Interview with a Hong Kong Escort

It was 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when I arrived at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station in Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula. Meimei had texted me when I was still on the train, telling me she would be waiting at exit B1. When I got there I began looking for her among the crowds of passengers coming in and out of the station.

I wasn’t sure how she – a young Hong Kong escort girl – might look like. I had imagined her as extraordinarily beautiful. I thought she would have an aggressive, sexy outfit. Girls wearing hot clothes are a common sight on the streets of Hong Kong. I believed that an escort had to look sexier and prettier than average girls.
Picture of Meimei
When I finally found her, I was quite surprised. She was a normal, pretty and cute young girl. She was far from fitting my stereotype. She wore a simple white, short-sleeved top and light-blue mini-shorts. Her hair was dyed brown and her skin was remarkably white and smooth. She seemed to be the type of girl men would like to have as their girlfriend. Only her full lips – perhaps the result of plastic surgery – were somewhat at odds with her cute appearance. 

We shook hands. She avoided looking into my eyes. Her cheeks were slightly blushed. I realized that she was nervous. I hadn’t thought that an escort might feel agitated because of a simple interview. I suddenly became nervous, too. “Where should we go?” I asked her. She pointed at the exit, forced a smile and began walking without answering my question.

The idea of interviewing an escort girl came to me a few weeks before I travelled from Taiwan to Hong Kong. Recently I’ve been receiving more and more messages from girls on social network websites who at first seem to be interested in language exchange or friendship, and then turn out to be escorts. Some of them invited me to click on links with their pictures, some told me that their parents were experiencing financial difficulties and they were looking for a rich husband or boyfriend, others again plainly ask me if I “needed” them.

Particularly shocking to me was the case of a 21-year-old girl from Taipei who created a profile on a famous social network in order to advertise herself. She stated to be “a college student and a part-time prostitute.” She looked very young and cute. Her straight-forwardness about what she does for a living surprised me. I started thinking about what was on that girl’s mind, when she began doing this and how she felt about it.

I made some research online and found out that the phenomenon of college students working as prostitutes originated in Japan, where it is known as “enjo kosai”, or compensated dating. Enjo kosai isn’t exactly prostitution, because it doesn’t necessarily involve sex. It can be compared to what geishas do: they entertain, engage men in role play and stimulate the fantasy of their customers. Nevertheless, in practice compensated dating often ends in sexual intercourse. After a scandal in the 1990’s, Japanese and Western media became aware of the phenomenon, which soon spread to neighbouring countries, especially Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Girls who were interviewed mostly mentioned as their motive the desire for money, brand clothes and expensive electronic products such as mobile phones. At the beginning, telephone services were the commonest platforms to find girls for compensated datings. But it was with the rise of the internet and social media that the phenomenon of enjo kosai literally exploded. Girls just needed an internet connection to find as many clients as they wanted.

Taipei is said to be conservative and prude. However, when you observe it more carefully you realize that sex is all around, and it’s cheap to get. As I learnt from friends, there are webpages where young girls of exceptional beauty advertise their services. There are bars and massage parlours where you can get more than what the signboards suggest. There are plenty of illegal establishments in dark alleys that you can enter only through a friend’s recommendation. This secret world fascinated me, and I wanted to know what motivate these girls.

I found online a Hong Kong escort who speaks English – that would make it easier to interview her, since my Chinese is still not good enough. I wanted to ask her if she could do it for free, but then I changed my mind. Why should she do me a favour and expose herself publicly without any personal gain? I explained to her why I’d contacted her and asked for the price for one hour. Actually, I wasn’t expecting a reply. I did it rather for fun. I didn’t believe I’d ever come to the point of meeting her. A few days later, though, she sent me an e-mail.

She said that she wasn’t in Hong Kong at the moment (I was to find out later why), but she was kind enough to recommended me a friend of hers. “She can do it for you,” she said. I agreed, and after a couple of days I received another e-mail:

My name is Meimei, a friend of Lucy’s. I am a Hong Kong Chinese escort, I am standing at 160cm, size 8, 32B, milky white skin. I speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin and some English as well. When and where would you like to meet?

