Nights out in a New Town
January 18, 2014 11:29 AM   Subscribe

The author travels with Indian sex tourists to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
posted by reenum (30 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite


 
So for those wondering, this never turns into an expose on human trafficking, it is a personal account of what it is like to be someone who condones it.
posted by justkevin at 12:22 PM on January 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


it is a personal account of what it is like to be someone who condones it.

WTF? He's queasy about it all the way through, doesn't partake himself, and at the end has an extremely critical section on the power dynamics involved.

It's a really interesting book excerpt about how one particular strand of sex tourism functions, why the men go for it, and what is problematic about it.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


Is the human element to be considered here at all, or does the situation have the same contractual obligations of, say, a tour program that promises two non-veg snacks during a gala dinner and delivers only one? How do you go on to have sex with a woman who’s clearly indicated she’s unwilling, unless you don’t see her as a person at all, or unless the very fact that she doesn’t have a say is part of what’s driving you?


I would not say that he condones it, no. (The point about the human cost of cut-rate cotton is pretty well made too.) I had no idea Uzbekistan was such a hot-spot for these kinds of tours. Pieces about tour groups are kind of a weird hobby and now I want to read his book to see what other human dynamics he captures.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:02 PM on January 18, 2014


Maybe I missed some of the parts where he's critical or I was underwhelmed by it. It is undeniable that the author economically supported the industry. In some cases this might be a necessary evil of investigative journalism, but this is the conclusion of the article:

Why come all the way to Uzbekistan when it’s easily possible to find women from the region in India? There are reasons of pragmatism, of course—there’s no one who might recognize you here, and the country’s relatively cheap. Beyond that, these four or five days are an opportunity to let oneself go. Here there are no responsibilities of family or work. The proscriptions of home are absent, so you can drink and smoke as much as you want. Everyone’s a young man once again, giggling at adolescent jokes. There’s the sex of course, but here it goes beyond simply servicing the libido. There is a jubilant revelling in sex and an air of constant bawdiness that can only come from the working out of things long pent-up. Here you can unburden yourself completely. You can enjoy.

It’s the last gala dinner of the tour. The girls have left; the notes have been swept off the floor. But the group continues to dance in a small clearing in the restaurant. For the first time on the tour, it’s only men. Every- one’s drunk and there’s a lightness, a playfulness in the air. Someone grabs Kakaji and mock-slow-dances with him; Don rushes for his money-bag and showers notes on them. Sharmaji is skipping with his arms in the air. The sardars are a joy to watch, especially the oldest of them, a man with a long white beard who’s making rhythmic quotation marks in the air with eyes shut in intense concentration. One of the cool sardars dances up to my table and motions to me to join them. ‘No one will ask you tomorrow. Get up,’ he says firmly. Soon I’m flailing about amidst expressions of delight at seeing me on my feet for the first time. Tomorrow we will leave Tashkent and return to our regular lives, but for now—we are enjoying.


This sort of description I'd expect to accompany a 3 star review on Yelp, not an indictment of sex trafficking.
posted by justkevin at 2:09 PM on January 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


He's queasy about it all the way through...

Well, not sure if he was queasy, but I was reading this. My final take is these men are disgusting.

I agree, he may not have partaken, but there was no particular sense of censure, either.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:17 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I didn't get any sense of him being queasy. It's a travelogue written by someone on a tour package whose companions just happen to be there mostly to buy sex. There's a couple of negative references right at the end which feel like they were tokenistic. One about how it must get boring to go out getting sex every night, and one about how vulnerable the women must feel (which is something of an understatement). The overall tone is dispassionate, which makes me wonder why he bothered covering the place in this way. If it's just about Uzbekistan's sights and history then why did he need to see it in the company of sex tourists? And if it was specifially about sex tourism why didn't he go into that side of it in depth; the politics, questioning the men on how they felt about it, talking to the women involved (not one of whom was given a voice in this piece.) It just seems empty and superficial. Which is maybe appropriate in its own way.
posted by billiebee at 2:43 PM on January 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I could have been misreading it but I think it's an excerpt from a book solely about taking packaged tours in/from India-- Ukbekistan isn't really the focus, it's the mechanics of and people on the tours themselves. What's not clear is whether this is the full chapter or just a part, which I wish they said.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2014


I thought there were a number of ways in which the author made it pretty clear that he didn't approve -- if only in his obvious need to create a distinction between himself and his fellows. Consider:

Sharmaji goes off to relieve himself in the street while Jabir enters the bus and says into the mic: ‘This is not India. We don’t piss wherever we want.’

