HK men farewell their concubines
Mainland mistresses are increasingly finding themselves dumped by their Hong Kong 'husbands' who can no longer afford the luxury of a second wife.
Caritas, which runs a hotline in Hong Kong for problems involving extra-marital affairs, says the number of counselling cases involving mainland mistresses had more than halved, from 168 out of 621 cases in 1998 to 76 out of 430 cases last year.
Private detective David Cheung, who specialises in investigating cross-border extra-marital affairs, estimates that more than half of Shenzhen's mistresses have been abandoned during the economic slowdown.
'It is a trend to dump the second wives because of the economic downturn - many men lost their businesses and are unemployed after the 1997 economic turmoil,' he says. 'With no money, the men are not in the mood for women.'
Mr Cheung says he started receiving calls from dumped second wives looking for their men in 2000. The number of calls has been rising in recent months.
'Many men have either closed their factories or have little business. They have no assets and no car. Some suffer from negative equity. Many who work as decorators only have several days of work a month and can't afford to keep a woman,' he says.
Amy Lu, a dumped mainland mistress, says she has met 20 to 30 second wives abandoned as a result of the economic turmoil.
'The men have families and children in Hong Kong. Their attachment to their Shenzhen women would fade after they left, and they would forget them,' Ms Lu says.
Chan Yuk-mui, supervisor of Caritas family service's project on extra-marital affairs, says that when a man with a mistress has financial difficulties, he will likely leave his kept woman because of their weak relationship and pressure from his real wife.
In Shenzhen, she says, there is no service to counsel the abandoned second wives, and some have called Caritas for help. 'They feel betrayed, sad and are worried about their livelihood,' Ms Chan says.
Some women still receive monthly allowances from their men, but others have no income.
'Many of the women live with four to five people, and spend only $2 on food each day,' says Thomas Tsoi, 29, a cook from Hong Kong whose friends include mainland mistresses.
To make a living, some younger mistresses work as bar girls in karaokes and discos; others become prostitutes, charging each client as little as $70, he says.
Some work as housekeepers, but some are still on the lookout for potential suitors.
'I know a 22-year-old woman from Sichuan. She waits every day at the Lowu border crossing in Shenzhen asking old Hong Kong men to keep her as a mistress.' Mr Tsoi says the woman had been dumped by a middle-aged Hong Kong man with whom she had a daughter.
He adds that the cost of maintaining a mainland mistress has fallen to $2,000 a month, from $3,000 to $10,000 during the boom years. In the past, when business was good, some men kept two mistresses at a time.
Extra-marital affairs by Hong Kong men became a trend in the late 1980s as China opened its doors. Masses of women moved from the poor regions into the southern towns where they met Hong Kong men whose jobs required them to live or spend days across the border.
By the 1990s, boom towns like Shenzhen were full of mistress enclaves known as 'concubine villages', or ernai cun.
In one such neighbourhood, Huangbeiling, residents were mostly long-term mistresses - hundreds of them. 'Each block had mistresses,' recalls Ms Lu, a former resident herself.
But they are not there anymore. Like the two-timing men of Hong Kong, even the residents here have forgotten the second wives of Huangbeiling.