I’m Asian, Not a Hooker! Encountering Dubai Nightlife [Go! Girl Guides Article]

It is close to midnight in Dubai, the girl friends and I were all back at our five-star hotel dressing up, ready to check out the local clubs and have a good night of partying. While two of the girls were primping upstairs, I headed down to the lobby with the one friend who was done – the club we wanted to check out was conveniently located on our hotel’s premises – so we took a seat in the lobby to wait for our friends.

Less than two minutes after we settled in, a hotel security guard approached us, “Ma’am, are you guests of this hotel?”

I nodded and said that we were, showing him our keycard.

“Which room are you staying in?” “What is your name?” “Who is the room registered to?” “How many people are in the room?” “How long are you staying here?”

Woah easy there tiger! The barrage of questions was surprising, but we answered them dutifully, and finally, seemingly satisfied, the guard left us alone.

We assumed at first it was just diligent night security at work, and would not have brought up the incident to the group had similar things not kept happening that night; we four girls and our guy friend were not allowed entry into the club as a group unless we spent a minimum bombshell sum, but when we split up into two separate groups at the next place we had no problems; if we so much as paused for a breath while crossing the hotel lobby, hotel security was right there asking questions immediately about our motives – even as I made my way up to the room alone at 2am, with my keycard in plain sight, I was not let off the hook and asked repeatedly where I was going and who my room was registered to.

My friend, an expat living in the UAE for the past two years, explained it to us – despite Dubai being one of the emirates and technically under strict Islamic law, its reputation as the “playground of the Middle East’ extends to its nightlife scene, which is very loosely governed, and apparently one of the most common sights in their high-end nightclubs and hotels? Prostitutes.

While the Eastern European sort of blonde-hair blue-eyes look was quite common, the Chinese and other Asian prostitutes were also a rising figure in the nightlife scene.

In the 28 years of my life and travelling, I have been mistaken for many things – being younger than my actual age, being of a nationality that I am not, speaking a language that I don’t. But getting mistaken for a ‘lady of the night’ while in Dubai? That was something new to me.

In retrospect, it is worth a chuckle. Me, little ol’ me, looking anything like a prostitute? I wore a mid-thigh length gold dress that night, but with my plain looks, lack of assets and general disinterest in chatting anyone up, I don’t think I look anything like a hooker! A lot of things made more sense after that revelation though – why the security clamped down on women in the lobbies, the refusal of entry at the first club…

But right there at that moment, I found it pretty stressful having to repeatedly deny that I was a hooker just because I was Asian, and I was probably lucky I didn’t get hit on – one of the other girls did encounter a leering sort when she was making a phone call outside the club, though honestly that’s not particularly unusual in a club. I was quite happy to be back up in the room, taking a bath to try and get the smell of cigarette smoke out of my hair.

Check out this article from the Guardian for more insight into prostitution in Dubai, according to the article it is pretty rampant in the high end nightclubs and hotels because solicitation out on the streets is still illegal under Islamic law and they don’t have a red-light district.

So, ladies passing through Dubai and thinking of checking out the night scene, don’t be too surprised if you get mistaken for a hooker in the clubs… especially if you’re Asian.

And if you do chat up a nice guy, remember that while they close a blind eye to prostitution, there have been people thrown in jail for public displays of affection, so keep any ‘action’ behind closed doors!

Crossposted from Go! Girl Guides, where I was a contributing blogger.


I wasn’t really sure what to expect when KL told us we were going to go out and have an Unholies-type (read: Woohoo!) party in Dubai. Sure, having your own drinks behind closed doors in a desert villa is one thing, but going out to a club in a technically Islamic country… I had my reservations. I was half-convinced we would get thrown in jail for stepping into a club and touching alcohol in public.

But my observation about Dubai is that it is a place that bows down to its tourists – it welcomes them with open arms, accepting their cultural norms even if they don’t align with their own. As you explore Dubai, you get the feeling of a city that has borrowed a lot of its culture, perhaps a little excessively so.

I shan’t mention the hotel we stayed in with the overzealous security, though if you guess where it was from this picture, good for you:

Dubai - Hotel Lobby

I don’t blame the hotel security for doing their job – keeping the hotel’s patrons safe with vigilant security is definitely a good thing – apparently many other luxury hotels just close a blind eye to the prostitutes’ proceedings. The security guys were always civil, never getting physical or shout-y, just that the constant badgering in what felt like accusatory tones (to tired ears) does wear one’s patience thin, and it’s hard not to get a little agitated at the feeling you might get thrown in jail or something extreme for no good reason.

Perhaps it was our dressing – what passes as nice party clothes in the Singapore clubs might be too risque for them, but on the other hand you can’t not be dressed up, as the good clubs have a certain dress code and expectation of their patrons – my friend P got rebuked and nearly barred from entering the club for wearing flats, despite her protests that she had injured her toe.

