On a lazy Friday night, I decided to scratch an itch I’ve had since arriving in Singapore. When people ask me why I am excited to be here, I often respond with, “Well, I love history, so visiting new places and learning about them is exciting and fun to me.” Sometimes it takes a bit for people to get over the “fun to me” part, but after they do, my notion of Singapore even having history is often rebuked. “Singapore was just a fishing village,” or “It’s so young, it doesn’t HAVE a history.” I shake my head. Every place has a history.
Acting upon the advice of a random stranger-tourist I met at the zoo (smart decisions made since 1986!), I decided to take a walk, specifically with Singapore Walks, a walking-tour company that focuses on Singapore’s history: its social history, its trade history, its war history. It’s a very casual affair, and great if you just want to kill a couple hours. The tour guide, at least in my tour, was knowledgeable and friendly (and I’ve been told all the tour guides are so).
Now onto the hookers.
Prostitution in Singapore started almost as soon as Raffles laid out the groundwork for the city. From the beginnings of the trade post, it was legalized and regulated, except for a stretch of time from Queen Victoria until the end of WWII when it was forced underground. Today it is still legalized, and though it is permitted in 5 districts, the Singapore government seems to be moving it all into one district, not renewing the entertainment licenses required to run brothels.
Some fun facts about the history of Singaporean prostitution include:
- Japanese women would prefer to catcall from their third-story windows, in a multitude of languages, to attract sailors to them
- Chinese women would prefer to remain hidden, the men coming to them, so that they might, “unleash the hidden tiger,” (the tour guide’s words, not mine)
- Homosexuality between men is illegal (to this day), but it is not illegal between women (because Queen Victoria though women would never want to do it anyways)
- It is illegal for a woman to be in a brothel (in modern times) without a registration card
- Since Raffles initially allowed it, one of the caveats of the prostitution regulation is that the working women must be the sole collector of their working fees. Pimps are illegal
Overall, it was a very enjoyable tour, and it certainly scratched my itch for better understanding the place I currently call home. I look forward to going on more of these tours and diving a bit more into what is a very rich and vibrant history of Singapore, once you look past all the skyscrapers and shopping malls.