Tuesday, November 24, 2020

(Stories) ‘I’m proud to call myself a whore’


In her five years as an escort, 24-year-old Ashley Chan (not her real name) has learned several tenets, including how to be absolutely discreet and why you should never fall in love. Welcome to the life of a high-end escort in Singapore.

In Chan’s new memoir, Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life, published by Epigram Books, the undergraduate and sex worker pulls back the veil on the sex industry in the squeaky-clean city state, revealing a sordid underbelly where men pay in the thousands for the hourly companionship of Chan and her peers – and what they do in the hours they’ve bought.

“I’m proud to call myself a whore,” she says coolly in an interview.

During her work, the escort and business studies undergraduate has been paid to kick a man in his genitals, choke a man wearing a hood, and ingest a nightly cocktail of drugs as a professional “party girl”.

There were, of course, the garden-variety sex calls that were more uncomplicated: Chan would show up at a hotel and let her client do “whatever they wanted” to her for two hours.

While Chan declines to disclose exact numbers, she’s cavalier about the things that her work has afforded her: designer goods, a S$12,000 (US$8,900) enhancement surgery on her nose and chin, and all university tuition fees. As an escort that’s part of an agency, Chan also reveals that she has a “quota” – though it’s “very variable”.

“During the pandemic, it’s been quite difficult to work, and my earnings have been reduced by some 60 per cent,” she says. “Thankfully, I have my pool of regulars who are still supporting me through these hard times. I’m still relatively privileged compared to others.”

In her book, Chan goes into prosaic detail about the world of sex work. She speaks of different tiers of sex workers (at the at the bottom of the food chain are “KTV girls” who work in karaoke lounges, with escorts like herself on the top rung), of clients that have flown her around the world, and just how large a role race and nationality plays in determining a sex worker’s financial worth.

“Escorts from Vietnam and Thailand are more beautiful, but they’re not as intellectual in their companionship,” she says candidly. “They’re beautiful in a ‘trophy wife’ or ‘bimbo’ sort of way – but they lack the ability to interact because of the language barrier.”

Singaporean-Chinese escorts like Chan, on the other hand, come “at a slightly higher price point, because we are a little more intellectual”.

Chan sees herself as a “business owner” with herself as the commodity. As such, she is brisk when it comes to listing her business’ costs and overheads: yoga classes to help her keep in shape, the occasional designer bag or lavish beauty product to stay presentable to clients, and frequent health checks to ensure she’s fit to continue working.

And like any legitimate industry, Chan says sex work is not immune to modernisation – or “market forces”. She says social media and the internet have “destroyed” the old way of working, and has driven down prices for escorts and sex workers, among various other ills.

“These days there are actually fewer new escorts, but more sugar babies,” she says. “The whole Ashley Madison thing makes girls think that it’s easy money, but it’s actually not – and the industry has changed for the worse because of that,” she says, citing the online dating service marketed to people who are married or in relationships.

Chan is unafraid of competition from fresh blood, however. She says she stays away from the “politics and cattiness” that younger escorts tend to indulge in. Rather, she wants to make sure that any aspiring escort truly knows what they are getting into.

“You don’t really know why some of these girls are entering the industry,” she says. “Maybe they’re not really there for luxury goods. Maybe they’re there because they really need the money.”

Chan’s story wasn’t so different. Born out of wedlock to parents who later separated, she was left in her grandmother’s care soon after her father abandoned them to start a new family. He refused to finance her education once she finished secondary school at 16. Wanting a better life for herself, Chan answered an innocuous advertisement for a job that paid “S$300 to S$400 a day”.

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