Macau: Sex and the gambling man
A Lin Neumann and Dennis Chong
March 25, 2005
You and your buddies have come to Macau from Guangzhou or Shanghai or Hong Kong
and the night has gone well. The dice, cards or roulette wheel left you with a
pocketful of change and a certain, um, urge.
Not to worry.
China's favorite little Special Autonomous Region, a cash cow for casinos and a
great little getaway for mainland officials, tourists and millionaires with
money to burn, offers way more than just baccarat, blackjack and fantan.
There's Cecilia Cheung, for example.
Well, not the Cecilia Cheung - but a reasonable look-alike is on offer at Club
Dynasty, one of Macau's many newly spruced-up nightspots that are enjoying
their own boom right along with the more well-publicized casino explosion.
The petite "Cecilia,'' who is, by the way, Vietnamese not Chinese, is said to
be popular with high rollers who want to celebrate a big night at the tables
with someone who at least looks like a Hong Kong movie star.
On a recent evening of wholesome fun at Club Dynasty, "Cecilia'' was presented
in a gilt-edged karaoke room, along with dozens of other PROs - public
relations officers. She didn't do much except recline sweetly on a sofa, smile
and offer to sing a song with the group, but we were hardly big spenders and
she soon departed for greener pastures.
Other clubs in Macau offer additional ersatz celebrities. The Emperor nightclub
has a look-alike for diving sensation Guo Jingjing, who is popular with
sports-minded visitors. Older patrons are said to prefer a young woman at the
same club who looks like Tina Leung, the sexy 1960s Hong Kong cinema
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.
Take the Fortuna Nightclub. Attached to the newly redone Fortuna Grand Hotel
and Casino, the nightclub has undergone a top-to-bottom overhaul, manager Alvin
On a recent visit, some 100 women - almost all of them from the mainland and
dressed in not much more than a colorful scarf and a sneeze - were available to
entertain guests in one of the 26 renovated karaoke rooms.
Featuring red-velvet couches, nude paintings on the wall, flat-screen displays
for the video karaoke and lots of chintz and crystal, the rooms may not be in
what one would call good taste, but they certainly look expensive.
"You need a place to play after you play,'' joked Pui. "This year you can see
so many new nightclubs.''
According to EastWeek magazine, a sister publication of the Weekend Standard,
turnover in the Macau nightclub business was up 30 percent in the last six
months of 2004, with almost all of the increase coming from mainland visitors.
There are 20 licensed nightclubs in Macau and each makes a net profit of
between HK$3 million and HK$6 million a month, the magazine says.
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.
In these upscale places, it works like this: A group will enter a room, order
drinks and wait for the women to appear. A mamasan will present a line up of a
half-a-dozen or more women. Customers can choose a girl and she will sit for a
chat and a squeeze.
After 10 minutes or so, you must decide. If you want the young woman to stay,
you will start paying a table charge of about HK$500 an hour, in exchange for
which you can hug, tickle, cuddle and join in on Cantopop karaoke favorites.
But you can also trade in your choice and another line-up will appear until the
customers have all settled on their "partners.''
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,''
With the overwhelming number of patrons in Macau being Asian, mostly Chinese,
another option not yet available are the kind of bump and grind go-go joints
popular with Western tourists in Bangkok and elsewhere.
That, too, may be changing. One nightclub source said a group was planning to
open Macau's first go-go bar later this year. Why? Because of the success of
the Sands Casino, nightlife mavens expect an increasing number of Westerners to
start popping up in Macau and they don't want them to feel left out.
Not that there aren't plenty of other choices.
At the Century Boss Night Club, Japanese adult video stars are imported at
considerable expense to entertain clients with scenes from favorite movies.
According to Eastweek, the night club even dressed its own staff of 200 Chinese
prostitutes in kimonos during a Japanese porno promotional event that increased
revenue by 20 per cent.
On the downmarket side, those tourists looking for cheaper thrills than flocked
wallpaper and high-end karaoke machines can find live sex shows, many with
Eastern European talent. What goes on? "Oh, you know. It's what you might
think,'' said a guide on a recent excursion to Macau who steered us away from
one such show.
Moving further downmarket, there are still plenty of streetwalkers who ply
their trade just adjacent to the massive Casino Lisboa. It is here that one
finds Russian and other Eastern European women, who seem to have been confined
to these few dingy blocks in recent years. Sources say this is because
"managers'' of the Russian women made trouble in the nightclubs. The women are
now unwelcome in the tonier establishments, unlike a few years ago when
Europeans were employed in many of the nightclubs alongside Chinese women.
And the triads? In modern Macau, the criminal gangs that have flourished for
longer than anyone can remember and were still gunning each other down in the
streets a decade ago, are hardly spoken of in polite company. Ask about triad
influence around a table in a nightspot and the conversation is likely to stop
mid-sentence as everyone shuffles their feet and stares at the ceiling.
During one such moment, someone leaned over and said, "The triads talk money
now, not fists. But this is very sensitive and Macau is a very small place.
There are no more trouble makers. It's all about money now.''
Copyright 2005, The Standard, Sing
Tao Newspaper Group and Global China Group
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