Wan Chai

Wan Chai Red-light district in Hong Kong

Action in Wan Chai has shifted considerably in recent years. Now it's likely to be found inside a handful of bars blaring canned dance music or the raucous sounds of a Filipino cover band. Entering one of these bars, one soon understands the dimensions of Hong Kong's unregistered sex trade. Dozens of girls, most of them Filipinas in tight jeans or mini skirts, dance or mill about, waiting for an eager male. Many of the women are simply customers out for a good time with their friends but an increasing number are here to ply the sex trade, brought into Hong Kong by shadowy recruiters with the promise of big money. They're put up in cramped flats and often end up hoping they can at least break even before an immigration officer puts an end to their sojourn and sends them packing.

The male customers are businessmen, expatriates, tourists and exuberant soldiers and sailors off the Nimitz in Wan Chai Bars.

According to officers in the Philippine consulate the girls are charged about US$1,000 as a recruitment fee by representatives of triad syndicates to come to Hong Kong and work the bars. The money covers their airfare and has to be paid back in daily installments.

The women themselves, who are lured to Hong Kong thinking they will make lots of money. The reality, though, is that they become virtual debt slaves, forced to hustle deep into the night to pay "managers" for their air tickets, lodging and food. Many times, the girls say, the syndicates keep their passports and travel documents until the debt is paid.

"Supply always exceeds demand," says a Hong Kong resident familiar with the area. Prices (for sex) have gone down lately from HK$1,500 to HK$500. Most of the girls are Filipinas but this is a multinational stew. There are Indonesians, Thais (See: Bar Girl Love), Vietnamese, Laotians, Mongolians, mainlanders. There are even girls from Colombia, Venezuela, Latvia and Estonia in one bar.

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