Sean Flynn explores the labyrinth of Philippine sex clubs—a paradise for adventurers where the girls are plentiful, cheap, and have no other choice.The first installment of a three-part investigation into the global sex trade The fat guy smoking Pall Malls, he says he almost married one of those girls. He met her in a bar one of the last times he was in the Philippines and fell in love, almost bought her a ring and took her home. His front teeth are missing, and he’s got hair like an oil slick, long and black and greasy.Many of those countries, particularly in Asia, became destinations in part because they have long cultural histories of prostitution.According to several studies, more than half of Thai men paid to lose their virginity, and more than 400,000 visit brothels each day, estimates that no one seriously disputes.
He’s never been to the Philippines before, he tells them, just heard the stories about the bars and the girls, and now that he’s divorced, what the hell, treat himself. It’s kind of weird, the way you can buy a girl for a couple of bucks, a different one every night, every hour if you want, walk around town with her and not even pretend it’s anything more than a cash transaction.That’s how it happened, just like that: A little girl walks into a bar and gets a job.“Hey.” Big Daddy again, out there beyond the strobe of the stage lights. His name is Thomas Glenn Jarrell, an Ohio native who did a tour in the army before settling in a dirty little city that is moderately famous simply because it has bars, dozens of them, and girls, thousands of them, and only eighteen bucks a night. Wrap her naked around a pole or put her in a room with a big glass window and a flock of other girls, bored and trying not to look it, waiting to be picked like lobsters from a tank.Move her down to Manila and pay her more, or move her up the coast to a shack on the National Highway and pay her less.Thailand, for instance, a notorious and well-studied sexual playground for foreign men, has either 75,000 prostitutes, as the government claims, or depending on which aid group is tossing out numbers, nearly 2 million who generate of the country’s gross domestic product—parameters calibrated so widely as to be virtually useless as an accounting tool.The sex-trade data are so imprecise that researchers and government agencies shorthand the global total to a generic tens of millions of women and girls generating tens of billions in cash. A Filipino bar girl doesn’t care whether she is one of 50,000 (the low end) or 800,000 (the high end), and a john in a Russian brothel doesn’t concern himself with the millions of women he could theoretically be renting, because the ten or twenty at hand are more than enough.The global sex trade, as pure a commodities market as pork bellies or soybean futures, need only be measured in broad sweeps of demand, which is apparently insatiable, and supply, which is seemingly endless.Within those uncountable numbers are stories of horrific brutality, of women smuggled into foreign lands, beaten into submission, forced to work off infinite, impossible debts.”There’s a girl on a small stage in a bar called the G-Spot Lounge in Angeles City, a sprawl of cinder block and tin about an hour northwest of Manila.She’s wearing a sky blue bikini that matches the powder Mamasan swabbed on her eyelids, along with enough blush and mascara to make her whole face itch.Or maybe one of the customers will buy her for the night, give Mamasan 1,000 pesos—”bar fine,” they call it here, a term that’s both a noun and a verb—to take her out of the G-Spot, maybe to another club or a restaurant first but probably just to his hotel room. Make her a little younger or a little older, but never too old.The girl would get half of that, about American. She’d gone looking for work a few days ago—up Fields Avenue, past Club Fantastic and Camelot and Stinger, past the sidewalk shops selling shirts that say I FUCK ON THE FIRST DATE and I’LL BUY DRINKS FOR SEX, past the shoeshine boys and the peddlers with their bootleg Cialis, past all the other bars looking to hire dancers and waitresses and GROs, which is short for The mamasan at the G-Spot asked the girl how old she was, and she said 19 and showed her the birth certificate that couldn’t possibly be legit, and Mamasan hired her, gave her the boots and the bikini and rubbed makeup on her face and put her on a stage. Dress her in a red bikini or a slip or a pleated plaid skirt.