Document Type

Book Chapter


Tanjung Balai Karimun is a town of approximately 95,000 people in the Riau Archipelago. Together with the islands of Batam and Bintan, Karimun has became part of a Special Economic Zone proposed in 2006 with the aim of enhancing economic development by capitalizing on the islands' close proximity to Singapore. Karimun's development has not been limited to the export of raw materials such as tin, rubber, timber and copra, and more recently sand and granite; like Batam and Bintan, it has an extensive sex industry which caters predominantly to working class Singaporeans and Malaysians. This chapter examines the place of 'sex as work' for women in the town of Tanjung Balai Karimun, and the impact of women's engagement in the sex industry on other parts of their lives. In particular, it focuses on the life histories of Lia and Ani, two former commercial sex workers who have since left the industry as a result of their marriages to foreign men. Like many of their peers in the Riau Islands, these women have managed to mencari kesempatan dalam kesempitan (to find opportunities in hardship), and turn their exposure to foreign clients in the brothels of Tanjung Balai Karimun into a chance to move into the lower middle class.