Prostitution is illegal in most of Southeast Asia, but there’s a big ol’ set of quotation marks around the word. Thailand and Vietnam are especially notorious as destinations for sex tourists.
And since Cracked has developed a habit of interviewing prostitutes over the last year for totally official reasons and not at all because we need somebody to hold us while we cry, we decided to speak with Diem Phu Nu. Diem was a Ho Chi Minh City moped prostitute.
1. Many Families Are Perfectly Fine With Prostitution
For poorer women like me, prostitution is seen as a fairly acceptable way to get income. I started when I was 15, not because we were starving and needed groceries (although I did help them out on expenses) —
I simply wanted some spending money, and part-time prostitution was a way to get it. I had a lot of English-speaking clients who wanted to take me to dinner as part of the escort experience, so I got free meals, too.
It may seem tragic to you, but I was OK with it, and so was my family. The street caller who got clients for me was a family friend, and he looked out for me.
An unexpected fringe benefit: Many of my clients were talkers, and that wound up helping me out a lot in school. I got top grades in English thanks to all the practice I got with clients. You can study quietly in a library, or you can study while having sex and getting paid for it. Seemed like a better deal to me.
It’s really only tourists who look down on us for it. One white woman passed me and an older guy holding hands in the street once and told us that “we should be ashamed of ourselves.” But he was satisfying his sexual desires, while I consented and was getting money to save up for a moped. I certainly didn’t feel ashamed or abused while hooking; I felt like I was 62 percent of the way to a bitchin’ scooter.
2. You Can’t Just Start Selling Your Body
You may think that starting work as a prostitute is as easy as dressing sexily and actually accepting those lewd offers the guys are yelling at you anyway. But without a “caller,” you’ll be lost.
Callers are basically those guys who twirl around big arrow signs to get people into mattress stores and pizza joints, but for sex workers.
No, they don’t dance on the street corners while spinning vagina-shaped signs — they call out to passing tourists and carefully screen prospective clients. Each one knows what the prostitutes they represent can handle.
For example: They’ll avoid pairing most of us with heavyset people. Many Vietnamese women are small, so a large, heavy man will be a problem.
If the client persists and asks for us specifically, they will have to meet us for dinner rather than riding with us straight to the destination. That’s not because we hate them — fat tourists on mopeds are more of a physics problem than a moral one.
The established callers all have their own turf, and they’ll chase away any unrepresented prostitute they see working their area. Other areas are absolutely filled with moped-straddling hookers already, and thus the market is as saturated as …
I’m not going to finish that analogy, for all our sakes.
3. We Truly Care About The Customer Experience
In Thailand, for example, prostitution sounds like a pretty straightforward business:
Direct “tab a” into “slot b.” 2. Collect money. Like an ATM
But, at least in my city, a surprising amount of thought goes into pairing each customer with the best prostitute for his wants and needs. We’re a service industry, and just because we’re literally servicing our customers doesn’t mean we phone it in.
Say the client gets waved over to a caller. It’s not like a taxi stand, where you hop into the first available opening. The caller and the client speak for a while first. Sometimes clients have specific wants — anything from a classy escort experience to hardcore BDSM.
Then their preference is divided into age, figure, sex, and ethnicity. It’s like building your own video game character, only you get to fuck it once you’re done.
After the caller finds out exactly what the client wants, only then does he contact the most fitting available prostitute. For longer negotiations, the caller might even stop at a drink stand and treat the client to some booze.
The customer gets their free drunk on, while the street caller talks it over with the girls until a decision is reached upon who, exactly, is the best prostitute for the job at hand.
4. The Rivalry With Massage Parlors Can Get Ugly
Many massage parlors here are fronts for sex. There’s no dinner, no conversation or getting to know each other a little first — just straight to the “show.” That’s why the more traditional prostitutes in Saigon see massage girls as whores. (Ed. Note: If you’re confused by that distinction, join the club.)
Of course, I’m sure the massage girls think we’re whores because we don’t even throw a friendly massage in first.
When the caller for a moped prostitute and a pamphlet girl for a massage parlor get too close, things can explode. And not in a sexy, euphemistic way. Callers will knock the pamphlets out of the girls’ hands; the girls will kick over the bikes of a rival.
There’s a parlor very near my room, and full-on fights over clients aren’t at all uncommon. It’s like a parody porno of The Warriorsout there.
5. The Police Actually Protect The Prostitutes
Prostitution is not only an expected part of the culture here, but a huge aspect of our tourism industry. Yes, prostitutes can be arrested, but only when they are found to be part of a trafficking ring or are committing another crime while doing it.
Otherwise, it’s winked at heavily by law enforcement. In fact, the police do more than look the other way — they protect us better than any pimp could. I mean, you won’t see “Ho Chi Minh Police: Way Better Than Pimps” emblazoned on their badges or anything, but they have our backs.
We have each other’s backs, too. If someone tries to go to a moped prostitute’s apartment, they’ll find that all of the neighboring apartments are also filled with prostitutes, as well as an owner who can come and pin down the abuser. Clients who get aggressive can look forward to being dogpiled by call girls, and while that does sound like a hell of a lot of fun, I can assure you it is less so in practice.
The police have no qualms with punishing tourists caught abusing women, and they can totally be reported to American authorities. One of my customers threatened me with a pocket knife when I was 16, and after I yelled out my code word, there were police on the scene in a couple of minutes (Without so much as asking if I was a prostitute, let alone arresting me).
The man was deported the next day, and last I heard, was arrested on arrival in the United States. There’s this misconception that sex tourists can do whatever they want in other countries with impunity, as though that country wouldn’t protect its own people over a sexually-frustrated rug salesman from Albuquerque.
NOTE: Diem retired as a prostitute shortly after our interview and opened a moped accessory shop in Ho Chi Minh City.