The value system of most Southeast Asian women can be summarised in this simple formula: Sex is Money and Money is Love.
Before anyone judges just think; realistically this philosophy is no different to what we advocate in the Western world – much as I suspect most of us would never admit to such a thing – it’s just a simplified version.
On the other hand, in my quest to experience Vietnam I walked longer and farther than I ever had done, usually returning as a sweaty, exhausted, shell of my earlier self; I wanted to see more of Ho Chi Minh City and while I was aware there were probably less strenuous ways of getting around, walking afforded me the ability to see, smell, meet, and sample the ways of these exotic southern Vietnamese streets.
In New Zealand – also I’m sure around much of the developed world – we see ‘Love’ as support, care, protection, and nurture; all these wonderful constituents of Love though, in the long term, they all require Money, and of course the more money one has, the more able one is to administer these ‘constituents of Love’, thus Money is essentially Love. Furthermore, realistically, most Western men, at least initially, would not stay with a woman and agree to provide for her all these glorious constituents of Love – which we recently established is tantamount to Money – without the assurance of Sex; thus, by implication, Sex is Money too. (To look at it another way: for as long as men have been hopelessly controlled by their lust for a beautiful woman, there have always been women prepared to exploit this desire in return for money therefore again, Sex is tantamount to Money.)
In District 10, the locale of Nhan Tam Dental Clinic, the atmosphere is vastly different to District 1. The primary disparity is the physical atmosphere; District 10 HCMC is significantly less polluted than District 1. Secondarily is the overall feel of the place; less pressure, less urgency, less hostility, less tooting – fewer vehicles, fewer people and less commotion in general. There were still banh mi vendors (blessedly) on the side of the road and most of them (extra blessedly) sold café sua da, but the best thing (even more extra blessedly), during my time in District 10 nobody tried to sell me anything; simply, I approached them voluntarily, they accepted my custom graciously, and I left happily.
Outside the overwhelming Vietnamese penchant for procreation, sex, generally, chiefly, is not an act undertaken for the purpose of enjoyment; it’s something that, predominantly, is used, by women, as a tool, simply, to make Money. Sex to a Viet woman is not particularly sacred or taboo, it does not have to be special or involve a great deal of emotion, nor does it need to be monumental or in fact even the least bit meaningful; it’s just a damned good way for that woman to make money. A Vietnamese prostitute (who, incidentally, may have begun her career as a teenager after, potentially, becoming the victim of sexual assault, perhaps, at the hands of her own family member/s and/or, possibly, their friend/s), for example, will return home with the Money she has been paid in exchange for Sex then show Love to her significant other, by sharing with him that Money. Men in Vietnam, as previously explained, typically, don’t work but instead have a woman who Loves and (for some reason) worships them enough to buy them the things they need and basically, provide them with enough of this Money to propagate an existence.
While many women do work legitimate jobs (prostitution in Vietnam being, technically, illegal), as already mentioned, in Ho Chi Minh City District 1, for the right price, most Vietnamese women will become anything the man with the money wants them to be.
In my quest to meet a nice Vietnamese woman – feeling as though I’d already met my share of skulduggerous ones hence my decision that locating women on the bar scene was not for me – I was not above approaching and, implementing my decidedly basic Viet tongue (which ironically, despite its simplicity, these Viet women seemed to find rather endearing), attempting to strike up a (decidedly basic) conversation. Much of the time though, after politely waiting for me to finish crudely mincing their language’s words, with a grin the Viet woman might interject; for example – “Ah, I have, ah … Some, Engleesh…?” – and in wonderfully broken English we might converse.
The problem I encountered though, was that so often, upon meeting this ‘nice’ woman then perhaps inviting her to join me for coffee it was then her who, perceiving dollar signs all over the youthful White male sitting across from her, would in fact attempt to turn the conversation salacious in the hope of initiating a carnal expedition; of course I was aware, by this stage, of the ‘wholesome Buddhist, four date philosophy’ thus found it perplexing to be invited back to my hotel room for ‘exciting fun’ (or if she was particularly forward, ‘boom-boom’), after only one coffee date. This game that pretty Viet women seemed to enjoy playing with White folk was moreover frustrating when I knew that my intentions (at this point anyway) were good, yet it was she who was trying to bring our budding relationship into premature disrepute.
