17A Keong Saik Road: Tea Session With Author Charmaine Leung

17A Keong Saik Road

For those who have memories of Keong Saik Road in the 70s and 80s, this book will be a most welcome read as it takes you down memory lane and allows you a glimpse into the life of a young girl whose mother managed a brothel at 17A Keong Saik Road back then. For those, like me, who were born in the 80s or later, this book is a revelation: who knew that Keong Saik was a red light district, or that some Ma Jie had female lovers? It’s definitely an eye-opening read and a very easy one (you’ll complete the book in 1 or 2 sittings). I get the sense, though, that as it reveals, it also attempts to hide. And it’s puzzling for me as I think there is no shame at all in being the daughter of a brothel operator (or even being the operator herself). So I went to the tea session with the author, hoping to get some answers. But it was in what was not said, that I had my questions answered.

Tea with Charmaine Leung

Thanks to Ethos Books for arranging the session (Pic credit: Ethos Books – IG)

A couple who were the last to show up asked Charmaine which estate her mom is living in now. Charmaine’s answer was that yes, her mom stays in Singapore. (But we already knew / suspected that) The dude pressed on, and mentioned a certain estate to which Charmaine was evidently taken aback and queried him on how he knew. I do not think he’s from the CID or anything like that. It’s just that people get more inquisitive as they get older. And a straightforward answer will usually shut these people up. The more evasive you are, the more they want to dig deeper.

So I’m guessing the topic of her mother is unwelcome. I HAD wanted to know what her mom really thought about Charmaine’s publishing of this book, as she did not want people to know she managed a brothel back when Charmaine was still in school. Has she gotten over that hurdle herself? That managing a brothel was supposedly shameful?

Charmaine herself seemed a little less open compared to some of the other authors I’ve met before, including her friend Magic Babe Ning whom I have interviewed in the past. In her book, Ning was very open to sharing about her female partners in the past (including the scuffle and whatnot) but stopped short at revealing her current partner’s name and what he/she does. Ning is a joy to meet in person as she radiates happiness and warmth. Charmaine’s a little more guarded, making me feel self-conscious and probably needing to check if I happen to have two daggers with me which are putting her on edge.

Charmaine did reveal that writing this book took about 3 years as she also had her job to work on, and after meeting several publishers, she picked Ethos Books. None of us were kaypoh or brave enough to ask her about her love life. I did have a question as she had mentioned in her book that there was no permanent male figure in her life. But I suppose that isn’t a good question, even for another time. So I asked why she picked this particular publisher. Lame question, I know.

What I did learn from this session is that there are still some brothels functioning at Keong Saik Road (numbers 6 and 8; on the upper levels, I believe). Also, that Kok Sen supposedly has good zi char, and that when you send out your wish to the Universe, it replies in marvelous ways. This book’s first print run has already sold out. And Lonely Planet has just named Keong Saik Road as #4 on its list of Best Places To Visit In Asia 2017. So I’m guessing the next couple of print runs will sell out as well!