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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Before the neon lights of Walking Street

“The sleeper’s visions… are as turbulent as his day.” –Seneca

In contrast to the almost painfully detached city architecture of the rest of Angeles City, neon lights and bright colors, anarchic use of symbols and signs, and even anachronistic statues make Walking Street in Fields Avenue impressively vivid everyday.

A casual visitor may find this disconcerting, though–this narrow strip that, just before midnight, features a nightly spectacle of sights, sounds, smell and tastes catering to “pleasure connoisseurs” as the rest of the city winds down. An arc that separates Walking Street from the rest of Fields Avenue openly invites the curious and adventurous. Caucasians regularly fill the street in large numbers. Meanwhile, two police officers stand some ten meters away from the arc, brandishing automatic rifles. They are evidently there not just to keep the peace, but to protect the tourists.

The street is surprisingly wide, and bereft of the usual urban stink. Ugly waterways are sufficiently hidden away. The street is smoothed out, easy on the feet. Walking Street allows for, and accommodates, entrepreneurial spirits from all classes: Big hotels and gold-washed bars are aplenty, but the place allows for also regular vendors, too, who quietly observe the passersby. Some of these vendors are well-dressed gentlemen who carry large boxes to sell local and imported cigarettes. They also serve as friendly faces to greet newcomers and lost tourists.

In this slice of the city, smoking are a norm, even encouraged, at a time when the government has declared that all public spaces throughout the country are “no smoke” zones. An aromatic mix of alcohol, perfume, sweat and what one can only assume to be bodily fluids constantly pervade the air. That last smell disconcerts the casual visitor, who looks on and wonders what happens beyond those dingy bar doors.

Then, of course, there are the women stationed at those doors. The bars have them dressing up Japanese, American, Egyptian, or whatever. The casual visitor may expect to be harangued by them, but most of the time the women just stand and wait for passersby to express interest. Oddly, they appear guarded, almost wary, of potential customers. Transactions are regulated, though not for the women’s sake, but for the tourists’.

Everyone, but especially the women (including trans-women), are put up for scrutiny under bright, intense lights. Everything here is done in the open. The streets are filled with a frenetic energy, betraying the reality of an ugly competition between girly bars and “guild” women and freelance sex workers. Competition is equally fierce among freelance sex workers themselves.

This realization of sexual fantasies in Walking Street does the city’s coffers good, of course. It is big business, and the fact that Walking Street is open to the public, neon lights and all, can only mean that the politicians have long accepted and benefited from its existence. The fact that they have taken great lengths to maintain constant police presence for sex tourists to feel safe attests to this.

The locals, of course, continue to defend the street’s existence. They say that no one is forced to participate in the nightly exchange of sexual favors and cash. One’s reply to that must only be to point out that this advanced and highly-protected system of commodification makes the city’s population–especially the women and LGBT–vulnerable to unspeakable abuse. Tragedy happened before. It happens today. It will continue to happen unless this street is forever closed to those disgusting “pleasure connoisseurs”.

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