Ever since I came to Asia, I noticed that prostitution was different here than what I was used to back in The States. The differences are almost too many to count, but in this article, I’m going to briefly discuss a few things, focusing on Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines – independent street prostitutes in Asia, Lady KTVs and barbershops in Taiwan, Red Light Districts in Taiwan, and Go-Go Bars in the Philippines.
I first came to Taiwan in January of 2008; I left to go back to the USA in November of 2009. Coming back to The States hadn’t been what I had hoped it would be, so I opted to return to Asia in October 2010, and have been here ever since. It’s been a great experience, so far, and I am sure it will continue to be that same way. I live in Taichung, and have only lived in Taichung, a city that is considered a “gangster city” or “sin city” by the majority of Taiwanese. I’d like to mention that while I have intimate knowledge of how the process works, I have never paid for sex in my life. At the same time, I take no moral stance on the issue; this, and subsequent writings on the subject, are simply informative.
In terms of street prostitution, Taiwan has very little. For as long as I have been here, prostitution has been illegal, up until the most recent election when the National Government declared that independent prostitution was permissible, but pimping and running a brothel was still not allowed (brothels do exist, but I’m not really going to touch on that subject here today). This will lead us into our discussion of Lady KTVs and barbershops in future paragraphs, but we’ve not quite there yet. Suffice it to say that seeing hookers on the streets of Taiwan is extremely rare unless you know exactly where to find them; even if you know the neighborhood in which they operate, you’d rarely find more than a dozen in an 8-square-block area.
Hong Kong is a different story. Hong Kong has had the same legislation on the books as Taiwan now has, but for much longer; independent whores of Hong Kong operate in private venues and have massive control, including marketing. The website www.sex141.com is set up for this very reason – to allow girls in Hong Kong to attract business. Rates vary from $300-2000 Hong Kong Dollars ($1200-$8000 New Taiwan Dollars or $40-$275 US Dollars) depending on nationality of the girl, the services she offers, the way she looks, and even her level of fame; it’s not uncommon to be able to sleep with a relatively-famous model, if the price is right. While you may find some girls on the streets in certain parts of Hong Kong (Wanchai is probably still the most notorious part of the main island), it’s fairly rare and often not worth the time it takes to troll the streets, given that sites like www.sex141.com provide such an excellent service (down to mapping and providing pictures of the locations). Outcall service is becoming more common, as well, as opposed to just showing up at a tiny studio apartment being operated by an independent prostitute (which is referred to as “incall” service); this means that you can essentially order a girl up like you would a pizza which will show up at your door an hour later. The sex trade in Hong Kong is booming due to the relative safety of the city as well as the ability of the girls themselves to control the market (as opposed to a pimp or brothel).
The Philippines does even more with prostitution, despite its complete illegality there. The level of poverty in a nation is directly proportional to the amount of women you will find selling their bodies; it’s just an economic fact. Just perusing http://manila.en.craigslist.com.ph, you will find countless girls (and a lot of ladyboys/shemales/transexuals) giving out numbers and websites, looking to get paid for sex. There are plenty of spots in the city of Manila to find girls working the streets – prices range from ₱2000-₱10000 ($1300-$6600NT or $45-$230US) depending on look, duration, and service. You can find girls on the streets willing to blow you for ₱500 ($330NT or $11US), but she’s going to be a bargain basement skank; at the same time, you can order up a high-priced call-girl and she will probably run you ₱ 10000-₱ 20000 ($6600-$13200NT or $230-$450US) for a couple of hours of her time, incall or outcall. Outside of Manila, the prices drop significantly, down to ₱ 500 ($330NT or $11US) for three hours in some places. I have heard stories about underage prostitution, but I’ve never seen any direct evidence of it in recent years; while the super-corrupt government of the Philippines doesn’t seem to care too much about prostitution, human trafficking and child slavery has become a priority for them because of the USA threatening to take away aid to their nation if they don’t start cracking down.