Apparently, she didn’t realize that I just wanted to ask her some questions, so I explained again what the purpose of our meeting was. She agreed, adding that she would give me a discount. I would pay 2000 HK, which is about 200 Euros. Still pretty expensive, but until now I think it was worth paying this price.

While we were walking I broke the ice, asking her a few questions. I was eager to show her that I had no bias. I was eager to understand her, but I didn’t want to judge her. I’d already read several articles about prostitution in Asia, and in the majority of them journalists seemed to have a condescending tone. That’s what I absolutely wanted to avoid.
After about ten minutes walk we arrived in front of a modern, shiny department store. We went to a Starbuck’s Coffee upstairs. I bought a coffee mocha for her and a cappuccino for me. Then I sat down next to her and we began to chat. I tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible, and after a while she started to open up to me.

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Meimei was born and grew up in Hong Kong. Her mother tongue is Cantonese. She can also speak Mandarin and English, two languages that are essential to communicate with her customers. To my great surprise, she told me that she was thirty years old. I was quite shocked. “I can’t believe it,” I said to her, “you look like twenty!” She laughed and thanked me.
Street in Tsim Sha Tsui
I asked her about her educational background. She said she didn’t have the chance to attend university because her parents didn’t have enough money to pay for her studies. She got a secretary certificate and began working to support herself in her early twenties. She worked at Hong Kong airport, then as a secretary.  

She detested her job, though. Like many other people in Asia, she had to work hard, but didn’t earn much. Furthermore, her boss’s attitude upset her. At that stage of her life she wanted to make more money. As far as I understood, she wasn’t really thinking of becoming a prostitute until the age of 26, when she and her boyfriend broke up. The turning point in her life, however, was when something happened to her parents, something that is very indicative of Hong Kong’s rising inequality.

A huge problem Hong Kong citizens are facing is the rise in housing prices. “As one of the most densely populated cities in the world with limited housing supply, average house prices have skyrocketed over 93 percent between 2006 and 2011 — making Hong Kong the world’s second-hottest property market, according to real estate consultancy Knight Frank.” Meimei’s parents owned a grocery shop, but with the rent of their shop rising year by year, they couldn’t afford it any more, so they had no choice but to close it. With no social security net, the financial situation of the family worsened dramatically. It was at that time that Meimei resorted to prostitution.

Some nightclubs in Hong Kong  are a sort of substitute for brothels, which under Hong Kong law are illegal. They are a grey zone that is hard to control effectively, and legislation seems to be designed to allow prostitution to flourish without making it too visible. It was at a nightclub in Kowloon that Meimei started to look for clients. It was there that she met her future “manager”. 
I became curious about him. I was wondering if he ever got violent, and above all, if she could quit her job without retaliation. Meimei said that she is totally free to quit whenever she wants.

“Do you like your job?” I asked her. She gave me a somewhat sarcastic smile and a prompt, decisive reply: “Yes.” Then she fell silent. I asked her why she liked her job. She laughed as though she considered my question naive. “Because of the money,” she answered.


Many people tend to assume that prostitutes must feel ashamed of what they do or find their job disgusting. Perhaps that is true in some, but not for everyone of them. Meimei didn’t seem to dislike her job much more than she disliked working in an office. Since I can’t read her thoughts I’ll simply trust her words.

She became quite enthusiastic while talking about her plans for the future. She said that she had already bought a flat and was planning to buy another one. After working for six more years she will be able to quit and “retire”, as she put it. As a matter of fact, being a high-class escort is very remunerative. If you consider that she earns 2000 HK (200 Euros) for one hour, she can make more than 10.000 HK (1000 Euros) in a single day. Given that she has one free day per week, she can make more than 300.000 HK (30.000 Euros) every month.

A major issue for escort girls is safety. Only a couple of days before I met Meimei, a prostitute had been brutally murdered in her flat in Yau Ma Tei. So I wanted to know where she works and if she feels safe.
“I work in my own apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui East,” she said. “Sometimes we go to a hotel close to the club. Sometimes to my clients’ place.”
I mentioned what had happened a few days earlier in Yau Ma Tei. “Do you take any precautions before you go to your flat alone with a man?” I asked. “After all, you don’t know what kind of people your clients are. They might be strange, violent. Especially if they’re drunk.”
She reassured me that she felt absolutely safe. Her customers are usually wealthy men who can spend money to go clubbing and pay for the drinks. Most of them are businessmen. She pointed out that her manager always keeps an eye on her and vouches for her safety.

