Saturday, July 01, 2006

Shanghai Girls

Arina thus being unavailable, I decided to put some time in chasing Deedee instead. But she is tied up with stuff at her university this week, and so I batted off an SMS inviting Echo out to lunch.

She’s the woman I met in a class six months back or so, and her bright, confident and artistic nature impressed me. So I made sure to chase her a little afterwards, and we have become friends, going to listen to music together, see art shows and the like. She is the best type of Shanghai girl.

Shanghai girls like this are usually easy to spot. I can walk into a new class, cast my eye over the desks and fairly accurately pick out the local women. There is a certain style of woman, such as Deedee, such as Echo, who is obviously, immediately, a ‘Shanghai Girl.’ They are so easy to spot that I when I begin to talk with them I usually begin with, ‘So you’re from Shanghai, right?

This, in passing, is a good way of warm-up wooing, because what the statement ‘You’re from Shanghai, right?’ really means is, ‘You are a fashionable, modern woman, stylish and confident, and I recognize this. I recognize your sense of individuality and self-confidence. I see you.’ And Shanghai Woman is quite subtle enough to hear and remember this compliment.

China Man, generally, is not; for when I say to Shanghai Woman, ‘So, you’re a local?’ guys in the class will generally be taken aback, and ask me how I know this. This goes to show what a stolid and unimaginative fish China Man can be. But I am glad of it, for his sexual naiveté is why lechers like me do so well.

But this is not to say all Shanghai women are the same, far from it; the city does have plenty of quiet, timid, ‘traditional’ women. Yet even they generally have the Shanghai attitude. If I say to women such as these, ‘Are you from Shanghai?’ most usually they will reply, ‘Of course!’ with some pep, as though to say, ‘How could I possibly be from anywhere else? Do you think I look like someone from out of town?

The Shanghainese, in large, look down on people from outside Shanghai but look up to people from outside China – if those people are white. Expatriates from Africa and India in particular, I have found, do not quite have the respect of many Chinese people, and some of my more honest students (a small, small number) will admit this racism exists.

But most deny it totally, and get as touchy as fuck if one suggests something so negative about China (or indeed anything negative about China, no matter how small). This is why I have to be a little careful in class. When I talk about the issue of Shanghai snobbery, I generally say I feel it exists, but then make sure to add that people in other cities can be the same. It’s true about New York, I’ll say, or Paris, or London (but not Tokyo; one cannot mention Tokyo). I don’t really know if that’s how it is in all of those cities, but the point is that one can just about offer a tiny criticism of China, as long as one says that other countries are the same, and preferably worse. Truthful, open criticism of China is impossible; this is not a people willing to hear truth.

Chinese racism is perhaps more clearly shown in a saying that is sometimes used here, which imagines a celestial baker creating humanity. ‘He left the black people in the oven too long, the white people not long enough but us, the Chinese, he cooked just right.’

But anyhow.

So Echo and I met a little after midday at a sandwich bar at Nanjing and Shaanxi Road; she was dressed vivid, bright, appealing, yellows and oranges, and with a funky new hairstyle, shots of red and curls. That, and her trim, slender body, perky breasts, effervescent smile make her an appealing package indeed.

And as we ate we chatted of this and that. She told me she had decided she’d had enough of her boyfriend, an accountant, that he was too dull, that she had set her sights overseas study and he, lumpen, averse to risk, was not interested in joining her. Thus, she has decided, they must part. This pleased me, for in it I see my angle; free of the guilt of a betrayal she will be easier to charm to bed – and with overseas calling her, there is no hassle of sought permanence.

Potentialities of sex aside, I do like her just for her friendship, her bright, artistic nature. And for her self-confidence. I asked her when she had developed this style of hers, for I knew it would have been wholly banned at high school. In her second year of university, she told me. She explained that she had been the first on her campus to break out of the standard schoolgirl haircut, and that when she did, the Dean of her university criticized her for it, telling her she should not wear her hair so fashionable, that she should turn it back to a more uniform, standard style, that she should be just like everyone else. She refused.

And then, she told me, the Dean said, ‘Then I will ask your parents to come in and we will see what they say.

