News @ AsiaOne

Korean receptionist was lured here by 'talent scout'

'Snowy', 25, here on a work pass, claims she freelances for modelling to social escort jobs that sometimes come with extra services. -TNP
Maureen Koh

Tue, Apr 23, 2013
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - Last week Charlene Pang Siew Ting was jailed four months for being part of an online vice ring. Pang is the latest to go to jail for working with foreign agents to bring in women to work as prostitutes here. The New Paper on Sunday speaks to two "international acts" on what lures them here.

Even before she struts up to the table where we are seated, our eyes are drawn to the tall, slim and pretty South Korean woman who has just walked in through the coffee shop entrance.

She is dressed in a white, see-through top paired with a short, red skirt and a pair of black platform shoes. Striking as it is, she tells us later that this is not her work attire.

She approaches the team that includes an interpreter, stretches out her hands and introduces herself in halting English, with a Korean-accented drawl: "I'm Snowy. Nice to meet you."

The New Paper on Sunday team had called several telephone numbers listed on various online sites before we finally decided on meeting her.

We were told we had to pay $250 cash for just a 45-minute chat.

Snowy - she prefers to be known by the booking moniker she uses for her services - is willing to talk about her stint as an "everything freelancer" on the condition that we do not use her real name.

The 25-year-old, who is here on a work pass, claims that she freelances for modelling to social escort assignments that sometimes come with extra services.

Modelling is a "must do" because of her work permit.

"I don't have a choice but I don't really like it because I get paid very little," she says.

She makes about $300-$350 for each four-hour photoshoot session for magazines and sometimes, publicity material for Korean retail stores.

The real money, she confesses, comes from the social escort assignments that take up "almost 90 per cent of my time".

Her profile is available on at least three different websites, even though she has registered with only one agent.

Snowy deflects questions on the agent with "don't ask me details about him" and claims that he works back home in South Korea in the capital Seoul.

"I don't want any trouble. I am not even giving you my new mobile number, which I'm getting after this interview," she says.

She first met the Singaporean "ajusshi" (uncle in Korean) when she was working as a receptionist in a gift shop in Busan, South Korea's second largest metropolis after Seoul, about three years ago.

She says: "He told my colleagues (at the gift shop) and me that he was a talent scout based in Seoul.

"He asked if we were interested in coming to Singapore to work as models, or even actresses."

Snowy admits that she was attracted to the possibility of earning "at least $4,000 a month".

My big hope? Leave escort work here for showbiz

Her job as a receptionist paid only about $1,600.

She discussed it with her then-boyfriend, who agreed that the opportunity would hasten their money-saving process.

"We had planned to get married the next year, and we felt that the money I'd make would mean we could possibly buy an apartment," recounts Snowy.

Six months later, she arrived in Singapore and was taken right away to a photo studio.

There, she had to change into four sets of outfits - a nurse's uniform, a red slip dress, a tube-top-and-shorts combo and a white evening dress.

A woman, whom the agent introduced as his sister, helped to do her make-up and hair.

After the photoshoot, which lasted about two hours, Snowy was given an agreement to sign.

"Everything was in English and I wasn't quite sure what it was, but since I was here already, I just signed it," she recalls.

The agent briefly explained that the agreement only meant that Snowy was not allowed to go anywhere without permission from her Singaporean guardian.

It also stated that she had to give up 80 per cent of her earnings for the first six months as agency commission, following which the cut would be reduced to 50 per cent.

She says: "I thought it was all very reasonable terms, since I only had to pay for my own air ticket here."

Snowy was only "somewhat uneasy" later when she was handed a kit that contained five packets of condoms as a welcome gift, but she didn't ask any questions.

"Oh, there's something else which I thought was really funny," she says.

"I was given a really strange list."

Included in the list of English vocabulary were words like "take off", "bra", "panties", "shirt", "mouth", "hand" and "condom".

"Funny, ya?" she says. "Actually, I think I knew then what it was all about, but I just wanted to believe or think otherwise."

Snowy was taken to a three-room apartment, which she had to share with four other women of different nationalities.

After about two weeks of "doing nothing" at home, the agent's sister told her that she had an assignment as a model for a flier.

"The photoshoot took nearly four hours, and all I had to do was to pretend to sit on a bed and pout or smile. It was so boring and I was paid only $100, but I ended up getting only $10," she says.

"When the ahjuma (auntie in Korean) saw my unhappy face, she told me that I could earn more money if I didn't mind accompanying some important businessmen to certain events or functions."

Snowy admits that she "knew immediately" what that meant.

"I asked the ahjuma if I am expected to have sex with them, and she said, 'It's up to you'."

She leans back, takes a sip of her green tea, then says: "You know what? This kind of jobs pays well. So much better."

Snowy refuses to confirm what she can earn from each assignment. But The New Paper on Sunday understands that prices for a 45-minute to an hour-long session can start from $280 and go up to $500 for the more popular escorts.

Despite arrests and clampdowns, sex rings are undeterred and continue to advertise their services online.

Charlene Pang Siew Ting, 26, had assisted a vice syndicate that was operating four websites, namely TK Lover, Asia Dollies, 1SGF and Precious Model, which was later rebranded as Korean Kimchi. She was jailed four months last week for being part of an online vice ring.

In a report published by The New Paper last February, a source said: "You chop off one syndicate head, seven others will appear. It's easy money that nobody would want to miss out on."

A Singaporean executive, who is familiar with how such syndicates work, also said: "The people who run such businesses are invisible. You'll never meet them.

"An SMS reply would give you the time and venue to meet the prostitutes. They then change their mobile phone numbers regularly."

Many of the mobile phone numbers are on prepaid cards registered to migrant workers or people outside the vice trade.

Transactions between male customers and the prostitutes are carried out in the privacy of a hotel room or a home.

In 2010, 7,083 foreign women were arrested, compared to 7,614 the previous year. In 2011, there was a significant drop, with 5,206 foreign women arrested.

Asked if she has any fears about being arrested or if there are any regrets, she remains silent for several minutes. Our interpreter has to repeat the question.

She muses: "Of course, I am worried, but I take each day as it comes. Anyway, I intend to quit soon.

"As for regrets, well, my boyfriend broke up with me when I confirmed his suspicions that my job wasn't that clean. So yes, I regret that I will not be getting married because I really loved him.

"But right now, I'm saving up all my money and I can return home soon."

And her plans?

"I want to go for plastic surgery from top to toe, and from there, I want to go into showbiz. Who knows, the next time you see me, I may be one of the top actresses in Seoul," she says.

maureenk@sph.com.sg


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