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When doing fieldwork in a new city, one of the first things I do is try to bond with taxi drivers. They make the best informants and have such a rich sense of the city's informal and formal layers.
They help me create what I call "consumption maps of the city. I buy a big street map and hang it up on my wall. Then I try to map the following onto it:. One of the ways I map the city is to quickly figure out where people go to pay for sex and have sex.
In China, the sex worker industry encompasses all economic levels. It's a bit complex to figure out which hotels and karoke bars are for high-end clients to which ones are for every day citizens. When the police do sweeps and arrest sex workers, only those who work in what I call the "citizen's brothels" get arrested.
Street walkers can be easily arrested anytime and they are the most vulnerable because most of the time they don't work with the protection of an overseer.
All the other brothels pay off the police or some other department to protect themselves. The police only go to the police-protected brothels and of course the mayor's brothel is only accessible to higher up government officials.