Nude Casinos: All in a Night's Work

Sashimi sex and nude casinos: It's hardly what you'd expect to witness after the sun goes down in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

But best-selling author Moammar Emka, known as Emka, knows otherwise. He's been tracking the steamy nightlife scene in Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta, for the last six years.

"It was unusual because the sashimi, a Japanese delicacy of sliced raw seafood, was not served on a tray with chopsticks, but presented on the naked body of a beautiful, sensual girl," Emka writes in his first book.

Today, as he continues prowling the seedy underground for its latest trends, the former reporter is most surprised by the basic concept of sex as entertainment.

"You can find anything at anytime here," the East Java native says over the pumping music in his black BMW, heading out for a night of research.

Clubs with sex menus, invite-only swingers parties and orgies at people's private homes are detailed in Emka's little black books.

His popular published trilogy is titled "Jakarta Undercover." The first two novels have been translated into English and are visibly available at bookstores throughout the Jakarta region. A comic strip and movie have been based upon his work.

This is part five in's 10-part special series on nightlife around the world. Click here every weekday through May 9, 2008 for the latest story.

Arriving at the night's chosen venue, Emka doesn't need to wait in line. Well-known in nightlife circles, the doorman greets him and waves him through security.

Once inside, a scantily clad, pale-skinned beauty on stage makes eye contact with Emka. Recognizing him, she breaks into a smile and points.

They share a dance from a distance, and it's clear why Emka fans remain curious about whether he's an observer or a participant.

Emka, who is Muslim and studied at schools with strong Islamic backgrounds, including the Government Institute for Islamic Studies in Jakarta, makes a point of omitting graphically explicit material when he writes about "after-lunch stripteases," "midnight lesbian packages" and "drive-thru sex."

Like the culture of the region, his tone is more discreet as he divulges the reality of Indonesia's sex industry. And, not wishing for his work to be mistaken for a tourist sex guide, he masks the names of venues and locations.

Instead, he teases readers with description: "At this seemingly innocuous dinner club, with its surprisingly attractive waitresses, sex is definitely not on the menu. But a quiet word in a waitress's ear is all that is needed to set a date for a future rendezvous."

In a country where the nightlife kicks off sometime between the fourth and fifth daily calls to prayer, Emka concedes that Indonesians, while a tolerant society, are generally more conservative than other cultures. However, he adds that "as human beings, we are the same."

As the night progresses at the venue, the music pumps up, and clothes eventually begin to come off.

That's when Guest Relations Officers, or GROs, make the rounds.

"Five years ago, Jakarta was not as open," Emka says, comparing the sex industry to other industries in the developing country, such as automobiles and property. "They are all growing up," he says.

As Indonesia continues to adapt to economic reform, it still struggles with unemployment, corruption and poverty. With a population of more than 230 million, more than 17 percent live below the poverty line.

As a result, the after-hours scene here caters mainly to the well-off.

"Compared to Jakarta's sex workers, whose whole lives are a gamble, the city's high-rollers have it easy," Emka writes. "In illegal casinos throughout Jakarta, big-time gamblers play the tables and play the women who work there."

While nightlife in Jakarta is unashamedly oriented towards men — Emka did touch on how some women choose their profession for the money — there has been an increase in services specially tailored for women.

"In a great show of sexual equality, Jakarta's monied ladies throw a wild poolside party where the sex workers are men," Emka writes.

But at most venues, including this one, women who don't work there are strictly forbidden upstairs.

As they say in Indonesia, "tidak apa-apa," or "no worries" — at least, not tonight.

The elevator doors open, and upstairs there's a bar, saunas, lounge chairs and several shallow pools. Without the knowledge of what goes on there, it looks like a resort, only indoors, with trees.

A number of other places like this have opened up in Jakarta. "Add a second girl and you have a Double-Service Sauna Special, add a third and you have the ultimate in uplifting VIP sauna treatments: the Triple-Service VIP Sauna Special," Emka writes.

It is past three in the morning and Emka stops at a local warung, or food stall, before heading home. He is served rice, chicken and vegetables where even the vendors know him by name.

Emka plans to expand his undercover knowledge to other hot-spot cities around the region, but Jakarta is still number one, he said.

"When people come here they are surprised that Jakarta has this, and Jakarta has that," he says. "But they get over it quickly, and want to try."