Moths to a flame

A couple of years ago I visited a notorious KL nightspot called The Beach Club. Back then I had no idea  what I was heading into. Tonight, a little after 6 and with the sun still shining, I decided to go back.

I have vivid memories of my one and only visit there. I tell stories about it. People are enthralled in the telling, but often I’ll go beyond mere reportage and venture into commentary. People get hooked by the voyeuristic thrill, the sheer titillation of  something so different and raw. Then, if they venture further, they encounter the deeper elements – anthropology, sex, culture, and philosophy.

Given all that it’s no surprise that I found myself there again today – there’s something headily irresistible about that combination. This time I went in the daylight hours, when I thought it might be safer.

What I remember of that last time was a stormy KL night. It was Friday, and Whisky and I dashed through the soaking rain to the shelter of the bar. Whisky had intrigued me with his comments. He wanted me to see for myself, and gave me no idea what to expect. At first glance I found a bar open on all sides with a thatched roof and the feel of the pacific islands. It was rocking inside, jam packed with Caucasian men and Asian women, but no-one more. As I later learned Malaysian men – the locals – were denied entry.

I’d only entered a few paces when I felt someone pinch my arse. I turned to find a pretty Malaysian Chinese girl grinning at me. Over the next 30 minutes that experience, and variations of it, were repeated again and again. Very quickly I learned that the normal rules of sexual engagement were here reversed. Pretty well every woman there had the aim of scoring a man for the night. Most of the men were happy to be scored. For all that it was disorientating. Everywhere I looked there was  a set of eyes searching for mine – they only had to catch a moment for the girl to be there by my side “hello darling, what’s your name…”. As I climbed the stairs a stray and unknown hand caressed my bum. I, and every man there, was fair game. Was this what women felt like, I wondered, ogled wherever they went by the hungry eyes of men? Here they had turned from prey to predator; and we, the stronger sex, were for once the objects  of desire. We had become the prey.

I found it unwelcome. I’m very happy to be approached by women. It’s nice to be desired. I’m happy to oblige more often than not. But here it felt like there was no escape. I just wanted to have a beer with a mate, and told them so, but every minute or so another would be there.

Why made it stranger, I later learned, was that most of these women were regular girls. By day they were secretaries and shop assistants, receptionists and dental assistants and call centre operators. Come Friday night they dolled themselves up and set out to find a Caucasian man and a good white cock at a minimum; and hopefully to put something in their purse at the end of the night.

That was the deal pretty much. Doubtless there were fully fledged working girls among them, but most were regular folk quite happy to prostitute themselves for the night for very practical considerations. That’s one thing women have over us: that pragmatic view on sex.

In the course of the evening I got to talk to many, and found myself increasingly fascinated. Truth be told I had a grudging admiration – we were the pawns, the breed that could be exploited for our indiscriminate sexual addiction. They pulled the strings even as they beseeched us to take them home. For us it was, as it is always, all about our cock (amen). For them it was something far greater and more enduring than that. This was ambition.

I remember one very sweet looking Chinese girl, petite and very attractive in a red checked shirt that matched mine, offering herself for the remainder of the night for 600 RM. She was an executive PA. There was another, from Uzbekistan I think, studying to become a pilot. She was attractive in that sexy, knowing way. There was nothing sweet about her, but what there was was raw and honest. She explained candidly all that she would do and why she did it. She promised me a superior experience and I believed it. Had there not been a financial transaction in the offing then I’d have taken her up on it – but if there wasn’t there would be no offer.

I left that night with a new slant on the possibilities. There was no judgement in me, but I found the experience both exciting and discomforting.

So today I went back. It was near empty as I got there – Thursday night and early, as I expected it to be. As I stood at the bar ordering a beer a Chinese girl stood at my shoulder looking at me. She seemed to have no meaningful English. She followed me when I went outside to sit, and remained until I politely told her ‘not tonight’.

I sipped on my beer as clutch of women gathered. It was clear that these, the  early comers, were true professionals. They had that look of street hookers common to all over the world – the skirts too short, the lipstick too bright, the heels either too long or too chunky, and the lashes  too obviously fake. They had big hair and revealing cleavages  and an auditors eye.

Another came up to me, older, the most obvious of all the very obvious. She smiled as she spoke, asking where I was staying and then offering me a massage back in my room. “Already have,” I said, at which she scoffed, nude massage she said. I slowly shook my head, sorry, I’m not interested.

Truth is I was interested though. Not in a nude massage back in my room. Not with her. But I was fascinated. There was another standing nearby, younger, prettier, as yet still relatively unspoiled. I felt like crooking a finger at her and beckoning her to me. Our eyes met several times as if she sensed my indecision. I had to stop myself from calling her over, but then perhaps I should have.

It might seem a cliche, but I just wanted to talk to her. Wanted to ask her if this is what she did, or what she did in her remaining time. I wanted to look in her eyes and find some understanding. This is different from the shop assistants casually playing the role of hooker on a Friday night, this is life perhaps. At least I wanted to find out if it was.

I realised that The Beach Club was an unstructured brothel really, a capitalist mentality managed on anarchist principles. The management were happy to see these girls – and even more so the Friday night amateurs – because they drew the crowd of lustful men who bought their overpriced beer for themselves and cocktails for the girls. On that basis I understood that I contributed to the seedy ethos just by sitting there.

Did that worry me? No. I’m sure a part of the unwritten business model embraces the fascinated dilettantes like me. We come, we drink the overpriced beer, we talk to the girls even if we choose not to take up their offer. Whatever. Maybe society is better off without places like this. Maybe. There is something untidy about it, yet at the end of the day it’s an exercise in free will. It’s tawdry, yet it clearly serves a purpose.

As for me, the day I stop wondering about things and poking my head in strange places is the day I’m too senile to think for myself. The morals of it mean nothing too me – morals are so confusing if you’re Jewish or Catholic (though clearly remain so for many Catholic priests). I won’t judge. The world needs its seedy underbelly just to stay healthy, and my interest is anthropological and all the rest of it.

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