By Deborah Choo
The sheer volume of advertisements listed under Craigslist Singapore's "Personals" section is insane; there are more than 2,000 ads just under one of the nine sub-sections for this month.
Ads range from promises of sex or the girlfriend experience by enthusiastic sugar daddy seekers, to racy photos of diminutive women displaying their wealthy assets for a camera shot, to even notes so lonely and bitter I shudder from reading them.
Another site, Locanto, has close to 1,400 such ads from the last check. Such ads partly reflect the reinvention of traditional prostitutes in red light districts such as Geylang into an underground phenomenon that now sees them on the move — discreetly. But the ads also act as a platform for individuals with stable jobs to earn money on the side.
"Social escorts" is the term for many of these advertisers.
Escorts are usually well-dressed, eloquent, educated. They boast a package of beauty and brains, an especially tempting deal for one-night stands. For working singles now who increasingly lack time to date or commit to a long-term relationship, this fills in for the craving of companionship.
A spokesperson from upscale escort agency Lush Companions revealed that different agencies have different requirements. While Lush prefers their escorts to be at least a degree-holder, they do not exclude others as long as "they can hold a conversation". The firm generally accepts escorts between ages 21 to 32.
Most escorts belong to an agency that contracts escorts via outcalls (usually the customer's residence or a hotel) under the terms of providing social or conversational service.
But this invisible booming trade running underground belies the squeaky-clean and conservative society Singapore portrays to the world.
While escort agencies are considered legal, "extra" arrangements are out of their purview — a disclaimer note that some agencies have tactfully included on their website to avert legal liability. If an individual is found guilty of pimping, the person faces a maximum $10,000 fine and up to a five-year jail term.
The sheer profitability of this trade, however dodgy, is not stopping locals from earning these quick, fast bucks. One escort Yahoo! Singapore spoke to admitted she entered the industry part-time due to the attractive monetary rewards, especially if the assignment involves sponsored overseas trips.
Professor Zaheer Baber, a sociologist from the University of Toronto and co-author of a 2002 Singapore paper in British Journal of Sociology said, "This phenomenon in its various forms has existed since time immemorial, so to speak. It is unlikely that it will disappear."
Of Singapore's evolving culture, he added, "It is not that different from the global phenomena of many men and women who are more than willing to sell their principles, integrity or "soul" for a few bucks, sometimes mega-bucks."
Not just for the money?
Of course, not all the advertisers are local and some of them do it out for reasons other than monetary gain.
One person — let's call him Gregory — made a bodacious claim on his ad: "Be your man or woman". I raised a quizzical brow. If the photos are accurate, Greg is certainly no transsexual.
A young Spanish Filipino, Greg's personality and rock hard six-pack spells all Sunshine Boy. With his lopsided smile, his humble demeanor, you might guess he was a fitness trainer of sorts, though he is actually a full-time computer programmer who moved to Singapore a year ago.
For this gregarious youth though, the 9 to 5 job hardly sufficed. Abroad and alone, he found himself inordinately bored. "It's so boring I tend to do some leisure activities like sports as well," he told Yahoo! Singapore.
Greg was introduced to Craigslist two months ago, and listed his ad offering professional Swedish massage. A longtime hobby of his, Greg sought to learn massage professionally years ago.
But perhaps due to the nature of the site, and his boyish looks, he soon received requests for "extra" services. He obliged after some time.
His outcall rates are affordable — only $60 to $80 depending on the client's location, and $80 to $100 for 90 minutes inclusive of extra services. Escorts' services under an agency though fetch higher prices, usually at an average of $400. One of Singapore's male escort agency, Singapore Escort, charges from $120 to as high as $1,800.
When asked whether about the legality of his services, he replied, "I don't think this is legal but I am not soliciting. I am just offering massage to those who need it."
While prostitution in designated areas is legal, solicitation is not.
Like most escorts, none of his personal friends or family is aware of his moonlighting job.
Earlier this year, local actor Andie Chen was reportedly offered $20,000 if he were to act as a social escort. He turned the offer down. When surveyed, actor Dai Yang Tian said he would not even consider this as well, adding "It's all about dignity."
Based on the sheer volume of ads offering social escort services, some would probably disagree with that thought.
Deborah Choo used to write for an array of websites such as Youth.SG and The Online Citizen. She now blogs in her free time.