Hornbill Unleashed

October 5, 2009

China dolls in Cat City, miew!

By Sim Kwang Yang

kutching-cat-statueI have just returned to my Cheras home after about a week’s visit to my home town of Kuching.  This time around, home coming was a very ambiguous experience.

Of course, I used to know Cat City inside out, having lived there most of my life, and served three terms as the MP of the people there.  One grows deep roots in the local community that way.  It is a small town of about half a million where everybody knows personally or hears of everybody else anyway.

All the good things about Kuching have remained unchanged.

The old city centre has not changed much.  The people are still very friendly, and racial alienation does not exist.  The weather is really agreeable, and a bowl of kolok mee still costs RM2.50.  There is no traffic jam to speak of, though local drivers complain about the worsening traffic — they have not lived and worked in KL.  Parking is never any problem, and the parking fee is something like 20 cents per hour.

The roads and public spaces are empty most of the time.  You will never see the kind of international mad crowd in KL city centre.  Foreign workers are few and far between.  People in this city have the time and space to be nice to one another.

The newspapers are unreadable, but that is nothing new.

padungan niteThere has indeed been nothing new in Kuching for a long time, and that stands out after I have stayed in KL, where nothing stands still.  The only change in Kuching is that there are a few tall new buildings, some monstrous luxury hotels, and housing estates sprawling up country, all the way to rural Batu Kawa and Muara Tuang.

But I am happy Kuching has not changed that much.  Ironically, that is also a sad reflection that Sarawak has not had much socio-economic development.  No wonder so many Sarawak youths are now joining an exodus to Singapore and West Malaysia in search of better job prospects.

But Sarawak has also changed in some ways.

The taxi driver who took me from the hotel to the Kuching Airport was a man in his 50s, old enough to recognise my face.  Like most taxi-drivers, he struck up a cosy conversation with me like long-time friends who have never separated, as is the Kuching way.

I asked him about the girls from China, since as a taxi driver, he would know such things intimately.

“Ah,” he proclaimed enthusiastically, “They were not here when you were here.  This is the new big trend in Kuching now.  There must be over 100 massage parlours now, in Kuching, and at least 1000 of these Little Dragon Girls working in them and in hotels.”

I ventured my own information gleaned from the legendary coffee shops.  “I heard there are 195 massage parlours, and 3000 Chinese girls from mainland China enter Sarawak every month!  They are now the hottest commodities in our town!”

18608He said, “I am not sure about the exact number of these China dolls.  But there must be thousands.  They stay in their favourite hotels, like GC, FP and PH for a few nights and then they move.  They have local agents to look after them and procure clients for them.”

At night, after mid-night, these girls descend on a few local eateries in hoards after work.  They are crazy about eating crabs.  Apparently, back in China, crabs are beyond the means of poor villagers.

“The massage parlours can be very large, made up of from three to six shop houses.  I think the fee is from RM50 to RM60 per session to well over RM100, depending on the duration and the package of service you choose.  The girls in most legitimate places offer above-board massage services, but they must have negotiated private deals with their regular customers on the side.”

Then he told me, “I used to send them here and there.  They go in a group and they talk Mandarin, and I hear all their conversation.  Sometimes I send them to the money changers and banks and discuss how much they are remitting money home to China.”

“They can send up to RM10,000 to RM20,000 back to China!’  I gasped.

This taxi driver was apparently keen to share his trade secret with his long-lost ex-MP friend, and more revelations were coming forth.

He said, “These girls may look glamorous and all that.  But they all have husbands and children back in China.  They sit at the back of my cab and discuss how their husbands and children are doing back home in the Chinese village.”

“Some of them have very rich “Chai Tao” (vegetable head), meaning “sugar daddy”. They would sit in my cab and call their man, and said, “Lao Gung (meaning “Abang” or “husband”, I have no clothes to wear.  My fridge is empty.”  Then the man would send her a few hundred Ringgit.”

“Sometimes the rich sugar daddy would fly in from Miri or Sibu, and spend a night or two with this China doll, and return to his regular life again.”

I asked, “Has any family been wrecked by these China dolls?”

“Of course,” he replied, “but you know how it is.  Many of the Chinese men who patronise these China dolls know how to wipe their mouth after curi makan.”

We did not discuss why the police and immigration people in Sarawak are so blind to this obvious social anomaly in Sarawak.  We are Sarawakians, and we know Sarawak well.  By that time, my cab had arrived at the Kuching International Airport anyway.  The fare was RM25.

I went to the Immigration counter, where a young Malay lady in a tudung asked for my immigration slip.  I told her I was an Anak Sarawak.  She looked at my IC again, and with the sweetest smile and the best Mandarin that you can find in Malaysia. She said sorry and wished me a good journey.”

That is Sarawak for you, unique, pleasant, quaint, and yet ambiguous always.

End 🙂



  1. Just read your articles on kuching…..proud to hear that you still declare yourself as Sarawakian or anak Sarawak……keep it up Sir
    Well….China Doll story…..would like to hear from you again….Maybe part 2…😁

    Comment by Fendi — January 12, 2018 @ 9:42 PM | Reply

  2. It is very sad about the china dolls but nobody can do this by their wish surely there would be some problem after that.

    Comment by natural12 — June 24, 2011 @ 12:30 PM | Reply

  3. i have travelled many times to sarawak..kuching , miri and sibu and find the life in these towns peaceful and harmonious. travel is not too expensive and yes enjoying to the peace of mind which you want in your travels. as for the chinese dolls, surely everybody need a good massage after a tired days travel. adios..