I had to stop her at that point and just make sure I had not misunderstood –was she really talking about university, not high school? She was. Even with the many tales of university absurdity I have heard, this one still took me aback. ‘What did you say to that?’ I asked. She told me her parents always supported – even encouraged – her to be herself, and she told the Dean as much.

Good for her parents, I say, for a lot of Chinese parents give their children very little freedom, deciding what they should study, eat, do, say, think, dress; where they should work, who they should date. Hers seem that rare exception, adults who understand what loving a child really means.

She told me another anecdote about this objectionable Dean. One student in her course stole the wallet of another, and was caught doing so. The course tutor took the student aside to ask why she had done it, saying, ‘If you need money, just ask me.’ But the student had not stolen it for money, but rather out of an obscure sense of anger over some perceived slight. The way the malefactor explained this made the grade teacher worry a little over her mental health, and so he wanted to adopt a light touch, to treat the student with care, to send her to talk to a doctor rather than publicly shame her (a doctor only; China has more or less zero mental health specialists). The victim of the pilfering agreed with this approach.

But the Dean got to hear of the matter, and weighed in. The student must be shamed, he decided, and expelled; and so she was. ‘And so that was the end of her life’ said Echo, ‘After that there is no way she could ever get a good job.’ And then she told me that the Dean had followed up this shitty act by firing the grade tutor. Astonishing.

China is in so many ways a fucked up society. Yet even with these numerous ills and absurdities, it remains an overly proud, fervently nationalistic country.

Mixed with its stiff-necked pride is a pervasive victim mentality. All China’s woes are blamed on others, from the Western countries’ invasion of China in the 19thC and the Japanese in the second world war to perceived discrimination today from ‘the West.’

But this is the logical choice. China must have someone to blame, since facing the truth of the matter would be too psychologically devastating. The truth is that China savages itself, rips and wounds itself; all China’s ills are inflicted by its government, its organizations and institutions. By its citizens, in a word, from the president on down. And how many people could face such a truth as that? How can they admit that since 1949 their own government has brought them nothing but misery, murder and death? That they and no-one else are to blame for their woes?

And so Chinese society is stuck in deep denial, and the people who know least about modern China are the Chinese themselves. Chinese people, in general, know nothing about their society and are simply not interested in finding out. For example, I have asked 50 people in the last week what is happening at Shengda University. Not one knew. They simply do not care, are not interested in finding out. Eyes shut, blindness all the way. Each country gets the government it deserves.

Echo, at least, has a wider view, a more mature perspective. The petty folly of life here is not for her, and this is why she wants to go overseas. ‘If I stayed here the only way I could get ahead is by guanxi, and I just can’t do that – can’t pretend to like people purely to get a better job, can’t flatter.’ She told me her soon-to-be-ejected boyfriend had urged her to stay in her job, since working in a state-owned concern like hers is usually a safe berth. ‘But I could just not bear it’ she told me, ‘Having to use guanxi to get anything done.’

I agreed that it was not the right job for her, adding, ‘But I guess it shows your boyfriend does care for you, because he wants you to be safe.’ I said that to show what a straight-up guy I was, and to try to make her think I was disinterested in the matter. Trashing her boyfriend for his lack of imagination would not be the right way to proceed; it would, in effect, be saying, ‘You are an idiot to stay with such a guy so long.’ So instead I showed this measure of respect for her choice, though observed, ‘But I guess it shows he does not really understand you.’ The implication here, of course, being that I did.

She continued, ‘And also I’d have to rely on my relationships with government people to get them to give us money… and of course that would mean.. you know that I would have to… when they…when the leaders...

I don’t now recall quite how she phrased it, but her meaning was utterly clear; that her guanxi would be her body, that government guys would come on to her and if she did not fuck them or blow them they would make sure her art center got no money.

I cannot blame her for wanting to get out; the best and brightest leave. They have to.

It was a pleasing, promising lunch, and there was more going on than mere chat. Beneath our conversation we were sounding each other out, and her mention of dumping her boyfriend was no casual observation. Our meal concluded with her inviting me to an event next weekend; and that, I hope, can be followed by dinner and bed.

Technorati Tags:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More of the Six-foot Stunner

And indeed it turns out Arina would have been a hard chase anyway, since she’d gone back to her hometown for the vacation.

But I have yet to finish up that dinner I had with her, the one I’d invited her to along with Cara, even though I was half included to chase Cara too.

