He could not hold a proper job.
Then one day, someone made him an offer he could not refuse: Front some money to bring women here to work in Geylang.
Like others in the flesh trade, James paid for the women to come here.
The slender 40-something said he borrowed the money from a family member and paid $2,500 to bring in five women from Thailand a few years ago.
Within a week, he not only made back his initial investment but also made $1,000 in profit.
"This gives you an idea of how lucrative the business was," said James, who claims he has stopped being a pimp.
The women travelled by bus to Singapore from Narathiwat, Thailand, just north of the Malaysian border.
They stayed in a small room in Geylang, which James paid $10 a night for.
James said he used to operate in Geylang Lorong 18 because he was "given a spot" there. But he declined to say who had given him the green light to set up there.
His clientele were mostly foreign workers - Bangladeshi, Thai and Chinese nationals - who paid $40 for the women's services.
James would take half of that.
"We had a lot of customers then and whenever our lookouts saw the police, we would disappear and resume business when the coast was clear," he said.
The bachelor, who is now jobless, said he had no qualms living off the earnings of prostitutes.
"The girls, who were also prostitutes in Thailand, came here on tourist visas and stayed for two weeks," said James.
"They wanted to come here because they think the people here have a lot of money, so what I did was offer a service."
He noticed that police clampdowns on vice activities in Geylang have been fast and furious in recent months.
But he feels that constant police action will not drive the streetwalkers from Geylang.
"These women want to work here. Most pimps don't have to force them to come so there will always be a supply."
This article was published on April 18 in The New Paper.
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