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Monday with the Editor: Invasion of the China dolls


The local Chinese and English newspapers have been chockfull of news recently on the China girls going after our men at coffee shops in the HDB heartlands.

I can't read Chinese newspapers but my wife tells me the evening Chinese tabloids have reported that some local wives have been so afraid of their husbands falling prey to these China ladies that they have resorted to waiting downstairs for their husbands in the evenings when it was time for these men to return home from work.

Is the situation that bad now? Let's look back. On 1 Nov 2003, immigration rules were relaxed to allow citizens of the People's Republic of China to stay in Singapore for a period not exceeding 30 days without the need for a visa.

In December 2003, a month after rules were relaxed, tourist arrivals from China went up to 71,0131 from 56,678 in October 2003. The figure also represented a 21% increase over the number of tourist arrivals from China for December 2002 - a year earlier. Now, that reflects the strong performance of the Chinese market.

In welcoming the foreign exchange that these Chinese visitors bring into Singapore, we have inadvertently drawn the attention of those who seek to visit Singapore not for its sights, but to peddle their flesh in exchange for money. These chaps disguise themselves as bona-fide tourists. After arriving in Singapore, they disappear without a trace, leaving the travel agent who brought them in in hot soup.

Why, just last week, there was a report in The Straits Times about six Singaporean travel agencies - specialising in the China market - being blacklisted by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). It appeared that together they accounted for more than half of all errant tourists from China.

Frankly, we need the foreign exchange China tourists bring in. Theirs is a rapidly growing market. Our hotels and shops need their business. As workers, we benefit as business gets better. It means there are more jobs to go around. There's more money to pass to our families.

But, the errant China dolls, as I call these China callgirls, have become braver. They have not stuck to the traditional red-light Geylang area but have crept into the HDB heartlands, such as Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio. They have been said to hang around coffee shops and public telephone booths, boldly accosting our men, most of whom are in their fifties or older. Who among these men can resist a fling or two, for these China girls are young and fair maidens. Who among them would think twice about parting with a hundred or two hundred dollars for a dalliance?

In her Thinking Aloud column2 in The Straits Times last Saturday, ex-Project Eyeball editor Bertha Henson let out why those China girls worried her. Bertha said, "They pounce on men in broad daylight. One reader called in to complain that one girl opened the passenger door of his car while he was waiting in it. She got in, buckled up and made her pitch".

Bertha ended her column with a plea to "please stop importing more problems than it (society) can take". She's got a point. These errant China girls engage in vice. Such activities will surely attract men who want to muscle into the new illicit business, by hook or by crook. And I am sure there are ruffians from China who may think they can disguise themselves as bona-fide tourists too and when they reach Singapore instantly transform themselves into pimps for these China girls. Need I say more?

In yesterday's Straits Times3, journalist Li Xueying wrote that Joo Chiat MP Chan Soo Sen said of the hookers, "Sometimes, they're sitting on men's laps in the kopitiams." Mr Chan was also reported to have said that "I was cycling around one evening when I saw a woman cross the road, knock on a lorry that was stuck in a jam, and jump in".

Our police are not stupid. They must have known such things would happen with the loosening of the rules. Most probably they are keeping a close eye on the situation now. Bertha has suggested that we copy Malaysia which requires China women aged between 18 and 25 to be accompanied by either their husbands or fathers if they want to enter Malaysia.

However, a report in yesterday's Straits Times4, headlined "KL scraps rule on China women", mentioned that Malaysia has shelved this tough new rule which was put in place in Malaysia last month.

So, the China doll syndrome isn't peculiar to our shores. Malaysia, Hong Kong and Japan are also grappling with the problem.

What can we do about the problem? We need the foreign exchange bona-fide China tourists bring in. We don't need China dolls in our midst.

Should we do an about-turn on our immigration rules? I think not. The problem won't go away. These China dolls will just find some other way to get into Singapore. Already, there are some China study-mums who leave their husbands in China and come here with their kids supposedly for their kids' education. Then, they find Singaporean boyfriends while their children are preparing for school entrance exams. I have taught some of these kids. I have seen their mothers and their mothers' Singaporean boyfriends.

I think that as long as our Singaporean men are willing and eager to flirt with these China dolls, whether they be prostitutes or study-mums, the problem won't go away. It's simply supply meeting demand.

Our post-middle-age Singaporean men want to feel attractive. They want women to ingratiate themselves with them - something that might not be forthcoming in their homes. Most of all, I think they all want to feel young again. And these China dolls do know how to make them feel young and attractive. 

I think the answer has got to be education - making these men realise that they are courting trouble both at home and with the law.

Have a good week!

1 Tourism Statistics December 2003, Singapore Tourism Board

2 Straits Times 3 Jul 2004 (H19)

3 Straits Times 4 Jul 2004 (12)

4 Straits Times 4 Jul 2004 (13)


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5 July 2004