Arina and I met first, before going to dinner, and she was just stunning... Tall, elegant, dressed with great individuality, she was waiting for me near Henan Zhong Lu subway. I made to kiss her cheek and she avoided it. This seemed a bad omen to me; but maybe I just took her by surprise, or maybe she thought I was going for her lips, since later in the evening she became more relaxed, more physical with me. I sms’d Linda to tell her we’d arrived; she replied to say she was at the restaurant already, even though we’d agreed to meet at the station. That was mildly irritating, but no great matter – a brief stroll round the corner, to Shanghai Uncle, and the evening kicked off. Cara was looking good and, sans Arina, I’d have made more effort to flirt with her.

But it likely would not have got anywhere, and indeed I think I reinforced the image she might have of me from class as a swaggering foreigner since I insisted on paying at the end. But it was a good evening for all of that, and I ordered a fine meal.

Ordering a good meal, it seems to me, is a kind of wooing. It looks good to know your way round a menu. This is a lesson I picked up from Michael Bloomberg; on a trip round NY, he said that in a business meeting showing power matters, and that one could do this anywhere. In a business dinner, for example, one way to do this was either to show you know the menu back to front, or just order what you want without even looking at it. Now business strategies leave me cold, but the lesson can be applied to the chase. It is one I have used to great success at Laris.

And in fact this restaurant anecdote reminds me of another. A few days ago I stepped over the road to get some fried rice to go with a meal. When the chef had cooked it, he called over the guy behind the counter to bring the carton out from the kitchen. The guy did this, fetching the carton from the kitchen and placing it on the work top opposite me, its lid still open. I looked at him; he returned my gaze blankly. Since I did not know this was even my rice I just waited. The rice sat there, open, cooling, the idiot guy vacant, his mind idle. After a few moments one of the servers on my side of the counter came out of the washroom, closed the lid, put an elastic band round it, bagged it and handed it to me.

This minor incident struck me quite deeply as a testament to the utter vacuous mindlessness of huge swathes of modern Chinese society. No imagination, no thought, nothing at all; just the myopic focus on one’s own task. No possible thought of stepping outside it. It is a society so cramped and conditioned, so bereft of individuality that I can imagine such people looking on as, say, a piano from above falls from a crane towards a hapless passer-by. Somebody else’s problem. Sure, sure, boxing up fried rice is a job for a robot and working in such a joint at that would snuff out what little selfhood this dolt might have had. But to not even make the tiny step of closing the lid because it was someone else’s job….

Anyhow, back at Shanghai Uncle, it was a fine meal, all the usual wow dishes, the ones that look good, taste good, make the orderer look good: the cheese-baked mandarin fish, the lamb, the veal. (The fish in particular impressed Cara. very much, which gratified me… though writing that I also wonder if maybe she was doing a little showing off too, for the other women at the table, demonstrating her familiarity with the Western style of this dish. Cheese does not go down big in China, and Cara also made a point of mentioning the Italian influence in it. A certain familiarity with international culture is held to have cachet here.)

Though this evening was some time ago, I still very clearly how greatly Adina impressed me and how much that evening redoubled my wish to get her. At the evening’s end she said she’d catch the bus back to her campus, which was nearby and, since I had Linda and Sara, I somewhat reluctantly agreed. Adina gone, Linda, Cara and I taxied to the tube, Linda heading off into Pudong. Cara was heading in my direction, to Huaihai Lu, and we talked as we went. I said, ‘I get the impression I irritated you in class.. I’m really very sorry about that.’

I had hoped to hear ‘Not at all’ but instead she said, `What’s in the past is in the past,’ meaning ‘Yes, you did irritate me’; which took me aback rather. I have not seen her since then and not though of her until now. So it goes.

Back home I sent an SMS after Arina, `Great to see you.. You were stunning,’ and during the next few days she and I talked on MSN. Our chats were a little brief and I was not sure I was making any headway. But then she emailed me to invite me to stay with her family in Nanjing over the Spring Festival holidays, telling me that:-

Today my mom talked about Lunar New Year with me, and I told her I wanted to invite you to visit Nanjing, especially for real local food. She thought foreigners might not have chance to spend time with their families while other Chinese families were celebrating together on this special day. So, she really hopes you can come to spend the New Year’s Eve with us, just like I do.

