Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeing Red

Many years ago on a small, dark street in Juarez, Mexico, we stopped at a tiny bar for a night cap. We were with another American couple, seasoned travelers who were up to ending the evening at a local dive. It wasn't until we had secured our spot and ordered drinks that we took a good look around. It didn't take us long to realize that we had ended up in a puta bar. Lindsey and I scooted our seats closer to our partners and as we sipped our tequila we were entertained by the working girls and their clients. We didn't stick around too long, and as we exited the bar, we noticed a bright red light next to the door and laughed about how we had missed what, for some, would be a beacon but, for us should have been a warning signal.
A couple of weekends ago, we found ourselves in a similar situation. We weren't in Mexico but halfway across the wold in Kuala Lumpur. It wasn't late at night and we had been forced into a bar by a violent rainstorm. The need for immediate shelter had dictated our choice. The bar's location and prices signaled that we were in an establishment frequented by tourist. At first the place was fairly deserted--a few people here and there enjoying an expensive beer on the covered patio--as the rain came down in buckets.

Slowly the place began to fill. From our seat next to the street we watched groups of western men come in and order  beer. Soon, a stream of taxis pulled up out front and single Malaysian women entered the bar. It didn't take us long to realize that something was up. Upon closer examination of our surroundings, we noted the red lights that adorned the walls.  We chuckled about our predicament, yet we were unable to leave because of the torrential storm. Over the next hour as we watched the interaction between the men around women around us, the scene became less and less comical. By the time we were able to leave I was filled with feelings of disgust and despair as I reflected on a serious case of tourism gone wrong: money, power, and privilege versus poverty, need, and lack of choice.

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