Mei has no regrets about her former life, but says drugs and crime make it riskier today
Lana Lam firstname.lastname@example.org
Mei Mei has long ago stopped working in the sex industry, but she looks back fondly on her time as a prostitute.
From “compensated dating" in the early 1970s to massage parlours and saunas, and working in a “one-woman brothel", Mei Mei has traversed the full gamut of the world’s “oldest profession".
Now 58, she long ago stopped working in the sex industry, but she looks back fondly on her time as a prostitute.
“It’s a good job, so long as you don’t do drugs, gamble or owe people money," she said.
Born in Causeway Bay, Mei – not her real name – never knew her birth parents and was adopted by another family. She stopped going to school in Primary Three, at the age of 11, and started working as a kitchen hand on sampans; she also had a factory job.
Her first foray into sex work was through friends who were engaged in what is known today as “compensated dating" – where she would go on dates in exchange for money or other goods. She was just 17.
Later, Mei started working in dance halls in Jordan and North Point, where she would talk to clients and dance with them. Often, it would not go beyond that.
“I only went with them somewhere else if I wanted to," she said, during an interview at the Prince Edward offices of Zi Teng, a local concern group for prostitutes set up in 1996.
Zi Teng staff provide support to prostitutes, targeting areas such as Yuen Long, Sheung Shui, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.
At 24, Mei quit the profession, got married and had a baby boy. Her husband, a fisherman, stopped working on the seas and took a job at a mahjong parlour. But about six years later, the couple divorced and Mei took up prostitution again, this time working in saunas and massage parlours in Jordan.
Again, the line between being a masseuse and prostitute was blurred and only if Mei felt comfortable with a particular client would she take things further.
In 1993, she stopped working in the saunas because the owners, uncertain about how a post-handover Hong Kong would treat the prostitution industry, demanded more control over its employees.
So Mei decided to become a sole operator in a one-woman brothel in Sham Shui Po, servicing mainly Chinese clients.
Between 1993 and 2003, business was good and she could charge HK$300 for a 90-minute massage. Oral sex was an additional HK$500 to HK$600 and the price increased for other services.
“This work is a job, like any other. I liked it because I was independent, my own boss and not relying on others."
She earned about HK$10,000 a month and, with the help of regular clients, she was able to save a deposit to buy a unit.
“But after the handover, crime went up and it was not as safe as before," she said. “Being a sex worker, you must be alert to possible danger and assess the men."
Mei was saddened by the case of two young Indonesian women, thought to be prostitutes, found murdered in the apartment of a British banker in Wan Chai last weekend.
“Going to a private home is always more dangerous," Mei said. “Also, today, there are more drugs and they are more potent, which can make things more dangerous."
Mei has never told her son, now 30 and working in construction, about her past life, nor will she.
She left that life about a decade ago and now works part-time in a women’s-only beauty centre that offers massage and facial treatments.
“I have no regrets about what I did and I was happy doing sex work," she said.
Mei said the existence of prostitutes also meant there were fewer cases of rape, as it was a means for men to obtain sex.
“We contribute to society in many ways, such as reducing cases of rape. Also, some men have sexual desires that cannot be satisfied at home so we can help relieve pressure on the wives.
“Sex workers are everywhere and prostitution has such a long history," she added. “It’s impossible that one place would not have this industry."