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After our conference ended in Manila, Bob and I and three of our colleagues went out for a drink in Ermita, the city's old nightlife district. The bargirls were pestering us for cocktails. The dancers up on stage were clothed in bikini swimsuits and high heels, moving lazily to the music.
"This is boring," said Bob. "Isn't there some place around here with a little more action."
I was the only member of our group who had been to Manila before, so they elected me to lead them to another venue. The only problem was, I didn't know any more about the city after dark than they did, but I did know that most taxi drivers know the darker sides of a city. I flagged down a cab, leaned in the driver's side window, and told the cabby we wanted to see a "Tiger Show."
Now, I had never seen a Tiger Show myself, but I had heard of them from a friend in Singapore. They were supposedly private clubs where sex acts were performed in stage. Sometimes a member or two of the audience would be invited to join in. If that wasn't enough action for my colleagues, then they'd just have to blaze their own trails.
The cabby said he knew just the place, and the guys assumed had told him the directions. I refused to tell them anything more about the location.
"Just pile in," I told them. "You are in for a surprise."
And so was I.
The driver took us about ten minutes from Ermita to a dark section of the city which I certainly didn't recognize. He stopped in front of an old, two-story wooden building, which was unlit and looked quite deserted. As we pulled up, a man in dark slacks, sandals, and a white dress shirt, unbuttoned to his navel, stepped out of the shadows and approached the driver. They exchanged a few words in Tagalog, their native language, and then the stranger opened the taxi door an motioned for us to follow.
"Is this really the place," Bob asked me.
"This doesn't look familiar," I said to the driver, keeping up the pretense that I knew what we were getting into.
"Right place," he said. "Tiger show. Follow him."
I took a deep breath, paid the driver, and we exited the relative safety of the cab. I was glad there were four of us in case this turned out to be trouble.
"What's a Tiger Show?" Bob asked me.
"You'll see," I said. "Just follow our guide here."
I shook hands with the stranger, as if we had met before. Then, he led us up the stairs of the dark wooden building. It was eerie, indeed. The stairs were hard to see in the dark, but there was a glow coming from above that indicated lights on upstairs. We followed our guide single file, and at the very top of the stairs, I noticed a huge hole in the right side of the wall. There were two chickens in there, pecking around on the wooden floor. To the left, however, was a big empty room that may have one been a bar. The glow was coming from a fluorescent San Miguel beer sign which hung over the mirror behind the counter. There were no patrons. There were no bottles showing behind the bar. It was downright scary just being there, but I kept telling myself there is strength in numbers, there is strength in numbers.
"I don't like this," said Bob. "This is wrong. Let's get out of here."
Finding a taxi back on that dark street might have been more dangerous than staying, I reckoned, and I said, "Just give it a chance. Just a moment."
The guide led us behind a curtain at the side of the bar. A corridor lit by bare light bulbs ran behind the bar. On the right side were three or four doorways draped with curtains similar to the one we had just passed through. At the end of the corridor was a heavy wooden door, which the guide opened to usher us in to a chamber no bigger than a standard hotel room. It was "papered" entirely with aluminum foil. There were pipes sticking out of the ceiling, and they too were covered with foil. In the middle of the room was a raised area made of wood and covered with blue carpet. The rest of the floor was wood, and along the walls on two sides were benches. A single bare light bulb lit the room. There were no windows and no other doors.
"Sit down," said the guide, pointing to the benches. "I will be right back."
The four of us silently took our seats and waited.
"I can't believe you know places like this," said Bob. "What's going to happen?"
"Just wait and see," I replied, hoping I had not made the mistake of our lives.
After what seemed like an eternity, the guide returned with four cold bottles of San Miguel beer. He distributed them to each of us, then asked, ÒWhat was it you wanted to see tonight?"
"A Tiger Show," I said after taking a swig. "What have you got for us?"
He described the menu. We could watch a girl play with herself, or a man have sex with her. We could see two women do a lesbian act. Or two men do a homosexual act. We could request a threesome of two men and a woman, or two women and a man. Or an orgy with two of each sex. The price went up according to the number of participants, not the type of activity. Audience participation was optional, and tips would be expected at the end of each hour. We could stay as long as we pleased, and the beer was at no extra charge.
ThatÕs incredible. What did you decide?
I was just relieved to know we were in the right place after all. I left it up to the guys and asked them, "What's your pleasure?"
They debated a bit, but not much. For the money, about $60 per hour per entertainer, they decided on a one-hour show featuring two women. That would cost us each only $30, plus tips. The guide left the room to make preparations.
"I gotta hand it to you," Bob said to me. " I would have never found this place in a million years."
"Thank me afterwards," I told him, still a bit wary of the situation.
Our beers were half-finished by the time the guide reappeared with two young Filipinas. The older one might have been nineteen, the younger about fifteen or sixteen. They smiled politely as they shook hands with each of us. Then the guide collected our money and left the room. The girls were both wearing simple, knee-length white cotton dresses with puffy short-sleeves. The older had long black hair, and the other medium-length reddish brown hair, probably tinted since her skin color was darker than that of her partner. They took their places standing on the carpeted stage, and began tentatively kissing each other on their faces and mouths. The younger one started giggling, and the older one had to pause and make a face at her that said, "please be serious."
Gradually, the older one began taking the lead. She rubbed her hands along the younger's sides, up her back and down her arms, lifting up on the dress or pulling down on the neckline to expose more and more of the other girl's flesh.
"This is starting to get interesting," said Bob. "How far will they go?"