The Appeal of Fakes

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Tuesday is the start of China’s Golden Week holiday, when tens of millions of people head out on vacation. Last year 415,000 of them came to Hong Kong, and many restaurants, shops and hotels saw an uptick in business. Now people wonder whether recent reports of local stores selling fake watches and jewelry to mainland tourists will lead to a drop in visitors.

But Hong Kong has one attraction for mainland tourists where a little deception is the whole point: the transsexual show. In the spirit of Golden Week I went to check it out. Every night three dozen Thai transsexuals and transvestites give four, 45-min. performances in a converted cinema at the Wah Fu public housing estate. The audience is mostly mainland Chinese visitors who arrive in tour groups and pay about $20 each for a ticket. There were about 600 guests for the 7:15 p.m. curtain. Apichar Sirichantakul, who has run similar cabarets in Thailand, Japan and Taiwan, started the show in late 2005 to appeal to the growing number of mainland tourists coming to Hong Kong. Since then about 1.5 million visitors have attended, says Richard Lo, operation manager for Apichar’s Golden Dome (HK) International. “Lady boy shows aren’t allowed in the mainland,” Lo says, “so many people take the opportunity to see them here.”

The show kicked off with 12 dancers in gold bikinis and giant headdresses lip-synching to songs in English and Mandarin. There was a performer in a ball gown who walked through the audience shaking hands. Then a 200+ lb. bruiser shook his stomach and twittered his eyebrows to Hava Nagila. The performer walked out and tormented a man sitting just across the aisle from me. The crowd loved it. I was glad I escaped the attention. Afterward, the performers manhandle guests into posing for shots, like the bashful gentleman you see above. On the street I asked a visitor from the central Chinese city of Xi’an what he thought of the show. “It wasn’t bad. There were some who didn’t look like women,” said the man, who would only give his surname, Shu. “But there were others who looked real.” Then a woman beside him shouted out, “Once they shake your hand, you know they’re not real women.”