Cathy Trương is a Vietnamese American who spent two years living in Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Nội.
She submitted this story to Tuoitrenews from Vancouver, Canada, where she now lives.
Trương discusses the issue of expats using sexual services in the southern city based on the personal experiences she amassed during her stay in Việt Nam.
Within a few months of moving to Hồ Chí Minh City, I was surprised to find out about the large number of male expats and travelers alike that pay for commercial sex in the city.
When I was in the US, within the Vietnamese community, I would sometimes hear about how men would go back to Việt Nam to chơi gái, an expression with sexual undertones meaning ‘playing with the women.’
It wasn’t until I came to Sài Gòn that I understood how readily available sex is and how frequently the men like to play.
I found out about these rarely spoken of services from many of my male friends, who were willing to trust me enough to open up about their sex life.
As expats are visitors in a foreign country, they are likely to have fewer connections than in their home country.
Hence a mere acquaintance or co-worker can quickly become a close confidante.
I have developed friendships that have transcended age, gender, and social barriers which would have been uncommon in the West.
Since my fellow cohorts were receptive, I wanted to find out why they would pay for sexual services.
Being a foreign male in Hồ Chí Minh City (HCMC) almost automatically guarantees a lot of attention from the local ladies.
So when it’s so easy to date, why resort to paying for sexual services?
One American English teacher, Matt, didn’t want to get attached in a relationship, so he went to prostitutes instead.
Ironically, he would develop an emotional attachment to these women, much to his dismay.
Like in Pretty Woman, Matt, too, had fallen in love with a prostitute.
Adam, an American Việt-Kiều who also teaches English, does not pay for sexual intercourse out of fear of catching STDs, however he does like to get his hair washed, or gội đầu.
This erotic service is performed by scantily clad women who brush their bodies up on their clients while cutting hair, shaving facial hair, and cleaning ears.
Sometimes other services such as oral sex or intercourse can be negotiated for the right price.
The typical price for this service is VND120,000 plus tips on Trần Hưng Đạo Street, D5, but prices vary according to location.
One of my Việt-Kiều friends from California, Vinh, travels to Sài Gòn once a year.
He was invited to a bia ôm on a visit, a bar where men can touch, fondle, and grope the waitresses for entertainment.
These places are generally popular with the older Vietnamese generation.
A massage parlor is what Điệp, a Vietnamese-German businessman, prefers.
He likes to go about once a month.
Điệp told me that:
“You can take a woman out for dinner and she won’t even have sex with you.
Rather than hunting for sex, I’d rather pay to get myself relieved.”
The most open of my male expat friends is Robert, an American professor.
He is engaged to his fiancée, who doesn’t mind that he visits massage parlors.
Sometimes, they even call for a girl to join them in their home.
The typical price is $10 for a massage ticket at a massage parlor in Phú Mỹ Hưng, where Robert frequents.
The tip for extra services is around $15 for a handjob, $25 for oral sex, and $50 for intercourse.
Robert related to me that the girls at his favorite spa are all natural, unlike the working girls he sees at night clubs.
According to him, the girls at the spa are good at sexual techniques.
They are also consistent with using condoms.
When asked why he pays for sexual services when he has a partner, Robert said:
“When I was single I would tend to go for a sexual massage less often as it is easy to meet women.
When I’m in a relationship the massage is fast and there are no complications.”
Robert also took me to the massage parlor he frequents. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the owner, Lan.
She said that most of the men who come to her spa work in high paying positions. Some are executives of multinational companies.
The majority of her clientele are usually Korean, but there are also Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and other nationalities.
The workers at the spa pay Lan a VND2,000,000 fee to work for her.
On average, they make VND40,000,000 in tips per month.
I used to resent my male friends and relatives who did engage in prostitution or attitudes or behavior that degrade women.
As time went on, I came to accept what they did in their pastime, though I still didn’t approve of it.
Men have urges and are not perfect, and after all, prostitution is the world’s oldest profession and will continue to exist.
Several years ago my Vietnamese language teacher back in Orange County said that she doesn’t want Vietnamese culture to be represented by rows of coffee shops in Little Saigon, California, where the waitresses are half naked.
I agree with her.
I don’t want people to think of Vietnamese women as prostitutes who say “me love you long time” or who chase foreign men for ulterior motives.
I believe our people deserve better.
As HCMC is a bustling financial center, many things can be bought.
Just make sure that what you get for your exchange is worth it, whether it’s VND120,000 or VND40,000,000.
By CATHY TRƯƠNG
* Note: The names of the individuals in this story have been changed.