Showing posts with label prostitution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prostitution. Show all posts

04 August 2013

Book review: Ah ku and Karayuki San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (1993), by James Francis Warren, *****


Among the many groups of foreign workers whose labor built Singapore in the 20th century, there may be none as marginalized in memory as the women who travelled from China and Japan to work in Singapore as prostitutes.

This definitive study sketches in the trade in women and children in Asia, and -- making innovative use of Coroner's Inquests and other records -- hones in on the details of the prostitutes' lives in the colonial city: the daily brothel routine, crises and violence, social relations, leisure, social mobility for the luckier ones, disease and death.

The result is a powerful historical account of human nature, of human relationships, of pride, prejudice, struggle and spirit. Ordinary people tumble from the pages of the records: they talk about choice of partners, love and betrayal, desperation and alienation, drawing us into their lives.

This social history is a powerful corrective to the romantic image of colonial Singapore as a city of excitement, sophistication, exotic charm and easy sex.

In the years since its original publication in 1992, this book, and its companion Rickshaw Coolie, have become an inspiration to those seeking to come to grips with Singapore's past.

This monograph shows how prostitution flourished in Singapore due to the massive influx of male migrant labourers without a corresponding increase in women immigrants. Another reason was the famine in south-east China and north-west Kyushu, which moved many families to sell their young daughters to traffickers. It describes the two brothel zones set up in Singapore. The VD epidemic that struck following the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Ordinance, as a result of agitation by Victorian moralists in England, is highlighted. As elsewhere, wishing a "problem" away did not solve it, if fact if made it worse. The second part of the text deals with events in the lives of these Chinese and Japanese prostitutes.


Like in his other book on Rickshaw coolies, the author tells us about the history of Singapore around the turn of the XX century as seen by some of the most humble people living there. In particular, we are led through Singapore by the Chinese ah ku (euphemistic Cantonese for lady) and the Japanese karayuki-san (Japanese: the women who went South, to China).

These women were running away from abject poverty at home, and were prepared to take any risk to buy or bribe their way to Singapore in the hope of making a livelihood. But what awaited them in Singapore was not a promised land, but rather violence, hard work, disease, exploitation. Many died violent deaths. Most got VD.

While exploitation was rampant, the exploiters had no easy life. We understand that "to run a good brothel in Singapore around 1900 required courage, shrewd judgement of character, physical stamina on a round-the-clock basis, a decent knowledge of first aid , do-it-yourself gynecology, and skill in self-defense" (p.229)

Some however were able to make a living, pay off their debt and open a brothel of their own. A few lucky or cunning ones were even able to marry one of their clients and become ladies in the Victorian society.

More about prostitution in Singapore today can be read here, including a useful bibliography.

19 February 2013

Film review: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) by Rob Marshall, *****


An adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel by the director of Chicago, Rob Marshall, transports us into a mysterious and exotic world that casts a potent spell. A Cinderella story like no other, Memoirs of a Geisha stars Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li.

The director of Chicago, Rob Marshall, transports us into a mysterious and exotic world that casts a potent spell. A Cinderella story like no other, this film takes the viewer to Japan in the late 1930s to discover what role geishas played in high society. We can follow the life of a young girl whose family sells to be a maiko (apprentice geisha) in an okiya, a geisha house. She has to put up with a lot (jealousy, competition, envy) before finally becoming a full geisha.


Wonderful photography in this film, not hard to guess it won Dion Beebe a cinematography Oscar. Ditto for the costumes by Colleen Atwood. It is a long film, but it flows fast and you are left at the end wanting for more.

The film has been banned in China as too sensitive, probably because of Chinese actresses being employed in the role of geishas, seen as degrading in China.

Memorable quote, the Chairman to Sayuri: «We must not expect happiness, Sayuri. It is not something we deserve. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift; it cannot last forever!»

