16 Jun 2013

The Red Light District and Other Tales

It was eight in the evening and the sun was still a peachy orange.  Armadas of vintage bicycles were resting on top of bridges above canals of slowly moving water, their handlebars glinting.  Picturesque houses on either side slanted forwards, their crooked façades giving them the appearance of reaching out towards the water below. The night was still young.

Walking down streets the distinctive smell of weed brought me back to my first year at university; the unforgettable stench would linger in the corridor of my student residence or waft in through my window in the early hours of the morning.  Walking into one coffee shop - the notorious name for a cannabis cafe - we were met by dazed faces.  A group of young men were sprawled out in one corner of space cake city, smoking joints and absentmindedly watching the peculiar music videos being aired on the different screens.  A druggy's paradise.

I watched my friends around me nibbling on their first hash brownies or sharing joints.  I didn't mind being there but I didn't want to try it.  I suppose part of me was scared I might have a bad reaction to it.  And then there was the money issue...I didn't want to spend well-earned money on weed.  Cheese, yes, but not weed. Yet the root of my decision was that despite it being one of those "When in Rome" moments, I just wasn't interested.


On first glance, it seemed like any other part of Amsterdam.  I searched for women in micro skirts and too much make-up but they were nowhere to be seen. We wondered if we weren't a bit early.  But then, looking to our left, we noticed alleyways lit up with red lights.  I thought red light was merely a phrase for "risqué", "naughty" or "dangerous" but it suddenly all made sense.  I was feeling nervous but intrigued and we decided to follow the flow of men and women who hounded the windows.  Beams of pinky red light infused the cramped passageways and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of fear as we ebbed deeper and deeper into the heart of Amsterdam's sex trade. I had been warned not to take photos; the pimps were protective of their ladies and wouldn't allow it.  I'd heard stories of cameras being taken and smashed to the ground. 
Walking past the windows, we saw slim, ample-breasted women wearing what looked like thin strips of elastic cloth, barely covering the essentials.  Some stared out at their voyeurs; others looked bored; some played on their mobile phones.  I don't know what was more upsetting; the women who actually looked like they wanted to be there, or the women who were conscious of their prison.  I felt a rush of guilt cloud over me.  They had been turned into dogs and these were their kennels. I saw a few men walking out of doorways, buttoning up shirts or doing up their flies. As we rushed back towards civilisation, seedy men eyed us up.  I couldn't help but ask my friends: "since when did prostitutes wear baggy jumpers and converse?"

Any woman who turns herself into a man’s whore knows no freedom.  

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