Also that our group dynamic was a little unusual – 4 girls and 1 guy – lone guy J might have come across rather pimp-like with his harem of girls in tow, which we suspect is the reason the first club didn’t want to let us in, unless we were willing to open a few bottles of expensive liquor and spend a minimum of 2,000 AED (that’s about S$700 for some context), that amounts to A LOT of drinks and no one wanted to be passed-out-drunk in that country! So we headed to a neighbouring club just around the corner, and split up in our entry strategy to get into the club.

Me and C
Here I am with C (left) and an oddly giant looking hand (right). I’m wearing a stretchy gold dress with a mid-thigh length skirt and nude low wedge heels… not particularly hookery, no? (in case you’re curious, I’m wearing a Singaporean designer called Chalk). C did my make-up so my eyes look bigger O_O

 

Sidebar: this particular club we visited was pretty unusual, and very happening. It’s a London brand and has a whole circus theme going on, so you’re greeted by people in weirdly dressed costumes, people in cages, very small people, people in strange make-up, sometimes a combination of all these things… these circus acts would pop up every now and then in the club (firebreathers, women who swallowed anything, people on stilts and trapezes…). The DJ spun a pretty awesome mix of music, so all in all, a fairly good time was had. If you want to know where I went, drop me a note and I’ll tell you!

But I suspect age has caught up with me; I just don’t enjoy nightlife as much as I used to back in university! Give me a simple drink and a nice quiet place with a good view nowadays and I’m happy – I headed back up to the room earlier than the rest, which was when I got accosted by the guards again, all alone. I did try to preempt it by holding my keycard out as visibly as possible, but that didn’t stop them from stopping me. My ears were ringing, a burly dude was barking questions at me, and it was 2am in the morning (early for clubbing, I know), I was not a happy camper at all. I answered all the guard’s questions, albeit the answers were sounding more irritated by the minute, and I finally managed to get back up to the room.

I’d honestly never been so glad for Singapore – granted that we have our own stereotypes of various ethnicities in our midst and perhaps I’m part of the majority here, but I never thought I would appreciate the freedom of being able to wander around safely at night, in whatever I wanted and not be judged for it.

Anyone else out there been mistaken for a hooker (or any one else) in your travels? Do share!

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11 comments to I’m Asian, Not a Hooker! Encountering Dubai Nightlife [Go! Girl Guides Article]

  1. q8ity girl, I understand your frustration, but the flip side of that is that a lot of old bastards from the US and Europe come to work in this sin hole called Dubai and end up screwing young prostitutes and destroying the lives of the families and wives they leave behind. It happens on a regular basis. i have had 2 friends lose their husbands to prostitutes in Dubai. Whats really bad is that once they got tired of the filthy sex, kinky sex, they wanted their wives and families back….to much damage done at that point…so sad…bu still, it must be maddening to be associated with that group.

  2. I understand the indignation, but there are thousands of prostitutes in Dubai. As many have already said, there is prostitution every where, but Dubai is “special” Having spent considerable time in Dubai, I can tell you that it is as easy to buy a prostitute as it is to buy a loaf of bread. There are so many old nasty guys cheating on their wives with prostitutes on a regular basis. It is sickening to watch. These girls are very aggressive. They don’t care if you are with your man or not. One approached my 16 year old son. My daughter had to grab my arm…So I understand that it is ridiculous to get accosted, Whores are as common as breathing in Dubai and a lot of beautiful women get mistaken. I sorry you had to deal with that.

  3. I’m from Kuwait and while I was there with my husband people looked at me thinkinh I was a “working girl”! The problem is, my husband is an American and the stereotype that any woman a forgine man is with is a ” working girl”. Sadly, that’s one of the many reasons I’m starting to dislike Dubai. When I went clubbing with my hubby, I’d go to the ladies room… One of those girls would approche my husband while she knowns I’m with him and his wife!

  4. Cannot help this situations – there are working girls everywhere in the world not necessarily Russian or Asian generally the UAE policing is tolerant – the idea is do what you want do make a spectacle – as far as guards are concerned who stop and check they are just looking for a quick buck to be made by intimidation – you can object to the unnecessary rude behavior in spite of proving that you are a legitimate guest at the hotel – believe they are taken to task

    • Hi Vino, I do think it’s good that the guards were vigilant and they were just doing their job after all. Also, they were polite too and weren’t looking for cash under the table, I was just surprised that we kept getting stopped in the first place, and that prostitution was so rampant in the first place!

  5. Yeah also had the experience in South Korea, I have Russian ancestry and to be honest I didn’t really care. A lot of Asians in the UAE do do lowly occupations and are generally thought of as lower class by the locals there, in addition to more Asian women internationally being involved in prostitution, and this includes first world countries such as Japan.

  6. I used to get mistaken as a Russian prostitute fairly often when I lived in South Korea. It was mostly by older Korean men who were still under the impression that any foreign girls in their country were from Russia and there as ‘working girls’. Sometimes it was funny or amusing and sometimes it was just maddening.

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