Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Time When I Abetted a Yangshuo Prostitution Ring

After a few days in Guilin, Gus and I left in a small bamboo boat and travelled downstream to Yangshuo, a market town turned tourist attraction on the banks of the Li River.

The small bamboo boat was one of three possible watercraft options for the trip to Yangshuo. When we went into the travel office, the woman said that a boat cruise to Yangshuo would cost 430 RMB.

"But the sign behind you says that the trip is only 220 RMB," I said.

"Actually," Gus interjected, "the sign also says that it's cheaper during the winter. So it should only be 200 RMB."

"That's a different boat," said the lady. "You don't want that boat."

"Why don't we want that boat?"

"It doesn't have an English tour guide; you'll be confused."

"Obviously we don't need an English tour guide," we said to her. In Chinese. Like the whole conversation has been in Chinese.

"Haha, yes, of course you don't." She smiled.

"OK, so we'd like to book tickets for tomorrow."

"Great. That'll be 860 RMB."

"We don't need an English tour guide."

"Well, you're not Chinese people, so you should take the boat for foreigners." She smiled again.

And then we left. In protest, we went to our hotel and asked the lady if there was a cheaper boat option, and she suggested the bamboo boat. She said it might get a little cold. "We'll take it!" we said.

Cut to me the next day, wearing essentially every piece of clothing I had packed while I sat on freezing a bamboo boat for three hours listening to the wind whistle through the karst.

Now, if there's one person who benefits from from the discomfort of the bamboo raft experience, it's a prostitute living in Yangshuo, because she can count on tourists feeling cold and isolated, what with the wind and the karst.

And, let me tell you, there were some serious prostitutes in Yangshuo. I never actually saw any prostitutes there, but lots of old women on the street offered me massages and then, when I turned them down, said, "you want sex?" I do not think these old ladies were planning on having sex with me themselves (but if they were, then you go girls!), and presumably the sex would not have been free, so my bet is that there are young women who are selling their bodies to foreign tourists via a network of madams who solicit nightly on the streets of Yangshuo.

Now, I find this situation with the prostitutes reprehensible and disgusting for a number of reasons, which is why it is surprising that, while in Yangshuo, I provided translation services for prostitutes.

I was walking with my friend (not Gus; I do have other friends) down the main pedestrian avenue of Yangshuo when a woman approached us and said, in English, "massage?", though with a certain prostitute-y twinkle in her eye which told me that this woman was in fact willing to sell me a (hopefully younger) woman who would offer me a massage and also perform various sexual acts about my person.

I told her no, and we kept walking but she caught up to me and slipped her arm in my arm and asked me if I wanted some sex. This is where one has to really start hoping that what she is asking is actually, "do you want some sex with someone who is 30 years younger than me?", but I wasn't interested in any case, so I got a little angry and said, in Chinese, "stop bothering us!"

Now this got a reaction. The woman pulled back and said, "hey, do you want to fight?" And I did what any person with my body type would do when a 60 year old woman asks to fight, which is I said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean anything by it."

Then she said that it was OK, and she shook my hand and complimented me on my Chinese. Then I said that my Chinese wasn't very good at all, and she complimented me on my modesty, and shook my hand again, and then said that I was her foreign brother.

And then we got to talking. She told me about how rudely most people rejected her advances, when all she was doing was trying to sell massages ("and women's bodies", I wanted to add, but it didn't seem like a good time). She was trying to learn English on her own, but she said it was very hard. Then she asked me if I could teach her some English phrases.

So I helped the woman on her pronunciation of the word "massage" and then I taught her how to say "room with air conditioning" and "you look stressed, do you want to relax?" in English. She thanked me profusely, and gave me her business card, and asked with a wink what I thought of Chinese girls. I told her they seemed like very nice people, and then I said that I should probably go.

At the very end she said that this would help her a lot in her business. So there you go: I may have caused a demonstrable increase in an exploitative sex trade centered around Yangshuo. How do I sleep at night? With prostitutes.