    Comment by isuib — May 11, 2010 @ 5:40 PM | Reply

  4. “Massage parlours are common everywhere and the people needed to offer their services should’nt be seen as doing anything sinister as for a lot of poor people, it’s a way of making a decent living to provide for their families.”(terry, comments to “China dolls in cat city Miew” article)

    What is pernicious in this ‘reasoning’ is the view that massage palour biz or prostitution is not to be viewed as sinister. According to terry and others who see it as such, these parlours are everywhere, and they are offering “services” and should not be seen as a “decent way” of making a living. Allow me to present three reasons as to why i see the increase of “china dolls” and parlour biz. firstly, it stems from a deep seated mindset within the terry’s out there. it is a worldview and justification that prostitution is a normative “service” industry. In other words, these china doll girls are from a poor impoverished background, they offer services – its a transaction, one that “helps” them in their financial predicament, and one that

    Secondly, it is a manipulation. One that subscribes to the philosophy and culture that sanctions and support young women who face poverty to prostitute themselves in countries and amongst peoples of Asian and non-Asian communities so that they may have an opportunity to themselves support their families, husbands and children in China. Such manipulation is subtly replaced by an ethically eclipsed system of utilitarian values. In other words, young chinese women from regions beset with poverty are paying for their keep and even aid their economy by having more to send back home. Utillitarian values superseed personal worth or objective reality.

    Thirdly, it is a market-driven momentum. Sarawakians are responsible for the choices they make. Are they going to be driven by a market-driven culture that instutionalises young “china doll” women as prostitutes part of development? Will the way forward and upward mobilty be at the expense of losing our inhibitions over thoses trying to make a “decent living” as some would suggest, or is there something of greater value within cat city. The tension between mindsets, manipulation and the market seem to be an unending one. It takes a a different breed of cat to go against the flow of utilitarianism.

    Comment by Xavier Gomez — February 11, 2010 @ 12:48 PM | Reply

  5. blame the men who spent their hard earned money on vices. human are beast by nature.

    Comment by terry — October 11, 2009 @ 10:04 AM | Reply

  6. As former Kuchingites now living in Brisbane,our family of four were really amazed at the tremendous development happening in and around the city.A requirement for emerging cities constitutes having the amenities required by it’s citizens and the tourists who ,because of the lower fares being offered these days are coming in droves.Massage parlours are common everywhere and the people needed to offer their services should’nt be seen as doing anything sinister as for a lot of poor people, it’s a way of making a decent living to provide for their families.We really enjoyed our couple of weeks in Kuching and the shopping is awesome.

    Comment by Wing Yaw — October 10, 2009 @ 9:16 PM | Reply

  7. If a greatness of a city can be defined by level of learning,art and architecture,music and general quality of life,then Kuching will be rated very low.there is not even a decent book store or a concert hall.Kuching as many will rightly call a literacy desert.kuching in some ways has changed these days.Gone are the days of less cars,cleanliness.Massage parlour sprouting everywhere,.men spend more on massage fees and bring less food and money home.Youths are pining their lives away.Education institutions employed KAI NA SAI lecturers who are no better than you and me.

    Comment by hgwells — October 10, 2009 @ 11:15 AM | Reply

  8. Sarawak is peaceful and a very pleasant state to live in. Indeed I am proud to live in Sarawak where I can sit down at a Chinese eatery and eat the Chinese food in front of a Muslim friend who enjoy his kopi-O. Hypocrisy is foreign in Sarawak. I hope that Sarawak will remain as friendly and pleasant always. But if we continue ethnic based political parties continues to rule the day and politicians are power crazy things are changing to a going down the road it does in West Malaysia.

    Comment by PNJ Itu — October 10, 2009 @ 1:25 AM | Reply

  9. Where there is demand there must be supply. Seems Sarawakians are all very promiscuous and also it must be the good CRABS hahaha that we have in Kuching. The point however is how come the influx..Check out audie61.wordpress.com for continuation of the authorities making BUMPER CRAB catch.Dont tell anyone Ok??

    Comment by audie61 — October 6, 2009 @ 4:46 PM | Reply

  10. Its a pity that girls from china are ” labelled “. The Stigmatisation is a little unfair to them.

    I went for massage too and the girl who provided the service last weekend is just over 15 years old. She deligently did her work ,and later i saw her went to the back of the shop and opened her “packet rice” and finished the bits of the food left.

    Is she eating packet rice everyday ? Ya, Away from her home, from the home cooked rice and dishes by her mummy.

    A pity that at such a young age , she has to work to sustain her family. I do think they are very filial children and i do feel for them.

    And i do not think there are any parents who are willing to let their young daughters travel across the oceans to find work if there is comfort at home?

    Comment by Jasmine sarawak — October 6, 2009 @ 3:23 PM | Reply

    • Agree 🙂

      Comment by V Yap — October 6, 2009 @ 9:23 PM | Reply

      • Agree, Sarawak is unique and pleasant, nice land. I really like the PLACE. Other than that, I have not yet found any answer.

        Comment by V Yap — October 6, 2009 @ 9:54 PM | Reply

    • A reasonable and sensible comment.

      Comment by V Yap — October 6, 2009 @ 9:29 PM | Reply

  11. i hope these China dolls won’t eat up all the crabs … me & frens goind there in 3 weeks time … any recommendation for the best (cheap & good) seafood outlet? wat are the good golf courses in meow city?

    Comment by pinsysu — October 6, 2009 @ 9:43 AM | Reply

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