Along Aurora Boulevard, before you hit EDSA, turn right at the corner of Mang Inasal and look up to sa a bright neon sign that says “Khuya.” When I went there along with my former professor in Psychology, the moment I parked and got out of the car, there was this ominous feeling of something fishy happening. As I got out of the car, the guy from the parking lot kept asking me where I would go. He was implying that I was going to go to the KTV but my professor signaled that we were going to Khuya. You see, I went to this place without actually knowing what it is; I simply agreed to go with my professor when he asked me and a bunch of friends if we wanted to try something new and gain perspective.
As we went up the stair and through the glass door, the stench of smoke and alcohol was resonating throughout the place. As I quickly surveyed the room, I immediately noticed stage with a pole in the middle of it. At that moment, I knew exactly where I was: in a strip club.
When we were seated right next to the stage, I had this feeling of excitement since this was the first time that I went to such a place, but at the same time I had my defenses up because I really didn’t know what to expect. At first, the people seated at the tables next to us were staring because unlike them, we were not regulars in this place. After a few minutes of assessing us and probably talking about us, these people simply went back to their drinks.
A few minutes after we got our drinks, the lights dimmed and a spotlight was directed towards the stairs at the side of the stage. This was it! It was the show that apparently drew people to places like this. A girl in a skimpy dress emerged from the curtains as the music started to play. At this moment, I felt a bit disappointed because the place I went to was a strip club, but then the dancer was clothed. I continued to watch her dance awkwardly until the song ended and she retreated into the curtain.
After the had gone, I asked my professor, “‘yun lang yun sir?” He didn’t reply to me and just said that I just watch.
About a minute after, music started to play again and the same girl came out from the curtain minus everything that she was wearing earlier. It was at this time that I experienced cognitive dissonance. I wanted to watch her dance, but at the same time I didn’t because I thought of my sister, and girl friends. I thought to myself that the naked girl on stage is someone’s daughter and friend. I told my professor about this and he told me to take note of how I felt and as much as possible still try to watch and if not, observe.
So that’s what I did! I observed the reaction of people. What I saw actually struck me because in movies, they depict that it is in strip clubs that men’s primal sexual energies are released at its peak. But in this place, the people around were just watching and talking to other people. They had this blank look on their faces as they watched.
After that dancer’s segment I noticed that she went off the stage and sat with some of the regulars on their tables. To her, it seemed normal to just show her entire body to everyone and then sit with some of the people who watched and to talk and somehow entertain them.
My professor then signaled to someone and then one of the dancers sat with us. He introduced us and then just told us to talk to her. At first I felt awkward because the girl next to me is a dancer. I didn’t know what to ask and talk to her about but then she opened up with a general question asking how I am. I answered and she actually continued the conversation by opening topics about anything and everything that I was willing to talk about.
A few moments after, the dancer beside me excused herself because it was her turn to dance. By this time, other dancers have come and go on stage that it became comfortable to me to watch them dance, strip, and dance some more. However, I found it a bit difficult to watch this certain dancer because I was able to talk to her. In a sense, we know something about each other. We weren’t strangers who not be affected. But a midst of my thoughts, the dancer looked at me, smiled and danced. It seemed that she was signalling me to watch her dance. So I did watch her but I still had the ideas of awkwardness. It shocked me when she asked me if she danced well after her performance. I sort of had no choice but said yes to her. A few drinks after, my professor signaled that we leave.
After leaving, he talked to me about my thoughts and insights from what I just experienced. I told him about the cognitive dissonance that I experienced and the awkward feeling of seeing the dancer whom I just talked to dance naked in front me.
In reply to these, he reiterated to me that society actually sees that what these girls do (dance in a strip club and entertain patrons) as already something very low. In fact, what they do is frowned upon. But then, he told me that there is a reason behind why they do what they do. Of course no one would normally want to do that for a living. But then it’s their situation in society that forced them to do this. He told me that instead of being ambivalent about what they were doing on stage, I should actually appreciate and enjoy what they do. They were entertainers. Their job was to entertain. And if we refuse to be entertained with what they do, it’s actually adding insult and injury to how society already sees them.
Based on what I have experienced, the difference between observation and participation is that in simply observation, you collect objective data based on your senses, while in participation, you not only get objective data, but also subjective data; you get to gather the emotions, thoughts and other subjective data.
Having a key informant actually adds perspective to the subjective data that I gathered. He gave meaning to the thoughts that I initially had. Also, having a key informant adds a deeper understanding regarding the context of the experience.
In participant observation, I was able to gather subjective data which will never be collected in a survey since surveys objectify data
An advantage that a questionnaire poses over participant observation is that objective data gathering will be faster, easier to access and the amount of objective data will be more.
Written by: Anjon Baroña