Along Orchard Road
Singapore has an excellent and diversified night-life but there is perhaps one side to it that not many people know about and for some, if they did, would avoid it as willingly as they would some newly placed dog excrement on the pavement! There is a culture that exists right in the heart of Singapore, that is open till three, often four or five or six, in the morning, seven days a week and most nights the place is jumping - nay, heaving with sweating bodies, 'male, female and undecided'. Upon average half of the customers will stagger out of the place, collapse into a taxi at the rank outside and never remember anything past the point of the first sip of a grossly inflated beverage. The other half will leave at some point in the evening with a lady (or lady-boy) of the night to similarly collapse into a taxi and be taken to some seedy back street hotel, back home or to Newton Circus for last orders at the food stalls.
One such place is Orchard Towers! There are other similar venues in Singapore (the Paramount to name another) and many lone bars and streets that ply a similar trade but Orchard Towers is the leader and forerunner of them all. The Towers is often referred to as the "four floors of whores"! It is a large building and in simple terms there are four floors of bars and nightclubs, eating venues and even one tailor and it is only the last that is not filled with woman of every nationality imaginable. The bars naturally compete with one another for customers, there is one on the ground floor commonly referred to as the Cowboy Bar as the waitresses tend to wander round in large Stetsons; upstairs one of the nightclubs called the blue lagoon tends to have more than its fair share of lady boys!
The place is always jumping! Many customers end up at the Towers having first gotten themselves blitzed out of their trees in the Irish bar across the road and feel like a last drink before staggering into a taxi home. Others attend specifically to letch at the girls, creepily letch at the lady boys or in many cases to haggle a price and take one (or two) of them away for the night. Others still get totally blitzed and wake up in shock to see a girl lying next to them in a bed that they have never seen before! The customers are varied, from locals to tourists to businessmen to expatriates! (It is a well known fact that one Operations Manager of a large Logistical Company based in Singapore used to conduct business meetings in his favourite bar on the top floor of the Towers!) Many people just fall in the doors, not impossible, as it resides on the main shopping street of Singapore. Others make plans to go there for an evening's entertainment!
The girls themselves are from all walks of life, from every country imaginable and each with their own ideas and views on whom they will choose as prospective customers. There is also a select group of girls who just go there for the fun of it all but generally speaking they are not welcomed by the 'working girls'. Many girls will sleep with any customer simply for the money they can get out of him and his wallet if he is not careful! Others will be choosier, with ideals and dreams of being carried away like a princess (a dream that is often quickly lost) and others still will only go with a customer if they get to know him first (a meal the next evening before jumping into bed)!
A shuttered and soon to be torn down Collyer Quay!
Many years ago Collyer Quay used to be the entrance point to thousands of seafarers coming ashore from the ragtag collection of vessels anchored in the Straits! They used to head to Boogie Street and Change Alley, a place that lent itself to supposed bargains, money changing and woman of the night! It also became known as the place for prostitution and Billy Boys (men dressed as woman; men who are woman or men who see a way to making a buck or two)! Around twenty years ago; Singapore Government decided to clean up its act and very quickly, the "scene" in this area died with Boogey Street and Change Alley being wiped off the map! This year sees the demise of the last piece of history, a segment of Singapore that many seafarers relate to comes with the knocking down and transition of Collyer Quay into some luxury apartment blocks!
Not much happens here any more!
The Singapore government, through in its drive to clean up the 'face' of the city, could not so easily dispose of the people concerned as it could with everything else. They opted to solve this problem by farming out the unwanted segments of society to parts of Singapore that were not so clearly marked on the tourist map! The Billy Boys were sent to Changi Village and even today the area remains as a gathering point for many of them! The only time that they really come out of the woodwork is late at night, say three or four in the morning and it is not uncommon for them to be drunk, raucous and swearing better than many other men, the only notable difference being the skirts that are hitched up over their knees and the Adams apple that wobbles in beat to the verbal exchange being thrown around their table!
The prostitutes became harder to hide as there were so many of them (and still are) but one area that has become home to thousands is Geylang! Here and today apartment blocks fade like dehydrated blades of grass and inside dotted amongst the hard working families are thousands of girls, some sleep ten to an apartment, some have saved some money and live alone, yet all sleep during the day and all work at night! Many of these girls are staying illegally in Singapore; they came for a week and found out that the chance to make good money was available and so in preference to going back home they just stayed. Once they have violated their visa it is not easy for them to get out again as they have to pay large fines and a possible prison sentence with caning! So they just stay and continue to ply their trade whilst ignoring the problem hanging over them (many probably hope that some handsome sailor will pick them up, pay their fine and take them away to paradise)! They come from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Russia, the Ukraine and Poland, to name but a few - some love there work, many more hate it, some trade sex for money so that they may support a family back home, others use it for some other means to an end. Some girls from Thailand are married back home but to give themselves some spending money they go one step further! They come to Singapore for the weekend, having told the husband that they're going shopping or staying with a friend, and then they sell their bodies as quickly and as many times as they can. Over the weekend at 200 Sing dollars a customer they can walk away with a couple of thousand. They make money and then return home to their husband and family, who are mostly non-the-wiser, and live happily for the next few months with pocket money to spend as they please!
Around and about Geylang are hundreds of hotels with apt names ranging from the 99 Hotel to simply and straightforwardly "The Night Hotel". For those customers who have nowhere else to go, are too shy or sensible to take the girl back to their own hotel, these places rent out rooms for the hour or for the night! A room will cost anything upwards of 19 dollars and comes with the bare essentials and a grumpy old hag at the door - do not worry, she's seen it all before! The rooms are appropriate for what they are designed for, a bed to 'make love' in and a shower to try and wipe the alcoholic weight off afterwards, certainly not enough space to swing a cat in but then who would ever think of doing that?
Undoubtedly, all circumstances differ! There are those (men and woman) who have seriously fallen in love, a feature that often disappears when they find their wallet missing the next morning or when the booze-fuddled mind clears up. There are those who appreciate fully the game that they are playing and there are those who haven't a clue as to what they are doing at all and are perhaps just letting the scenario be played out for them.
The only real winners in the game are the hotel owners, the bar owners, the Jewellers stalls and the Indian Tailor who chose a prime location to open up his family business. He cottoned on to the fact that the men who attend Orchard Towers have money to spend, that they might just fall in love and do stupid things whilst waiting for the girl of their dreams to finish with another customer or simply to buy a suit to impress the dolly on their arm. Therefore, as long as the males attend the towers in droves, to pick-up the girls in the skimpy clothes, he and the generations to come are assured of excellent business!