National Geographic : 2012 Jun
• advertise their services on Internet sites where they are rated by their customers, who in this building, on this day, will pay $60 for 40 minutes. Upstairs, I nd a woman willing to talk, if not give her name. "A er paying rent, I make over $100,000 a year," she says in a Betty Boop voice, standing in a pink negligee of plunging décolletage in a room with oor-to-ceiling mir- rors and a wet bathroom oor a er yet another shower between clients. "Since doing this work, I've bought three apartments for my family," she says proudly. Doing the math, one realizes that, for better or worse, she's a busy woman. And comparing this world to the misguided Hollywood portrait of exotic seediness and found love conjured in a lm like e World of Suzie Wong ("With you, it's di erent," Suzie, the prostitute, tells William Holden's character. "I feel something in heart."), one also realizes that the most intimate act is just another transaction in a city of transactions, a service rendered in 40-minute clips, money ex- changed, investments employed, money made to make more money---and sent back home to the family on the mainland. IN NO OTHER MONTH does the ghost of China loom over Hong Kong more than in June. e anni- versary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown--- June 4, 1989---is Hong Kong's own symbolic 9/11. Coming as it did in the years just before the handover, the massacre of hundreds of protesters sent a chill howl through the colony, casting the Chinese government as a jackbooted police state willing to go to extremes to crush any claim to freedom of expression. In the fashionable Causeway Bay district of the city, on the concrete plaza in front of Times Square, Sam Wong, 22, stands beneath mas- sive banner ads of George Clooney sporting an Omega watch and supermodels striking sexy poses. Wong wears a white T-shirt that reads, "Freedom Now!" in English and a declarative headband reading, "Hunger Strike!" in Chinese. Already stick-thin with a spray of stubble on his chin, Wong is 24 hours into his 64-hour hun- ger strike to mark the Tiananmen anniversary. He is joined by 18 other youthful protesters in an improvised tent city replete with brochures and sing-alongs that include lyrics calling for China to be more democratic and to release im- prisoned political dissidents. Shoppers stream past, barely taking note. Yet the evening before, a large group of mainland tourists stopped to watch a documentary about Tiananmen Square, viewing scenes of the mas- sacre under a JumboTron of movie trailers. Af- terward a group stayed to talk, some claiming they'd just learned for the rst time what actually happened, others politely questioning what they took to be the protesters' antigovernment ver- sion of events. "We're not afraid of people with di erent ideas," says Wong. "We're worried that the police will overuse their power and arrest us, that they'll squelch our right to free speech." is is an idea that gets expressed repeatedly in Hong Kong these days: the unpredictability of the authorities, who many believe are simply puppets for the hidden intentions and direc- tives of their masters in Beijing. Despite China's promise of "one country, two systems," which guarantees Hong Kong's right to an autonomous political and economic system until 2047, resi- dents cringe at the specter of China's control, limiting the freedoms and freewheeling ways of the past, imposing its will, subsuming what is quintessentially di erent about Hong Kong, and recasting the city in its image. Today gangsters are more interested in their investment portfolios than in risking their lives in a shoot-out.