So that covers the independents of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Now, let’s talk about Lady KTVs and barbershops, one of the most interesting types of business you’ll find in Taiwan.
First, a KTV is a kareoke/videoke establishment, and if you’ve never been to one, dispel all thoughts of a bar full of 100 people randomly going up on stage to slaughter Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” A normal KTV in Taiwan will cost between $1000-$2000NT ($35-$70US) for three hours; a group of friends goes into a little glass room that seats six-to-ten people, order up drinks and food, and select from a huge selection of songs presented on the huge flat-screen TV in front of them. It’s hugely popular. And completely legitimate.
Lady KTVs are just as popular, if not more so, but not nearly as legitimate. As I said, operating an establishment that markets anything sexual violates Taiwan’s morality laws, so you can’t even operate a strip club or Go-Go bar in Taiwan unless you do it outside major cities where you can pay off the cops/politicians to look the other way. Lady KTVs all have mafia connections and, while they do get raided, they operate with virtual impunity. Structurally, a Lady KTV is no different from a regular KTV – little booths where you can drink and sing and whatnot. The difference with a Lady KTV is that you don’t have to bring your own company – the establishment will provide that for you. Hiring a companion will cost you between $3000-$5000NT ($100-$175US) for three hours of her time; quality and service differs, but price remains constant. Here’s how that works:
The high-end hotties charge the same as the old-and-busted, but provide totally different service. The high-end girls will simply sit, talk, sing, and play games. The less attractive a girl is, the more likely she is to provide sexual services, ranging from getting naked and dancing to full-on sex. Most clientele seems to go for a mid-range girl who will start off clothed, be naked by the second hour, and give you a hand/blow job before you leave. Regardless of service, most every girl is available for a three-hour outcall service for between $6000-$10000NT ($200-$350US) for three hours. Taichung, especially, has lots of “five star luxury hotels” which are commonly referred to as “Love Motels,” and they are something to behold. For the cost of a Red Roof Inn in the USA, you can get a room in Taichung with a private swimming pool, a hot tub with a TV in it, a water-jet massage table, and more, if you pick the right place. Love Motels, and really all rooms in Asia, give rates for a “three hour rest” as well as “overnight stay;” a three-hour rest at a Love Motel will cost $600-2000NT ($20-$70US) while overnight will run between $1500-6000NT ($50-$200US). Regular rooms are far cheaper – a roach motel might cost $100NT ($3US) for a three-hour-rest while an economy room will be closer to $300NT ($10US) for the same thing – overnight stays at budget motels in Taichung run between $600-$1000NT ($20US-$35US) per night.
Barbershops are a slightly different animal, resembling the types of saunas/spas that Westerners think of when they think about Asian prostitution, though this is not universally true. The concept of a barbershop goes back to that same morality law prohibiting prostitution; it resulted in Taiwanese people opening up “barbershops” and basically offering a shave-and-a-blowjob. It will cost you more than two bits, though. These super-discreet locations are hard to find in recent years, though you will still see the words “barbershop” over the doors of some parts of Lady KTVs, as well as spinning barber poles outside. I couldn’t tell you prices for it, off the top of my head, but I’ll do some research and write more on the subject at a later date. For right now, it’s onwards and upwards, as we have much more subject matter to cover!
Red Light Districts in Taiwan are possibly the closest thing to what a Westerner would be expecting if someone said “Red Light Districts in Taiwan” to them. Dark alleyways or small streets lined with tiny apartments housing anywhere from two-to-six girls, plus a “mama-san,” who is usually an ex-prostitute who runs the business-end for all the girls. Some RLDs you will find mafia-connected pimps (called snakeheads), but this is fairly rare. Maoli had a huge RLD back a few years ago that has since been shut down; currently, the best/closest RLD to Taichung is in Changhua, about 20-to-30 minutes away. These places border on the illegal but are not actually illegal, because while the girls function in a collective environment, what they do is independent. Your typical prostitute in a RLD will cost $1000-1500NT ($35-$50US) for a fifteen-minute romp; around 20% of that amount goes to the house while the rest goes to the girl. That 20% pays for everything from the rent to local mafia “protection” money. See how it starts to get ambiguous, legally? You can’t have a brothel, but you can have a house with prostitutes in it; you can’t have a pimp, but clearly the mafia runs the show. Now, these are obviously recent developments. Before the last election, these places operated completely illegally; girls were few-and-far-between, though prices were about the same.
