By Ila Luijten For my master’s research I’ve gone to Bali, Indonesia, to do fieldwork. My aim is to get an insight into the lives of sex workers, mostly freelance sex workers; the girls who go to clubs in the tourist destinations of Bali to look for money by spending a night with a guy. Here I will describe one night of fieldwork.
In the second week of fieldwork, I came in contact with Lola (23) and Dewi (22)*, two Indonesian friends living in Kuta, Bali. One Thursday evening in January I went for a night out with these girls to their favourite club, Sky Garden.
That morning, I was a bit nervous about my night with the girls, so I send Lola a text message to be sure if we were still on for the night. She responded quickly and told me to meet her at 1 a.m. in front of Sky Garden. Around eleven in the evening Lola sent me a text message asking if I wanted to come over to her place for some drinks. I jumped under the shower, got dressed and looked for her address on the GPS in my phone. It would be half an hour’s drive. On the way I bought some beers for us.
When I arrived at Lola’s place she still had to take a shower. I waited in her room while drinking a beer. After her shower we started to do our make-up and she wanted to style my hair. While doing my hair she told me I was cute and I was her sister from now on. The dressing up, make-upping and drinking in the room reminded me of my years in high school. This is how my friends and I prepared ourselves before we would go to a school party.
After finishing our make-up Lola also started to drink beer and we started to talk about guys. She told me about the (tourists) guys she meets in the clubs and showed me pictures of some of them. While drinking and chilling in her room we totally lost track of time. At 2 a.m. we jumped on my scooter and drove to Sky Garden.
After parking the scooter we walked arm by arm to the club. We had to pay 100.000 Rupiah (€7) at the entrance, which included one drink of choice. It was crowded, but not totally full inside. Inside we went looking for Dewi, she was supposed to finish her work in the restaurant of Sky Garden around the time we arrived. Lola and I found her on the third floor standing with a western-looking guy. Dewi said hi and told me that she had met this guy through ‘Skout’, an application for a smart phone through which both Lola and Dewi meet guys every now and then.
The atmosphere changed from the moment we found Dewi. Lola started to look for a potential guy to spend the night with and Dewi had ‘obligations’ towards the guy she was with. I noticed that the guys were surprised and confused to see me with two Indonesian sexy dressed girls. They even seemed a bit afraid and you could feel them taking some distance. I believe this was the reason Lola told me, after a few minutes inside, to check out the rooftop. Her and Dewi would stay downstairs. It was from that moment on I realised that it would not be a night of dancing and partying like I am used to with my friends, but that they were ‘working’.
When I came to the rooftop I decided to sit at the bar and observe the dance floor. While observing I noticed hundreds of girls like Lola and Dewi. Beautiful, Indonesian, young, sexy dressed girls, wearing high heels and lots of make-up, all straight long black hair, sipping their drinks slowly, waiting for a guy to approach them or buy them another drink and take them to their hotel – like Lola and Dewi had gone with the two western-looking guys after we had been in the club for less than an hour.
For most Indonesian girls, going out in the clubs in Bali’s tourist destinations is not about partying and having fun with friends. It is about the hunt for money. This hunt takes place on the dance floor. The guy who offers money first, and offers enough of it, is the ‘lucky’ guy to take the girl back to his hotel.
At the end of my fieldwork I hope to tell the story of a number of Indonesian sex workers on Bali. What are the social consequences of these butterflies-of-the-night’s ‘choice’ of profession?
* The names are pseudonyms
Ila Luijten is currently following her Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University, Amsterdam.