Rosa is a prostitute. That’s her job, plain and simple. She works about three times a week, drumming up business in clubs and hotels. Her customers take her home or rent a hotel room. Rosa’s not a hustler or one of Jakarta’s gold diggers; she’s not paying off a car or looking for the big score. She’s just scraping by, making a living her way here in the big city.
A lot of women who do what you do here are referred to by the slang term ‘ ayam’ (‘chicken’). What do you think of that term?
I don’t like it. I’m not “ayam.” I like to go out and have fun with guys, I enjoy what I do and I’m free to choose who I want to go spend a night with. I’m a kupu-kupu malam [lady of the night].
How does it work to operate as a freelance prostitute?
Sometimes I go out by myself, other times I go out with close friends, a group of girls who like to party. I meet a guy, he buys me drinks, we talk, and when I feel comfortable, I will hook up with him. We don’t usually discuss money, but there are exceptions. Sometimes the guy is straightforward and asks up front about how much it will cost. If I like the guy, we don’t talk about money until the morning. Usually he gives me the cash when I’m about to go, or I ask him for some “taxi money.”
Where exactly do you meet these guys?
Everywhere, but mostly at pick-up bars in South Jakarta or any five-star hotel with a bar. Sometimes I go out to nightclubs as well.
How much does it cost to spend the night with you?
Depends. It’s always up to the guy, but they usually know the standard. The biggest tip I ever got was Rp 1 million [$106].
What do you mean by ‘tip’?
Yeah, I don’t like to think of it as being paid or that there’s a going “rate” to be with me. I’m tipped for my time. We hang out, have a good time, have sex and in the morning they tip me before I go.
What’s the minimum amount of money you expect for a night?
Normally it’s around Rp 500,000.
Which hotels in Jakarta are your favorites?
JW Marriott, Le Meridien, Crowne and a bunch of other places I can’t remember.
Has a customer ever taken you on a trip?
Yes, I’ve been around Asia, places like Singapore, Lombok, Jambi and Bali.
What did you do before you started working as a prostitute?
I worked as a waitress in a restaurant, but that was two years ago, when I first moved to Jakarta from Bandung.
Would you ever work in a restaurant again?
No. Making money like this is too easy.
So are there rules about being a freelance prostitute? Are there places where you can and can’t go?
I can go wherever I want. I mean, I know when I’m not wanted by other hookers in the area, so in that case, I tend to hang out in the clubs that I know are free from that kind of territorial thing.
If you walk into a bar can you spot the girls who are hookers?
No. There’s no real way to tell who is working. I can’t just point them out and be like, “Uh, her, her, her and her.”
How did you learn English?
I learned on the street and by having conversations with people. I learned English from books. I speak Korean as well.
What do you do when you’re not out making money?
I stay at my place. I cook, watch TV and relax in this rumah susun (housing project).
Do you have a boyfriend, someone who you see outside of work?
No, I don’t have a boyfriend right now, but I’m always looking.
When you’re in a bar what kind of guy are you looking for?
Hot, rich and handsome. That’s the idea, right [laughs]?
What’s more important, that he’s hot or that he’s rich?
Rich. Everybody needs money.
If you find a boyfriend who you would consider to be a potential husband, would you tell him that you used to have sex for money?
Yes, I would have to. It’s important to be totally honest in a relationship.
How much longer do you think you will be doing this?
What, hooking up with guys for money? Who knows, as long as it takes, until I fall in love, find a good husband or find a job that actually pays well.
Do you think that what you’re doing is dangerous? Have you ever been hurt?
Yes, I think it’s dangerous, but that’s the risk that I have to take. I don’t have any other choice. Luckily, nothing bad has ever happened to me. Only once, a guy bit me hard and it was really painful.
Rosa was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Pictures by Iwan Putuhena