Sneak Peek: Memoirs Of A Singaporean Escort
When it comes to prostitution in Singapore, the first images that come to mind likely involve the brothels in Geylang: the seedy transactions that usually take place at night, or the dark and danky KTV lounges in which, ironically, prostitution is just one of the few legal activities happening.
But that’s not all there is to sex work. And the “taboo-ness” of the matter often overshadows the humanity of those in the profession.
In her memoir, “Scarlet Harlot”, 24-year-old Ashley Chan (the narrator’s pseudonym), invites us to take a glimpse into the mostly hush-hush world of social escorts. This is essentially a middle-tier form of sex work, with escorts charging about $500 per session, and which can take place in five- or six-star hotels. Somehow, this is more of an unseen world to most of us than even the sex workers in Geylang, whom most people in Singapore kind of “know about” in a vague, “close one eye” way.
Humanising the world’s oldest profession
We get a lot (and I really mean, a lot) of juicy details about the kinds of clients that Chan sees, their preferences both in and out of bed, and the perks and pitfalls of such a job. Chan writes her memoirs in a bald-faced, open, and honest way. While describing her first client, who was in his mid-30s, Chan says, “It wasn’t as dramatic as some people would imagine. When I met my agent afterwards, he asked me, ‘So, how do you feel? You didn’t cry? You didn’t make a scene?’ Not at all. The job was so vanilla…”
At the time, she was only 19, and was paid $300, not including the agent fee. She never met with the client again.
Chan makes it very clear that when sex work is mixed up with relationships and emotions, things can only get messier from there. She has never been under any kind of illusion about sex work. “My body, I decided, is worth a price – the price you pay for a skilled provider like me.” It’s almost refreshing to read the insights of someone who had, more or less, a choice in entering this line of work, and who seems to think the work was a worthy way to spend her time and earn her keep, although she’s also clear that this was not going to be a long-term solution.
What was particularly interesting is Chan going into details regarding her background and her family, and how this had shaped her life decisions and led her to go into sex work. As a university student pursuing her business degree, Chan says that she leads a double life. She lives in an HDB flat in Pasir Ris with her 72-year-old grandmother, who more than likely knows about her profession. Chan admits that she went into sex work for the money, the time, and the flexibility. She is also unabashed in her diatribes against her parents and their self-centeredness, blaming them for her decision to go into sex work to finance her education.
“... Escorting doesn’t happen in a vacuum: my father essentially made me an escort, thanks to his selfishness. Honestly, that is quite accurate – if my father had financed me, I would not be an escort.”
The subject matter alone makes this book an entertaining (and educational) read. But it also feels very vulnerable. Chan’s voice comes through strongly, with some sequences being written so casually and colloquially that it almost feels like you’re reading text messages from a friend.
“I didn’t have the best body so I had to be accommodating and active, and have the best personality. I became a slut, basically, but with interesting results – when clients gave reviews, they said I was entertaining and nice to be with!”
It’s also clear that Chan isn’t trying to promote herself or even be politically correct, so there are some bits where you may find yourself clucking in disapproval at her thought processes.
For those of us who may be tempted to stereotype all sex workers under certain personality traits or worldviews, this book also serves as a platform to realise that everyone is, after all, their own person. Chan states many times in the book that she is an introvert. She rarely goes clubbing or partying of her own accord. Her typical day consists of home, school, and work - just like a lot of us. The only difference, really, is the kind of work she does. Once you get past that, Chan seems to behave and talk like any other 20-something-year-old making her way through university and having the usual love-hate relationship with a job that is helping her pay her bills and for her education.
Just like with other customer-facing jobs, there are the good clients, and there are the bad and entitled clients. Just because the service she provides isn’t the sort one would talk about in public here doesn’t mean the customers behave any differently. Giving this taboo topic an almost hilarious sort of banality is actually really useful in helping to humanise sex workers in Singapore, something that is desperately needed to keep the people in this industry safe in their line of work.
Available in in paperback on Epigram