In the early days after I first arrived in Shanghai, on my way home from work I would take the Metro to various stops near my home and walk. It was a great way to get a better feel for the city, and exposed me to some rather odd and startling things. Riding the Metro was itself often a source of interesting things to see.
So it was a short time after I arrived that I found myself walking down a street in a quiet one summer evening (it’s Shanghai, where quiet is relative) residential neighborhood, with moms and dads strolling past with their children in tow. All of a sudden I saw it, right in the middle of all this wholesome family goodness, a small storefront window lit up bright with pink lights, and a group of scantily dressed young women sitting on stools and chairs looking bored.
Anywhere you go in the world you can find sex for sale. That’s not really news. But sex on display so openly, and in China no less. That is what was so shocking to see. Travel to Amsterdam and there’s the red light district with women beckoning you to join them. (I once inquired on pricing and was told by one particularly attractive worker, “100 Guilders for a suck and fuck.”) But this was something very different. So open, so nonchalant.
People living their lives right there, walking with their kids past the front door of the shop. Nobody batted an eye. Except the girls at men as they walked by.
Walking past the shop stirred a little activity, with several of the women smiling and waiving at me to go in. Not really my thing so I kept on walking. A few doors down I passed another shop. Then another. And another. There were in all 5 shops on this one block of this one street, just minutes from the Metro exit and the gates to people’s apartment buildings.
I did a bit of research online later that evening. There are a lot of streets like this all over Shanghai. I’ve ready that police and officials look the other way except around times of big events – like the World Expo a few years ago or when a new Premiere takes over as what happened in March 2013 – when the police tend to shut these places down for a short time. The video above actually shows 4 different shops from what I’ve already described.
For those interested in learning more about them, the term you’ll want to search for is BBS, which stands for Back of the Barber Shop (or Back room at the Barber Shop). Supposedly these establishments make themselves look like little barber shops. Maybe that’s how they used to look – they certainly don’t look that way anymore. If you search for BBS Shanghai you’ll end up finding other stuff about the availability of sex in China.
You can also read this article with the silly title: Traveler Warning: Prostitution in China. Why put together an article that basically tells guys where to look for sex, and then call it a warning? Maybe it’s a warning for wives and girlfriends? Here’s a “warning” for all the husbands and boyfriends: Sex in China – Quack doesn’t go the duck – Male prostitution flourishes