Tina and Amelia are working girls, and I think we should use the term ‘girls’ loosely here. Each evening I see them, and few other ‘girls,’ standing on the street not far from my B&B in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur.
Bukit Bintang is the cities central shopping district and apparently by night it’s vice district too. Tina and Amelia aren’t the only people lurking in the orange glow of the street lights. Wander around for long enough and you’re sure to be approached by someone offering you anything from fake watches, iPhones, and bags to drugs, tattoos, and ‘parties.’
I’ve walked past these girls every night and avoided eye contact with them as they stride into my path slowly like some peacock showing off its plumage. However, tonight I decided to stop and talk to them and see if they might let me take their picture.
At first Tina took interest in me as I stopped on the street, but as soon as she saw the camera she became wary and suspicious.
“Are you from the Police?” She asked in a half turned away pose. Her voice was quiet and slow, like someone emerging from an anaesthetic slumber. I told her I wasn’t. She turned and took a couple of steps toward me then asked another question. “Are you from God?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I told her I was not from God and that I was just a photographer, talking pictures for a blog. “So you want my picture?” She seemed puzzled, then quickly added “Ten Ringget.” I held out a five Ringet note and said a picture was worth five. She walked up to me and took the money from my outstretched hand.
“You reporter?” She asked, now seemingly more comfortable to talk, but still moving around slowly while trying to catch the eye of passing motorists and flicking her hair from her heavily made up face.
“No, I’m travelling and I’m documenting my journey.” I explained.
We then had a rather disjointed conversation which involved her asking me a string of questions. “What’s your name?” “Are you on facebook?” “Are you married?” “Are you from America?” “You need service?”
She told me her name was Tina just as another girl joined us, seemingly curious as to what was going on. They exchanged some words in Malay, then the other girl boldly introduced herself as Amelia, shook my hand and said “Nice to meet you.”
It’s fair to say we didn’t have the most stimulating conversation in the world, but I guess it was unrealistic to expect otherwise. After all, I was disturbing them at work.
Tina did tell me she was from Malaysia and had been working the streets in KL for three years. Amelia told me she was from Borneo and had come to KL to work four years ago. Later she told me she was 18 and when I pointed out that made her 14 when she started, she laughed and said “No.”
In the end I suspect that pretty much everything they told me wasn’t true. The only truth I know is that they are working girls, and that when I leave KL tomorrow, they’ll still be here trying to catch the eye of passing motorists and men walking by on the street of Bukit_Bintang.