“Fam­i­lies share plates of prata in Jalan Be­sar while over-ea­ger cus­tomers wait for hand-jobs in the mas­sage par­lours next door.”

Esquire (Singapore) - - Column -

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.

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