Subject: Sex in the Philippines, 1994
Disclaimers: You'll find nothing in here about pedophilia, or about gay sex. The former, IMHO, is pathologically evil, and I have no personal interest in the latter. Pedophilia is rife in the Philippines, which, while less-organized than Thailand in catching perpetrators, is somewhat cruder than Thailand in punishing the ones they do catch. They're frequently shot, "by accident."
AIDS: The government would have you believe that AIDS is less of a problem here than elsewhere in Asia. That is false. The truth is that the Philippines' sex industry is far less regulated than elsewhere; centralized record-keeping is practically nonexistent; and the subject (despite the occasional billboard picturing a condom with the caption: "Don't be silly--cover your Willy") remains taboo. AIDS is as bad here as it is everywhere else.
The Philippines is a nation with no fixed psychic address. When you step off the plane, you will be behind the looking-glass. This is a country in which the crusading catholic cardinal's name is Jaime (pronounced "Hymie") Sin. English is commonly spoken, but nothing other than prepositions means what you think it does--and even the prepositions pop up in all the wrong places. As a result of 400 years of occupation, first by Spain and then by the U.S., Filipinos truly don't know in which hemisphere they belong.
To compound its isolation in the region, the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia. Or, more specifically, animist-Catholic, adhering to what was instilled by less-than-enlightened Spanish missionaries combined with shreds of whatever it was that preceded the Spanish occupation.
Like the Thais, Filipinos are outwardly open, friendly, even subservient. As their history, both past and recent, shows, however, they are also capable of violence. Manila is perhaps the most dangerous capital city in Asia, demonstrating all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of democracy.
Weapons reside under many of the shirts men commonly wear outside their trousers, and this is the only country I know of where you are more likely to see a gun poster than a girlie poster. Filipinos do love their guns. If you go, I recommend you find and wear one of those T-shirts that have emblazoned upon them: "Don't shoot! I'm Australian!" Travel by single females is definitely not recommended.
The Philippines is my favorite place in Asia.
Manila generally does not have the type, or quality, of massage parlor found in Bangkok. It does, however, have a reasonable facsimile (the Philippines itself being a reasonable facsimile of a nation), called Apartment Girls, about which more in Part 2.
Until a little over a year ago Manila's hot zone was Ermita, the so-called tourist belt. Then a crusading, anti-everything mayor was elected and fulfilled his promise to close down the bars, which were indeed thinly-veiled fronts for prostitution. (He also is suspected of being behind Manila's "hit squads"--teams of plainclothes police who execute drug sellers in Manila literally on the spot.)
In response the bars simply moved about a mile closer to the airport, which placed them in an area called Pasay City, outside Manila city limits. For those who know (or want to know) Manila, the precise location of the old Ermita places, and some new ones, is a cul-de-sac called Pasay Food Complex, immediately next to the Holiday Inn on Roxas Boulevard. You will find little food there.
Experienced Manila-goers will recognize the Firehouse and Visions, both old Ermita landmarks. There are also a number of karaoke bars in the cul-de-sac, targeting Japanese tourists. Don't go in. They're merciless rip-offs, perhaps part of a plot to wreak economic revenge upon the Japanese for their WWII destruction of Manila.
The Firehouse and Visions are carbon-copies of their Ermita predecessors. Of the two, Visions is larger, with more and generally younger girls (you'll find them as young as 15 or so, though they won't admit it). The Firehouse plays better music IMHO (current MTV-type rock videos as opposed to generic rock) and has a better sound system, and the atmosphere is generally more laid back. I'll use the Firehouse for illustration purposes. Procedures everywhere are identical.
The best time to go is around 9pm, when the night shift girls come on (they work from 9pm to 5am) and are still fresh. You'll brush through a curtain hanging in the doorway into a dark bar. Stand still a moment and let your eyes adjust; ignore for now the lady or gentleman trying to seat you. The bar will be on your right, extending down the room, with the stage immediately behind it. On the left are tables and a tiny dance floor.
