Scenario: 4th year Med School; infectious disease rotation
At that time, the infamous Middle Road Hospital was still around (this is about 20 years ago). Patients with skin problems or STD’s were managed there. (I've always wondered about this strange combination ☺).
As part of our posting, we were supposed to go on a field trip to a red light district to see how prostitutes are “managed”. There were 3 main districts: Johore Road, Desker Road & Geylang. I think most of us were hoping to see Geylang, where it is supposed to be the most “high class” of the 3, with specially designed beds & other contraptions in the brothels (whether this is true or not, I have no idea ☺).
Anyway, my group was sent to Desker Road with a social worker. Basically, what the medical social worker needed to do was to make sure that the “workers” had been keeping up with their regular visits to Middle Road for tests to ensure that they were “disease-free”. Those who were cleared were given green ID cards, which they had to show to the MSW who did spot checks.
There is a widely held misconception that prostitution is illegal in Singapore. Well, that’s not true. As long as the sex worker worked in his/her registered brothel & was holding a valid green card, it was OK. However, if they solicited their services on premises other than the brothel, they could be arrested. I am assuming that this, or a system similar to this, still holds true.
Desker Road is in a not too great area of the city. The brothels were located in old pre-war shophouses. Inside, the space was subdivided into spartan looking cubicles each containing a bed & a sink. Each brothel had its own “type” of sex workers:
b) Old women – and I mean old. The lady whom we saw there looked like someone’s grandmother. In fact, she was wearing a traditional sam-foo type of outfit. We later found out that she REALLY WAS someone’s grandmother. When we asked her why she was still doing this kind of work, she said that she needed the money to support her (useless, IMHO) son who was already in his 30’s, and toddler grandson. Sad, really.
c) “Women” – transvestites, who looked more female than the real women; they were beautiful with gorgeous slim & toned bodies. They also tended to have exaggerated feminine gestures, & dressed in extremely revealing clothing (think: blouse made of some kind of net-like material, with no undergarments). One of them told us that "he" was saving up for gender reassignment surgery.
Surprisingly, the highest rate for service was for category c. At that time, it was between S$30 to S$40 per session. The poor old lady only earned $5 to $10 per session, while the “regular” women earned about $25 per session.
On leaving the brothels, we walked through the alleyway behind the shophouses, and there were vendors with tables set-up there, selling different kinds of devices supposed to enhance one’s erotic experiences! We were really quite surprised to see these things being sold openly although we (innocents that we were * GRIN*) couldn’t figure out how some of those things worked or where they were supposed to be fitted/worn!
An eye-opening experience.