Sex 141 Hong Kong

Hong Kong…a city where capitalism and laissez faire are so pure that even the brothels adhere to the tenants of a free economy. “If you want to see capitalism in action, go to Hong Kong, ” is how Milton Friedman described it.

A History of Prostitution

Long before the glitzy financial center and designer boutiques emerged and made Hong Kong a consumer mecca, there was already a vibrant sex trade. Ostracized by the Cantonese, the local Tan-ka (boat people) found easy monetary gain by renting their women to foreign sailors. The ham-shui-mui, or salt-water girls, rapidly became iconic symbols of the city’s underbelly and vibrant port activities.

Today, the salt water girls are most likely foreigners. Russian girls, described as “crazy, wild, monsters” command a premium, at HK$500 for thirty minutes. Half an hour with a “mild” Malay girl fetches a mere HK0 dollars in comparison. Local girls are the baseline at HK0. The rates are hand written on colorful signs outside building entrances in many neighborhoods. The general feeling is of an exchange market—only that the merchandise in question is human.

Legal Brothels

Prostitution in Hong Kong is itself legal, but “organized” prostitution is not. Any room with two or more girls offering sex services is considered a brothel. Brothels, and living off the prostitution of others (i.e organized prostitution) is not permitted. In effect this means that so long as prostitution stays out of the public eye, the government is mostly comfortable adopting a laissez-faire policy. This has lead to a unique way of avoiding the prohibition on brothels: the one-woman brothel.

New Business Models for Brothels

Seemingly an oxymoron, the “one-woman brothels” changed the landscape of prostitution in Hong Kong from the 1980s onwards. Back then, to get laid, it was cheaper to fly to Manila and stay in a five-star hotel for the weekend than have a single night out in Hong Kong. According to retired Hong Kong police officer JS Lam, “one-woman brothels became more in demand as this method of prostitution offered a more direct, no-frills way to clients. Besides, it was much cheaper than going to a sex shop, dance hall or nightclub. A client need only go to the address, press the bell, state purpose, agree on the price and deal done.” By the end of the mid-90s most of the classy ballrooms and big-spender nightclubs had disappeared.

In it’s purest commercial form this empowered girls to open their own business without the need for a middleman, and encouraged a wave of foreign Asian and Chinese girls to turn-up in Hong Kong on short term visas. What they made in a month was often more than a year back home. There is evidence that homespun operations were briefly a majority, but the triad gangs very quickly repossessed the business.

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