Even though I wasn’t too fond of the Temple Club, the night after I had checked out their Free Apsara Dance upstairs, I went to get a little glimpse of what it’s like in their main area downstairs. I took my laptop with me to get some pictures posted on this blog and since visible sign advices everyone walking down Pub Street that the club offers free WiFi to its patrons, I was curious as to the reliability and speed of the wireless connection.
The music they play at the Temple Club is atrocious. I was already there so I just switched my “ignore” button on, started up my laptop, ordered a beer and got right down to working totally oblivious to everyone and everything around me, including that crappy mainstream music. Things were going smoothly, I got lots of work done, visitors to Siem Reap that filled the club enjoyed their time without bothering me so it all seemed like one fine night. I was just about done and ready to wrap things up when I lifted my eyes that were fixed upon the laptop screen for over 2 hours and noticed this really cute, petite Asian girl standing behind my shoulder with a grin, checking out what I had on my screen. It was pretty loud there so whatever I would have said would not be heard, but since I was done with actual work, I scooted over to make room for her to sit on a bench next to me so she can see the pictures from my trip so far.
Skimpy dress the girl was wearing along with obvious make up job left very little for guessing. Besides, Temple Club is notorious for abundance of prostitutes looking for an easy buck from fly by tourists who represent the majority of Temple Club’s clientele. I must have attracted her attention by completely ignoring everyone and being locked onto my laptop not even as much as lifting my brows up to see what was going on around me. I have never in my life been with a prostitute before but I was curious about what they were like. I wanted to meet with one and talk to her about why she does that, how she finds it and if she’d do something else if she could. So many questions, so much curiosity and here it seemed like my opportunity has arrived. However, I had all of my red flags on high alert though, being fully aware of the fact that HIV prevalence rate among prostitutes in Cambodia is extremely high. It’s also high among general population with 1 in 75 people being infected, however it is estimated that at least 50% of Cambodian prostitutes are bearers of an HIV virus or already suffering from AIDS.
I knew damn well that I have never paid for sex before – not even while I was in (reasonably) safe countries so risking it in a country with such high prevalence of HIV would be plain stupid. I realized that if I were to try what it’s like with a prostitute, I should have done it before, not now that I’m in Cambodia. And this is the type of message I tried to pass on to the girl who just sat beside me to take a look at pictures on my laptop. I asked her if she would like anything to drink but seeing that there was a major language barrier, I just mimicked the act of chugging a beer down my throat to make her understand. She showed me that she still had her Coca Cola she was happy with so I put my wallet away.
We attempted a little communication and even though it was a bit challenging, she did have some understanding of English language so we could actually speak. I explained to her that I understand she was a prostitute and that I had no issue with that, but I firmly expressed that I was not going to get sexually involved with her because of fear of HIV and my own belief that there are better ways to hook up with members of opposite sex. I actually loaded Microsoft Word (TM) and wrote the following to make myself clear and easy to understand:
Money = NO
Sex = NO
Drink = YES
Talk = YES
I was hoping my message would be clear and this was exactly the way it was understood. She was happy with the drink she still had so there was no need for me to buy her another one but I made sure she knew that I would be happy to pick up the tab for our next round. But most of all there had to be an understanding that all I’m paying for are drinks and not any form of “services” she may be offering. The girl was OK with that and explained that business was slow tonight so she’s just gonna take the rest of the night off. We ended up staying until the close and had a very interesting conversation. I have learned that her real name was Ha even though she has originally introduced herself as Minnie (probably her hooker name she chose because of her petite build). I have also learned that she was Vietnamese and that Ha was a Vietnamese name, not Cambodian. I have heard that there are many Vietnamese prostitutes in Siem Reap so this information didn’t raise any additional questions.
We talked a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. But as we kept talking, I kept growing more and more suspicious of her. She sounded like a normal person. This was not the type of talk I would have expected from a prostitute. The fact that she gave up on “working” in favor of an intelligent conversation was already a hint enough but as the night progressed, the entire prostitute/john relationship was completely wiped off and instead there was a Canadian tourist and a Vietnamese girl with quite a touching story to her.
Ha told me she was 23 and had a 4 year old daughter. The reason why she was at the Temple Club was to try to make money to buy her little girl some food. Fabricated sob stories of this sort are an everyday thing utilized by scamming Cambodians because they work well with tourists. But with a bit of wits you can tell they’re lying and all they want is your money so they are ready to say whatever it takes to get some from you. It was entirely different with Ha. The sincerity of her eyes and voice were undeniable. There was something very wrong about her selling herself out and I could tell right away that she has not tried this type of “work” many times, if at all.
I asked where her daughter was now and she told me she was with her cousin who is looking after her. She also said they lived in a shed without shower, in the dog house kind of attachment to her uncle’s house because that was all she could afford. The night was coming to a close, so I offered her to come home with me. I had two beds in my room and whether both beds were occupied or not, it was gonna cost me the same. I offered her an option to sleep on an actual bed, instead of on wooden planks and use actual shower, instead of bathing in the rain puddles in rice fields. I have once again stressed that I won’t be interested in “hooker” services, but I did have a bed available and we have just become good friends, so I wanted to offer my friend some help that didn’t cost me anything.
As we walked towards my guesthouse, we continued to talk undisturbed by loud music. Ha was very grateful for being offered a sleep in a decent bed and a shower but felt obliged to deserve it. She didn’t want any money from me, but she wanted to “pay” for my hospitality with the only think (she thought) she had to offer – her body. I have assured her that this is not necessary and insisted that she takes as much time in the shower as she needs and so she is not afraid to make my room her home. I trusted her beyond recall and she’s never let my trust down. She was not a prostitute. She had no business being one. She didn’t deserve that. Something was terribly wrong about this who ordeal. I have just met an innocent person on the first night of her life trying to sell her body for money. I was after a story and I got a life changing experience instead.
Ha slept on one of the beds, I slept on another. I left the air conditioning on so she gets the pleasure of not having to sleep in scorching heat at least for the night. This night turned out nothing like I would have ever imagined. I was tired and fell asleep quickly. We woke up to a beautiful sunny day which was just what I was waiting for to start my Angkor Wat exploring adventure. After a week of mostly rainy weather, a cloudless, sunny day was a breath of fresh air. And I woke up sharing the room with a beautiful, young lady from Vietnam. Say good morning, Ha!