Temporary wives been known for centuries in southeast Asia. In the past, this might have been arranged directly with the girl’s mother. The girl would bring all of her father’s business connections with her and would be the primary contact for the foreigner’s trade with the locals, negotiating on her ‘husband’s’ behalf, keeping accounts, arranging payments and receipts and acting as secretary. Some temporary wives became permanent ones.
The tradition of temporary wives began in what was then the Dutch East Indies, but rapidly caught on. Temporary wives had advantages for everyone; the traders got the benefit of local contacts and knowledge and better prices and terms. The girl’s family profited, since naturally she would channel as much business as she could through it.
The man had a stable domestic life and regular sex, which meant he would not become a denizen of the whorehouses and opium dens; and he would have a presentable, locally-fluent companion who could accompany him on business and official trips and engagements. (It was said that the best language teacher in the world was the pillow!) To make it even better, the costs could be set off as legitimate business expenses, since temporary wives were technically employees.
Temporary Wives today
Today, these official and business elements of relationships with temporary wives have largely disappeared. Generally the girl will work as a retained sex worker in a bar and and the contract is made with a bar’s mamasan. However, temporary wives will normally do the household shopping and act as interpreters. They may also negotiate larger purchases, since they will get the ‘local price’ – as long as they keep their foreigners out of sight. This remains a commonplace arrangement across the region. The deal is, if he stops paying, she goes back to the bar, but as long as he does pay, she stays and does the agreed work, in and out of bed.
Chana and Marcie
Sam and I are at home in the afternoon. She tells me her friend Chana is coming. They used to share a one-roomed apartment with a mixed bunch of girls and ladyboys. Sam tells me this with a raised eyebrow and an arch look. The few details she has trusted me with about this arrangement are mighty juicy. Women do not come to Angeles to be nuns; and these phenomena do not only exist in fantasy.
Chana is tiny, barely, at a guess, four foot nine and probably weighs about five stones. Her leg is more slender than my arm and I’m sure I could touch thumb and finger encircling her ankle. She is pretty, with a slightly crooked, engaging smile and big eyes. Her body is more girlish than womanly, but she has nice breasts. It’s the Dolly Parton syndrome: normal breasts look huge on someone so small.
When Sam knew her first, Chana was working as a bar girl, a retained prostitute. Then she met a wealthy Korean. He began ‘long-time fining’ her. Basically, in this the girl becomes a live-in maid with appropriate duties, but also provides sexual services on a daily basis. She becomes one of the temporary wives and a fee is paid to the bar to ‘keep her job open’. So she was with him for the duration of his visits to the Philippines, then would go back to the bar when he left.
At some point, Chana’s charms appear to have overwhelmed her man; they set up together permanently and she gave up whoring. The foreigner installed her in a house in a compound near Friendship – Koreans like Friendship. Chana has a child by him, a little girl of two. I’ve met the Korean and although he’s not as tall as I am, he’s squat, solid and tough.
The previous time we’d met had been the little girl’s birthday party and then, all was absolutely fine. But now, apparently, it is not. Chana wants to borrow some money.
I was surprised, because she obviously had money. She usually displays as much bling as it’s possible for someone so small to wear without falling down under the sheer weight of gold.
‘Her husband beat her up,’ says Sam, after an exchange of texts. ‘She needs the deposit for an apartment.’
When she arrives, I see that Chana has a black eye of spectacular size and colour that she’s attempting, unsuccessfully, to hide under a pair of oversized sunglasses.
She is not, however, alone. She is accompanied by her friend, Marcie, whom I have not met before. I like Marcie instantly. She has an open, frank grin and she’s friendly without being flirty. A very different character from Chana who, as soon as she enters, positions herself so that she is sitting close to me, crosses her ankles to show off her legs – she’s wearing ‘off-duty fuckdoll’ rig, skin-tight sleeveless top and sport-shorts, with white sneakers – and begins making eyes at me from the cover of her shades. Sam moves closer; pussy-blocking. But she need have no fear, I’m wise to Chana.
It turns out that Chana wants to ‘pawnshop’ her phone. That is, she wants to borrow some money and leave the phone as collateral. She hands it over for inspection. It’s a recent Samsung Galaxy in near mint condition and I can see that Sam likes it. Chana wants to borrow six thousand pesos against it, for one month, but I say that five thousand is all I have in the house. It’s true, I dislike having large amounts of cash here. She mulls this and then agrees.
