Midnight strikes and the stage lights suddenly come on. It is showtime for some 30 sharply dressed young men who strut out in suits, perfectly styled hair in the vein of K-pop stars, and enough foundation on their faces to support Marina Bay Sands' triple towers.
They sashay, strike poses - beauty-pageant-style - and dutifully line up along the stage with their number tags. Then, one by one, the men - mostly Thais in their 20s and 30s - come forward for their three minutes in the spotlight, belting out popular Chinese and Thai love ballads.
As they warble, most slightly off-key, women in the crowd titter, pointing to the men who catch their eye. Whispers are exchanged between the women and the person who takes charge of the guys - the papa-san, as he is called - who then goes on stage and bestows the lucky chosen ones with plastic flower garlands and satin sashes.
Each garland goes for $50 or $100, while sashes can top $5,000 each. The papa-san blows a whistle as he is doing this, and the rest of the boys clap in envy. This is typically what happens in a host bar where, as a nightclub in Cuppage Plaza proudly proclaims on a banner hanging on the stage: The men are hot, and the women are God.
Nightclubs The Sunday Times spoke to insist that their foreign employees are on legitimate work passes, such as a performing artiste work permit. But some of the men said that they were on social visit passes.The MOM spokesman said the number of social visit pass holders caught working illegally here - including those working in nightclubs - averaged 550 each year between 2008 and last year.
A social visit pass - generally valid for 30 days - allows a person to stay in the country for the purpose of business or leisure.
- Host bar owners say demand for such bars, already popular in cities like Bangkok and Toyko, has grown in recent years. Online forum Lady Bar Bar lists at least 10 here.
- Most of the men hail from Thailand and China, and few from Singapore.