Ladies of the Night

S.T. Rajah Jan

With former sex worker
Rajah Jan, 65

Conversation on
24 September 2018

Kampung Budaya Chetti
4A, Gajah Berang

Prostitution in Kampung Jawa

Kampung Jawa, yes, it’s for prostitutes. So was Coconut Island, but the obvious one is Kampung Jawa.

Those days, people like ladies who already divorced, they already run from the husband, not enough of loving, makan not enough, money not enough, so they run there, because those days 3 dollars is very big, can buy everything with 3 dollars. That time like old men or divorced men, heavy sex and all that they will go to Kampung Jawa. I used to pass there, I had some friends that were prostitutes over there.

That time all people like us use skirt and high heels, and then with the cigarette eat kuaci sitting, waiting for men la, we sit like this [strikes a pose]. The prostitute only come [out] from 7pm to 3 or 4am. They will sit outside at the corridor, in the dark. Around midnight to 1 o’clock you’ll see a lot of people passing by. They will see you, just wink like that and go in. People want prostitutes they know where to find us. They come only, they show, I want you, I want you, I want you. They will follow and go into the room. Say about half an hour or 1 hour they go out. They earn about RM10 to RM15 one time, one day. RM10 to RM15 is already great you know. Nowadays it’s considered RM150 to RM200. 

But those days there’s no police come and catch, there’s no Pejabat Agama come, because at that time, my time, it was open. Because they don’t know people go to these places. Before Raya or Chinese New Year, all will go buy at Bunga Raya, where they sell clothing, cheap clothes. So, there’s a small small lane, they go by the back to see prostitute. 

Day time [also] they have prostitute, but they can’t show that they are in the house. The man wants to go, he will know the way to look for them. They will go round by the back way. Kampung Jawa was like that, very famous. The word “prostitute” is not in the name “Kampung Jawa” but they know it’s prostitute place.

The main entrance to Kg Jawa

“That time all people like us use skirt and high heels, and then with the cigarette eat kuaci, sitting, and waiting for men la”


There’s no sickness those days because they never mix people, they will only go for the same person. If it’s you he only goes with you all the time, if it’s she it’s only with she. Those days they don’t have the word “syphilis” and all that. 

Later, about a few years’ time, then they got syphilis, because man taking drugs and all that, then dirty you know. So, these prostitutes try to run out from [avoid] these people. The doctor said, if he’s too heavy drinker, if he has a face that’s not really healthy, if he seems like weak but the urge is a lot, and the teeth looks a bit dark, and it’s a bit smelly, then don’t take. Easy to get syphilis. Ya, don’t try to get a man like this you know.

That time there’s only one doctor in Kampung Jawa, one Chinese doctor. No other doctor in other places that [treat] this disease, syphilis. If any man gets this [disease], they will go to the doctor, saying that when they pee blood will come out, pus come out, you know. So that time, Kampung Jawa divide, this part this people, this part this people, if syphilis, people will go that place. They will put a signboard, “Syphilis will go this side, we don’t want”. 

Kampung Jawa is also famous for its cheap clothes. Clothes, school uniforms, school shoes. It doesn’t mean that “Kampung Jawa” means it’s a prostitute place. So these men all trying to go there, [people think they] are going to buy clothes, don’t know that [the men] are going to prostitutes. 

That time, in the early 70s, there was only one famous prostitute place in Melaka. Hotels doesn’t do prostitute. Cheap hotel, RM30-RM50, yes la. In Bunga Raya there are 3 shops that are prostitute shops, people go by the back door. Beside Lido theatre there is a tailor’s shop: that part on top. 

Pokok Kelapa (Coconut Island) 

Coconut Island is behind the panggung wayang [Savoy]. Behind the theatre there are small houses with planks. That place only for people drinking, enjoy this pondan-pondan all they enjoy, by doing all the bad things la, enjoying going together, kissing and all that, like that, that place is for that kind of person.

Backdoor entry to Chin Nam Hotel

“Around midnight to 1 o’clock you’ll see a lot of people passing by. They will see you, just wink like that and go in”

Chin Nam

Kampung Jawa, Coconut Island and Chin Nam: people only know Kampung Jawa and Coconut Island. Chin Nam people don’t know. Chin Nam is a lane, there is a lane, they are not standing outside but standing at the door corridor, if got call they will go up. That place, police been paid by the boss. So, every month the police will come and get the money. If any people were come to catch [if there’s a police raid], they [Chin Nam boss] will get early information, then they will run la. After finish they will come back.

Former Chin Nam Hotel (front)

The prostitutes

But that time there are not many [prostitutes] from here. They are from other places like Kelantan, Johor, Singapore, Penang,  young-young girls in early 30s. They earn money, they earn-earn, go back. Mostly are Chinese. Chinese and Malays, but my time Chinese a lot, because those days they were very poor, their schooling not that high, once finish schooling they will start to enjoy themselves. If they mix with wrong friends means they will go to this kind of place, like this easy can get money. 

Those days, young Indian girls, about 20 something, has no studies, they will do this work. Easy to know them, by the way their dress, by the way they move, men know they are prostitutes. Easy to talk to them, easy to communicate with them. 

But those days, they will have people to hold them, in case anything happens. Even Kampung Jawa also have. Most are robbers, will come and extort, after doing sex then extort, we pay them. If got any young-young girls they will get her first la, the gangster will get her first la. Offer to him first before other people get la. In a way that we have to pay him la, we got no money to pay him that’s how we give him lo. 

Other activities in Kampung Jawa

Most of them selling clothing, shoe makers, sandal makers, they make things like from zinc to make a cup, drag tin for selling. Goldsmith also got, the cheap goldsmith you know, like you buy a ring you have the stone, you go and make there. They got some small-small tailor make kebaya, long kebaya, that place is full of that kind of profession. You see, Malays those days are not great with kebaya, they will just tell the Chinese [seamstress]. The Chinese do the kebaya, not the Malays. Chinese make the kebaya and cheongsam.

Clothes, batiks, floor mats are sold here

Those days when people wanted to get married they come to one shop in Kampung Jawa, with all the things for getting married. Pillow la, pee pot la, the shoes la, the red cloth la, that’s the only shop selling that. If Chinese go there means they are getting married. Now no more because the shop more to selling plastic flowers and all that.

Most of the Chinese there [in Kampung Jawa] are Teo Chew and Hokkien, and they are [were] heavy smokers of opium. That area is called Tongkang area. Where all the tongkang pass by, they drop by and stay for a while, after that they go back. That time the place was very big and the river [Sungai Melaka] was very big. Huge river, you can see the local boats carrying rice to Kampung Jawa.

Porcelains and plastic product at Kg Jawa run by a Teochew family

Dealers’ shops a lot. One or two months once the tongkang will come to bring rice, liquor, rice, sugar, onion, these home things. Those days if you want to buy this, go Kampung Jawa, buy cheap. They sell by pack, no kilos and all that. Hardly you can find this kind of shop all, you know. Lately we have Madam King, that’s where we go shopping. That’s great about Kampung Jawa

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Melaka Downtown Exhibition