My name is Lang1. My parents and friends back in my hometown don’t know what I’m really doing here in Phnom Penh. They think I’m studying English and training in a wedding reception center.
The truth is, I’m earning my keep in a very different way. I started working at a beer garden about two and a half years ago when I was 18. At first, I was simply promoting beer to the restaurant customers, but I soon learned about the added ‘benefits’ of sleeping with them. There’s so much more money in going back to the guest house with customers. I’m not careless, though; I make sure to use a condom with every client, even if it means shouting at them and defending myself against violent men.
Let me tell you about one of my days. I got up at 6 a.m., took a bath, and went down to the market to buy some food. I spent the rest of my morning at the health center [getting a health check, HIV test and addiction counseling] and with a SMARTgirl self-help group. I have made a lot of friends through the SMARTgirl network, and I’ve learnt to protect myself from STIs [sexually transmitted infections], HIV and other health problems.
At midday, I got ready for work. I probably had a few drinks with the customers. I normally drink until I’m drunk. It helps me forget life’s problems. So does ‘ice’ [methamphetamine]. A friend introduced me to it one time, convincing me that it would help me lose weight and keep me alert. I didn’t pay for my first hit, but now I’m addicted. Whenever I get tips from the customers at work, I invite my friends over to my home to use ice with me. It costs US$10.
A man called and asked me to have sex with him at 6 p.m. and, as usual, I had to convince him to put on a condom. He got abusive and defensive about using a condom, but I stood my ground. I stayed with him until midnight then went home.
My lifestyle is a mix of hell and royal living. It makes me both happy and unhappy. Sometimes I get tips, sometimes I get abused. But I like being independent. That’s why I choose to work as a beer girl. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trading sex for money, but I’m supporting myself and my family, and I’m working toward my future. One day, I want to run a small business selling accessories.
1 In this series, real names of program participants are not used.