“Can you choose your clients?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Can you refuse men you don’t like?”
“Yes.”
“Do you often refuse them?”
“No,” she replied with a smile. “I do it for the money.”
Meimei’s clients mostly come from the USA, Europe, Mainland China and Japan. According to her, the best clients are mainlanders. Most of them are rich and want to show off, so they are generous with her, giving her high tips and presents. 

I wanted to understand exactly how she felt after so many years working as an escort. It was hard for me to believe that she was absolutely happy with it and that she never thought about quitting.
“Have you ever felt you’ve had enough of your job?” I asked. “I mean, there must be clients you really don’t like. Aren’t you tired of this from time to time?”
She shook her head. “When I am working I just empty my mind.” She searched on her i-Phone for a word, then showed it to me. The word was “numbness”. “I don’t think of anything,” she added. “I do what I have to do, but I don’t feel anything at all.”
The ability to separate body and soul is what keeps her going. It is probably an inevitable reaction when your body becomes a mere consumption good.
“Did you ever like any of your clients?” I asked.
She said that there was a man, a rich Singaporean who used to go to Hong Kong and visit her every month. But their relationship didn’t last long. Besides, she didn’t want to move to Singapore. She loves Hong Kong and she wants to stay with her family.

I told her that I, on the contrary, love to live abroad and explore new places. She is completely different from me. It seems that it’s really hard for her to get used to a new environment and a new culture. Though she went travelling abroad and enjoyed it, she didn’t feel like moving somewhere else. Her friend Lucy, instead – the escort I had first contacted – lives in a Western country, where she is a university student. She spends six months in Hong Kong and six months abroad. She works as an escort in both countries. I’d like to know whether her fellow students in the West know about her profession.

Another reason why Meimei doesn’t want to leave Hong Kong is Asian “filial piety”. Her parents are old and she has to take acare of them. Indeed, she was surprised that I don’t mind leaving so far away from my parents. “Don’t you miss your family?” she asked. 

After broaching the subject of family, I had to ask her if her parents know about her job. She nodded. This time, I felt as if an expression of shame crossed her face for an instant. I had expected she would say they didn’t know. In reality, not only do they know but they also give her their moral support.
“How did you tell them?” I asked.
“I didn’t tell them,” she replied. “They found out by themselves.” She explained that after she started working as an escort, she often went back home late, smelling of cigarette and alcohol. And she always brought back home money. A lot of it.

It was about 6 p.m. when I told her that I had to leave because I had an appointment with a friend. Our conversation had lasted for about three hours. I was afraid she would charge me for the two more hours. Which she didn’t. Actually, she was really friendly to me.
“What are you going to do this evening?” I asked her. She said she would go home and watch TV. That’s what she does whenever she has time. She said she doesn’t have many friends. It seems that in many respects she has a quite lonely life. Being an escort makes her an outsider. She lost touch with her friends, and it’s hard to make new ones.

And she has given up the idea of marriage and love. The kiss of a man, a hug in the middle of the night, the secret bond of intimacy – what to most of us is warmth, tenderness, affection, is to her but a soulless routine.

She saw me to the exit of the department store and showed me how to go back to Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station. She didn’t come with me because she wanted to go and buy skin care products before returning home. She has to take good care of her appearance.

My impression of Meimei was mixed. I found her very nice and friendly. Even a little bit shy. She had a sweet smile and cute big eyes, and she seemed to have a gentle nature. What I saw and felt when I was with her is hard to reconcile with the negative perception I have of prostitution. One might be tempted to condemn her as a materialistic girl who sells her body out of sheer greed. After all, she doesn’t need to do this job to survive. She could have a normal job, socially more “respectable”, but with a much lower income.