There are all kinds of different girls who will work in an RLD. Some girls are truly independent, working normal jobs and using the RLD as a vaginally-accessible ATM, showing up for a few hours when they want to score an extra couple of thousand dollars ($2000NT or $70US). Minimum wage is only $100NT ($3US) in Taiwan, and the average salary for someone fresh out of college is between $20000-$30000NT ($700-$1000US) per month. The idea of working an extra couple of hours a week on your back and increasing your income by 30%-50% is appealing to some, though the culture of Taiwan keeps many girls from doing it, as it’s so socially unacceptable; the same goes for being a “Lady KTV girl,” actually. Regardless, you’ll find young professionals and students working a few hours per week to get some extra money. You’ll also find full-timers who can make $5000NT ($170US) a day, making their monthly income up to five-times that of people their age that work office jobs. So even in a nation like Taiwan, without the poverty you see in the rest of southeast Asia, the money factor is still a major drawing point; in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines, a girl can easily make more in a day than others do in a week.
This is a major difference between US prostitution and Asian prostitution. In the US, while you’ll have streets that are known for whores, it’s not uncommon for average American whores to not turn a trick all night – lots of prostitutes in the US make minimum wage, when it’s all said-and-done. The same can be said for a lot of street-level drug dealers, in fact, but that’s a different story for a different day. It’s time to get back to the Philippines and talk about their Go-Go bars.
There are two famous locations from Go-Go bars in the Philippines: Balibago, Angeles City, and Barrio Baretto, Olongapo (Subic Bay). Both were once major bases for the US military, creating a massive sex industry in those areas; modern day Angeles/Subic apparently pales in comparison to what it once was, but it’s still pretty crazy, in my opinion. Angeles claims over 200 Go-Go bars in the single region of the city, known as Balibago, while Subic Bay’s Barrio Baretto has maybe 30 different venues. The rules are pretty much the same, though Subic seems to get away with more naughtiness than Angeles (in terms of how the businesses and girls operate – fully nude dancing and such).
Imagine a dirty two-lane street, and on either side of the road, there’s nothing but bars and hot girls for a kilometer (half-mile, or so). Guys on the street run up to you to sell everything from cigarettes to fake Viagra while you choke on exhaust fumes and feel the thump of the bass from inside the bars, all while the girls call to you, begging you to come inside. This is Balibago, Angeles City, Philippines. This is Sin City.
Each bar will be different, depending on where it is located and what it’s looking to do. Some bars are set-up to be seedy, such as the establishments on Santos Street, affectionately referred to as “Blow Row.” I’ll let you just assume what goes on there. Bars close to the main strip will be somewhat more respectable, clean, and inviting, housing as many as a couple of hundred girls at a time, standing around, dancing, and generally being up-for-grabs. Each will wear, at most, short-shorts and a bikini top, and each will have a plastic card pinned to whatever it can be pinned to listing their number. If you’ve ever been to a cattle auction, think of that, but change the 1000-pound cows to 100-pound girls. Mama-sans walk around, keeping the girls in line, making sure they stand up straight, smile, and appear to be enjoying themselves; this is actually one of the most interesting things to watch, as the mamas have laser pointers, and you can tell that a girl getting pointed at with a laser pointer is not a good thing for her careers. That having been said, most of these girls don’t really think about that.
