Macau nightlife

This week, I was talking to a reporter about the comparative nightlife of Macau and Singapore (I actually was taken to this place in Singapore). I struggled for words to tactfully explain what appeared to be the rampant prostitution in both cities. Singapore did a much better job of containing aggressively solicitous prostitutes to the nightclubs, while in Macau they seemed to rule the streets. At last, I have found a journalistic treatment of this phenomenon.

From the Weekend Standard:

Cloned movie stars are just one small example of the range of sex-for-sale in Macau, an industry that is seemingly inseparable from gambling in the vice-driven economy here.

This may not be exactly what President Hu Jintao had in mind when he praised the success of Macau during unification day ceremonies here in December.

“Macau’s success in the past five years,” Hu said, “offers compelling evidence our policy of `one country, two systems’ is a fundamental guarantee of Macau’s sustained development and its long-term prosperity and stability.”

There is no doubt that Macau has its own system working pretty well – gone are the days when nightclubs in Macau were seedy little triad-run affairs catering mostly to Hong Kong punters off for a furtive weekend. As the territory’s casino business has been transformed by an influx of Las Vegas and mainland cash, nightlife is following suit. Many hotel-casinos are dramatically upgrading their facilities, renovating existing nightspots and adding new ones.

Officials in the Macau government are a little cagey, however, about the growth of the industry. They say there are 34 licensed sauna baths but they deny keeping figures for the number of nightclubs.

Since both saunas and nightclubs are unabashedly places that offer women for “entertainment” purposes, it is widely assumed that the sex trade in Macau is legal. This is not exactly true, but is subject to interpretation.

According to Macau’s criminal statutes, soliciting for the sex trade in a public place is liable to a 5,000 pataca fine. An officer at the Legal Affairs Bureau, who refused to be named, said the law is aimed at targeting prostitutes working in brothels with tourist visas.

In addition, the bureau said it is a criminal offence to administer a brothel or “control prostitution.” Anyone who acts as an “agent” encouraging the sex trade is liable to a jail term of one to five years.

In practice it is hard to say what these laws mean. Sources in the nightclub industry say there are about 4,000 mainland women working in Macau but nobody wants to say how they got there or whether there is any connivance between Macanese and Chinese immigration officials to turn a blind eye to the traffic in young women into the territory.

One young woman working in a sauna parlour said she was a university student from Chongqing in town on a tourist visa. She was just trying to make a little extra cash to pay her university expenses, she said.

There are many layers to the sex-for-sale scene in Macau. In places like Fortuna, Emperor and Dynasty, a group of men can reasonably claim to just be having a few drinks and bouncing women on their knees in the karaoke rooms. If they want to go any further that can be arranged.

Plausible denial is a little harder to maintain if one goes into one of Macau’s many sauna palaces. Often attached to the larger hotels, these are decidedly not places to go for foot reflexology or to get the kinks out of a bad back.

There are also package deals available in Hong Kong and Macau for visitors to the saunas and nightclubs. Advertised in storefronts at the Shun Tak Ferry Terminal are “honeymoon” deals that include a woman, a room and several hours of whatever for about HK$1,500.

The one thing you will not find in most nightclubs in Macau is anything like a stage show or a band, entertainment traditionally associated with nightclubs. The bands and entertainers, one manager said, are just a waste of money and have been let go. “The main point of all the nightclubs here are the girls,” he said.

Weekend Standard – Sex and the gambling man

This is part of the “Macau miracle” that isn’t discussed so much, and it is interesting to see how the American operators will adjust to doing business in a place that has for so long tolerated such a thriving, public prostitution industry.

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