In any event, I really enjoyed the piece.
posted by Slothrup at 3:02 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


There’s the sex of course, but here it goes beyond simply servicing the libido. There is a jubilant revelling in sex and an air of constant bawdiness that can only come from the working out of things long pent-up. Here you can unburden yourself completely. You can enjoy.

Who's the "you" that he's addressing? I think that's a pretty good indication of the audience he expects is reading the piece, and the people with whom he's identifying.
posted by jaguar at 3:07 PM on January 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


no, I don't think this is ad advertisement for sex tourism and its weird to read it that way.
posted by sweetkid at 4:07 PM on January 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Who's the "you" that he's addressing? I think that's a pretty good indication of the audience he expects is reading the piece

This is a misreading of the grammar of the sentences you quoted. "You" here is functioning as an indefinite pronoun, not an address to his audience — it's just a colloquial substitute for "one." He's not addressing anyone.
posted by RogerB at 4:19 PM on January 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


Further, the author goes to great pains earlier in the piece to unpack the word "enjoy" as it is used by his tour companions.

This is the first use of a word I will hear deployed many times a day on the tour, both in Hindi and in English sentences: the intransitive verb ‘enjoy’. It will also be the key to what drives the group and perhaps all such tours: the idea of being able to enjoy absolutely and without object.

All of this makes the talk about "enjoying" in the last grafs more of a sardonic reference to the What Happens in Vegas mentality of the men on the trip. At least that's how I read it.
posted by The White Hat at 4:39 PM on January 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


It read pretty neutral to me in terms of condoning or otherwise sex tourism. I got an impression of someone who has a certain distaste for it personally but makes no judgement on those who partake. The whole thing was a bit sad, really, making everyone look shallow and a bit pathetic.
posted by dg at 4:49 PM on January 18, 2014


I'm not saying it's an advertisement, I understand why he uses "enjoy", and yes, the author claims to dislike what he's writing about.

But he's still addressing the audience as if they are the tourists, rather than the exploited. It's not the same as saying "one" and it's certainly not the same as saying "they." It's making an assumption that everyone experiencing this story is on, or would be on, one side of it.
posted by jaguar at 4:51 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


It seemed to be sort of anthropological in nature, like "this is what this subgroup is like," like a person writing about goths for a preppy publication.
posted by sweetkid at 5:09 PM on January 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yes, but only if in addition to wearing black, Goths raped women on a regular basis and the writer rather glossed over the effect of their actions on their victims.
posted by jaguar at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


do you really think the publication this is in is targeted toward people interested or who have no problem in sex trafficking? It seems like you do.
posted by sweetkid at 5:28 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have no idea to whom the publication is targeted. The article, which is excerpted from a book, is certainly less than honest about the full story of sexually exploited women in poor countries, yes.
posted by jaguar at 5:47 PM on January 18, 2014


Sigh of relief that this is not written by a guy I know who writes dudely long-form travel pieces and often covers the India and central Asia beat. Not that I thought he was OK with sex tourism, but still.
posted by Sara C. at 6:15 PM on January 18, 2014


jaguar, where are you getting the idea that the purpose of this excerpt was to tell the full story of sexually exploited women in poor countries? The author doesn't ignore this aspect entirely, but it's clear from the piece that the article you wanted him to write wasn't the one he chose to write.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:15 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Depicting a terribly objectionable activity or situation without explicit condemnation is well trod form of journalism. The idea is that you don't actually need the author to say THIS IS BAD BAD BAD to realize that it is bad, because it is clear from a pseudo-non-judgmental take that it is bad.
posted by Justinian at 9:23 PM on January 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


The story is about rich foreigners and sexually exploited women. Which of those stories the author decides to center is absolutely a choice, and one that's absolutely up for critique. "Here's what powerful men think about having sex with prostitutes and economically disadvantaged women" is not a particularly interesting story, and it's one that reinforces the idea that these men's feelings and stories are more important than the feelings and stories of the women they're exploiting, which reinforces the marginalization of these women.
posted by jaguar at 10:23 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The story is about rich foreigners and sexually exploited women.

