Monday, June 28, 2010

new faces, old faces

I met with some women from Indonesia who recognised me from last week's outreach. She smiled at me and this time, I had a much easier conversation with the women. I did not feel hesitant like last week. I had soap with me and was giving this out liberally. One of the women asked if I have face masks to give away for free. YL felt we were like a mobile convenient store. 

Before we met with the Indonesian women, I had an intimate chat with J. She goes to work in a cab and goes home in a cab too. I asked her if this is costly and her reply was that she prefers it that way as she is not sure about the alighting stops near her home. I thought this was strange considering if you live in a neighbourhood for a long time that you find out about the nearest MRT or bus stops.

We moved on and met with a young Bangladeshi woman. She is new in Singapore and this seems to be a common sight with the Bangladeshi women. I have not recognized any of the Bangladeshi women from other outreach days. They are not regulars of Geylang. A Bangladeshi man was nearby to help us translate. He said that he was visiting a friend in Geylang but we don't think so. The Bangladeshi woman said she is Christian, she has a bindi on her forehead. I don't believe that she is Christian, she could be Muslim in the guise of being Christian.

In Lorong 16, we met with the transgender women. One of them does not look transgender but more like an Indian Muslim. She spoke in Malay and took the soap from me. She asked her friends in Malay if this is for washing the genitals. Jo, the volunteer said, he would arrange for some feminine wash someday. It seems like this could be a need for some. We don't know. However, the needs are varied. One transgender woman asked us why we do not distribute condoms to the men. She emphasized that as a sex worker she calls for her clients to use condoms otherwise she does not service their business.

One other important lesson I've had to remind myself last night was to not hesitate and speak to sex workers. I have to refrain from staring and smile more. I had an encounter where a Singaporean Malay sex worker felt offended by me staring at her. She declared unhappily to the other volunteers to tell me not to stare at her. I felt ashamed for having done so and thought about this more. I hesitated with Singaporean sex workers who are non-transgenders because I don't know if they will mind me talking to them. It seems as if I am used to the foreign women and transgenders but there are a group of women who are working on a different street which may not have the same feel as the other streets. I remember being bullied by some Malay students in my secondary school for having stared at them. Jo said my big eyes are too piercing for them and it is further enhanced with the lack of a smile. 


Monday, June 21, 2010

21st june 2010: the revival

i've been away from geylang for a long-time. the last outreach was in february 2010. i think some new developments happened ever since. one such development was an article about migrant sex workers on special passes or social visit passes being abused by customers. YL and JG gave their take on the matter.

last night, me and 2 other volunteers able to converse in malay tried to approach the indonesian women. it was hard getting rejected but i was not that surprised. what i felt was that the women hang small plastic bags on the wired fences and this bag contain condoms. i guess they would leave that bag behind if the raids happened. it could look like a harmless piece of trash hung on a fence to the police officers. 

the PRC women were ready to take the condoms. they spread the word amongst themselves too and each peered into our bags grabbing as much as they want. the women keep the condoms in a plastic bag too stashed away in a nearby green bush. i loved discovering these subtle hideouts which i think is a smart strategy to evade police officers who search their bags only to become suspicious of them when condoms are found. 

i met with 3 bangladeshi women. there was a bangladeshi man who happens to be someone i know of. he used to work in singapore and got into employment disputes. but i felt suspicious because he seemed to know the women and may have been their caretaker or pimp. when i asked if he is friends with the women, he said that he lives nearby geylang and knows the women because they often come to him for help. i did not know if he was telling me everything. one of the women approached him and smeared his faced teasingly but he spoke in bengali to her sternly. well, i was not convinced of his presence there to be incidental.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

february one time outreach

I have been slacking on outreach efforts. Largely due to my current thesis for school. However, I got a call from YL who needed help for a one-time outreach during Chinese New Year. She brought chocolates to give away and we went to Lorong Bachok, a first encounter for me.

this is a summary of the experience through an email exchange.

