The Most Popular Live Show In Town

                      The workers

The following was translated from an exclusive article in The Sun.

Whereas there is a very publicly visible issue with the continued unlicensed operation of the UA cinema located at Langham Place, there is another unlicensed operation that has been going on elsewhere quietly.  Located at Wah Fu Estate on the west side of Hong Kong island, the Fragrant River Theater appeared to have shuttered its doors due to repeated complaints from the Environment & Food Bureau for operating without a license.  But actually, the theater is accommodating mainland Chinese tourists to watch the one and only Thai transsexual live show in Hong Kong.  On the day before yesterday, officers from the Environment & Food Bureau had gone to the place for the third time and issued complaints.  But last night, the Fragrant River Theater was back in business again.  The Environment & Food Bureau will be seeking a court injunction.

Wah Fu Estate is one of the oldest public housing estates on Hong Kong island.  In recent months, it has been a popular destination due to the transsexuals.  Every evening, one after another tourist bus carrying mainland tourists would come to the Fragrant River Theater.  The tourists get off the bus and follow the directions to follow the back alley and then enter through a side door.  Security guards check the tour group badges of each and every tourist to make sure that no intruders sneak in.  The tense atmosphere outside is in distinct contrast with the excitement of the audience inside.

More than 20 transsexuals have come from Thailand.  They are tall and have been trained in performances.  The show lasts more than one hour, including bikini shows, low-cut evening gowns, dancing, singing and comedy acts.  The bikini section draws the best reaction, with yells and whistles from the audience.  The Thai performers are experienced troupers who know how to lip-sync to Chinese songs and they would go downstage to mingle with the audience, such as sitting down on the laps of the male audience members.

The Fragrant River Theater was converted from a movie cinema.  At the end of last year, a local entertainment company brought in the transsexuals from Thailand to perform to mainland Chinese tourists.  There are two shows per night, with a day show sometimes when the demand is high.  Each show attracts about a hundred people, paying HK$150 per person.  It is estimated that they make several hundred thousand per month in admission receipts.

According to a local tour guide, the night time program for mainland Chinese tourists used to be the harbor cruise trip.  Ever since the transsexual show became available, the reaction from the audience has been terrific and the show has become the popular choice for certain local tour groups.

Although the transsexual show has been popular, the Fragrant River Theater still has not received a license from the Environment & Food Bureau to provide public entertainment.  A Environment & Food Bureau spokesperson said t that the department had issued citations in December last year and January this year.  On February 16, the department inspected the facility again and found no sign of operation.  On February 18, the department visited the location again and found a stage performance was going on, at which point a citation was issued immediately.  According to the law, the maximum penalty for unlicensed operation of a public entertainment facility is six months in jail and a fine of HK$25,000.  But our reporter saw many mainland tourist entering again last night.

With respect to the West Kowloon Cultural District project, there was considerable debate whether cultural projects will have sufficient returns on investment due to the perceived low interest in 'culture.'  I recall that someone made a proposal that the surefire 'cultural' project that will guarantee mass audiences are live sex shows like they do in Thailand.  The Fragrant River Theater show is empirical proof of the consumer demand.  So is this all about money?  Or are there things that people just won't accept?

(February 27, 2006)  Transsexual show a hit with mainland tourists.  AP via China Daily.

Chinese mainland tourists love to chow down at Hong Kong's shark fin restaurants. They also load up on designer goods at the city's boutiques. Now they have a new must-do stop: gawking at Thai transsexuals prancing around in bikinis and low-cut gowns.

Busloads of holiday-goers from mainland have been filling up the theater for the bawdy new cabaret. It's a spectacle for the visitors, who rarely get to see such a show at home.

As the curtain rises, dancer Thanut Waiweerayuth struts onto the stage in a red and gold ball gown and a towering beehive-like headdress. The performer bellows out a song by one of Hong Kong's biggest pop stars, the late Anita Mui.

With his meticulously made-up face, shiny mane and curved bosom, it is almost impossible to tell that the 23-year-old Thai is a man in drag. That is as long as he keeps his mouth shut, which is why the song is lip-synched.

Thanut is one of about 30 Thai transsexual and transvestite dancers performing in the show.

Many of them are veteran cabaret performers or winners of transvestite beauty pageants in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country where homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals are widely tolerated.  Chinese culture is less accommodating, calling such people ''yan yiu'' -- ''human freaks.''

Unlike Thanut, who began taking female hormones at 15, many of the performers have undergone either breast implants or full sex-change operations.

During the show, the dancers lip-synch Western pop songs like Madonna's ''Like A Virgin'' as well as Cantonese and Mandarin numbers. They also perform a variety of dances, including Thai and Chinese ribbon dance.

But the highlight seems to be the performers' feminine beauty. They don an array of glamorous costumes, from figure-hugging sequined gowns to traditional Thai and Chinese dresses to bikinis, unabashedly flaunting cleavage and long legs.

Male tourists gawk when a coquettish dancer in a golden bra with pearls barely covering her breasts walks up to the audience and shakes hands with them.

Apichar Sirichantakul, the Thai organizer of Golden Dome Cabaret Show International, says he brought the show to Hong Kong because he wants to expand his business and the Thai market has become saturated with transsexual entertainment.  Calling himself the ''daddy of the lady boys,'' he says that if the Hong Kong test goes well, he plans to explore taking the show to Chinese mainland cities.

More than 80 percent of the audiences have been Chinese tourists, with smaller numbers from Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia, says Apichar.  The theater, which began last April, holds up to 700 people for each 45-minute performance. Tourists pay $21 each to tour operators, and the three shows a day are usually sold out.

Yuan Fang, a tourist from the eastern province of Zhejiang, said the cabaret is pleasing to the eyes but too shallow for her taste.  ''It's exciting. But I'm more interested to learn what the transsexuals actually think,'' said Yuan, who together with a friend paid an extra $15 to take photographs with the dancers after the show.

The performers often aggressively scramble for customers -- some even acquiesce to being groped -- to earn the extra cash and become grumpy when they fail to find any.

Many spectators said they were impressed by the transsexuals' physical allure.  ''I think they are more beautiful than real women,'' said a tourist from the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang who would only give her surname, Li.

Asked whether the dancers were too skimpily dressed, Li said: ''It doesn't really matter because they are men anyway.''

Zhou Yung, a bank executive from the eastern province of Zhejiang, slipped his hands inside a dancer's silver bra as she posed with him. He later told his wife, Tong Jingna, who also saw the show: ''They are kind of hard and don't feel like a woman's breasts. They feel like a man's body.''

Another mainland tourist, Zhou Qi, said she sympathized with the plight of the transsexuals for having to earn a living with their bodies.  ''I pity them. I don't think they have much choice,'' Zhou said.

(The China Blog)  The Appeal of Fakes.  By Austin Ramzy.  May 1, 2007.

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."