But my instinct tells me I shouldn’t condemn her. After living in Asia for a year, I think I can understand her better than I might have when I was in Europe. In both Taiwan and Hong Kong I’ve observed how important money and material success are (I will talk about it in detail in later posts). Even in Taiwan, which is more equal than Hong Kong and definitely better-off than mainland China, there are plenty of people choosing their partners based on social status and wealth. Though one of the reason for this might be deep-rooted in social traditions, one factor that explains why money is so important is surely the lack of a comprehensive social security net. Whereas in Germany or in Sweden you never have to fear starvation, life in Asia can be a nightmare if you lose your job when you’re too old to find a new one, if you have an accident or get sick.

Hong Kong, this huge, densely populated city, with its immense, but unequally distributed wealth, its fashionable, modern city centre with glittering skyscrapers, which are in sharp contrast with the reality of squalid outskirts, subdivided flats, where people live in miserable cubicles, the shiny world of the rich and the gloomy world of the poor co-exist, next to each other, on a small piece of land. Isn’t it natural for the outcasts of this society to look up to the symbols of wealth that rise up to heaven and wish to get a share of prosperity and glamour? Is it so odd if someone who has endured the hardships of life and is left alone in her sorrow and everyday struggle for survival is willing to fight to achieve her goal? Poverty is too close not to fear it. Wealth is all too visible not to desire it.


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16 replies »

  1. The 'numbing' that MeiMei describes is called dissociation. Prostitution can be very stressful, even traumatic, work.

    “Dissociation occurs during extreme stress among prisoners of war who are tortured, among children who are sexually assaulted, and among women who are battered, raped, or prostituted. Dissociation in prostitution results from both childhood sexual violence and sexual violence in adult prostitution. At the same time, dissociation is a job requirement for surviving prostitution.” From http://prostitution.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000106

    If you are still interested in learning about prostitution, I suggest you first read http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/Cambodia%20Project%20Final.pdf
    Its disturbing but read it to the end. Men everywhere express the same attitudes, but maybe in a milder form. Once over the shock, read some of the other sections of http://www.prostitutionresearch.com.

    It could break your heart, but I can guarantee that you will never ever consider condemning MeiMei again.

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  2. @anonymous

    Thanks for your comments. Actually, I did not condemn Meimei, although I must admit that it's really hard for me to fully understand her lifestyle. I can't even imagine how one can live like that.

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  3. Meimei case is much better than the ones in Mainland China. At least, she has a future. In Mainland China, many girls are forced to be a prostitute by your relatives, and they have no future. They have to take drugs in the sake of so-called “dissociation”.

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  4. You said, “Poverty is too close not to fear it. Wealth is all too visible not to desire it.” I have a reply, “The root of all evil is money.”

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  5. @anonymous 1: I am not sure if “the root of all evil is money”. Premodern societies, where there is no money, are usually backward, with high mortality and widespread poverty. I don't think this would be an alternative to present-day economic and social order. I believe that a “humane” capitalism is possible, just look at Scandinavian countries or the West in general in the 1950s-80s.

    @anonymous 2: Haha, well, I didn't want to bargain with her. She was very nice and even talked to me for three hours for the price that we had agreed upon for just one hour. So, I think it's fair: )

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  6. @ anonymous

    I just browsed the internet and found her website. I sent her an e-mail and she said she didn't have time because she was abroad, so she asked Meimei to contact me.

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  7. This is really interesting, now we know the side of an escort girl that does this kind of job for living. This should be really stop. Innocent or young women should be treated well.

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  8. I am so taken aback in your last sentence. Wealth is too close not to desire it. Asians never have enough sense of financial security.

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  9. It's intriguing that the author and some of those commenting here speak as if prostitution is something as inconceivable and far-fetched to them as heaven and hell. I hope this is not too much of a shock but the fact is — prostitutes are everywhere in every part of the world. Yes, and that includes continental Europe, the U.S, Canada, Australia, U.K and… you name it. In case people are not buying it, look on Craglist and you'll find hundreds of women selling you a quick fix for a little over a 100 bucks. It's startling that people here sound like they are nobel men and women of Victorian Britain having a conversation on the moral and social backwardness they witness during a recent trip to the far east.

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  10. yes it was a good read, I would struggle to contain myself is disassociating the negativity with prostitution and still analyse the topic in a non judgemental way, well done.

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