Linsen North Road (林森北路) is well-known for being the closest thing Taipei has to offer in terms of red light districts, and having now exhausted almost every other Taiwan-related topic on this blog it was time for Bubbletea 101 to explore the secrets of this famous street. An obvious point: I wouldn’t recommend reading this post in the office, unless your boss is the particularly understanding type!
The lanes that run off Linsen Bei are famous for their countless Jiǔdiàn (酒店), which Google Translate will tell you (rather incorrectly) are hotels. This couldn’t be further from the truth; a typical Linsen Bei Jiǔdiàn is a bar featuring a number of small KTV rooms. The venues employ a number of Jiǔdiàn Xiǎojiě, or bar girls, who are tasked with accompanying the predominantly male guests in their singing, drinking and – depending on the establishment – more lewd activities. Venues that do offer ‘extra services’ are technically illegal and police raids take place occasionally, although apparently not enough to wipe out the more sleazy operators.
My wife mentioned to me sometime ago that she knew a woman who is employed at a Jiǔdiàn, and ever since I’ve been pestering her to ask her acquaintance if she would consent to an interview. I’m happy to report permission was finally granted, under the condition that some key facts are edited to ensure our source’s identity remains a secret. Let’s call our source Miss Hung, a 26-year old Jiǔdiàn Xiǎojiě who’s been working in the industry for the past two years.
Thanks for your time Miss Hung. Can you tell us briefly about your job and what happens on a typical night at the Jiǔdiàn you work at?
I arrive around 6pm and leave around 4am. When I arrive I’ll change into my clothes for the night, eat a lunchbox and wait for the customers to arrive. When the customers arrive our manager takes us to their KTV room. At first it can be a little awkward but after everyone has a few drinks it’s more relaxed. The new girls like to drink a lot, which makes their job harder because the customers are less likely to tip girls well if they get drunk. The more experienced girls will avoid drinking too much and they can earn more that way.
In a typical month I earn between NT$100,000 to NT$200,000 and work five nights a week, although I spend quite a lot of the money buying makeup and clothes to wear to work. At my Jiǔdiàn we take our clothes off and sometimes dance with the customers but there’s nothing more than that, customers aren’t allowed to touch the girls here. There are plenty of other Jiǔdiàns on Linsen Bei where a lot more goes on but I definitely wouldn’t want to work at a place like that. Sometimes a customer will make a deal with a girl here to take her to a hotel although it isn’t so common at my Jiǔdiàn; the clients who are interested in that generally go to other venues.
Tell us a bit about the typical customers that visit your Jiǔdiàn?
Most of our customers are Taiwanese or Japanese businessmen, sometimes we get Western tourists trying to come in but because they generally don’t speak Chinese the manager won’t let them because it’s too hard to communicate. For the businessmen, a lot of the time they are more focused on doing business deals or discussing what happened in the office than paying much attention to the girls. Some of them just love to sing and it can be fun to sing along with them (but most of them sing pretty badly). And a lot of the time they drink so much they end up heading to the bathroom and aren’t seen again for several hours, so we send a Shàoyé (少爺) to go check on them and make sure they’re ok.
Who are these Shàoyé?
Shàoyé are male staff responsible for cleaning the rooms, making sure the microphone is working, just all the odd jobs around the Jiǔdiàn. They deliver the food and drinks to the room and guide the customers to and from their room. Shàoyé are not allowed to peek at the girls when they take their clothes off – they’re only allowed to check on the customers. If a customer hits a Shàoyé, then the Shàoyé aren’t allowed to hit them back. Shàoyé generally don’t earn a fixed salary; their income largely comes from tips paid by customers. But a lot of the customers are so drunk they start handing out NT$1,000 notes by the end of the night so Shàoyé can generally make decent money, as long as they are helpful (and don’t peek!)
How much do customers generally pay for a night at the Jiǔdiàn?
A lot of money! It really varies, depending on how many girls they want (have to get at least two), how much alcohol they drink, and so on. I guess the average group would pay at least NT$20,000 per hour but it can go a lot higher (one night we had a group of Japanese businessmen and they hired 10 girls and went through countless bottles of whisky; I think they spent close to NT$1 mn). All I know is that the boss drives a Lamborghini so he must be making a bit of money!