“Families share plates of prata in Jalan Besar while over-eager customers wait for hand-jobs in the massage parlours next door.”
red-light district to admire a band’s rhythm section often sounded like the perverted uncle who insisted he only read Playboy for its prose.
Still, the shiny city-state with the sordid underbelly continues to both intrigue and irritate for its distinct brand of bipolar morality. I’ve long struggled not only with the omnipresence of prostitutes here, but also the overwhelming indifference towards their treatment.
The tiny island, so safe, so sanitised, also makes room for the sleazy, often in the same street. Singapore is a schizophrenic mishmash of virtues and vices, all clashing and conflicting in one hypocritical city.
Families share plates of prata in Jalan Besar while over-eager customers wait for hand-jobs in the massage parlours next door.
International Women’s Day allows prominent figures to salivate over Singapore’s wondrous deeds, while prostitutes can be found online, on the streets and on damp grass patches behind building sites, servicing construction workers through the night.
The Women’s Charter, which is often trumpeted to demonstrate the country’s commitment to gender equality, prohibits pimping (someone “living in part on the prostitution of another person”), but there are designated red-light districts. Everyone knows where the brothels are.
In Geylang, pimps are easier to find than policemen. Such a Jekyll and Hyde approach towards a society’s integrity is confusing, rather like saying it’s illegal to profit from selling firearms while allowing designated shooting ranges where they could kill each other.
Unlicensed massage parlours are Singapore’s hydra heads. To pacify the masses, the authorities will raid a few every now and then, allowing the media to take those degrading photos of handcuffed women, heads bowed, sitting on the edge of a bed ( just to ramp up the seediness for the Chinese evening papers).
But new massage parlours soon pop up. ‘Sugar babies’, pimps and punters will always have a place in a patriarchal society struck down with the kind of myopia that comes from closing one eye for decades. Look, most of us enjoy sex. Many of us want sex as often as possible, if one’s age and personal circumstances allow. As a 43-year-old father, being naked on a sofa or being in front of Netflix on a sofa can be a close-run thing.
Growing up on a London housing estate, everyone was having sex. We didn’t have Farm Heroes then. There was nothing else to do.
But we had a choice. We knew what we doing. Actually, we had no idea what we were doing, hence the impressive teenage pregnancy statistics. But we did have a choice. We weren’t pressured or coerced for socio-economic or cultural reasons.
If only every woman—and man—in Singapore could say the same. Sex should be a messy, sweaty, funny, consensual coming together of two equally aroused people, committed to the moment and each other.
All things considered, I’d rather my sexual partner was thinking only of me, rather than my wallet.
I have my principles. I don’t have sex very often, but I have my principles.