The Geopolitics of Desire

What's the real cost of free sex in Asia?


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A comic strip in one of Tokyo's English-language newspapers summed it up perfectly. On the left, a 'before' portrait of Joe American making $9,000 a year as a lonely street sweeper in Podunk, Indiana. On the right, an 'after' shot of the same Joe earning $36,000 as a love-laden English teacher with a harem of Japanese women at his feet in Tokyo. The caption under the portrait simply read: 'Go east, young man.'

Hordes of male American college grads have heeded the call and set up camp in East Asia over the past decade. Indeed, an entire subculture of twentysomething Americans has evolved in urban centers like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Some are still drawn by quixotic visions of spiritual enlightenment in a wise, hospitable Asia. Far more are caught by the more recent allure of striking it rich in the new land of opportunity. Few, however, go prepared to deal with the culture shock that awaits them: The rapid breakdown of tradition in Asia's modern, boom-town landscape has left a moral vacuum where few rules remain. As a result, the reality for most of these Americans is an Asian experience dominated by the ultimate cross-cultural tremor: sex.

Just call it the Oriental Girl Fixation Syndrome. An offensively garish title, perhaps, but a concept well known to foreign ghetto