Grab a stool front and center at the bar, if you like to be close to the action. Or, if you just want to watch for a while, sit at a table. As in Bangkok, often the best show is the one put on by the customers, who stare at the girls through an almost palpable, lust-filled haze.
About 2 feet from your nose will be anywhere from 10 to 30 girls in minimal bikinis. As in Bangkok they will probably be wearing numbers, but perhaps not; these things go in and out of fashion here. Ages will range from about 18 to, in very rare cases, as old as 30, but that's unusual. They will be dancing, just shuffling their feet, chatting with other girls, or adjusting their bikinis in the mirror behind them. In looks, they'll range from the most beautiful women you've ever seen to the opposite, proving once again that there's someone for everyone.
At both ends of the bar--not on the stage--you'll see clusters of other girls, also in bikinis, usually wearing some kind of wrap. That's the second shift; they change every 30 minutes or so. You'll also note some semi-elegantly dressed ladies standing around. These are "hostesses," women who are proscribed by age, stretch marks, or a combination of the two from dancing in bikinis. Some, however, are very good-looking; they are eminently available; and they're experienced in ways that the younger girls are not and have little interest in becoming.
You've had two beers (about $1.50 each; Manila is very inexpensive) and after excrutiating deliberation you've selected the girl of your dreams. Now what? If she's dancing and you've caught her eye (or she yours), wave her down. Not, BTW, like you would in the US, by motioning with your fingers toward yourself: that's considered an obscene gesture throughout Asia. Wave slowly, as though you were waving goodby (as indeed you are, to your heart and to your wallet).
If you can't catch her eye (or don't think you can get the wave-thing right), watch for one of the mama-sans, fordimable-looking women wearing red jackets and carrying lists in their hands (attendance lists for the girls for whom they're responsible). Tell her which girl you want to talk to; she'll take care of it.
When the girl comes over, here is the script:
She: Hello (sometimes). What your name? You: Say your name. She: I'm (usually a phony "stage" name). Where you come from? You: Say America. They like Americans, who are all independently wealthy. She: Where you stay? (Slots your economic level immediately). You: Tell her where you're camping. She: You first time Philippines? (Or, How you like Philippines?) You: Answer She: How long you stay? (Key question in determining earnings potential.)
That's it. Try 100 girls; you'll get the same script. I don't know who wrote it, but I hope (s)he had a copyright.
Buy her a drink. It will run about $4 or so. If the conversation lags, don't be surprised if she drifts away after a bit. If you're interested in taking her out, just ask: Would you like to go out with me? If all you want to do is take her to your hotel, use her and release her, add the words "for a short time?" Otherwise she'll assume she's staying the night. She may ask for another drink while she "thinks it over." What the hell.
Eventually she'll go for a mama-san, who will come over and confirm (a) that you do indeed want to take her out; (b) where you're staying; (c) that you don't appear obviously certifiable. The mama-san will then clear the girl to change into street clothes, and write up the bill for the "bar fine", which is what you pay the bar for taking the girl out. The current price all over Manila (it's a cartel) is 500 pesos, roughly US$10.
What do you pay the girl? It doesn't help to ask her how much. The answer will invariably be, "What you want," which sounds like "whatever you think is fair." But this is Manila. What she really means, of course, is whatever *she* thinks is fair. For a short time, which is an hour or two in your room, pay her about 750 pesos ($30).
For an all-nighter with a room service dinner thrown in (I have never seen anyone eat as much as these girls do), pay her anywhere from 1200 to 1500 pesos (25 pesos=$1). When she starts in with her stories about how she "usually" gets $100 for a short time, look impressed, smile, and point out that you're not Japanese (unless you are, in which case you'll have to come up with your own tale of woe).
Expect to wait a while for the girl to return. Also expect to have a little difficulty recognizing her when she does. When last you saw her, she was wearing a bikini, high heels, and Las Vegas makeup. Now you will see the real girl: a waif-like thing, tinier than you remembered (sandals instead of 3-inch heels), usually wearing shorts or jeans and a blouse, and devoid of makeup. It's sweet and pathetic at the same time.
