There are many cities I love, but couldn’t see myself living in.
There are many cities in which I could see myself living, but don’t really love.
I’ve come to love Singapore, and could see myself happily calling it home.
I arrived here believing the business would be good, and I’d be to bed every night by 10:00 because there was nothing to do. It’s 3:00 am as I write this, and I’m back in my hotel because I have to leave for the airport in an hour, not for want of entertainment. Singapore ain’t dull.
A client told me today that Singapore had recently been ranked as Southeast Asia’s most exciting city. A week ago I would have scoffed at such a notion. Now I’m not so sure I could find reason to disagree. This clean, beautiful, organized city has as vibrant a nightlife as any I’ve ever visited. And unlike some other famously “exciting” Southeast Asian cities, Singapore is very safe. (Except for the sneaky transvestites, which I never did actually see.)
The downside to how much I’ve enjoyed Singapore is how little sleep I’ve gotten while here. I leave for home shortly, and suspect I’ll spend much of the 22 hour journey in a coma.
I might have paced myself had I been here longer than three nights. As it was, my determination to experience as much of Singapore as possible overruled my need for sleep. I really hope I wasn’t a babbling fool in my meetings (at least no more so than usual.)
Today began much too early by my estimation (though I define anything before noon as too early, so this should be taken with a grain of salt.) Our first meeting was with a client who has a fascinating history; he’s from Seattle, worked in Kazakhstan as a professor and in Hong Kong before moving to Singapore. He’s been here four years, and I got the impression he’ll never leave.
Afterwards my colleagues took me on a tour of the Marina Bay development and the new Sands Casino, which officially opened today. The entire project is on reclaimed land, and being Singapore is all master-planned, organized and beautiful. The Helix pedestrian bridge, which opened four days ago, is a dramatic design offering panoramic views of the entire bay.
For lunch we went to Beng Hiang, a traditional Chinese restaurant that’s been operating in Singapore for 32 years. The food was mostly excellent, though I wasn’t overwhelmed by the oyster and fried egg dish, and I’m not a fan of the Asian custom of eating the shell with the prawns. Call me old fashioned.
To close out my trip tonight my colleague took me to the Brix Club in the Hyatt.
Brix may be the best known and most upscale club in Singapore. It’s gorgeous, and chock full of stunning women from around the Orient, all of whom are available for a fee.
I amused myself by trying to get them into bidding wars for their services. If you’ve never had three high-class hookers trying to under-bid each other while simultaneously up-selling their skills, without ever directly mentioning what they’re offering, I can tell you it’s one of the funniest scenes you’ll ever witness.
I didn’t much expect them to share my view of this, especially when they realized I had no intention of actually being a customer, but they surprised me. When I couldn’t restrain my giggles any more, and told them how ridiculous the whole scene was, they stopped, looked at each other, and fell about laughing.
They were so cool about it I bought them all drinks, and helped talk them up to potential clients. They were easy-going and friendly, and willing to answer my questions. I’d never encountered anything like this before, so I had many.
They were not what I expected from Ladies of the Night (what they prefer to be called.) Different circumstances led each girl to this life, and each story is tragic.
The 20-year-old girl left an 8-month-old son at home with her mother. His father, an American GI, was her boyfriend for more than a year while he was stationed in the Philippines. He was transferred to Osaka when she was seven months pregnant, promising to send money regularly for the baby and to return to marry her. She’s not heard from him since. She cried as she showed me pictures of the baby she’s not seen in two months.
The 23-year-old Vietnamese girl lost her brother last year to malaria. As is common in Asian families, the parents live with the children. The father is infirmed, and the brother supported the family. Penniless and desperate for food the girl’s mother suggested she come to Singapore and earn a living on her back.
The 25-year-old was a university student in Cambodia. She speaks five languages. Her father had been a fairly successful businessman, but lost everything last year, and owed so much in taxes that the government seized their home. Six months ago she left school and started selling her body to anyone willing to pay.
These girls are not proud of what they do. They hate the circumstances that led them to this place. But they accept it, and go each day to do a job they despise to support those they love.
We talked for three hours.
I listened. I learned. These women were intelligent and educated.
I was humbled, and I was ashamed.
I was humbled by the courage and determination these women possess. I was ashamed at the petty problems that so often seem important to me. I was ashamed that I had so easily made sport of them, so easily dismissed them, seeing only the short skirt, never stopping to consider the person, the life, underneath it.
I spent my last hours in Singapore drinking and talking with high-class hookers. And I’m a better person for it.