Its about 9.20pm and a slight rainfall dampens the air.
Traders along Petaling Street in Chinatown are bereft of their usual high traffic of shoppers. Their spirit however is sheltered to fight another day… afterall, this is one of their common susceptibilities. From a cluster of tightly packed vendors, someone yells out in Cantonese -“Why must it rain?!”
Tonight I was hoping to gain some insights to street prostitutes operating in Chinatown. If you look closely, they are along the fringes of Petaling street – particularly on the southern end, closer to ATC Law College. The covered pedestrian walkways in front of the old colonial shophouses are rife with hookers.
For weeks now I had been wanting to check out the upstairs of an old shophouse used by the prostitutes. Thats how I met Anna. A lady from Johore in her late 40s. (In fact, all the women working out of this shophouse are older veterans…. in the twilight years of their careers.)
I agreed to rm20 for a suck and fuck. She ushered me up a set of narrow wooden stairs. Light was streaming down from the landing area upstairs. The air suddenly felt so old. I watch as her moving silhouette cast an incredible picture against the shady green walls along the steep narrow stairs. How I wished I had my camera out….but I had to be patient. I cannot allow them to feel threatened. I have to win their confidence and trust.
An elaborately adorned red chinese alter greeted me as I stepped on the wooden landing. There were two other working girls…(also late in their years) and an old chinese man on a stool… I was lead into a 6×6 sq ft room partitioned by thin old wooden boards with an open ceiling. Seriously, every breath you take can be heard!
Anna closed the door and asked me to pay first. She asks for an extra rm1 for the room charge. Then droped it into a half cut mineral bottle. She didn’t flinch when i declined to have sex. I asked some questions and as expected she felt uncomfortable. Within minutes she was asking me to hurry. In between my ‘getting to know her session’ she had to answer a call from her son (whom she says is the reason why she keeps this job)
I ask for permission to take a photo of the room. She agrees but rushes me. I took what i could, remembering that the old man outside may become suspicious at the volume of talking that transpired. Anna leaves the room… I didn’t want her to do that yet…but left with no choice. I asked myself…do I risk it and go out the door with my camera? or play it easy and come back another day (as i have to anyway)
I walked out of the room with camera safely in my bag. The old man wasn’t there! I had the entire landing to photograph, including the beaming alter and other working girls… But Anna had already started going down the stairs. She was hurrying me to follow. Inside, I cringed at my missed opportunity.
This is the start….I tried to make a deal with Anna downstairs. It was a loose verbal agreement, but she will try and help me another time. The old man was lingering around. He looked at us suspiciously. I might have to appear in slight disguise the next time…ha ha ha
So the story on Chinatown prostitutes will start from here. Last night was the first of a series of ground work needed to document something.
The pictures will come….I hope :)
Filed under: China Town, Kuala Lumpur, Photography, Photojournalism | 20 Comments »