 we went to lorong bachok where i met sex workers from china. they payj a fee to work here to the gangsters who sit around the same area. they are charged $10 for the first time and subsequently $5 to work at that street. the women don't go to other streets in geylang because they are afraid of being caught. the women are on special pass and not able to find jobs at the ministry of manpower's temporary job scheme for some reason. on this street, the women don't get hassled by the police and have some protection from the gangsters. but the gangsters charge them $2 for a packet of condom when they can get it at $1 outside. YL is very friendly with the women so they know who she and hui sien are. they have her number to call when they need check-ups or advice to on cases. she's been bringing some of them to MOM as well. new paper covered project X recently.
the article on project X as appeared on the new paper, 31st Jan 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

21st Dec 2009

This evening, YL has visitors. Two students from NUS who have expressed interest in Project X. They wish to find out just how the project works and what sort of needs are left open for their involvement. One of them will be inviting YL to a seminar next year in NUS to speak about the issues faced by sex workers. We split up into two groups - one to approach street walkers another group to approach the brothels.

These are positive developments. Now back to Geylang. It was almost empty. We walked through our usual route and spoke to a few residents of the place termed as 'caretakers' of the women. They shared about police raids for the day and that it was 'Botak's' turn to scour the streets of Geylang. Botak is apparently a feared officer, known for his brusque tactics and hungry need to clear the streets of Geylang of 'illegal' activities. The caretakers are wary of him. They told us to pack up and leave for home for there is little we can do tonight. We perservered still and was thankful to the caretakers for the useful information.

We did chat up a few times with some of the sex workers in the area. During de-brief, we heard about the accessibility of the other group who went to the brothels. They shared about how one feels being stared at and mistaken as a sex worker or a potential one. This makes women who volunteer uncomfortable. I quite agree and this is a real situation in Geylang. That women here could be mistaken as sex workers and this makes them feel violated.

To side-track, I should share about the exhibition put together as a tribute to the experience I've had during my brief short period of volunteering. The pictures and objects we laid out well enough. The red lighting illuminated the space and one comment from a fellow artist who had his works put up too, was that looking into the exhibition space, you might mistake the red lighting to be similar to the ones you often see in brothels.

The artist talk for me was a struggle. I was confronted by artists who question whether my works are a form of social activity that lacks aesthetic quality. I don't necessarily disagree with these critics who are practicing artists or art students. I do think art is aesthetics to some and to some it's a form of social action. I hope to find a common ground between the two some day. For now, the exhibition has been extended to 3rd January at Post-Museum which is good news to hear!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

account with police

this was written by someone else. i am re-posting this. all names have been changed.

hi folks,

just like to share with you about my encounter with the police last night, sha was also with me and the whole incident was pretty amusing.

last night we were standing along Lor. 16 and talking to Lisa (a transgender sex worker) around 8pm when the police van entered Lor. 16. the driver shouted "Lady Boy" at Lisa, and then the van stopped. 3 police officers came out, one chinese, one indian and one malay (so multi-racial in their raids). they walked towards us and said to Lisa: "are they your school friends?" this question was asked repeatedly and i was a little annoyed coz the implication was "has Lisa attended school"? i didn't say anything, and they asked elle for her IC, Lisa obliged. and then they asked us for our IC. this time i said firmly, i am a social worker. they were a little taken aback and didn't press us for our IC. the malay police officer asked us to go away, and i parted with "be gentle, don't be rough".

during that short period of time, my mind was racing, what should i do? should i go against everything? (i can be very nasty if needed) or should i not waste my energy on small fries like them? i chose not to waste my energy coz if this issue of police treatment needs to be addressed, i reckon we should go to higher ranks to negotiate, not talk to small fries who only take orders from the higher level. of course it's annoying to see low ranking people throw their weight around but i reckon we don't need to get upset and "beat the grass but frigthen the snake" (chinese proverb).

i comforted myself by thinking at least some of them know there are people around who work for the sex workers.

quite an interesting encounter with the police.

