Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mildly Controversial with a Happy Ending

I found this article after I heard about the idea being kicked around for some of the provinces in Vietnam. Apparently the higher-ups here in Hanoi are planning to closely monitor the success of this program in Indonesia, with the intent of possibly implementing the same measures here.

I haven't yet been to Indonesia, or Thailand, but we've all heard the stories about the S.E. Asia sex trade. Vietnam, while not quite as obvious (or oblivious) as some of it's neighbors doesn't appear to be an exception. Massage parlors are seen in all corners of the city and seem to be doing quite a good trade, and "boarding houses" with beds for "short term" rent are scattered around the city as well. The life-size pictures of bikini clad girls and bright neon which mark these establishments leave little doubt as to what's going on behind closed doors.

While I doubt that anybody is really using those boarding houses for the actual purpose of boarding, some of the massage parlors appear to be legit. A few of them in the center of town have gone upscale and expensive with the hope of capturing the tourist demographic, while most others are simple little neighborhood places, catering to local guys. In the interest of research, your dedicated blogger decided to scout a few, to see for myself what's really going on in Hanoi.

Full Disclosure : My mother reads this blog.

Spoiler Alert : Don't worry Mom, it's safe to keep reading.

In my first month here, I've been for four different massages, in three different places. My first massage here in Hanoi was the day I got off the plane. I had flown 18 hours from New York, with stops in Alaska and Taipei, with the owner of the company I'm working for, and when he suggested we get massages, I jumped at the chance. We went to one of the upscale places, clean and expensive, and paid for an hour full body massage. (Keep in mind, expensive is a relative term, I think that hour cost about 12 bucks.) My second massage was about two weeks later, the day he left to return to the states. It was also in a more touristy place with signs and prices in English. My third and fourth massages were both in a nieghborhood place near my house, catering to local Vietnamese guys. It was clean, simple and crowded. There weren't any signs in English and after a short game of charades and negotiation, an hour cost me four bucks.

Now here's the interesting part. In both the first two places, the massage wasn't that great, and I was offered "extra services" after about 35 minutes of half hearted back rubbing. When I politely declined and gestured that I only wanted my shoulders rubbed, the massage went from half-hearted to no-hearted. She seemed genuinely dissapointed, and maybe a little angry with me, that she wasn't going to make a few extra bucks. In the local place, the masseuse almost killed me with the effectiveness of her massage, and never even showed the slightest interest in anything other than massage. This saved me the embarrassment of having to politely but firmly (no pun intended) refuse, and as a result I've been back to that place twice, and I'll probably go again this weekend.

So, I think those experiences are interesting when viewed in light of American stereotypes about Asian countries and the sex trade. This idea that massage means something more than massage seems to be an idea that has been imported. It's something that has sprung from the demand side of economics, not from the supply side. To them massage means massage, nothing more nothing less. Remember Full Metal Jacket? "What can I get for ten dollars? Those weren't Vietnamese guys asking the question. But then again, maybe this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone either. I mean, the oldest profession in the world has always done good business with guys from out of town. Sailors in port, wandering cowboys, visiting dignitaries, etc. Where there's a dollar (or, in all fairness, a Euro) to be made somebody is going to try to make it, right?

I'm not really sure that the padlock on the pants thing is really addressing the issue. Is it a laughable response to an unsolvable problem? Possibly. But from a public policy standpoint, it's brilliant. It is enforceable legislation, aimed at the perpetrator of the crime. A beat cop can walk into a massage parlor and check to see if the girls have their padlocks on. If they don't, then the massage parlor owner gets fined, as opposed to the girls, themselves, taking the rap. I'm taking a stand and applauding the unorthodox thinking behind this legislation and hoping for it's success. But I imagine a padlock on a a girl's belt won't really do much if she's wearing a skirt...


CY said...

Verrry Interesting Indeed. I love the market research angle. Oh, and FYI, I posted a legnthy comment on the previous post re: censorship and the privacy click we agreed to with blogger and gmail and it, mysteriously, has not shown up. HMMMM...

Anonymous said...

V> So where are these legit massage venues you speak about ? (post addresses please) I want a good massage without the extra service...

Emma said...

Indeed an intersting post, thanks for posting it.

Foot massager

Learn Poker Odds said...

Bravo, excellent idea

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