Mai though, Mai admitted to not being an ‘eldest daughter’ therefore really had no need to be money-hungry; as is the Vietnamese (or perhaps Southeast Asian) way though, acquiring money through unscrupulous channels seems to be in their blood.
When I met her (last year’s Chronicles), evidently, Mai had casual work at a glorious District 6 café as well as, apparently, some other ‘health and beauty’ work; as I understood it, she was a wholesome Buddhist woman driven by love for her family, but not an eldest daughter. I recall last year, sitting in the dingy little café/bar situated under the Aston, being served by hotel porter Fine, slurping through a straw a glass of Jimbean as I made my farewells to Mai – shortly before our tour group were scheduled to head up country where we, a little under three weeks later, planned to fly out of Hanoi – she appeared to become suddenly anxious, as if realising that her plans (perhaps to screw me out of money) hadn’t been executed, or that she hadn’t had enough of an influence on me to ensure that I remained in contact with her (to perhaps try to later screw me out of money). Whatever the reason, on that occasion, she suddenly rushed away to the female WC, to reappear just minutes later having showered and undergone a complete change of ensemble; she had gone from donning her wonderfully elegant traditional Viet garb (last year’s Chronicles) – which I admittedly had found quite arousing – to wearing a sleek black and tastefully but wonderfully short dress along with a pair of stunning 4 Inch heels – which I definitely had found quite arousing. We sat closely for a short while and talked about nothing substantial before Mai blurted (with her limited grasp on English and strong Viet accent), “Need money … My grandma sick.”
I didn’t know what to think; I almost laughed. “Are you serious?” I was in disbelief, “You’re hitting me with the ‘sick grandma’ line…?!”
Looking at me now with a face of (manifestly disingenuous) despondence, nodding, she added, “She very sick.”
“Well shit Mai,” I spoke with levity, “my grandma’s sick too, matter of fact she’s been sick for over a year.”
“Oh,” Mai lowered her head, perhaps realising that the time to swindle me out of my dollars had passed.
Thinking of it, I’m just recalling, at that time, last year, downstairs in the Aston bar, before she had mentioned her grandmother but after she had transformed herself into the sleek goddess in black, I was becoming frustrated, exasperated with her; she appeared to want something but wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tell me what it was. This of course was not aided by her very basic English skills but I recall, at one point, she seemed unwilling to let me depart; she had just changed her attire and I had had the sudden thought, ‘Oh wow, she’s actually trying to impress me, she must really want something’, yet despite best efforts, I could not work out what it was that she wanted from me. All she was doing was sitting closely to me, hugging into me as though I was her saviour and making a concerted effort to look sad, all the while dressed like a classy Asian prostitute.
What was I to do? In my frustration at not being able to understand what she wanted from me, why she wouldn’t let me leave, I took the initiative…
It ought to be noted, for those of you thinking, ‘Go on, dick, she wants you to be a man, she wants you to make a move on her’, I can assure you, this is not what she wanted.
…I grabbed her by the butt, pulled her in and tried to kiss her; she writhed in my grasp and pushed herself back with the words, “No … Not want.”
This left me confused and more frustrated; I was about to just stand and leave but had one last thought. I removed my wallet, took out a 500 dong note and said, “What, you want this?”
I recall she had just looked at me with pining eyes.
It ought to be noted though, I didn’t feel at all sorry for her; she was annoying me to the point of insanity. An observer might have concluded as much but there was no way she had developed genuine feelings for me either; we had only met a few days earlier. I withdrew another 500. “What, you want more?”
Still, she had just looked at me.
As I recall I had become extremely agitated; she appeared to have suddenly relinquished any ability to reciprocate verbal communication and it was making me mad with frustration.
Mai refused to take my money yet had still appeared to want something from me; twelve months ago, I didn’t ever find out what she wanted although twelve months on, I now had the opportunity to meet her again and see where things went.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Sax Money
Photography by Minnie Love