is a retired English teacher. He is in his late 60's, has a grown son, and currently spends 6 to 9 months a year in an area known for its bar girls, he says. Each morning, he and a group of other Western guys meet at a coffee joint for breakfast. They discuss events from the night before and are on good terms with the local hookers. He says he and his friends are backups for the hookers. If the girls don't get any business, they will offer the older guys a discount. If the girls have need a place to sleep, sometimes they'll stay over. He says they all watch out for each other. He also says the girls tend to prefer older guys because they don't want sex as much. Though he clearly likes women, his attitude toward long-term relationships at this point in his life can be summed up by the following quote he offered from a book he was reading: "If it flies, floats, or fucks, you're best off renting it."

He said he has been having unprotected sex with prostitutes for the last 10 years. I raised an eyebrow and cited a statistic claiming that 12 percent of Vietnames sex workers have HIV. He said the girls in his area all get regular AIDS tests. He also quoted some other well known facts about the AIDS virus (it doesn't live long outside the body, you need a large dose of it to become infected, uncircumsized men are more at risk.) He also said that he thought Asians in general were a lot cleaner than Westerners. As an example, he cited the bidet sprayer found in most Asian bathrooms. If you get shit on your arm, would you rather wipe it with a piece of paper or wash it off with a hose? he asked. (Hard to argue with that logic.)

He says that he knows of Western guys who have fallen in love with bar girls and then start sending them money every month. Some of the girls have multiple guys sending them money.

Though he apparently has a nice apartment in his home country that he rents out in his own country, he has no problems with Asian squalor. I met him at a seaside bar that offers free accommodations -- a hammock -- to its customers.

H:
He appeared to be in his late 50's and at press time was living with a 20-something woman he met when she was working as a hostess in a Cambodian bar. She no longer works there. He plans to marry her provided she learns to read and write in English. He is learning Cambodian. He owns a sucessful business in a Western country and over that last couple of years has been splitting his time between Cambodia and his native country. He plans to move to Cambodia. He has had some trouble with the girl's family -- mainly annoying money issues. For example, her father lost the house gambling. H bought the house back for about $900 and put it in his girlfriend's name. The parents still live in the house. Another time, one of her relatives swiped his cell phone. The swipee's husband was going to beat her if she returned the phone. H paid $30 to get his phone back.

S:
He is recently divorced and met a woman he liked at a hostess bar. He asked her how much she would need to quit working at the bar and concentrate on college. She said $100 a month. He deposits the money in an account for her every month. She typically has money left over at the end of the month. They have been dating for over a year. He visits for 3-month stretches and they talk every couple of weeks on the phone. Her English is marginal but she is taking classes and studying business. They plan to start a business for her selling low-cost jewelry in her native country. She is a real go getter and appears to manage money well. On several occasions, I let her negotiate things for me or return things and she handled the transactions with aplomb. They are discussing marriage, but again the family is an issue. Also, he's in his early 40's, she is in her mid-20's, and he's not sure he wants kids.

M:
He is in his mid-30's and has his own business catering to tourists in Cambodia. He married a Cambodian woman. I met him in the middle of the day in a Phnom Penh bar. He was slightly hammered. (I would have stayed and drank with him but I was on my way to the gym and just stopped in for a sandwich. I ended up having a beer and a cigarette with him before going to work out.)


Dr:
He is a physician working in Cambodia. He appears to be in his mid-40's. He appeared to know the local party and bar scene very well. He fell in love with a bar girl and gave her a $2000 ring. He says she took off with the ring and he hasn't seen her since.

O:
He was also in his late 60's and traveling with E. They were drinking, smoking, and card playing buddies. He had married and divorced an Asian woman he met when he was in the military. He was now retired. He was also part of E's coffee klatch.

N:
Years ago, he was traveling with a friend fully intending to go home. He ended up in Vietnam and now has a Vietnames wife and business renting recreational craft to tourists. He appeared to be in his late 40's.

X:
He was a regular in a local bar that sells joints over the counter. He married a Cambodian woman and has a child. He didn't come home for a couple of nights, so she showed up at the bar and reamed him out using decent English. According to those who were there, she used phrases like "Him bad husband," "Him fucking asshole."