Let’s be real. The last subtitle this post needed was “Secret of the Ooze.” Creates some interesting and unnecessary visuals.
I also considered making today’s post a blow-by-blow account of removing a rubber tube from your own kidney, but I think I could best summarize the experience with “Try not to put yourself in a position where you need to.”
So let’s return, as promised, to tales of international prostitutes and my attempts to flee from them.
It’s very rare that I get stopped by customs when returning to Canada. Very rare that I get suspected of any crime, really. When I moved into my current home, we only got one copy of the front door key. The key clearly read “Do not copy.” Despite this, a locksmith agreed to make me several copies even though I couldn’t produce a single piece of evidence that I was the legitimate owner of the property I claimed this key belonged to. Clearly I have a very trustworthy face, which means I have missed out on a very lucrative life of crime.
With one exception.
I am unlikely to ever be able to smuggle anything out of Southeast Asia. Because people hear that a white male of my age group is going to Thailand, Vietnam, anything in that area, and they assume “sex tourist.” The less charitable amongst them will add in an assumption about “ladyboys.” Given that I made two trips to that part of the world within two years, it’s actually become a bit of a nuisance. Especially given the time Canada Customs spent nearly an hour searching my luggage and computer for proof that I was a sex criminal. But this isn’t about that. This isn’t about Canadians who leapt to unwanted conclusions based on stereotypes about the region. This is about locals who came to that same conclusion when they saw a white dude roaming around their country.
Night one in Tokyo, and I’m slightly overwhelmed by this amazing new city and most certainly hungry. It’s around 10:00 PM, but this place makes most large cities look tiny, surely there’s some place with English on the menus where I can grab a bite, right? I’m strolling down the street that leads to my hotel, when I slow to check out the sign for a restaurant. A matronly woman, maybe 40-45, gestures towards the doorway in a welcoming fashion. Now, I’m from a far less condensed city. I see restaurant signs outside a door, I tend not to assume it’s also a high-rise apartment building. Also, if a see a matronly woman gesturing at said restaurant, I assume she’s saying “Come inside and have some food, weary traveler,” not “Come inside and have some sex for money, white boy.”
I was incorrect.
She took me by the arm, but when we broke left away from the restaurant and headed for an elevator, I realised what was happening. I quickly made some panicked excuses and pulled away while she quoted some (probably quite reasonable) prices, found out the restaurant we’d passed wasn’t even open, and moved swiftly for my hotel, deciding I wasn’t even hungry anymore. Fortunately from there I only had to worry about strip club promoters. Well, “worry” likely isn’t the word I want.
It’s 5:00 AM, partway through an Asian holiday known as “Dan and Sean’s Excellent Adventure.” Well, that’s what I call it, anyway. Sean may or may not have branded it differently. Sean and I are about to catch a bus into Cambodia, and I’m in search of an ATM to get cash for the border. The wee hours of the morning are about as close to quiet as Ho Chi Minh City gets. The constant stream of honking motorcycles dies down to a trickle, many of which aren’t even honking at things. Shops and restaurants are just starting to open. As I emerged from the alley our hostel was in, looking for signs of a cash machine (the directions the guy at the desk gave me were unclear but I was far too tired and awkward to ask for clarification), a scooter suddenly emerged from goddamn nowhere, pulling to a complete stop right in front of me. There were two people on the scooter: a driver and the girl behind him.
“Hello,” says the girl, a half-second after the scooter stopped. This all happened in an instant, mind you: just ZOOM. SCREECH! “Hello.”
“Uh… hi,” I manage, then I swiftly turn away, attempting to convey lack of interest and deciding to move my search away from the side streets. No sooner do I round the corner than it happens again.
ZOOM. SCREECH! “Hello.”
Same scooter? Different scooter? I DON’T KNOW. Didn’t stop to find out. I like to think I avoided yelping in alarm. I am pretty sure I flinched pretty hard. And that’s where I abandoned my search for an ATM. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to ask the prostitute and her scooter-pimp where I could find money, that is sending entirely the wrong message.
Later, that same trip. It’s Christmas in Siem Reap and Sean and I have been joined by two of his friends from Hong Kong. We’re partying on pub street, a hub of cheap bars catering to visitors to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. After many, many beers and shots we decide it’s time for karaoke. One of the ladies thinks she knows a place, but it quickly proves to no longer exist. So we choose to hire out a tuk-tuk (somewhere between a cab and a rickshaw) to take us to a karaoke bar. Sean attempts to indicate what we’re looking for by repeating the word “karaoke” while waving his fist near his mouth as though he were holding a microphone. Well, that’s what he wanted it to look like, anyway.
Maybe the story would have played out the same regardless, but that was an unfortunate choice of gestures.
The tuk-tuk we picked pulls away from pub street, heading towards the city centre… past a bar that really looked like it was advertising karaoke… onto a highway… and as we get further and further from what we’d come to know as downtown Siem Reap (possibly inaccurate, I don’t really know) we began to grow concerned. Sure enough, when we pulled off the road, it was into what was very clearly a brothel.
It’s possible the brothel offered karaoke as well, it looked like it might, but that was not the point. We swiftly and insistently demanded to be taken back to pub street.
Now, I wasn’t even alone this time. I was accompanied by two women and a gay man. How could we possibly have looked like I need to visit a brothel? HOW. Okay, in fairness it wouldn’t have taken much effort to learn that nobody in this foursome had any intentions of sleeping with each other, but still. But still, dear readers.
Also we still totally had to pay for the tuk-tuk. That just seems wrong, but there it was.