Kimberly Hoang visits Levan Center, introduces new novel.


Terry Collom

Kimberly Hoang speaks at BC about sexual markets and political economies

Brooke Howard, Reporter

Kimberly Hoang visited Bakersfield College on Sept. 11 to give a presentation on her forthcoming book, “Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies in Global Sex Work,” in which her unique participant observation approach gave her insight on the political economy and sexual market in Vietnam that is rarely seen by outsiders.

Over the course of five years Hoang worked at various exclusive Saigon hostess bars catering to wealthy Vietnames and Asian businessmen, Viet Kieus (ethnic Vietnamese living abroad), Western businessmen, and Western budget-tourists.

“As a Vietnamese American woman born in the United States who knew very little about the country my parents fled, I found myself in an awkward position of being an outsider in a country I had strong cultural ties to and not knowing what to make of it,” said Hoang about her experience. “After my departure from Vietnam on that first trip I spent the year of the Master’s program in sociology at Stanford University in the library, reading everything that I could get my hands on about the global sex industry.”

That trip, according to Hoang, led her on a 10-year journey where she spent time conducting research for and writing her forthcoming book, “Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work.” The journey, Hoang says, was tiresome but fulfilling.

Hoang has spoken at top colleges such as Stanford, Harvard, Boston University and much more.

“Bakersfield is a place that is near and dear to me because it is where my family has lived for the last 15 years,” she said. “As the first person in my family to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree, I feel a close connection to many of the students in Bakersfield who are also the first in their families to attend college or who come from immigrant backgrounds.”

Hoang explained that she believes that it is especially important for students to understand that the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and that they should find as many opportunities as they can to reach beyond their immediate communities.

“The fact that Kim is a Bakersfield native and young professor at a R1 university, not to mention a first gen college student, is a story worth telling,” said Oliver Rosales, an associate professor of history at the BC Delano Campus.

Hoang captivated the audience, which included her own parents, with her presence and quick wit. It was important to Hoang that she was finally able to present this intriguing research for the first time, not only to BC, but her parents as well.

“That was an amazing talk,” exclaimed sociology student Jan Rhoades, echoing voices of numerous students who attended. “I came for extra credit, but I left with much more.”

As the American Sociological Association 2012 Best Dissertation Award Winner, Hoang was able to come to Bakersfield as part of the Sorokin Sponsored Lecture series. Every year a distinguished American Sociological Association member is able to deliver a lecture at a regional sociological society meeting. Since 1967, each year the winner of the ASA Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award travels to a regional association to speak about the book that had been honored.

Her book explores Vietnam’s diverse sex industry as it ascends the global and regional stage. Hoang explains, “Dealing in Desire,” takes an in-depth look at both the sex workers and their clients to show how Vietnamese high finance and benevolent giving are interconnected with the intimate spheres of the informal economy.

“For Viet Kieu and Westerners who bring remittances into the local economy, personal relationships with local sex workers bolster their ideas of Asia’s rise and western decline, while simultaneously recuperating their lost masculinity. Dealing in Desire illuminates Ho Chi Minh City’s sex industry as not just a microcosm of the global economy, but as a critical space where dreams and deals are traded,” she said.

Within the many interesting topics she touched on, one really had attendees asking questions. Hoang explained with her research she found many western men moving to Vietnam to not just find business opportunities but also co-dependent women and regain “lost” masculinity. In some interviews Hoang conducted, men would state the Vietnamese girls were “nothing like the women in America” citing their “slim bodies and long, black hair.” Hoang explains that these sex workers would use this to their advantage by making the men feel needed in the return of money or gifts.

Another topic posed was the abundance of wealthy men training sex workers to help close deals. In a setting such as these bars, it’s easy to develop a sense of trust. The sex workers would verify the men with power and help loosen the tension.

In this hour presentation, Hoang put a mental puzzle together for the audience piece by piece. A main theme was that the decline of western dominance was a chance for small Asian countries, such as Vietnam, to show their own ascendancy and growing markets.

The summer prior to starting her PhD program in Sociology at Stanford University in 2005, Hoang decided to visit the country her parents had fled as boat refugees in 1979. Hoang recounted what sparked her curiosity to learn more about the women of Saigon’s nightlife and discover the correlation between the improper economy and wealthy businessmen.

“In my search for a place to rent, I met Eric and Ryan, two western men, who lived in a four-bedroom house with a spare room to rent. After I moved into the house, I discovered that Ryan had a local girlfriend living with him named Hong who spent her evenings as a sex worker. Hong worked in bars late at night and came home in the early hours of the mornings to spend her time off with Ryan.” Hoang illustrates. “One morning, the owner of the breakfast stand I frequented, scoffed at me, called me a whore, and told me that proper girls should not live with two white guys. Unbeknownst to me, I had become an item of gossip amongst the neighbors who assumed that I, like Hong, was a sex worker.”

Shocked, the author said she retreated into the house and thought about the girl named Hong. “Physically, we shared many of the same features: jet-black hair, a petite frame, and almond shaped eyes. Where we differed was in our history,” she concluded. “Our differences began with a decision in 1979 that unfolded into who we would become over 20 years later. My parents fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon as boat refugees, while hers remained in the country. Had my parents chosen not to flee Vietnam, how different would Hong and I really be?”

After the presentation a student, Christophe Lee, stated, “I think the fact Professor Hoang went and worked in those bars herself to get that research made me really admire her courage.”

You can read more about this author at Hoang’s book will be out for the public in March 2015.