Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dealing in Desire

Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work

Kimberly Kay Hoang
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dealing in Desire
    Book Description:

    This captivating ethnography explores Vietnam's sex industry as the country ascends the global and regional stage. Over the course of five years, author Kimberly Kay Hoang worked at four exclusive Saigon hostess bars catering to diverse clientele: wealthy local Vietnamese and Asian businessmen, Viet Kieus (ethnic Vietnamese living abroad), Western businessmen, and Western budget-tourists.Dealing in Desiretakes an in-depth and often personal look at both the sex workers and their clients to show how Vietnamese high finance and benevolent giving are connected to the intimate spheres of the informal economy. For the domestic super-elite who use the levers of political power to channel foreign capital into real estate and manufacturing projects, conspicuous consumption is a means of projecting an image of Asian ascendancy to potential investors. For Viet Kieus and Westerners who bring remittances into the local economy, personal relationships with local sex workers reinforce their ideas of Asia's rise and Western decline, while simultaneously bolstering their diminished masculinity.Dealing in Desireilluminates Ho Chi Minh City's sex industry as not just a microcosm of the global economy, but a critical space where dreams and deals are traded.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96068-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Dealing in Desire
    (pp. 1-25)

    On a hot summer evening in 2006, I found myself sitting on the back of a stranger’s motorbike as he gave me a tour of the local sex industry. How I got there was a combination of luck, naïveté, and a lack of options. I went to Vietnam with the intention of studying the commercial sex industry, but I had no idea how I would gain access to it or what I would find. Unsure of how to get started or where to go in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), I did not venture far. I walked into a bar...

  5. 1 Sex Work in HCMC, 1867–Present
    (pp. 26-38)

    The urban geography of Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon until the end of the Vietnam War) is shaped by a multilayered history that structures the spaces occupied by Westerners, Viet Kieus (overseas Vietnamese men), and local Vietnamese men as clients of the contemporary sex industry.¹ Economic and geopolitical shifts transformed the structure of the sex industry under French colonialism, under American imperialism during the Vietnam War, and in the aftermath of Vietnam’s reunification and eventual accession to the WTO. Men’s differentiated participation in the contemporary sex industry is part of a long history of imperial domination coupled with recent...

  6. 2 The Contemporary Sex Industry
    (pp. 39-52)

    Contemporary Ho Chi Minh City is marked by a distinctivesexscapewhere multiple niche markets in different areas of the city cater to global and local men who travel in and out of HCMC for business and leisure.¹ Each market presents a unique configuration of gender and global capital that influences men’s perceptions of self and nation. Taken together, these markets challenge simplistic notions of Western dominance as men assert their places in a shifting global economy in the company of hostesses.

    Thick descriptions of four types of bars illuminate the fact that gendered relations are also inflected with race...

  7. 3 New Hierarchies of Global Men
    (pp. 53-77)

    It was noon, and I was sitting in the back room of Khong Sao Bar with about thirty other women. We were putting on makeup, fixing our hair, and eating a quick bowl of noodles before getting dressed. Hanh, the head mommy, walked into the dressing room and said to the women in general: “Hurry up and finish getting dressed. Dai Ca [Big Brother] Xanh just called and reserved a table. He will be here in an hour with nine other people.” The women quickly slurped up their noodles, wiped their faces, and finished applying their makeup.

    Hanh then said...

  8. 4 Entrepreneurial Mommies
    (pp. 78-103)

    In response to my question “Could local Vietnamese businessmen secure business deals without karaoke bars?” Nam, like many other clients in the high-end niche market, told me that hostess bars were responsible for much of the country’s recent economic growth. The mommies provided local elite Vietnamese businessmen with crucial space in which clients could build trust to secure business deals with Asian investors. Although local Vietnamese men entertained foreign clients in fancy restaurants, in lounges of luxury hotels, and on golf courses, these were not spaces of intimate bonding. The trust-building necessary to securing inter-Asian foreign direct investments occurred primarily...

  9. 5 Autonomy and Consent in Sex Work
    (pp. 104-125)

    In the U.S. popular media, advocates like Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn frequently suggest training in factory work as a form of rescue for women they view as either trafficking victims forced into sex work or coerced, impoverished women without training or options for their labor.¹ However, the women in my study asserted the opposite. These women experienced sex work as an escape from the low pay and harsh working conditions in other sectors of Vietnam’s economy. Remarkably, given the negative tone in many previous studies, all fifty-six of the female workers I spoke with in 2006–2009, along with...

  10. 6 Constructing Desirable Bodies
    (pp. 126-153)

    On my first day at work in Khong Sao Bar, I arrived in what I thought was an appropriate outfit—a long, black, low-cut V-neck dress and a pair of three-inch open-toed high heels. However, as I walked into the room, Hanh, the head mommy, immediately said to me, “How are you going to get in on any tables if you look like that? You look like a poor village girl!” She placed a phone call and asked her maid to hand deliver a dress for me. While we waited for the dress, she said to the women, “This is...

  11. 7 Sex Workers’ Economic Trajectories
    (pp. 154-172)

    One evening, Nga, a twenty-year-old hostess, brought her nineteen-year-old friend Yen-Nhi to Khong Sao Bar to help Yen-Nhi find work. Hanh, the head mommy, carefully looked Yen-Nhi over before asking, “Where do you live?” Yen-Nhi replied, “I just came up from Chau Doc [a village four hours from Ho Chi Minh City] a few days ago. I am staying at Nga’s house to see if I can find work in the city. If it works out [nieu hop], then I will stay. If not, I will return to the village.” Hanh replied, “You can try it for a few days...

  12. Conclusion: Faltering Ascent
    (pp. 173-180)

    In the summer of 2013, I returned to Vietnam to find a much less vibrant economy. Only three years after my departure, foreign investors seeking returns found their money locked up in delayed projects. While some foreigners and local businessmen made out very well, others lost a great deal of money in a faltering economy. Although foreign direct investments remained stable, averaging roughly U.S.$11 billion in disbursed capital for 2011 to 2013, the country was not brokering nearly as many capital deals, nor was it growing at the rapid rate it had experienced in the years following the 2008 global...

  13. APPENDIX: The Empirical Puzzle and the Embodied Cost of Ethnography
    (pp. 181-196)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 197-208)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-230)