Let’s face facts – these girls are not well-educated. Most are from rural parts of the Philippines looking to make money to send back to their family. Many are single mothers. The “benefit” of living in a country without decent education and coupling that with a Roman Catholic mindset is that both birth control and abortion are not exactly popular; the converse is true in Taiwan, where the amount of abortions and use of RU-486 is epic. But, I digress.
If you want to talk to a girl, you have to buy her a drink. That’s going to cost you between ₱300 ($70-$200NT or $2-$7US) to buy her a special “Lady Drink,” of which she earns a small commission (usually around 30%). These drinks are often no more than juice, but will cost you twice as much as your beer. She will sit, talk, entertain, and then leave…unless you hit it off and decide you want to take her out of there. At this point, you have to pay for her to leave work early; this is called “Early Work Release” (EWR) or a “Bar Fine.” EWR is the respectable technical term while “bar fine” can actually get you in trouble (like asking for a “bong” in an American “head shop”). But the transaction is pretty simple. The guy says, “Do you want to put some clothes on and go somewhere with me?” The girl squeals in delight and runs to find a mama-san, who comes back and tells you the price-tag. Just like in the Vietnam movies, you’ve got the “short time” and the “long time.” A short time is three hours and will run between ₱300-₱1000 ($200-$670NT or $7-$25US); a long time is all night (and often well into the next day) and will cost between ₱1000-₱2000 ($670-$1340NT or $25-$45US).
At that point, the girl is effectively your girlfriend for the rest of the night. While sex is not technically a part of the deal in paying to get the girl off work, it’s certainly implied. Most guys like to negotiate a bit before they get to that stage, as the Go-Go dancers in the Philippines have a sort of…identity crisis. They don’t see themselves as whores, even though they’ve obviously having sex for money; because there is no explicit guarantee of sex, they see it as a simple payment to get them off work (although they do receive between a 50-70% cut of that payment). This can mean that, if one doesn’t negotiate before the fine is paid, any anticipated service may or may not happen, whether it’s sex or a specific service/fetish or whatever it may be that the guy is wanting. A girl who refuses to provide a service requested or who leaves before the agreed upon time is up is called a “runner,” and runners are not uncommon. Often, serious clients will return to the bar to complain, creating quite a dramatic situation for the girl, the mama-san, the bar, the owner, and the client, themselves. More often than not, services are rendered as expected, which is why the scene continues to flourish.
Barrio Baretto, Subic Bay, is slightly different. It’s a little dusty beach neighborhood consisting of far less bars with far fewer girls; some bars only employ ten girls while others will employ up to fifty. The setting is much more laid-back and low-key and the girls tend to be friendlier. The supply-and-demand is interesting because the ratio favors the client more in Angeles (the supply/demand ratio has a far higher supply-to-demand) than in Subic, but the girls know their jobs aren’t ever really in jeopardy. If they don’t perform particularly well and get fired, they can just go to one of the other 200 bars there and get a job with them. In Subic, the 30 bars are more closely-connected, and many share ownership between a dozen people, so bad performance will effect a resume far more than it might in Angeles. They also have a lower likelihood of scoring a guy, as there are far fewer guys in Subic then Angeles (even though the ratio is still only slightly more in favor of the girls than in Angeles), which, on average, makes them work harder to make the sale. The costs are around the same, though Subic may find itself slightly cheaper; ₱100-₱150 ($70-$100NT or $2-$3US) for Lady Drinks and a standard ₱1500 ($1000NT or $35US) for EWR.
Both cities, the girls will expect something extra, whether in the form of a cash tip when they leave your room or a promise of taking them shopping; many prefer the latter, as they already made money from the EWR commission and can continue to maintain their illusion about not being a hooker, and instead feel like more of a girlfriend. This illusion is beneficial for both sides, however, as Angeles and Subic Bay are the only places mentioned in this article where one can find a “girlfriend experience” (also called a GFE); the rest of the sold sex discussed here is very business-like and often devoid of emotion on either side of the transaction.
Please stay tuned for greater expansion on this topic. Please feel free to give any feedback you’d like, as I would love to address it in future articles.
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