Prostitution becomes a multifaceted symbol within Andrew Pham's Catfish and Mandala as it represents self-abnegation within Vietnam, past financial survival for Andrew's family, and a temporary solution for his admitted emotional limitedness. On the other hand, it signifies guilt and shame for Andrew as it allows him to mirror the emotional unavailability that he showed for Chi, who was his older sister that committed suicide as a postoperative male named Minh. He expresses both positive and undignified attitudes towards prostitution. These dichotomized feelings reflect his inner struggle with masculinity and are mirrored in his feelings towards the people of Vietnam because he searches for his identity in both the land and the women of Vietnam. Both become targets of his displaced self-hatred and guilt. As his journey progresses and he purges himself of self-loathing, his attitudes towards Vietnam's people become more positive. His discussion of prostitutes dissipates, and Pham increasingly reminisces about Chi. He is able to express and let go of his regret for not being emotionally available for her. Once Andrew is able to come to terms with his past, he accepts his hybrid identity and gender. .
Andrew reveals feelings of respect but also humiliation towards prostitution. He cannot seem to resist engaging with prostitutes however feels shame for the personal success his family has gained from his mother's sex business, and he feels prostitution is disgraceful if the women within his family engage as participants. The Vietnamese's respectful opinion of the magnanimity of prostitution is grounded in the country's literary cultural epic, Tale of Kieu. As Andrew learns of this ancient text, his professor states that Kieu, '"says everything about the Vietnamese She is a prostitute, The things she has done are not commendable[but] they are selfless acts. Sacrifices," (Pham 283).