Notice that I haven't suggested here, as I did for Bangkok, a preliminary discussion of specific sexual desires? With the exception of the older hostesses, such a discussion is unproductive. Unlike Bangkok's massage-parlor girls, who are quite matter-of-fact about all things sexual (which adds to their efficieny), Filipina bar-girls are heavily into both guilt and denial (which adds, ultimately, to their charm).
We are talking here about Catholic guilt colliding with economic necessity. Few of these girls want to be where they are, and the last thing they want to do is talk about it in graphic terms. To a much greater degree than in Bangkok, you're taking a quality gamble.
Tip the doorman 20 pesos on the way out and ask him to get you a cab. All Manila taxis have a special device used mostly for hanging deodorants, pictures, and other things. In other countries, this device is called a "meter". When you get to the hotel, ask the girl how much to pay the driver--she'll look out for you (you'll still overpay, but not by much).
Stay close to the girl on the way through the lobby, or she'll be punced upon by hotel security people. Don't mind the stares in the elevator. Also ignore the floor-boy's snide remarks in Tagalog (the local language) to the girl. They hate these girls, and the girls know it.
Once in the room, the girl may enter into a recital of what she doesn't do or has never done. Take it all with a grain of salt. If room-service is not happening, offer to let her shower first. She'll come out wrapped in a towel--guaranteed. Then you shower. Then (try to) do what you (think you) paid for.
You will find this about Filipina bar-girls (generally):
(1) They are genuinely shy. The same girl you just saw half-naked in a bar will wear a one-piece bathing suit to the pool--and wrap up in a towel at every opportunity.
(2) The girl who told you she doesn't do this or has never done that will do absolutely anything (up to and including jumping off the balcony, if you tell her to) once she has come to know and trust you. Of course, for a quickie or one-nighter, that won't happen (the trust, I mean; not the jump). If it does happen (it takes a few days, and a lot of stroking by you), and you are a decent human being, this knowledge imposes upon you a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
(3) Filipinas generally do NOT like lesbian-like activity or group sex. The same girl who will do anything for you while alone will lock herself in the bathroom if another man or woman intrudes.
Did you like the girl? Want to spend more time with her without paying the $10 bar fine (or her full fee) every night? Tell her you'd like her to be with you for the duration of your stay, and see what she says. Tell her how much you'll pay by the week, and leave it up to her. She may say no. If so, no problem. Back to the Firehouse (or another bar); there are plenty more to choose from.
Whenever the girl leaves the hotel, you MUST accompany her outside. If you don't, she'll very likely be victimized and ripped off by security on her way out. Be a good guy, even if you weren't 100% happy and just want to be rid of her. For her, this is real life.
Other than the bars in Pasay City, the other main area of interest is Makati, Manila's so-called "up-scale" business and residential district. This is near the Intercontinental, Mandarin and other major hotels. The bars are lined up on P. Burgos Street. Any cab will take you there. The girls are, if anything, prettier here than in Pasay, and somewhat more expensive as well. The clientele are more likely to be expat residents than tourists. They're mostly very friendly, and will cheerfully answer your "newbie" questions.
If you do want to stay in the Pasay City area and plan on spending more than a weekend, I recommend the Westin Philippine Plaza. Huge rooms, lots of mirrors, nice views, and the best (and biggest) pool in Manila. Otherwise try the Manila Hyatt or Holiday Inn.
Of Manila's Apartment Girls, and Angeles City
You say you're tired of Manila's bar scene and want to try something that few non-residents know about? You're comfortable now, and prepared to head off the beaten track? You're fearless? Here's your deal.
First, make friends with a taxi driver. They're all looking to make a buck, and as with taxi drivers everywhere, there is little they don't know about their city. Tell the driver you want him to take you to see some apartment girls. Arrange to meet him outside your hotel at about 7pm, and settle on an hourly rate (100 pesos or US$4 per hour is a fortune for him).