A few weeks back, I met with Savithri (not her real name) who had been hit in the eye with a lighter from her ex-boyfriend. She now has to undergo surgery to regain the use of her right eye. She cannot open her eye lid much less see from her right eye. Savithri does not have enough in her Medisave account to pay for her treatment. She is seeking help on this. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I was outraged to hear of an incident that happened on Friday night. A police officer had kicked a sex worker who fled to a room. She was kicked on the back and she reported project X that there is a shoe mark on her blouse. She was arrested at 6pm and released at 10:30pm the same night. Project X asked that she takes a snapshot of this shoe print for documentation.

When asked about reporting her experience to the police, she told Project X that she does not feel confident to do so for fear of future consequences. This is understandable for who knows what past experiences of other sex workers who faced the same treatment got out of reporting their abuse stories.

When facing trauma such as assault, it is natural for victims to not want any trouble thereon. It is this important information that many fail to see. Instead, we (the non-victims) question why the victim does not want to make a report. As a community of concerned individuals, we know what needs to right or wrong. And we suggest ways to solve issues that are logical and can be implemented immediately. But we fail to consider the comfort level of victims, the need to give them space and provide safety first and the need to be sensitive.

Learning from this incident made me realise we can work on some basic knowledge. The intention would soley be for the purpose of figuring out what to do after an incident.

Things to note:

1. Victims of assault must not be rushed to think of a solution.
2. A safe space should be an option eg: a listening ear, visit to the doctor.
3. Research and adding knowledge to the case workers is helpful than passing loose judgments.
4. Discussing as volunteers on what to do when faced with similar situations is good for preparation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

volunteer meeting and the 2 day rule

Project X held a volunteer meeting last night. there were about 10 or so who came. some plans ahead would be to host a blog, flyers with info to help sex workers from other countries. a mission and objective was concretized last night - that project x focus on the welfare of sex workers and work towards their betterment. this objective was accepted by the group, giving it a clear framework to touch base on when in doubt. it is still vague as to what betterment and welfare entails but generally, on a macro scale it helps others to point to a direction even though the road ahead has many turns still before reaching the final destination. I was pleased on this development. I contributed my opinion based on what I feel should be a focus. Access to justice such as the law is one thing I've been seeking answers for. I wondered what kind of legal protection do sex workers have if they need protection against pimps or customers who violate their rights. And considering we've heard testimonials of sex workers harrassed or dealt with unfairly by police officers, how do they seek protection from such abuses in future. To whom should they turn to and to what extent can they seek for justice.

We then proceeded to talk about Sunday's Mid-Autumn festival gathering. YL reversed the idea of giving to one which is contemporary in nature. Instead of us giving to sex workers, why don't sex workers give to us. What would they be giving? A homecooked meal. Sex workers would cook and share their spoils with volunteers. I am unable to attend this but I am sure it would be a hearty meal nonetheless.

Later that night, we visited Geylang to catch up with some administrative needs. We didn't have anything to give, condoms or biscuits because it is with one of the volunteers. I don't understand why he keeps the bag of goodies with him and not bring it along. Sigh!

We met with the usual friends. Increasingly I am getting tired of some of their woes. A particular J whose stories are making him go round and round. And the increasingly annoying moments I've had where people just speak Mandarin and not care about engaging me into their conversations. All I got to do was stand around and try to pick up whatever Mandarin I could. I find this a terrible habit Singaporeans have - to no include others in their conversations based on common grounds and based on the fact that it's easier to speak in a certain language. And Singapore wants more foreigners to live here? How can we do that when we don't even respect each other as Singaporeans from diverse backgrounds.

Ok so I rant. Let's now touch on what I've learnt.

For the past months, there have been a common thread arising out of the police raids that happen. Two types of police officers would raid the space and they're considered the leader of the pack of police officers. One is Botak  which I presume is an Indian guy. Filled with moral rage and conscious need to right what is wrong in society, he makes his appearance for two days. He is considered to be quite ruthless for he likes to use vulgarities. The other is called Malay and no second-guessing what race he is. Malay likes to pull hair and once he pulled the wrong hair of a Singaporean woman, not a sex worker. He was reprimanded for it and J seems to think he's mild down. Both Botak and Malay comes for two days and then rest for another two days before reappearing again. This means, Geylang's business would not operate for 2 days and then resume for the next 2 days.