Around ten years ago, when we were still living in Spokane, Washington, we had a moment of surprise while looking for a fun new place to hang out. It was still fairly early in the evening, and the place we’d settled on looked clean and not too packed, but with enough people that you could tell it would get busy later. As we walked in, we started critiquing our new potential hang out in hushed tones, as if we were famous bar reviewers. “The music here is awesome! I like the layout a lot. Someone really put a lot of work into designing this place. The people here are really good-looking. Check out that group of guys over there, they seem really friendly.”
Then, we shared a moment of silence and looked around one more time. It finally hit us and we practically screamed at the same time, “It’s a gay bar!” Every time we do something like this, expecting one thing from a place and getting something else, we re-tell this story, a fun remembrance of that time when we had no idea what we were walking into (for the record, we had a great time!).
Today, we were given a reason to tell the story again.
We were sitting at a little roadside stand, having some dinner, when we heard live music coming from a place down the block. It was time to do a little exploring and see what the fuss was about. The source of the music was a large, three walled-building. It was a bit dark, but we could see tables and people inside, so we walked in to explore. There was a stage against one wall, food stalls lining the other two, a bar, and tons of tables in the middle. “Wow, this is convenient. A food court, maybe? Some of these girls are really dressed up. Do you suppose it’s a private party? There are so many people here, it must be popular with the locals. Check out that group of guys over there, they seem really friendly…”
And so begins the story of how Josh and I found ourselves in a whore house.*
We walked in, took a quick tour of all the food stalls, and made our way to the bar to order a drink. This was my first major clue: despite this being a dirty, three-wall establishment for poor locals, there were only high-end beers for sale. Interesting. We grabbed our beer and looked for a table. That is when I noticed how truly beautiful all of the girls were. Wow! Had we just stumbled on THE hottest hang out on this end of town? But wait…
Hint number two quickly followed. These girls are not only naturally hot, they are dressed in club wear. Each is wearing a tiny, sequined dress, and three-inch heels. Make-up? Check. Expensive looking hair? Check. It is 6:30PM. Those clothes aren’t supposed to be seen in the light of day. Maybe that’s not the custom here? Also, why are none of the men good-looking? I looked closer at the man closest to me. He wasn’t aging well and had a stain on his shirt, but the woman next to him was younger and absolutely stunning… and had her hands…. O… M… G!
“Why haven’t you picked a table yet? That one you passed looked just fine,” says Josh.
He hasn’t figured it out yet.
We find a table and I tell him my theory. He looks around and I can see his whole face change as he realizes it’s true.
Hint number three came next. A man came over, introduced himself as one of the singers for the night, and sat down with us. He said he was one of the 160 people who work there and that he was pretty sure I was the only woman in the place that wasn’t on staff. They were all “singers, dancers, masseurs, or… you know…”
As with everyone else we have met here, he was very kind and answered all of our questions without judgement, and I asked a lot of questions. I discovered, with the help of our new table mate, that this was one of the most well-known local’s clubs in town. He told us what this sort of establishment was called in the local language, but we’ve since forgotten. This style of building is very common for these places, though, with a stage, food stalls, and large center floor. These establishments are for the poorer class.
“There are many more all over too,” he said as he pointed towards the night club across the street that I have been complaining about all week. “Those kinds are much more expensive though. They have many private rooms, but you must pay a minimum of 300RM. Some men can spend over 1,000RM in just a few hours. Here is easier. Better.”
As the conversation lulled and the other man was obviously trying to hint at something, we downed the rest of our beer and made to leave. “Thank you for having a beer here. Maybe a 10RM tip for my company?” Josh gave him a five and we left. The girls all stopped this time when we passed and waved good-bye to me and giggled.
Now that I am safely out of that large, dark, and crowded room I can say that this was, not necessarily a fun experience, but certainly an interesting one. We won’t be going back anytime soon, but I’m glad we decided to walk in. It was a candid peek into parts of the local life that you won’t find in any guide books, the type of experience that makes traveling worthwhile.
*Note: Prostitution is illegal in Malaysia, so I’m sure I just misunderstood the situation. 😉
Cover photo by: Caitlyn Wilson