HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gender Gap

I’m holding off on talking about my classes until I get a few more under my belt, so expect to see something on that topic this weekend. Today, I’d like to discuss a strange phenomenon that my friends and I have noticed. I’ll call it “the gender gap.” What I mean is that in the expat community, and especially when it comes to English teachers, there are far more males than females, and they often seem to be here for completely different reasons, as evidenced by the type of people they pursue.

 Many of the girls I’ve met here are in relationships. In fact, a lot of them came here with their boyfriends. In contrast, many men here are single or, if they have a girlfriend, she is Vietnamese. Sometimes their girlfriends don’t even speak much English, which just seems strange to me. Another interesting tidbit is that many guys end up staying here for years, whereas many women stay for just a year or so before going back to the West. This is probably due to the fact that life for men here can be pretty easy. It would be quite simple for me to umm, indulge myself, regularly. All you have to do is go stand on a corner and wait for a scantily-clad girl on a motorbike to drive by and say “Hey! You want girlfriend for tonight?!” Or, if you’re in a hurry, strike up a conversation with a moto driver. Many of them, after asking if you want a ride, will follow that up with “You want girl for one hour?” But I have standards. (I’m serious, mom.)

Knowing how deeply ingrained the sex industry is in this part of the world makes me a little nervous about approaching local girls. I have met some very nice and genuine ones, but there are prostitutes around, as well as the more common, and more dangerous, “working girls” that are employed at a club or restaurant simply to draw in men. They dress up like skanks and latch themselves onto any group of guys that comes in and attempt to get them to buy drinks and spend money at the establishment. I hate this because the girls are totally insincere in their interactions. They don’t really give a crap about the guy, they just want to suck money out of him. Of course, Vietnam is nowhere near as bad as Thailand. I’ve heard some crazy stories about that place. Still, it’s a lot different from the U.S.

Unsurprisngly, there are men that come here simply because it can be so easy to find a Vietnamese "girlfriend". Walk down any street in Pham Ngu Lao, the major expat hang-out area, and you will see many odd couples: from younger men with girls around their age to lecherous old men with their arm around a girl who could be their daughter - or possibly even granddaughter. This always annoys me, because these people are validating the "I'll buy you a drink and dinner for meaningless sex" norm that really degrades women here. It's also just plain disgusting to see a fat, bald, wrinkled old man with a perky, smooth-skinned young woman. You can tell the women are unhappy by the looks in their eyes, but that behavior is so normal here they just accept it anyway.

Back to the skewed male/female ratio. At my school, for example, there are four Western women working there, while there are at least 10 men, many of them much older than me. My roommates, who are both girls, say that the schools they work at have similar numbers. It must have something to do with the previously mentioned ease with which men can live here. Although there are lots of female Vietnamese teachers at language schools, Vietnamese society is still definitely dominated by men. Women are meant to be home makers, cooking and cleaning and taking care of the children. These preconceived societal notions are changing, but very slowly, and as of right now Western men are highly respected and looked up to. This isn’t to say that Western women are ignored or slighted, but you can tell the difference in attitudes of people that live here.

Wow after reading over all of that I sound like a feminist. I didn't mean to be so negative but I just wanted to point out some of the strange realities of the expat community here. Also, guys, if I made it sound like it's impossible to meet girls here, it's not, you just have to be aware that the bar scene here is a lot different from the one back home. Take what you will from this somewhat awkward post.


  1. Part One of Two -

    A better descriptor for the "gender gap" you are witnessing would be "transactional relationship". A relationship where one partner is attracted to another for reasons heavily weighted in the material.

    I am a semi-retired Canadian who lives roughly six months in my homeland and the other six months on the road or in a small communities in various parts of the world. Hopefully, those offering steady sunshine, unblemished beaches and reasonably big surf. I was lucky enough to retire early, in my late 40's, and have been following this new "career path" for about five years. Hopefully, I will hang in there health-wise for another ten. Cross my fingers. I struggle with the big "C".

    As a result of recent and past experience, I have witnessed hundreds and been a part of more then a few of "transactional" relationships.

    The first was my marriage. My ex is a lovely women, a third generation Chinese Canadian from a wealthy family. We fell in love, spent 20 years together and raised two intelligent, talented kids. It was wonderful period in my life and on balance a good relationship albeit with a significant transactional component. Given her background, she would have had absolutely nothing to do with me if I had not been able to make a substantial contribution to maintaining our family in a style to which she had become accustomed, replete with multiple homes, nannies and the like. It was a very traditional upscale relationship. Is there harm in that? Well...yes and no.

    Putting the upscale lifestyle aside, which was in retrospect quite disgusting, this is not a relationship pattern one wants to pass on to ones kids and particularly one's daughter. This has not happened so I guess on balance the relationship worked out OK.

