Waging war on the night

April 15 — Is Singapore a land without happy endings? The government has launched anti-vice crackdowns targeting primarily massage parlours. Putting an end to the illegal extra services offered at some of Singapore’s many hundreds of massage parlours appears to be the objective. 

There have been raids on a large number of establishments and hundreds of arrests over the last few months. Additionally, new legislation has been passed that will shorten the operating hours of most massage parlours.

Massage parlours with Case Trust accreditation that have an open layout – i.e. those without partitions and rooms — can now stay open from 7am-10 pm and those with a more closed layout can stay open from 10am to 10pm. Currently a large number of massage/spa establishment in Singapore stay open 24 hours a day.

The recent crackdowns on massage parlours in Singapore means the working-class Joe in this cosmopolitan city has fewer and fewer options for a “nightlife” here. — Picture from commons.wikimedia.org
The recent crackdowns on massage parlours in Singapore means the working-class Joe in this cosmopolitan city has fewer and fewer options for a “nightlife” here. — Picture from commons.wikimedia.org

Again, on the face of it shorter hours for massage parlours doesn’t seem like massive social change but Singapore, over the past few years, has seen a tightening on rules associated with “vices.”

Shisha, street drinking, night-club operations have all been hit with a slew of regulations. Now it is the turn of the humble massage parlour?

The reality is that massage was/is a simple pleasure for many working Singaporeans.

Now just like drinking in public after midnight or a cigarette under the block, these affordable heartland pleasures are being taken away. Of course, massages in downtown areas and fancy hotels will continue as the law does make exceptions for some areas but typically it’s middle and working-class people looking for a bit of a break who will be squeezed.

The night which has traditionally been when the hard-working masses of our fast-paced island can let off a little steam will not be the same anymore.  It increasingly feels like if you aren’t spending vast amounts of money or engaged in some healthy pursuit — night cycling, loris spotting etc —  you shouldn’t be up and about in the small hours. 

This marks a subtle but massive change in government outlook and policy. For years, the hallmark of local authorities has been pragmatism.

Vice had to be controlled for the sake of law and order, but it seemed like it was also accepted that a complete crackdown would be inefficient and unprofitable.

Then, Singapore in the late 90s and early 2000s boasted a liberalising and well managed night-life scene. The country began to transition visibly from a work-house to a (organised and lawful) playground.

All that seems to be coming to a halt with recent policies. The question is why? As far as most Singaporeans can see, there’s no crime wave, no growing menace — do a few uncles shuffling to massage parlours at night requires a crackdown?

The cost of these crackdowns is also not low — whether it is massage parlours or shisha lounges — with each wave of closures, jobs, money and entire allied ecosystems (late night food and drinks stalls etc) are taken out of commission.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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