I’ve finished a family holiday through IndoChina and made an interesting discovery. I’ve gone out of my way to get a rub in Siem Reap (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it was known and Bangkok. Of the three cities, the only city where I was required to take off my cloths was in Bangkok, the most “developed” of all the cities.
OK, it was a family holiday and I wasn’t going out of my way to look for “special” massages. However, when you live in Asia for long enough, you become sensitive to the availability of certain things.
I mean, I’ve lived in Singapore for the better part of the last decade and I have in many ways become immune to the obvious signs of ‘sleaze.’ While Singapore’s public image is one of “sterility,” the place has obvious “sleaze” spots that have become tourist attractions. When you live in a city with such contradictions, you tend to become very matter of fact about certain things.
One of the ways in which “moral” Singapore deals with “sleazy” Singapore is by telling itself that the workers from the “sleaze” industry are from “other parts” of Asia. This happens to be a true fact. The majority of sex workers in Singapore are from elsewhere.
While this is true, it often gives us a rather misguided view of “other” Asians, particularly the women. Mention that you know a girl from China or Vietnam or Thailand and your average Singaporean has a wonderful orgasmic moment of moral outrage – “Oh women from China/Vietnam/Thailand, they’re just prostitutes,” being the usual remark.
So, you could say that when you are surrounded by this attitude, you’re going to be inclined to expect every massage joint outside of Singapore to be a front for a ‘fuck shop.’ Yet, I didn’t find this to be the case in either Siem Reap (tourist hot spot) or Ho Chi Minh (we’ve heard more than enough of what the GI’s used to get up to.) This was true, even in a place called “Virginy Massage” in Siem Reap. The girls in the ‘beauty’ parlours of Ho Chi Minh City were scantily clad but that was always a case of a uniform rather than an indication of what was to come – it was, dare I say it, pretty much like the SIA uniform.
If anything, after a few days in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, I’m inclined to believe that the sleaziest city in Southeast Asia is …….Singapore. My mum tried to point out at that we were staying in “nice” parts of these cities. Well, guess what – you have pretty sleazy bits of Singapore right smack bang in the middle of prime property. Then there’s the argument that there are no street walkers in the less developed parts of Asia because they’re all in Singapore.
While this argument might make sense from a logistical point of view – it’s kind of sad. If I take my few days in IndoChina as an example, I don’t believe that “other” Asian women are any more inclined towards prostitution than women from anywhere else. I was in enough situations where it was easy to be tempted. Yet, in both Siem Reap and Saigon, nobody tried to tempt me to do ‘extra’ for a bit ‘extra.’ By contrast it’s almost expected in certain parts of Singapore.
Could it be something to do with what we’re about? I mean, is Singapore just a place where people come here because there is “free” and “easy” money available. I mean, I often look at the crap that the Manpower Ministry and Immigration Department throw at people who happen to be a bit on the dark side of pale and wonder why they do it. Then I think of the bits of rural Asia that I’ve seen and I realize that it’s usually a no brainer for them - $350 a month as a maid versus $25 a month on the farms.
Then you look at what the “vice” trade pays versus what salaries for manual labour pay and once again, it is a no brainer as to why people do what they do. Think about it, an Orchard Towers hooker can make S$4,000 in a bad month while a maid earns $350 a month.
Let’s face it – there is money to be made in Singapore and you can’t blame people for wanting to claim it. However, it’s kind of sad to think that this is literally all that we have to offer both the foreigners and ourselves.
I mean at least the girls from China/Vietnam and Thailand end up doing things like supporting families back home. They do put younger siblings through to school. In short, they’re doing what dutiful people do for their families on limited resources.
By contrast, what do we have in Singapore beyond all the trappings? No wonder why we get so upset with people who dare do things that better their lives.