I get that everyone is free to take as much or as little from the text as they want, but it's pretty clearly a story with more going on than that. There are the men on the tour (and who are not just undifferentiated dudes; among other things, at least five of them aren't even there for the sex, raising an unanswered question or two); there are the local guides; there's all the infrastructure back in India that enables the whole thing; and there are the local women, who again are not undifferentiated. There are a lot of stories there worth telling, and in no way is this one preventing others from being told, nor is it in any way obscuring the moral dimensions.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:47 PM on January 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Why come all the way to Uzbekistan when it’s easily possible to find women from the region in India?

BECAUSE ITS EFFING SAMARKAND THE CLIMAX OF THE SILK ROAD AND YOU GET TO SEE THE REGISTAN HAVE YOU NO POETRY IN YOUR SOUL YOU MISERABLE BRUTE?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:05 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Here's what powerful men think about having sex with prostitutes and economically disadvantaged women" is not a particularly interesting story

yes it is
posted by atoxyl at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2014


I finally sat down and read the whole thing and thought it was good. Interesting reporting of a subculture I'm not a member of (Indian straight men on a sex tour) but somewhat adjacent to (tourists). The article left me pretty clearly skeezed out at how icky a trip like that must be, both the sexual politics and just the rubbing-shoulders-with-strangers part of it. So yeah, good writing.

If it makes you feel better, Joe in Australia, the quote about coming to Uzbekistan vs. women in India is in a context that's pretty critical of that attitude in his fellow sex tourists. I appreciate the paragraph the quote comes from, it does explain why these other guys go through the trouble of going all the way to Uzbekistan. And the reporting made me want to see Samarkand myself, the author did a good job slipping in a few details of what makes Uzbekistan interesting to see outside the dreary hotels-and-Indian-restaurants sex tour the disgruntled author was on.
posted by Nelson at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2014


Oh, I know, but I could never imagine asking that sort of question, even rhetorically. It's like "why read those books if they're not part of the course?"
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:13 PM on January 19, 2014


I'm actually dying to visit Uzbekistan and not have sex with prostitutes.
posted by Sara C. at 2:16 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


It took me a long time to see it through the red haze of anger that rose before my eyes from the first paragraphs, but this is actually a comic piece, not only in conventional terms but in the Fryean sense of a climactic re-integration of a disaffected and alienated young man back into society after a series of absurd vicissitudes:
At the end of the play the device in the plot that brings hero and heroine together causes a new society to crystallize around the hero, and the moment when this crystallization occurs is the point of resolution in the action, the comic discovery, anagnorisis or cognitio. The appearance of this new society is frequently signalized by some kind of party or festive ritual, which either appears at the end of the play or is assumed to take place immediately afterward. Weddings are most common.
Only instead of getting the girl and marrying her, as he is married already and seeks to avoid getting a girl, he is admitted into the great good-fellowship of very prosperous married Indian men who can go off somewhere free of the stifling restraints of convention and experience 'full enjoyment'.

Alienation and disaffection:
A sari distributor from Gujarat named Paras one day tosses off an astute observation to the group at large: ‘It’s only people with do number ka paisa, unaccounted money, who go on a tour like this.’ No one disputes him; two doctors in his immediate vicinity smile; and one impecunious writer seethes internally.
Climactic reintegration via party and festive ritual:
It’s the last gala dinner of the tour. The girls have left; the notes have been swept off the floor. But the group continues to dance in a small clearing in the restaurant. For the first time on the tour, it’s only men. Every- one’s drunk and there’s a lightness, a playfulness in the air. Someone grabs Kakaji and mock-slow-dances with him; Don rushes for his money-bag and showers notes on them. Sharmaji is skipping with his arms in the air. The sardars are a joy to watch, especially the oldest of them, a man with a long white beard who’s making rhythmic quotation marks in the air with eyes shut in intense concentration. One of the cool sardars dances up to my table and motions to me to join them. ‘No one will ask you tomorrow. Get up,’ he says firmly. Soon I’m flailing about amidst expressions of delight at seeing me on my feet for the first time. Tomorrow we will leave Tashkent and return to our regular lives, but for now—we are enjoying.
posted by jamjam at 3:19 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


And the reporting made me want to see Samarkand myself, the author did a good job slipping in a few details of what makes Uzbekistan interesting to see outside the dreary hotels-and-Indian-restaurants sex tour the disgruntled author was on.

Yeah, it's very effective as a travelogue, and it definitely made me add Samarkand to the "places I want to visit" list.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:04 PM on January 20, 2014


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