When we here at WoWasis first saw William Sparrow’s Red-Light Nights, Bangkok Days: Chronicles of Sexuality Across Asia (ISBN 2008, ISBN 978-981-08-1076-4) at our nearby bookstore, our first thought was “sheesh, who needs another book about sex in Asia?” Fiction and non-fiction books on sexual themes involving Southeast Asia no doubt number in the thousands. But we thumbed through it anyway, and guess what, there are a few new twists here.
Sparrow’s a good writer, and serves as the editor of the Asian Sex Gazette, an online news service that does a credible job discussing many of the legal issues relating to sex that you won’t find in your daily newspapers. Several of the essays in the book were originally published online, and make for compelling reading. Unlike other books on similar subjects, he’s truly pan-Asian, and topics herein cover 13 countries, Russia among them. His tale about a bar run by the Russian mafia in a southeast Asian country (unnamed, he was warned not to divulge its name or country; veteran punters will easily guess the country and city anyway) is one of the best in the book.
The Philippines, naturally, is part of Sparrow’s beat, and he hit target on the subjects of Filipina bar girls working as entertainers overseas under government certification as entertainers (we know of one such women who did this in Japan for a number of years, and returned wealthy, by local standards). He also describes “Cherry Girls” there, who charge as if they were virgins, even though they ain’t.
He describes gender reassignment surgeries for ladyboys in Thailand, Women’s Lib issues relating to Asia, and sexual issues in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation. So why buy the book? Sparrow’s clearly a thinker who melds pan-Asia and pan-sexuality pretty well. His measured tone is a welcome additional to discourse on the subject, and his subtle humor extends through nearly every story. Even the most experienced veterans of Southeast Asian life will find something new and interesting here. The stories are, for the most part, short, and all are edited with clarity and good storytelling in mind. It’s a fun and informative book, and a welcome addition to our bookshelf.