On The Mic: Gerrie Lim's new book tells Singaporean escort's story

(Photos courtesy of Gerrie Lim, Epigram)
(Photos courtesy of Gerrie Lim, Epigram)

LISTEN: Use the player above to hear our full interview with journalist and author Gerrie Lim

SINGAPORE — Seasoned journalist Gerrie Lim has written extensively about the sex trade, ranging from the porn industry in the US to the world of high-end escorts in Singapore.

For his latest book, Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life, the 61-year-old has played ghostwriter for 24-year-old escort Ashley Chan (not her real name) to help share the story of how she entered the industry and the challenges she faces juggling her secretive sex work with her “civilian” life.

Speaking on Yahoo News Singapore’s “On The Mic” podcast, Lim said writing the book was a unique experience for him.

“It’s different in the sense that I’m using a single escort (to tell a story) as opposed to other books I’ve done, which were composites of escorts,” said Lim, whose past works include Invisible Trade: High-Class Sex For Sale In Singapore, In Lust We Trust: Adventures In Adult Cinema, and Singapore Rebel: Searching For Annabel Chong.

During the interview, Lim explained that he met Chan a number of years ago at a party organised by a local sex worker rights group. After a conversation, they collaborated on a blog – also called Scarlet Harlot – in 2017, which documented Chan’s escort life. Years later, Lim had the idea of having the blog published as a book, and proposed the idea to local publisher Epigram.

Lim elaborated on Chan’s struggles in maintaining her double life as a university student and an escort, as well as her “unusual” family background.

“She was born out of wedlock. Her father decided not to finance her education, so she decided to do it for herself... There are issues with her grandmother she lives with. Her grandfather died and there’s all sorts of regrets over her not spending enough time with him.

“Everything sort of came out from there, and it’s quite a fascinating story,” he said.

Exploring the sex industry

Lim’s early journalistic career in the US was centred on the music industry, with his first book in 1997, Inside The Outsider, featuring interviews with icons such as David Bowie and Pete Townsend. He eventually found himself writing about the porn industry there.

“Porn came into my life by sheer accident. I was asked by a director who I was working with, to work on the music section for her CD-ROM. So I did that, then we had to go promote it...

“So I ended up spending time with porn stars, which I’d never done before. And I found (the experience) really, really interesting,” Lim recounted.

Asked about the cultural impact Annabel Chong, the Singaporean retired porn star who set a world record in 1995 for having sex with 251 men in 10 hours, Lim said, “I think it’s quite huge. Back at the time, you have to remember, Singapore was all about getting to No. 1. And her way of doing it was to do a major gang bang... That was kind of her silly joke.

“And in a way it worked, but not really for the reasons she wanted because people started trying to break the number.”

Now based in Singapore, Lim also spoke about how the COVD-19 pandemic has affected the local sex industry. “Locally, for a lot of the escorts right now, their incomes have shrunk to like 60 per cent... For Ashley (Chan), she relies on her normal regulars to tide her over,” he said.

Asked what he hoped readers would take away from Scarlet Harlot, Lim said, “For the girls (in the industry), they should have a square head on their shoulders and have an exit plan.

“And for the guys who are reading my book, I hope it will encourage them to have a greater sense of how these girls can have a voice through people like me, who tell their stories and relate them in an honest, straightforward way.”

Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life is available at bookstores and online.

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