This was an email that pleased me greatly. But my first impulse was to make an excuse, for traveling though all the crowds and noise to a family I do not know at all would be a hassle. But I suspected it might have been her offer, and that if I did not go I would have no chance of her. But if I went it would still have to be in the terms laid out in her email – as just a friend. It was a test.

So I decided to go, my decision partly influence by the selection of photos she’d sent me. They were all chosen to show her at her best, which seems to me a fine sign; and I was frank about how stunning I found her, so she knew I was thinking of her beyond just mere friendship.

Yet even at the time I felt that my attitude was something I ought curb a little. If I showed too much keenness for her, I would seem a supplicant, not a master. And no one ever gets a woman by asking too hard.

But getting a ticket to go see her was a real cunt, with the fucked up system they got here. The clerk told me (after I’d got to the head of a long queue) I could not buy a ticket until within six days of the desired travel date. I went back on the sixth day before departure, and again met a long queue. At its head, the unsmiling clerk told me I could only get a ticket two days before departure. I went back two days before departure, queued again. The still unsmiling clerk told me I should have bought it six days before I planned to leave.

I lost my temper, somewhat. Generally I try not to do this, for I have seen too many foreigners, perplexed by the hard language and odd rules, shouting and screaming at the locals. This happens especially frequently at the PSB – the Public Security Bureau - where they issue passports and visas and the like. Most every time I go some foreigner will be frothing and screaming at the person behind the perspex; and while the rules here are frequently arcane, arbitrary and frustrating, shouting about it is only going to have a counterproductive effect. So in general I keep my temper, for I have no wish to come off as another intemperate white guy.

But in the face of my mild irritation and broken Chinese, grudgingly they told me I might be able to buy a ticket on the day of travel. On the day, I queued up once more and this time got a ticket.

Every single one of these queues, naturally, was made longer by the incessant number of people pushing straight to the front of the queue.

Fuck me, I’m writing about the inability of Chinese people to queue. Next it will be spitting, and then, fuck, it will be bicycles, and then my blog will be the same as every other blog on China.

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This Week's Menu

Having been busy every evening this week, I have had little chance for dinner and the chase – though I did fit lunch with Clarissa on Monday and coffee with Anita on Wednesday.

Clarissa, whom I have mentioned in passing before, is back in China for a few months, having emigrated overseas last June. I remember the date she left very clearly, since the night before I had dinner with her and her husband (a good looking guy, but one who does not quite fulfill her). On the way back from that dinner, having given her a colossal hug goodbye (and him a handshake) some fat chick on the tube heading to the station to get a train back to her nearby hometown wanted to practice her English on me. Happy enough to oblige, I even gave her my phone number when she asked for it, and for six months after that put up with her mithering sms questions, and did it gladly too, for the sake of her random, tenuous connection to Clarissa. Fat girl (who I named in my phone address book merely as ‘some chick’) was a connection to the last day I saw Clarissa; that made her important. And that shows what Clarissa is to me.

I did not know Clarissa was coming back. A few days ago, ten a.m, my mobile rings, with Clarissa’s name on the display. Not having had enough sleep from the night before I was groggy, confused. ‘Is that Clarissa?’ I asked. It was. ‘Where are you.. in China?

‘Yes’ she said, and then, ‘trouble!’ and rang off. I did not quite know what to make of it. But a few minutes later, the doorbell. It was her. And to see her filled my heart with joy… She did not stay for long, telling me she had appointments to keep, but wanted me to be the first person she saw outside her family after arriving home.

But this lunch we had was more recent. At that lunch she brought her friend along, Showy, who I had met at Clarissa’s wedding. Showy too is married.

Clarissa had suggested we eat at the Changshu Lu branch of 博多新记. (It is an excellent place. Normally I go to the other branch of the same restaurant at Fuxing Xi Lu and Xiangyang Lu; indeed, that was where I began my seduction of Tingting. It is not as fine as some other places, but it has its own advantages. Prime among these – other than the great food – is the fact that it is overwhelmingly a local restaurant. It is rare to see foreigners in there, and no-one speaks English nor are the menus translated. Going there, then, gives the date the impression that I have truly embraced Shanghai, that I do not just move in the expat-only circles. It’s also worth a visit since the Heineken girl they have there is remarkably cute. Though since I only ever go there with a date, it is pretty much impossible to do anything about her.)