At the appointed time, he will commence to drive you around the city, stopping outside a ground-level apartment indistinguishable from its neighbors, except for one or two young men lounging outside. Ask the taxi driver if he'd like to come in with you for a beer (he will). One of the boys will open the door and you'll find yourself in a large, empty room, except for a host, who will invite you to sit down and offer you a beer (not for free).
At his signal, girls will file in and sit opposite you on the other side of the room. The number varies with the place, ranging from as few as 5 to as many as 20. They'll be dressed in normal street clothes, and will range in age from perhaps14 or15 to 25. This can be even more intimidating than Bangkok's massage parlors. At least there you were separated from the girls by plate glass. Here, they look at you, and you look at them, up close and personal.
The host will ask you if you see any girl(s) you'd like to talk to. As in Bangkok, you have the option of telling the host, very specifically, what you want. He'll tell you whether he has it in stock or not.
If you don't like any of the girls, no problem. Tell the host you're not interested tonight, pay for your beer, signal the cab driver, and off you go to the next place to try your luck again. Best to ask the taxi driver how many places he knows, so you don't exercise all your options and come up empty-handed.
Unlike in the bars, where you pay a small bar fine and then pay the girl (who keeps all the money you give her), here you pay the whole thing (usually about 1500 pesos) to the host up front. Plus a tip (maybe 300 pesos) later to the girl, if you she pleased you.
Who are these girls, and why aren't they working in the bars? Some are underage; some are students working for tuition money; some have police records and can't get the "entertainer's license" required of bar girls; some are fresh in from the provinces and need the "full-coverage care" the houses supply, including housing. There are as many reasons as there are girls.
They are not slaves, however; only indentured servants. They do have the option of turning a potential customer down. Many, for example, dislike men of Arab descent, who are reputed to treat the girls ungently. I have been in an apartment when two Arabs entered and all the girls stood and left the room, returning only when the Arabs had left.
One interesting point: All Filipinas seem to prefer older men to younger. The accepted wisdom is that older men are gentler, richer -- and let them sleep through the night undisturbed.
Allow me, before I leave this subject, to impress upon you that just as, most likely, nothing bad will happen will happen to you in New York, most likely nothing bad will happen to you in Manila, either. As in New York, however, latent violence all around you -- and the worst can, and frequently does, happen.
Before the Philippine Senate threw the U.S military out of the country, the world hub of raunchy sex was the town of Olongapo, home of Subic Bay naval base. The Americans left and a firebrand mayor, Richard Gordon, created the Subic Bay Industrial Zone and is busily marketing the port's facilities to Taiwanese and Japanese investors.
The same thing happened in Angeles City, formerly home to Clark Air Force Base, an hour north of Manila. Rather than billion-dollar port facilities, however, all Angeles' entrepreneurial mayor had to market was one long runway buried under ash from Mount Pinatubo's eruption. And, he had girls -- his own, and the hundreds from Olongapo who had lost their American clients.
Angeles was taken over by Australians, who have opened bars, restaurants, hotels, and any other vehicle they can think of for marketing a huge oversupply of girls. From the Sundowner Hotel in Ermita, air-conditioned buses run several times a day to Angeles. You can also arrange hotel accommodation for Angeles at the Sundowner. Most accommodations are fifties-style motels, with small swimming pools, and the food is decent.
Several Australian companies run tours from there straight to Angeles, bypassing Manila altogether. Australians themselves are generally a carefree and fun-loving lot, and if you're alone, it's very easy to fall in with a group at your motel or at a bar. Believe me when I say that they will know all the best spots.
I don't know how long it's going to last, but for now, Angeles City is the only town I know of whose entire economy is based on the sex trade. It's worth a try, if only for a weekend.
CAUTION: Not "everything" goes in Angeles. About a week ago, as I write this, three Australian residents there, all in their early thirties, were arrested with 4 kilos of marijuana. They're now in jail in Angeles, facing (are you ready for this?) the death penalty. Which is probably a kinder fate than life in a Filipino prison.
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