Monday, July 14, 2008

Chinatown in Singapore

Singapore has a lot to offer. Because of its history of immigration, there are several distinctive areas where one ethnicity prevails. This is the case of Little India, where we slept, and Chinatown, that we explored a bit more in depth.

Chinatown changed a lot in recent years. Travelers who went there just ten years ago found it unrecognizable. A local guide had us walk in lots of back streets, where life used to happen. Tens of thousands of Chinese illegal immigrants used to live there, ending up as Rickshaw pullers or prostitutes. With a lot of skill, the guide summoned vivid images of their hard lives, dominated by exploitation, ruled by a strict society and eased only by heavy use of opium.

There are still remnants of those times though, such as isolated, disguised and still active brothels and local museums. Prostitution, in fact, is not completely illegal in Singapore. After the failure of prohibition, the government got more pragmatic and decided to regulate it instead of banning it. Brothels are allowed to exist only in designated areas, and Chinatown is one of these. Chinatown is unique in this though, because brothels open in that area have licenses that will expire with their owner, and they cannot be sold, and new ones are not granted. Therefore there are less and less, and the "faithful" customers get older and older, and so do the prostitutes inside. Perhaps not surprisingly, those brothels now close at 10pm.
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