    I spent last winter in the Caribbean. A good deal of the time in Trinidad and particularly Tobago but mostly in Cuba. Cuba is a country struggling with "sex tourism" - as you point out, a phenomenon on the darker end of the transactional continuum and sadly, a reversion to conditions under Batista in the 50's. Most of the sex tourism involved older "wealthier" men (usually lower middle class by first world standards), however, in my ex-pat circle (heavily Swedish) most involved pairings of very wealthy white women in their forties, fifties and sixties with young black men - most of whom were in their late teens to mid-twenties.

    Hmmm...well this is this Ok isn't it. Surely better then old men buying young women. What's the harm? In many cases, probably not too much. Just a whole lot of fun. Vast quantities of wild oats sowed and many an orgasm experienced. However, we do see that some of these young men do not mature naturally, do not become responsible male adults and certainly do not become responsible fathers. In fact, many are already married. It also boggled my mind how irresponsible these couples can be when it comes to safe sex...ie there often isn't any.

    Maybe we should judge relationships between young women and older men the same way. Each on an individual basis.

    On to Part Two

  2. Part 2

    This summer I met a friend at a bar called, I think, Mosquito Creek in North Vancouver, Canada. We had planned to get together for a drink. He recommended the place based solely on its visibility on his daily commute. It was a fascinating experience. It turns out Mosquito Creek is the local cougar bar. Once again, men in their late teens and early twenties "hooking up" with women in their forties and fifties. Perhaps this is on the lighter side of the transactional continuum, certainly the women were treating the guys...in more ways then one. Everyone seemed pretty darned happy.

    Probably a lark in most cases but also could be damaging. "The Reader" comes to mind (although that was a truly perverse situation).

    Needless to say, the vast majority of transactional relationships in the world today involve a positive male female material bias. Women simply do not have the power men have and it will be a dozen generations before we see any kind of equality worldwide. If and when this happens, we may fry ourselves first, we will not see the end of the transactional relationship. It is here to stay in some form or other. We are a transactional species.

    Anyways, the reason, I stumbled across your blog was that I am planning to spend this winter in Vietnam so I am doing a bunch of pre-departure reading. And yes, I am also planning to find a Vietnamese girlfriend. Something I do in each of my ports of call. Here is my criteria, she must be:

    - Intelligent
    - Capable of speaking a bit of English
    - At least somewhat athletic so that she can keep up
    - Somewhat independent
    - Uninhibited sexually
    - An perhaps strangely I have a thing for women with glasses (go figure)

    I don't have any preconceived notions about age but based on the above, she will likely be somewhere from her late 20's to her 40's. Will the relationship be transactional? Yes...very probably. I will be looking for companionship, great sex and just maybe the love of my life. She will be looking for a chance to interact with a Canadian, to improve her English, to live the good life for a few months and maybe, just maybe find the love of her life. It goes without saying that we will treat each other with respect and if history repeats itself will become life long friends. My girlfriend from a trip to Goa a few years back still writes code for me!

    So if you see a fit, attractive man in his fifties with a beautiful, happy Vietnamese young women, don't be too quick to judge. I can pretty much guarantee that the relationship we will be experiencing will be much more significant, safer and more positive then the relationships you will witness between most of the young first world men and Vietnamese women around you.

    And for goodness sake, if the opportunity presents itself and feels right, IMBIBE. Enjoy yourself. And try not to layer the actions of others, your first world guilt or perceptions on the experience or your Vietnamese lover.

    I can pretty much guarantee your relationship will be at least somewhat transactional in nature but this has been the way of the world since the beginning of time and will continue to be the way of the world. In your case, I am sure you will handle yourself with tact, decency and respect for your partner and who knows the result maybe a long term relationship and beautiful "Hapa-Houlie" kids like mine.

    Take care!

  3. Hey Michael...this got way to long. Google comment couldn't handle it hence the abortive posts. Sorry about that.

  4. I will be 60 in December. I married a woman 37 a few months ago. I came to Vietnam to find a wife because as a whole, American women have forgotten how to treat their husbands with love and respect. I blame this on the radical feminists in the good old USA. I have met many women in their 20s and 30s and all but one did not care about my age. The woman I married, who I love dearly, weighs about 46 kilos, is a great cook and housekeeper. She takes care of herself and we love to ride about HCMC. I have a step-son who never met his father due to a traffic accident. He finally has someone to call "Dad". Sure there are many men and women in Vietnam that are out for a good time or to make a dollar or 10. Just remember that there are people like me and my wife and you might see us walking hand in hand in the backpacking district. Sincerely, Brian