Anyhow, at the Changshu branch, there were only outside tables were left when I arrived. I was sitting at one of these, waiting for her, my camera ready to picture her. Soon enough, she arrived and my joy surged as she did…

But outside was too hot, she felt, so I suggested we walk down to the nearby Yang’s Kitchen, and there we had a nice lunch, easy conversation. Though Clarissa and I flirted, I began to see that Showy was rather cute too.

At one point, Clarissa made a joke about married women finding lovers, and as she said it I raised my eyes to meet Showy’s. She is rather sexy, and married women make the best lovers. She met my eyes with the briefest look of surprise, and then her features assumed a studied neutrality. I was not sure what to make of that.

As for Anita, she was a more or less random find. I was waiting at Luijiazui subway stop to meet Feena last Friday (having decided to eschew Ellen, the sure thing, for the chance of Feena), when I saw a woman somewhat struggling to carry a bag down the steps descending to the station concourse. No one offered her help, naturally, for this is not a culture that is big on random acts of kindness. So I strode forward to help her (before I had even seen her face, so it was not a total pick-up). But she was rather good looking, and so at the bottom of the stairs we traded cards, leading to meeting for lunch on Wednesday. More of that later.

So this week I want to fit in various women; Angel and Suna, for lunch on Tuesday and then Wednesday afternoon and evening with Deedee. I also ought to see Jingjing, who I have pissed off, but having taken her home twice now, I am losing interest.

Angel and Suna are a couple of students who have become friends with each other and me since meeting in a class I taught. In that class, I noticed Angel, since she was quite cute (a Shanghai girl, with Shanghai style, sharply dressed, confident, a little bit sassy) but not Suna. However, I’d given the whole class my email this time, and it was Suna who popped up to talk first.

That first time she chatted to me online, I saw she had a blog, so I checked it out just to see who she was, since at that point all I had to go on was her email name. The main picture on her blog wowed me – a snap of a girl kissing another girl. It was clearly a ‘real’ picture, not just one downloaded from a porny website. Since one of the girls in the picture looked a little familiar, I wondered – hoped – that it was her. A girl who has a picture of a girl kissing another girl on her blog is a girl I want to get to know.

And so I did. But I did not tell her I even knew she had a blog, and, suppressing the urge to ask, ‘So, you’re into other girls, then?’ I just laid some getting-to-know-you groundwork shit. Then, a few minutes after we’d begun chatting, another student, from the same class, popped up; this was Angel, though I did not know it at the time, and clearly Suna had suggested she join in the conversation.

Though I didn’t know who this girl was, naturally I hoped it was the other girl in the pic – yet since these two were only classroom buddies that was unlikely. So all three of us talked until 11pm, at which time the electricity in their dorms (on different campuses) went off – Chinese university students being treated more like livestock than human beings.

A day or two later, I got a chatty SMS message from Angel; it was clear that Suna had given her my number (the only place Angel could have got it). Prior to this, I’d arranged to see Suna for coffee: now, she messaged me to ask if Angel could join us. This message gave me a frisson of excitement, as I fantasized that Suna was engineering this with an eye on seducing Angel.

I went to that date determined to flirt but also to keep my conversation away from prurient questions about that picture, her sexuality. But the topic came up anyway, for, before Angel arrived, Suna and I were talking about student life, and I’d mentioned something about a friend at Shanghai Maritime University. She seized on that name, and told me it was renowned for having many lesbian students. Did I know if this was true, she asked, and did I know any such people? More of this, too, later.

Finally I am keen to take Arina out to dinner once more. I have not had much luck in wooing her; there is certainly attraction there, and potential too. But she has made it clear that she is looking for something serious. So the only way I can get her is by making a proper play for her, and showing some commitment. And I am not sure I am ready for that; plus, of course, I already have Sara, my full time girlfriend, of whom I am very fond. Sara is leaving China for study in Canada later in the year, and I would like to keep our relationship tranquil until then. Getting with Arina would make my life a bit too complex – just an endless round of changing sheets and hiding trinkets.

Technorati Tags: