Due West, online novel about sex tourism in Dongguan, now a movie
The book went viral and the movie could be a hit: 'Due West' lifts the lid on Hong Kong men seeking sex and solace in a Guangdong factory town
A clutch of scantily clad young women sit giggling and striking sexy poses as their fancy two-tier sofa revolves.
Each wears a number. Their hope is that one of the group of men ogling them will pick them out for a night of passion.
But their job is not just to please these men who have come all the way to the mainland for sex, but also to soothe their wounded egos and bolster their masculine pride.
As the men get ready to make their move, there is a shout.
"Cut!" It's director Mark Wu Yiu-fai, releasing the actors for a break. This is not a brothel, but a set for the movie Due West: My Sex Journey, a screen adaptation of an online erotic novel about a young Hong Kong man's adventures in seeking sex services, and more, in Dongguan, Guangdong.
While many know about the cross-border sex trade, it is rarely discussed. Books and movies, though, provide an insight into a dark facet of city life.
Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung did it with his 2003 comedy Men Suddenly in Black, which tells the story of a group of obedient married men organising a sex trip to mainland behind the backs of their wives and girlfriends. A decade later, Due West is another attempt.
And it seems Wu has got the mood just right. For one of those on set the scene is very familiar.
"This really looks like those places in Dongguan," says 38-year-old married Hongkonger "Simon", one of the movie's extras posing as customers on the set. Simon agrees to talk as long as his real name is not used.
"You know, tenderness is not to be found from your wife," he says. "A wife is not as good as a concubine; a concubine is not as good as a secret affair; and a secret affair is not as good as one that you desire, but who's beyond your reach. It is this excitement that makes men want to go to these places. In here, you can enjoy the lifestyle of a king that you will never have at home with your woman."
The story of Due West is based on a series of online stories written by a mysterious author calling himself Xiang Xi Murakami Haruki, who posted his tales within the popular internet community Golden Forum. Among them, Epic Prostitution Report: Dongguan Forest earned the most attention.
Divided into five chapters, the story is written in the first person and tells of a 25-year-old man's first "evil massage" experience in Dongguan.
Characterised by colloquialisms, jokes, frustration about his relationships, and an unusually sympathetic attitude towards the "masseur", the story went viral and caught the eyes of a publisher, who turned it and other, shorter pieces into the book Due West: My Sex Journey. Published at the start of the year, the book has sold more than 30,000 copies. China 3D Digital Entertainment, the company that produced 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, bought the movie rights and turned the story into a 3D erotic comedy for release this month.
The original stories became so popular not just because they were hilarious, but also because they rang true. To Simon, Hong Kong men paying for sex on the mainland is "normal".
He had his first mainland sex service when he was 15 at a "hair salon". "A friend opened the salon and invited me to get my hair washed there," he recalls. "I thought it was weird. As my hair was washed, the girl massaged my head, shoulders and then all the way down. I was shocked. It was in 1989 and it cost me 20 yuan (HK$24)."
Today, Simon goes to Dongguan to enjoy "Guan style" services. He says that usually men go in a group of four to five, gathering in Sheung Shui station at between 3pm and 4pm to arrive before 6pm to pick girls. Customers are allowed to touch the girls and ask them to jump up and down to show they have not had breast augmentation surgery.
An encounter costs somewhere between 300 yuan and 1,100 yuan, depending on the venue, the kind of service, and whether a customer wants to spend the night. Girls also give customers a special bath. "Some want sex, but others only want to have a chat with a sweet, pretty girl and enjoy some tenderness from a woman," Simon says.
Some pricier hostess clubs apply room charges and miscellaneous service charges, DJ fees and drinks that can bring the bill up to 3,000 yuan to 4,000 yuan, excluding fees for the girls - which, Simon adds, is more expensive than Macau.
Simon says that some large venues offer 200 to 300 girls in skimpy or see-through outfits for customers to choose from. The girls gather in the lounge early on so customers can take time to browse. At other places, girls are lined up and brought into rooms for customers to select.
"Mostly the girls are in their 20s," he says. "They come from all over China, in various styles and physiques. You can definitely pick one you like." How often does he go? "That depends on whether my wife is checking on me." And how much has he spent over the years? "Probably enough to have bought a flat," Simon laughs. "But there's a chance that you get caught, not just by your wife. Police inspect these venues from time to time."
Despite all the hassles - and the risk of getting caught - some men cannot resist making the trip to Dongguan every now and then. "That's because you don't find this tenderness in reality… such as feeding you a piece of melon," says 34-year-old "John", another extra in Due West.
"You can never get that [from Hong Kong women]. Men are egoistic. We need to be respected, and these venues give us the respect that we need. It's true that I pay for it. It's a kind of service. It's fake. But it's worth it," John says.
"Men are afraid of being controlled. Many Hong Kong women suffer from the 'princess syndrome'. They want to tie their men down, but it never works," Simon says. "Xiang Xi's story strikes a chord with many of us."
The Immigration Department does not provide records of how many Hong Kong men cross the border, but last year the Lo Wu border crossing recorded more than 36 million trips by Hong Kong residents, while the Hung Hom control point recorded about 875,000.
Author Xiang Xi hired a prostitute for the first time in Dongguan when he was 25. He says that while he is not addicted to such services, he agrees men would rather pay for sex and fun and avoid the trouble of a girlfriend. He says that, unlike in the past, where it was mostly middle-aged men who sought prostitutes on the mainland, today more young men go there because of information on the internet.
"Just a few hundred dollars can get you the kind of experience that you can never get from your girlfriend," says 27-year-old Xiang Xi, who only agrees to answer questions via e-mail. "In mainland China, where everything can be fake, and even the food can be toxic, at least the sexual services are real."
Does this weigh on men's consciences? "Many don't consider visiting a prostitute to be cheating," Xiang Xi adds. "A sexual adventure does not necessarily involve emotions. And if you are not emotionally involved [with another woman], technically you are not cheating."
Matthew Yau Kwai-sang, the chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Sexuality Educators, Researchers and Therapists, has counselled many couples facing problems over infidelity - usually the husband's visits to prostitutes on the mainland.
There are a number of factors that can induce men to seek sex outside of relationships, Yau said, including work pressure and unsatisfactory sexual relationships at home. This in turn has boosted demand for sex workers.
Society's view of sex had also changed. Sex trips to the mainland are now a social activity. "For some men, it's entertainment. They don't tell their wives. It's like going fishing," Yau says.
Yau believes poor sex education and the lack of tolerance for changing gender roles contribute to these problems.
"People don't deal with their sexual relationships properly," he says. "Hong Kong women don't know how to handle these matters. Even if they are sexually incompatible with their men, they are not willing to acknowledge the issue and try to fix it. A lot of times women only discover their men have been hiring prostitutes when they contract sexually transmitted diseases."
And, Yau says, men still want to be household heroes, even though the realities of modern life may be different.
According to government statistics, the number of women earning HK$30,000 a month or more has risen 43 per cent from 115,800 in 2001 to 165,900 in 2010. At the same time, the number of men earning the same amount only increased by 14 per cent, from 262,700 in 2001 to 300,000.
"Gender roles are changing. It's relatively more common for men in the West to be the homemaker if their wives make more money than them," Yau says. "But here, men are unwilling to change, and such changes lower their self-esteem. Local TV dramas reinforce traditional gender roles. Men have no other models to follow. They have no way out."