After days of sightseeing and exploration in Hong Kong, I decided to take the one-hour ferry over to Macau on Monday afternoon.

You’ve probably heard of Macau, a former Portuguese colony. While some people go there for the colonial-era ruins, architecture and culture, most people go there to play. It’s considered Asia’s adult playground, the hackneyed Las Vegas of the East. Perhaps Las Vegas should be called the Macau of the West, since the sliver of land East of Hong Kong has overtaken Sin City in gambling revenue.

I decided to skip the sights since I wasn’t getting into Macau until 4 p.m. I headed to the recently completed Venetian, the largest casino in the world, on one of their free shuttles (every casino has a free shuttle shuttling guests to the ferry building or to the border of Guangdong province). I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I’ve never been to the Venetian in Las Vegas, but I probably won’t need to now. The one in Macau is modeled after the one on the Strip, complete with a St. Mark’s Square, a promenade of shops, ersatz canals and gondoliers allegedly plucked straight from Italy.

Despite the Venetian’s impeccable and sterilized presentation, it was the first time I was confronted with China’s booming sex trade. I had barely been in the casino for five minutes when an attractive woman approached me. Foolishly, I thought she was lost and was about to ask for directions. But after a few unintelligible words, she asked, “Massage?”

I quickly said “No thanks” and kept walking. It wasn’t long before another girl approached me. Then another.

Perhaps I was a little naive as a first-time visitor to Macau but I was surprised by how many girls were on the casino floor openly soliciting. Dozens were strolling down the aisles, approaching men pretty brazenly. It seems like the casino can’t, or won’t, do anything about it. It’s their version of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Most of the girls, dressed up in their (fake) designer clothes, seemed to be from mainland China. They spoke Mandarin, which I had a hard time understanding (I speak Cantonese).

After losing my allotted budget at blackjack, I headed over to the main peninsula, where the lavish Wynn and the famous (and infamous) Casino Lisboa are. I walked into the Casino Lisboa and was immediately accosted by more women, asking if I wanted to wan, or play. I said bu yao, no thanks, a dozen times to a dozen different women.

A few of them were absolutely gorgeous, stunning women. So this was the dirty underbelly of the New China and I was experiencing it first hand. Here were women with no other choice but to sell themselves to any gambler willing to pay the price, young girls who were going up to Westerners and simply saying one word: “Sex?”

This is reportedly happening in every big city in China. Women exploited, used, trashed. It’s fucking depressing.

Depressed and a little shaken, I caught the next free shuttle to the ferry building. As I boarded the ferry, it started to rain and I could see lightening in the distance. Raindrops streaked across the window. By the time the ferry reached Hong Kong, the storm was unleashing a torrent of thunder and rain.

It was a tempest that reflected my mood.