The horny monkeys of Wisma Zero in Dolly. Photo: Coconuts Media
In November 2014, Coconuts TV went to Surabaya to film a documentary on the aftermath of the closure of Dolly, once Southeast Asia’s largest red light district. Coconuts Jakarta’s Andra Nasrie tagged along, and here he recalls his journey deep into the Surabaya sex trade and his encounters with three very distinct sex workers.
In this first part of a series of three stories in ‘Dolly Revisited’, Andra learns about the worrying fate of a sex worker who was forced underground.
“It’s supposed to mean ‘welcome to the jungle’,” said Fuad, a local journalist who was our guide in Dolly, as he explained the psychedelic, surreal mess in front of us.
We had walked the main alley of what had once been Dolly, the biggest red light district in Southeast Asia, that night. The most conspicuous of the abandoned brothels, ‘Wisma Zero’, remained at the northern end of the alley. That brothel, unlike the others, had some serious character – and it was the only one with monkeys.
Statues of monkeys, and other mythical creatures of Indonesia, adorned the brothel’s facade. Hundreds, if not thousands of these lifeless monkeys were immortalized in pervertedly compromising positions; fingering, fisting and humping each other. It was as if Zero’s décor was meant to appeal to primal sexual instincts.
It’s hard to imagine getting turned on by such decor, but Zero was one of the three biggest and most expensive brothels in Dolly before the red light district was shut down by the Surabaya city government in June of last year.
Ghost town of Zero
Inside, Zero was engulfed in complete darkness. With the help of Coconut TV’s lighting equipment, it became apparent that the abandoned brothel’s interior was just as trippy as the exterior. I imagine patrons were tripping balls – among other treatments their balls would receive at a brothel – whenever they visited Zero.
A trippy walk down memory lane. Photo: Coconuts Media
Never in my life have I felt so much like I was in a potential-horror-movie scenario as when we explored the brothel’s second floor. As I held the light, deep down I was worried I would shine it on something I wasn’t prepared to see. I was paranoid, but I tried to play it cool and keep the light steady for Coconut TV’s producers, Alex and Katrina.
In my defense, one could totally justify being a little freaked out, given the brothel’s dank, humid atmosphere and creepy quietness. It had, after all, been totally abandoned for five months.
Thankfully, there was nothing otherworldly at Zero. What’s left behind are tiny rooms measuring two square meters total. Just months ago, it’s likely those rooms were noisy with moans of pleasure. But now, all that remained were some mattresses collecting dust.
Despite previously being a brothel, it was evident that the people who ran Zero cared about safe sex practices. There was a safe sex awareness sticker on one of the doors that spelled out, point by point, the dos and don’ts for STD prevention (one of them, ironically enough, promoted the value of sexual loyalty to one partner). Another point, rather obviously, advised the use of condoms.
Condoms were, before the shutdown of Dolly, almost mandatory in many, if not all of the brothels there. My guide arranged an interview with a short and chubby prostitute, Wulan, in Dolly after our short visit to Wisma Zero. She had just served a client, and he did not wear a condom.
Wulan can no longer play it safe if she wants to keep her clientele. Photo: Coconuts Media
“I’m worried that my clients would turn away from me if I force them to wear a condom,” Wulan said, explaining her hardships since Dolly’s shutdown.
Wulan, with her thick Javanese accent, said clients are much harder to come by post-Dolly. She now serves one or two clients a night, if any, at a rate of around Rp. 150,000 for the full package. With such a shady outlook, she feels she cannot risk being choosy, despite the potentially disastrous effects on her health.
“When I worked at a brothel, I could force my clients to wear a condom because if they refused, there were others lining up for me,” Wulan continued.
Wulan said there used to be weekly STD check-ups at Dolly before its shutdown, even though she occasionally skipped one every other week. She said she had never contracted an STD so far, but that may soon change now that there is no more routine check-ups and she’s having unprotected sex regularly.
“I can go to the clinic if I have any complaints down there. But until now, I’ve never had to,” explained Wulan.
And that is exactly how an STD epidemic begins.