We agree: five thousand, the term of the loan is to be one month and the interest will be ten percent; so Chana owes me five and a half, payable in one month, or I keep the phone. All good.
Business concluded, we relax. I am aware that there is a special sort of friendship between Chana and Marcie. The latter is tremendously solicitous. When Chana shows me her bruises, Marcie pats her leg. She arranges her hair, fusses her. She obviously adores her.
‘Are you old friends?’ I ask.
Marcie is direct and speaks good English. ‘Yes, since school.’ She knows what I’m thinking. ‘I’m bisexual.’
It fits and nothing really surprises me here any more. ‘I see. Like half men half women?’
Marcie chuckles. ‘More like 60% women, 40% men.’
Marcie is not the typical butch, transman type lesbian. Her presentation, in keeping with her sexuality, is intermediate. She looks somewhat ambivalent. Her hair is not long – Pinays typically wear it well past their shoulders or even their waists – but it’s a feminine cut. She has no makeup on and she’s dressed in a checked shirt and jeans.
She has a nice body but she’s not wearing the push-up bra that is so popular here, just, from what I can see, a sports model. She could be a cute boy, in one light, or a pretty, boyish girl in another. Sexuality and gender are two sides of the same coin and Marcie is making that clear. It always amazes me that Westerners have lost sight of this fundamental truth.
Marcie, once the ice is broken, is quite talkative. ‘We’re getting an apartment together, in Diamond,’ she explains. ‘She’s leaving him for good, this time.’ I can tell that this satisfies her, but the way that Chana keeps giving me ‘come to bed’ eyes, despite her keeker, has my alarm bells going off; not for me, but for Marcie. That’s because the longer I observe them the more obvious it is that she has got it bad. She dotes on Chana, adores her, loves her with all her heart. But I am not convinced this is reciprocated. While it is true that Filipinas are less demonstrative of affection, at least in public, than girls from many other cultures, Chana almost seems cold towards Marcie.
Chana’s daughter has obviously taken to me, the two-headed white foreigner, and I am surreptitiously playing ‘hidey hidey’ with her, covering my eyes with my hands. She gives off little spluttering giggles of amusement. I do the rapid serial eye-winks and this has her creasing; then I magically pop out my teeth, palm them, grin toothlessly at her, pop them back in and grin again; her eyes are like gobstoppers.
I am losing the plot amongst the constant babble of high-speed (and volume) Visayan around me; playing silly games with a two-year-old is about my level. Chana begins to push the little girl towards me. The daughter is shy and clings to her mother’s leg but I know what Chana’s doing: ‘You like this little girl? She’s sweet. Say the word and you can have me; she comes too. New family, ready made. Whaddya think? You get between these as often as you want and I know how to work a cock.’ It seems a tad inappropriate, given that we are both sitting with our romantic partners, so I don’t bite.
One they have left, I quiz Sam. ‘They used to live together,’ she explains. ‘In the provinces, before they came here. Chana came to work in the bars on Walking Street. That’s how I met her. Then Marcie came too but she wouldn’t be a bar girl. Chana moved out of our apartment and in with Marcie, but soon after that she met her foreigner.’
‘And Marcie was dumped.’ How must she have felt, losing her lover to a man for weeks at a time, then her coming back? Ill-used, I should think.
Sam shrugs. She understands, but there’s a higher imperative. ‘Marcie don’t have money.’ Nothing more needs to be said. Life here can be brutally tough. Girls might not ask for the Earth (though some will) but they do ask a minimum: ‘Feed me, put a roof over my head and take care of the babies we make; and I will love you forever.’ To a Westerner this probably sounds almost as awful as long-time bar-fines or temporary wives, but remember: there is no social support here. Romance alone does not feed your babies and that’s a fact.
So Chana married her foreigner and had his child. But then, the foreigner works internationally, so he’s only in the Phils a few months a year. This is not an uncommon arrangement, but it leads to issues. And the issue in this case, was Chana’s hot pants and Marcie’s willingness to help with them.
‘The foreigner thought Chana was having an affair while he wasn’t here. Somebody told him.’
‘Was she?’ The habit of spreading suspicion through gossip is a constant feature of Asian life, one I could do without. They’re jealous enough without it.
Sam looks at me. ‘Only with Marcie.’
‘So that doesn’t count?’
She shrugs. ‘It’s just two girls together. What’s she supposed to do? They get each other off with dildos. I know, they showed me.’ My eyebrows made a grab for the ceiling at that, but I put the thought away. Safer.
Sam shrugs. Sometimes Westerners are so dumb. ‘At least she wasn’t fucking the local boys or working in the bar again, she was just fooling around with her best friend.’
I nod. ‘But the Korean didn’t see it that way.’
Sam nods. ‘He’s really jealous.’ She shrugs. ‘Chana’s twenty-two and she likes plenty of boom-boom. Nobody works as a bar girl if they don’t like sex. Nobody. She’s always up for it. I saw her making eyes at you, I know you know what I mean.’
I suck my hollow tooth. I do understand. Actually these arrangements are not uncommon, as I had found out when I was staying in Balante two years before. Women who know each other well and whose husbands are working abroad – and some Filipinos who work overseas are away for a year or more at a time – will often scratch each other’s itch. It solves the problem without fear of the massive disruption in the fabric of the clan that would be caused if they screwed the other husbands around the place. Mostly, people just ignore it.
When the men, horny after months of drought, come home on leave, they get fucked silly by their equally randy wives, till they stagger off back to the airport and the flight to wherever they work, and a chance to recuperate. Meantime the girls go back to sorting each other out with radishes — well, until the inevitable crop of babies.
It’s no big deal; as Sam says, it’s just two lonely, normal women comforting each other. But there is something else, that I am sure the Korean understands: Marcie loves Chana and would take any opportunity to replace him.
Marcie has known her far longer than the Korean has. She probably thinks she has prior claim. And she definitely sees herself as Chana’s defender, her white knight in shining lesbian armour. I surmise that the Korean knows what’s going on. In a way, he’d probably be better to arrange a ménage a trois and move Marcie in; it would avoid strife and Chana does love to be the centre of attention. But men often can’t be as pragmatic as that, when it comes to women.
So, instead, he beat the crap out of Chana, sending her running back to Marcie and throwing the whole can of worms up into the air.
‘This is not going to end well,’ I muse. I am pretty sure I just bought Sam a new phone.
I was right. At the redeem date, there is no money and no Chana. The phone defaults to me. I don’t ask any questions but a few weeks later, we encounter Marcie (without Chana) while we’re out. I’m friendly to her and she reciprocates; our relationship, such as it is, is not sexualised, but we like each other. Marcie looks haggard and it’s obvious she’s been crying. I just ask ‘What happened?’
‘She went back to him,’ she replies. The accompanying look she gives me is so full of grief that I want to hug her, though I don’t.
All I can say is ‘I’m so sorry, Marcie.’ Pathetic, eh?
I could have warned her but I didn’t know her well enough. Chana turned to Marcie when she needed help and left her when she didn’t. She’s done it before and we both knew she would do it again. Each time she did, another corner of Marcie’s heart would die. The foreigner just had to apologise, buy Chana a new phone and some more bling; perhaps take her to Boracay for the weekend. Chana would forgive him and jump right back onto his dick without a second thought. All that was done was that Marcie’s heart, which I am sure is loyal and true, was broken – again.
I don’t blame Chana for the way she is, although her cruelty to someone who obviously loves her shocks me. If you’re an uneducated woman in a place like this, the moist, fragrant treasure between your legs is all that keeps you from penury. I know single mothers here, who refuse to work in the bars or the streets, and they have hellish lives. They end up living off their extended families, with no status, because, while they are mothers, they have no men and so they and their children are a burden. It is a shame, a loss of face, a stigma.
A woman’s pussy
A woman’s pussy can save her from all that, so why not use it? I can’t condemn Chana’s behaviour, but I felt for Marcie. Chana is her teenage sweetheart, the love of her life, for whom, at the drop of a text, she will come running. She will always be there, to save Chana from whatever or whomever threatens her. She will kiss her better, pick her up, sponge her wounds. But no matter how much she likes Marcie, Chana also likes cock and she needs money.
Marcie is another woman, with no more wherewithal than would see the week out, and the Korean has both cock and plenty of lucre. It’s not just that he can sexually satisfy Chana; I’m sure Marcie is adept at pleasuring a female. But he can make Chana a mother, secure her in the ranks of the matriarchal hierarchy, and afford the material trappings to accompany that. He can affirm her.
All Marcie can give is her love.
You must log in to post a comment.