Truthfully speaking, those who enter the sex work industry aren't always victims; Instead, we chose to do sex work out of our own volition. However, the main motive behind sex work would be the money as the existing income was not enough. When I first starting work in the sex industry, it was driven out of poverty of not having enough money to bring my child to see the doctor as the consultation fees can be far steeper when compared to the adult's consultation. As you know, I'm from China and there are plenty of inconveniences that I've faced when migrating to Singapore. Unlike the locals here, it is inconvenient to return to my hometown. I remembered when I found out that my father has been diagnosed cancer and had only 6 months left to live. In order to save money, I did not go back to my own country until his illness deteriorated badly and he was going to pass on. It was then that I decided that it was time to travel back home to see him. But upon the arrival of the flight my hometown at 12pm, I received news that he had already passed on at 9am. At that time, when I returned home, I didn't even get to say my last goodbye to him. I felt that sex work is a conscious career choice that is made by people who come from poverty stricken families, in order to supplement their own income or to earn a decent living with no or little education.
I would say that my life experiences up till now have been more bitter than sweet. Before I started working in the sex work industry, my previous job was a karaoke server in Malaysia; Which is where I met my current Singaporean husband and subsequently migrated to Singapore upon marriage. We had two children and I stopped working for five to six years since then. However, during this period of time, there wasn't enough money left to go around after bringing the children to the doctors. That was when I found my current job through the newspaper advertisement when I was job hunting. Back in China, I had a daughter with my ex-husband but we broke up due to emotional incompatibility. That was when I went to work as a karaoke pub waitress to supplement my family's income back in China as I was broke after the divorce. My financial situation gradually improved and then, I met my current husband. At first, I thought that marrying a Singaporean man would mean that I would be able to have a better life; But little did I know, that wasn't the case and for a moment there I thought that I might be better off marrying a man in China! I didn't even have money to buy the air tickets back to my hometown to see my dying father despite knowing for a fact that he only has six month left to live. To add onto my woes, I have two children and a home that I need to take care of.. These added onto my guilt towards my parents and my daughter from my previous marriage. I left my ex-husband when my daughter was only two years of age and never met from then on, that's why I felt apologetic towards her. Without any skills or academic qualifications, the next best method to earn money to supplement my family's income is by doing sex work. But of course, my own family members and husband does not know that I'm working in the sex industry. Because the least I could do is to not tell them so as to keep peace within the family. If my husband were to know that I'm a sex worker, I wouldn't be able to work anymore and there won't be any money for basic needs, such as bringing the children to see the doctor when they fall sick. Sometimes, the choice of sex work is really due to dire circumstances as we do not have any qualifications, neither do we have a good family background to fall back on.
Just to give you an idea, every month my rent is a few hundred dollars—not a lot but still substantial. Insurance costs is also a few hundred. Every month we also spend on grocery shopping. Every month's expenditures can average around over a thousand dollars. If I just relied on my husband, we won't be able to survive. My husband is a supervisor for a cleaning company. You know in Singapore these professions don't earn much—just around S$2000 to S$3000 every month. It's just not enough to survive. Like the example I gave you about my child having to see doctor.
Life is different now compared to when I was working as a karaoke girl. That time I only needed to support myself and my parents. Now I have a house and children and so the financial stress is higher. With a desire to earn more, I entered into the “happiness business” (translator: referring to happy ending massage). At the end of the day, it is for family. If I am alone, I wouldn't do this. Not like Singaporeans, whose backgrounds would be better. If I went out into the job market, I'll need to find a night job because in the day I need to look after my children. My husband and I take turns to take of our children at night. In the job market, nobody wants to hire someone like me, without any educational qualifications. But also, the jobs available to me would probably pay only S$800 to S$1000. It is impossible to survive on that kind of income.
Now I'm a Permanent Resident of Singapore. I have 2 children, one boy and a girl, at 4 and 6 years old respectively.
I studied until secondary school. Which is lower than the Singapore's standard of secondary school. In Singapore, primary school is 6 years and secondary school is 4 years. In china, Primary school is 6 years and secondary school is 3 years.
When I was young in the village, we hardly eat any meat. We eat a lot of porridge then because that requires less rice than if we had just steamed rice. When we get to eat meat, we'll be very happy. We only eat stuff like chicken on occasion like Chinese New Year. And only when I was pregnant did I get to eat chicken. But now in China, things have developed greatly and it differs vastly from China back then. I still remember when I was young – my mum told me this I don't remember -- I stole my grandfather's packet of sweets when I was 3 or 4 years old. My grandfather was very typical, he favours male children over female children. So that incident made him very angry. I was scolded and beaten by my grandfather and my mother. Nowadays children are able to eat sweets and tidbits easily. But back then, it was a very rare commodity.
In my life, my greatest regret is my father. When I migrated to work, my dad kept asking me when will I go back to china to visit him. That day when I was finally returning to china to see my dad, I still remember telling my husband that I had a dream that my dad will pass on that day and that I wouldn't make it in time to say my final goodbyes. Just so happen the moment I got off the plane, I received a phone call to say my dad has passed. Can you see my regret? This is actually all caused by money – the need for money. The need to go out to work for money. The need to support one's family financially. And compounded by expensive air tickets.
Sex work has given me stability in my life. I am able to provide for my family, and let my children have what other children have. Sex work is never for myself.
Interviewer notes: Xiao Mei is originally from China and works at a “happy ending” massage parlour in Singapore.