It was around 2.00am on a Monday, Post-Formula 1 Grand Prix Sunday, and Boat Quay was peppered with drunk Western tourists. Yes, that’s right, I was one of them. Race fans were still milling about, promenading up and down the Quay. A tall bunch of Europeans wore red curly wigs and heaved around an enormous Ferrari flag that they used to wrap around and capture passers-by. We merrily took photos of each other and promised to email them. (No, I never received any.)
‘We’ included a friend of mine from the UK and her friend, and a fellow Aussie we met at the track – let’s call him Shane. I don’t think we were too obnoxious – we didn’t skip and dance in the street and we didn’t shout out obscenities. We just sat in the charming English pub, the Penny Black, giggling like school kids and trying to make new friends (I managed to chat to a special effects guy working on the movie Rush).
But then the Penny Black had to close and we were turfed out. We walked past the singing Europeans again, took more photos but then extracted ourselves and continues down the street. Singapore is always balmy and summery and even though the streets were almost empty by then, we were keen on continuing the revelry and celebration. But where?
The street back from Boat Quay was also full of bars and nightclubs – all closing or closed. Out options were down to a couple of strip clubs but we three girls roll our eyes and said no. Yuk. I don’t think so, thank you.
Fancy then, our naivety when a local suggested (coyly, I might add) that we were sure to find something open at Orchard Towers and we gaily thanked him (him) jumped into a taxi and headed straight there.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know that Orchard Towers was a shopping centre by day and a multi-story whore house by night. I didn’t know that it was bar after club after bar after disco of prostitutes – both the regular and lady-boy kind. I didn’t know.
We spilled out of the taxi and were confronted with Orchard Towers. It took us two minutes to scan the scene before we had that ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more Toto’ moment. I think Shane had a moment of ‘How do I behave in polite company?’. We didn’t even make it inside the actual building, but opted for a bar on the ground floor. I wish I could tell you its name (only so you can avoid it) but I didn’t take note. In fact, we didn’t even make it inside that bar either, but sat on the balcony. I only know we were determined to have one more drink, enjoy the unique ‘atmosphere’ and then call it a night.
We continued to grin and snort with laughter while we clambered on to our tall bar stools and gave drink orders to scantily clad hostesses. Shortly after our first vodka and lemonade, I hit the dance floor because I didn’t know what else to do. Inside the bar it was almost pitch black. It was pretty much empty and so was the dance floor. But soon enough three or four girls came to join me and we jumped crazily about for three and a half minutes. That was enough dancing for me.
I found my way through the gloom to the toilet which was, in contrast, starkly lit. A shame. Because I was confronted with everybody’s handbags, shoes, make-up bags, sparkly tops, stockings and hair brushes. The bin was overflowing with filth, and the walls were spattered brown and red.
Back at our table, my friend was chatting with one of our hostesses. She was sweet and young-looking. Exactly as you would imagine this girl to look – innocent, petite and fragile. She was from the Philippines (let’s call her Jessie) and kept asking us if we were having fun, needed any more drinks, wanted to dance any more. Her ‘boss-lady’ kept circling us and smiling but with narrowed eyes and a stern look. She seemed to make Jessie nervous and twitchy so we tried to look as if we were indeed interested in ‘business’ and bought her a drink. Shane was no help at all. Wide-eyed and surely confused about what he should do and how he should behave in the company of women, he did nothing but grin uncontrollably. Disturbing.
We were joking around and still tittering but then, suddenly serious, my friend said to Jessie, ‘There’s got to be something else you can do? What about cleaning?’. Jessie was a little defensive – ‘It doesn’t pay as much, and it’s so dirty’. We raised our eyebrows. I honestly don’t think she realised the irony in that statement. She told us she only had a few weeks left on her contract anyway and that she would be heading home after that. Jessie sent her money home to her family. ‘Sure’, my friend said, ‘but….’. She was struggling to understand, as were we all. How do we connect? I looked at Jessie and said, ‘We will do a lot for our family, won’t we?’. And she looked back at me, cocked her head and said, with an indignant but grateful tone, ‘Thank you. Yes.’. She seemed on the verge of tears. Which wouldn’t be good for business.
Her boss came round again and said something to her. Jessie moved on to another table where a couple of completely wasted and ripe Westerners teetered on their stools.
We decided to call it a night and called out for a taxi. We had stopped laughing.