“You never wear bra how you know right! I don’t know, so I just try, try, try. Then after that I realise the bra got size one, then got number, then got alphabet one. Then I realise ohh, this one is my size.”
It was at Mustafa Centre that Daniel Lee found the bras he often sports in his streams, as well as most of the ensembles you would see him in when he goes live on The Ladyboy Marketplace.
As the founder and the face of the Facebook page, Daniel is known for his live auctions. More accurately, people follow him to catch him in bras, stockings and even lacy lingerie, complete with ladies’ accessories, wigs, and makeup.
He auctions items on the livestream, but for the layperson who isn’t there for the sale, his antics make for live entertainment. It’s a striking visual: A ‘ladyboy’ dancing unabashedly to Thai disco music, and it is exactly for this reason that Daniel started cross-dressing—“I wanted to portray a visual that will catch people’s attention the moment they see the stream.”
He had been running his own live bidding business on another Facebook page, but after more than two years in the trade, he saw the need to be more creative. He did a trial run with the Ladyboy persona and it was surprisingly well-received. The next day, he launched The Ladyboy Marketplace.
The Birth Of A ‘Xia Suay’ Livestream Personality
Anybody can play dress-up, but viewers will still switch off if someone is inherently boring. Thankfully, Daniel’s natural sense of humour helped. He would spice up his streams with comical dances and often switched personas. Some of his old videos shows him in looks inspired by iconic Singaporean characters like Liang Po Po and Phua Chu Kang.
His videos were entertaining, and the news of this Ladyboy Auctioneer spread fast. When his friends and family first saw his ludicrous on-screen personalities, they were shocked. But Daniel has always been known as a joker amongst people who knew him, and they quickly understood that this is just Daniel working.
Nonetheless, there were criticisms, and they came from strangers who would leave nasty comments on his streams. Some throw jabs at Daniel for prancing around in women’s underwear as a man, calling him xia suay (embarrassing and disgraceful).
I asked if he ever felt paiseh about the things he has had to do for his Ladyboy image. Up to that point, he had given me the impression of a tough, ballsy ah beng who is too focused and driven to be bothered about how people perceived him. Instead, he flat out admitted to feeling paiseh, especially when he had to buy bras at Mustafa alone while seeing the staff staring and laughing at him.
However, he explained that paiseh is just a barrier to be overcome.
“A lot of things will paiseh. But paiseh is just a feeling. Don’t because of a feeling, then you don’t go and achieve what you want to achieve.
“If it’s just because you’re paiseh then you [don’t fulfill your potential], isn’t that such a waste?”
With that said, there are many other problems he has to deal with as someone who makes a living off selling products on Facebook Live.
He was once banned from streaming for two weeks after someone reported his page for nudity, presumably by someone who found his videos (or him) offensive. For someone whose livelihood depended on livestreaming, that meant he had no income for two weeks. For fear that something like this happens again, Daniel has since toned down his Ladyboy antics in his streams.
Even without the problems that came with cross-dressing, the job of a live auctioneer is tough. Unlike most of us, there are no weekdays or weekends for Daniel.
“My routine is no routine, I get the job done and the rest are my rest hours.”
We only see what happens on the stream, but a lot of an online auctioneer’s or work goes behind the screen.
A promoter with a seafood wholesaler today, Daniel’s days start in the late afternoon, where he will be knee-deep in backend preparations with his logistics team and fine-tuning the order, processing, and payment systems before he goes live at night.
Then, after streaming for two to three hours, where he would be constantly talking, Daniel would spend another few hours sending out invoices and coordinating with the logistics team for the deliveries. It’s usually around 3am by the time he gets home.
On the days that he isn’t selling for the seafood wholesaler, Daniel would check in on his valet business which his business partner is managing, and the occasional consignment jobs.
Despite the long hours, Daniel tells me that the only challenge to him is the high chance of losing his voice after every stream, “Long hours and everything else is okay, because when you got the motivation, working is nothing.”
Hustler By Circumstance
It became really clear that this ‘ah beng’ is a hustler. And his drive to make money, or to succeed, was a result of growing up underprivileged.
His family wasn’t well-to-do. His mum was a housewife and his dad didn’t earn a lot as a stall supervisor. Circumstances forced him to be independent from a young age and at 14, he was already selling vegetables at the neighbourhood market for pocket money. He didn’t earn a lot, but to him, it was still money.
“One day, maybe eight hours, I only earn $20 or $30. Very jialat. But nevermind, try lor, because anyway one day earn $20, five days earn $100. That time I only Sec. 2, $100 is a lot already.”
He was a defiant kid and picked up several bad habits like smoking, but it was also right around that period that he found the drive to work hard for money through (ironically) the legendary Sunshine Empire. He was amazed by how his friend could afford tuxedos and LV bags, and he soon found himself spiralling into the Ponzi scheme.
“I was so brainwashed because very young ma, [but] that’s how I wanted to do sales more and more. So [on hindsight], I need to thanks [sic] the Sunshine Empire, because that’s how I came to where I am now.”
At 16, he started working for Jose Eber, where he was promoting premium hair straighteners at a pushcart at Vivocity. He was even recognised for being a top salesperson there. It was then that he realised he had this natural ability to draw in crowds and to sell, he understood the ways to appeal to different customers.
He continued doing sales after he graduated from Temasek Polytechnic. Along the way, he also dabbled in all sorts of work, which helped him learn more about the world: “I’ve worked at McDonalds, I cut vegetables before, bike shops, mechanic, everything I also do before.”
He also started several businesses, which he continued after completing his National Service. At one point, he even had several employees to help with his live bidding business. However, he admitted that he had made many mistakes, and have had to deal with many tricky situations like faulty products, malicious customers, and people management.
For example, he was too lax and didn’t bother to have a proper management system when he hired employees, and ended up having to face the consequences himself when there were issues with orders.
“I’m not paiseh to admit that I did wrong for that part. I tried and I failed because I thought that it’s very simple. This one is I really misjudge.”
Success Comes From The Drive To Succeed
There’s a lot to joke about when we see Daniel as Ladyboy. Most of us would make fun of him, wondering if there’s even any future for him to be doing this. However, behind that facade is someone who has so much drive, and dedication to his work.
Despite the many ‘stupid’ things he does on his live videos, or the ah beng image he seems to portray in person, this 27-year-old Singaporean is an innovative salesman who isn’t afraid to do what it takes to succeed ethically.
It is his fearless drive that has got him to where he is today: A highly sought-after salesperson in the industry, and who runs a stable valet business on the side.
At the end of the day, this ‘ladyboy ah beng’ is one person who is simply very real with what he wants and how he will get there. He is driven by money. But, it comes with a strong sense of ethics and the genuine wish to be a good salesperson and the bridge between suppliers and customers.
He’s not afraid to experiment, fail, and try again, not ashamed of being shamed or mocked, as long as he’s able to achieve his goals. And his resolve to succeed is something that a lot of us lack, and probably can learn from.
(Images used in header taken from The Ladyboy Marketplace’s Facebook Page)