Bonus contents are also very well made and add a lot of value to this BD:
-Geisha Bootcamp (See how the actresses became geishas),
-Building the Hanamachi (Behind-the-scene documentary),
-The Look of a Geisha (Inside the wardrobe and make-up),
-The music (composer John Williams take you through his approach to the score),
-and other background material on Japan and "making of" the film.

Buy your European BD here.

Buy your US BD here

You can buy the book on which this film is based here

17 February 2013

Film review: Born into Brothels (2004) by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, ****

"Running" by Gour, 13 years old

The most stigmatized people in Calcutta's red light district are not the prostitutes, but their children. In the face of abject poverty, abuse, and despair, these kids have little possibility of escaping their mother's fate or for creating another type of life. Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district. Briski, a professional photographer, gives them lessons and cameras, igniting latent sparks of artistic genius that reside in these children who live in the most sordid and seemingly hopeless world. The photographs taken by the children are not merely examples of remarkable observation and talent; they reflect something much larger, morally encouraging, and even politically volatile: art as an immensely liberating and empowering force.

The winner of the 77th annual Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Born into Brothels offers a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art. Devoid of sentimentality, Born into Brothels defies the typical tear-stained tourist snapshot of the global underbelly. Briski spends years with these kids and becomes part of their lives. Their photographs are prisms into their souls, rather than anthropological curiosities or primitive imagery, and a true testimony of the power of the indelible creative spirit.

27 February 2003

8° g - 27 FEB: Santiago: Castillo, teatro, Tumba Francesa

Colazione pantagruelica, frutta tropicale , prosciutto cotto, formaggio, uova, c’è sostentamento per tutto il giorno! La prima visita è al Castillo de San Pedro, patrimonio mondiale dell'umanità dell'UNESCO. L’autista ha qualche dubbio su come arrivarci e chiediamo indicazioni ad una ragazza che passa per strada. La ragazza è molto gentile... anzi gentilissima: sale sul nostro bus e ci offre spiegazioni dettagliate, poi dice che vorrebbe venire con noi ma deve andare al lavoro, fa l’infermiera in un ospedale. Però vuole rivederci dopo, chiede il telefono della mia casa privata, dobbiamo assolutamente rivederci. Mi telefonerà poi varie volte ma per un motivo o per un altro non siamo mai riusciti a combinare. Insomma aveva visto un gruppo di occidentali, con un maschio spaiato (io) e aveva fatto di tutto per agganciare...

27 August 2002

20. - 27 AUG: Muang Sing - Luang Namtha

Another town which was much destroyed by US bombing and has now found a new lease on life from tourism and trade with China – lots of advertising boards in Chinese here, and several hotels and restaurants are owned by Chinese interests; Chinese products, including food, is widely available. We are unmistakably very very close to China...

15 July 2002

Book Review: River of Time, by Jon Swain, *****


Between 1970 and 1975 Jon Swain, the English journalist portrayed in David Puttnam's film, "The Killing Fields", lived in the lands of the Mekong river. This is his account of those years, and the way in which the tumultuous events affected his perceptions of life and death as Europe never could. He also describes the beauty of the Mekong landscape - the villages along its banks, surrounded by mangoes, bananas and coconuts, and the exquisite women, the odours of opium, and the region's other face - that of violence and corruption.

He was in Phnom Penh just before the fall of the city to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. He was captured and was going to be executed. His life was saved by Dith Pran, the New York Times interpreter, a story told by the film The Killing Fields. In Indo-China Swain formed a passionate love affair with a French-Vietnamese girl. The demands of a war correspondent ran roughshod over his personal life and the relationship ended.

02 May 2001

Book Review:The Floating Brothel: the Extraordinary True Story of An Eighteenth-Century Ship And Its Cargo of Female Convicts, by Sian Rees, *****

list of names of convicts shipped to Australia

In 1789, 237 women convicts left England for Botany Bay in Australia on board a ship called The Lady Julia, destined to provide sexual services and a breeding bank for the men already there. This is the story of the women aboard that ship.