The oldest occupation in the world is illegal but as in most countries, prostitution in China is flourishing. It is relatively easy to avoid ladies of the night if you know what to look for but in some, especially small or locally-run hotels, it can become a nuisance as the room telephone rings at 11pm to see if you would like a “massage”. Here is some information on what to watch out for so you don’t wind up in a sticky situation.
Avoiding Getting Approached
Ladies of the night typically hang around where they think clients will be (and where they have been successful at getting them). These include bars, hotels and massage parlors. I’ll talk about all of these in more detail following. It probably doesn’t need to be said but I’ll say it anyway. You can probably tell if a woman is really interested in you for your personality, or for something else.
Bars and Clubs
We’ve been in some clubs in Shanghai where it seemed like most of the women inside were “working”. While my girlfriend and I danced, my husband and hers were approached not only by women, but also men coordinating work for their girls. It is usually benign and a simple “no thanks” will do. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable, just leave the establishment and move on.
Working girls hang out at hotel bars and lounges. The approach will probably be subtle if you are in an international hotel as these establishments try very hard to keep these women out of their hotels. In non-international hotels, especially in smaller cities, prostitution is sometimes wrapped right in the workings of the hotel. For example, the on-site “spa” might just be a cover for in-house prostitutes. Friends have reported getting calls in their rooms late in the evening from women looking for clients. Typically they ask if you’d like a massage in your room. Interestingly, some hotels are equipped for the engagement: oils, condoms and specialty “cleansers” might all be on offer as part of the room amenities. I’ve also had reports of ladies knocking on business traveler’s doors with offers of massages as well as excuses like “I’m thirsty, can I come in for a glass of water?” Again, usually a simple “no, thanks” or “sorry, you can’t come in” is enough. But if it gets ugly, call the hotel management or the police.
Massage and “Beauty” Parlors
There is probably a legitimate spa for every posing parlor. There are some really wonderful massage parlors from high-end to inexpensive “blind-man” massages. (Blind people were traditionally given vocation as masseurs.) And it’s a shame that you wouldn’t experience a proper Chinese foot massage for fear of approaching the wrong thing. Typically, massage or beauty parlors that give more than just massages or haircuts are staffed with a large number of young women wearing attire that isn’t suitable for massage or haircuts. Again, if you find yourself accidentally in a situation that you don’t want to be in, you can usually just decline whatever service is on offer and leave.
Karaoke Bars & Entertainment Clubs
Many businessmen find themselves being entertained by their Chinese hosts. It is common to go from the heavy-drinking banquet to a karaoke bar or club where “hostesses” come to help entertain the male guests. Guests buy drinks for the girls who entertain by singing or chatting amicably with the men. Often, these girls can be paid to accompany the men to their hotel rooms. If you find yourself in one of these clubs, there’s no harm in it. But be firm in your wishes to remain single for the night. It will not be considered rude.
What to Do if You Feel Uncomfortable or Threatened
If you find yourself in a situation in which you don’t want to be, you have every right to get yourself out of it. I’ve had many a report of business travelers going to get a legitimate massage only to find themselves being propositioned. Even a girlfriend went to get a massage and found herself being asked if she’d like something more than just a back massage. When this occurs, it’s best to just give a firm “no”. Pay for whatever service was provided and leave the premises.
Notes about these Unfortunate Women
I think it goes without saying that prostitution is a sad and horrible occupation. It is important to remember that these girls probably did not end up as a prostitute by choice. Many are sold or kidnapped and then forced to work as prostitutes. Often, they come into cities from the countryside on promises of decent jobs as waitresses and then have no way of returning home once they realize what is expected of them. Demand for girls is, of course, an essential part of the problem. No one is going to single-handedly end prostitution but think very hard if you are even considering engaging in this illegal – and risky – sex. Despite the obvious health risks, you are very likely taking advantage of a girl who was forced into prostitution and is getting little, if any, of the fee you pay.
More Tips for After You Arrive in China