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”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.Put her thousands of miles away, in Tokyo or Moscow, or put her on the other side of the globe, in Costa Rica or Mexico. The story will be the same, the beginning sounding like the setup to an old and dirty joke: So many girls walk into so many bars today that no one even tries to count them all.Cataloging every prostitute on the planet with any accuracy is no more feasible than counting leaves in a forest: The business is by definition largely underground and extremely fluid, the workforce mostly unregistered, untraceable, and ever changing.
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.
She hasn’t worn makeup since her first Communion, and then not so much. It’s false, and obviously so, because she’s only 13, but nobody cares, because in the dark, under all that rouge and shadow, she looks old enough.
All the girls—the other ones onstage, the ones waiting tables, the ones cuddling up to customers, sweet-talking foreign men into buying them drinks—look old enough, which isn’t very old at all.
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.