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Half a dozen motorcycles roar into life, each carrying away a barely dressed teenage girl. Two minutes later, a police truck lumbers down the street, accompanied by several smaller vehicles, some motorcycles and a throng of tabloid reporters. It is 2. The municipal police force has just started its third anti-prostitution operation for the evening. Come in! The vehicle slows to a halt and its tinted windows roll down. The driver explains that he and his friend are looking for ciblek.
There are plastic stools on the vinyl mat that covers the sidewalk; a small counter stocked with glasses, tea pots and a gas burner adorn the otherwise bare stall. The spot-lit surrounds of Simpang Lima, the babbling water in the filthy drains and the scent of the tea combine for a cosy ambience. The men are served tea, coffee or hot ginger. They chat with the tea seller and puff meditatively on clove cigarettes. A second tea seller is dispatched across the street to a crowded all-night warung where a group of young men and women are hanging out.
After some discussion the tea seller returns, accompanied by three ciblek. She gestures them towards the guests. Drinks are bought and the girls start flirting, all the while exchanging glances with the tea sellers, who are already dividing up the proceeds of this encounter into their respective commissions. After the drinks are paid for and an advance booking fee for the ciblek is received, the group climb into the kijang and disappear into the night. Fragrant tea Poci tea originates in the Central Javanese city of Tegal.
It is only in Semarang, however, where this tea has become synonymous with teenage prostitution. During the monetary crisis, the spike in unemployment and fall in household incomes led to an increase in informal occupations such as the late night tea trade.
There was also an increase in the number of professional prostitutes in Semarang, as young girls were forced to support families when their parents were unable to find work. Raids by religious militia on formal prostitution complexes across Indonesia also led to larger numbers of women engaging in unorganised or street prostitution. Although street prostitution existed in Simpang Lima prior to , it was on a smaller, ad hoc scale and was conducted at certain chicken and rice stalls where girls would exchange their services for a cheap night out at a nightclub.