The DengFeng Driller returns.
But that's another story....
Towards the end of the Shaolin experience, Yong and I started frequenting DengFeng, which is a larger city about ten kilometers from Shaolin. Yong's school is there, as well as something far more important. Video stores. The Chinese absolutely crave their video CD's, and Yong was no exception. When he stays at his school, he, as the oldest of the fifty or so students, is responsible for going into DengFeng to rent some VCD's on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Those are the two nights that the school kids are allowed to watch movies. Regular movie theaters are a rarity here. I found one in Beijing, and supposedly, the DengFeng town center has an auditorium where they occasionally show films. But since real films from America are expensive to get, the DengFengians, along with the Shaolin village people, drag out a television and a VCD player, and sit on the street to watch a pirated movie. It is not uncommon to see fifty or a hundred people, sitting on a sidewalk, in a very orderly and quiet fashion, to watch a small 19 inch television propped up on chairs. I found the whole concept so fascinating, that we went to a video store to buy a whole bunch. Yong wanted to stay up every night to either play Unreal on his laptop, or watch movies.
Yong searches through the American movie section. All twenty movies.
I ended up buying Titanic for twelve Yuan (or about $1.25) and a couple of war movies. The topics that the movie selections concentrated on were a bit interesting. Love stories and war stories. Videos of all sorts of American weaponry. Videos of American nuclear weapons. And the Chinese videos, made in China itself, mostly consisted of love stories and gong fu. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are king here. So are Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Anything with a lot of action, or love, rules here. Couldn't find Star Wars the first episode yet. I'm sure somebody is "making it" here.
So one night I watched part of Titanic. It really wasn't all that bad. The guy that filmed it held the video camera fairly level, and the people in the audience thankfully did not get up and block the film. I found the whole idea of watching all those little heads under the screen quite funny, and ended up spending more time watching those heads move than watching the movie. The film quality was a bit fuzzy, and is was slightly obscured by the big Chinese characters that they spread across the bottom of the film image. I couldn't understand why they didn't put the subtitles over the little heads on the bottom of the image. If there were a lot of Chinese subtitles to put in a scene, they just kept moving the subtitles up until it covered the film. Fortunately, they never covered the little heads on the bottom, so I could watch the people watching the film without any trouble. Yong ended up getting many of these, and every night, as I passed out from the effects of my nightly medication and my daily workouts, Yong stayed awake, eyes glued to some war movie or love story. I would wake up in the morning, and there would be Yong, on his bed, computer open with battery dead, sound asleep. Most probably, he had been up a good deal of the night.
What I really find annoying about the VCD's is not the Chinese subtitles which cover up half the screen, but the very frequent use of dubbing. Not only will they put subtitles on the flicks, but more often than not, they will dub over the actors voice with some Chinese speaking voice. It really gets good when they put either Thai or Japanese subtitles on top of the Chinese subtitles, and dub over the voices. It gets so bad that you wish those little heads at the bottom of the screen would move more often. Titanic, with Chinese dubbing, was absolutely hysterical.
But DengFeng offered far more than video stores. They had a night market which was quite fascinating.
It's all basically the same food, from one mobile stand to the next. Noodles, in different shapes, all pressed and boiled to order. Chicken, deep fried or roasted, and with meat on them. A nice departure from the typical Chinese chicken dish, where they take a chicken, pluck the feathers, disembowel it, and chop it up whole, into little pieces, to be cooked in a wok. You have to find the meat somewhere in the mess of grizzle, skin, cartilage, and bones. But here, they had real chickens. Whole chickens. Identifiable chickens. Chickens with meat on them. Well, mostly on the legs. One thing that I've noticed is that the chicken breasts are not very large, actually, they are quite nonexistent. A tribute to the chicken farmers not using hormones in their feed? The farmers are not feeding the chickens at all? Or is it something in the water? (It's a horrible condition not limited to just one species, seen mostly throughout the country).
There are lamb master wanna-be's up and down the street, with tables and little chairs set up on one side, and the food carts on the other. The street is shut down at 1830 hours to automobile traffic, but for some reason, it doesn't really stop them. You sit on one of these chairs, and order your food, amidst the roar of the occasional two cylinder Chinese motorcycle, taxi, pedestrians, and beggars. Women with guitar like things walk up and down, offering to sing you Chinese tunes while you eat. Cow stomach, and other various nefarious food items can be had. But I didn't see any deep friend scorpions or other bugs as I had in Beijing. I guess that these people just do not know how to eat well.
DengFeng is your typical small Chinese city. It has a post office (which does not offer international shipping), various types of restaurants, stores, and one auditorium. Hair dressing places abound here, which Yong assures me are just fronts for houses of prostitution. I didn't believe him, so I told him that we were going to go into a few of them, to get our hair cut. He didn't think I would get away with that ruse, so we never did it.
Collecting the trash in DengFeng. Big mechanized trash collecting trucks? Nah. One guy with a cart that he pulls by hand. And he's responsible for keeping the street clean also.
The supermarkets here are small compared to ours back in the US. Actually, they're tiny compared to ours in the US. Most of them are single little storefronts, bigger than the ones in Shaolin (and don't double as the family's living quarters), but not any larger than, well, I can't really think of anything to compare it with back in the US, because, we really don't have any stores this small back home. Figure about fifteen feet wide and ten feet deep. That's about the typical size. Inside them are the usual, same stuff that you see in every other Chinese food store. You get the occasional American products, and then you get the typical Chinese imitation. Water is for sale in little 600 ml bottles. And Coke is king here. You won't find a Pepsi product. Coca Cola must have pulled some smooth moves years ago with the right people. It's all over the place.
Can you figure out which is the real thing?
(It's the stuff on the bottom).
The DengFeng Home Depot. Your typical hardware store. Surprisingly, when someone in Shaolin needs to get tools, they come here. Kind of scary when this is typical of your only resource for repairing stuff. My first trip to Shaolin five years ago shot home a good point about supplies in China. The main pump for the village went out, and we were out of water for about two weeks. They had to get a new pump from Beijing. Which is about a ten to twelve hour drive, by bus. By little diesel engine three wheeled tractor, probably about two weeks. Now, pumps and the like can be found in DengFeng. But Chinese ingenuity rules here, and you have to learn to make do with you can find.
Bicycles used to be a main source of transportation, especially in Shaolin. It was not uncommon to see a family of three (and occasionally four) on one bicycle. Now, due to an increased economy, motor scooters are popular. Now it is not uncommon to see a family of three or four on one motor scooter. The husband drives, the wife sits behind him holding a baby or small child, and another small child stands on the floorboard of the motor scooter, holding onto the handlebars. The other day, I saw a family of five on one small motorcycle. I'm not sure I can figure out how they did it, but there were five heads on that bike. More and more motorcycles are being sold, and more and more Volkswagen cars (and their Chinese mimics, made with parts from Volkswagen) are on the roads. I even saw a big Mercedes the other day in Zengzhou, which is a major city. And from what I understand, there is a Ferrari dealership in Beijing, but I've never seen one on the road. The roads are another story....
Taxi cabs are a trip here, kind of reminiscent of the tuk tuks of Bangkok. They're just not as fast. These things really struggle when two people get in the back, especially if one is a large American. A few taxi drivers refused to take Yong and I back to Shaolin when they caught sight of me. They're basically a small motorcycle with an even smaller engine, mounted to a two wheeled canvas covered cart. They don't move very fast, and it's quite exciting when a Volkswagen zooms by, just skimming the taxi as close as it can get. Especially when the car is coming from the opposite direction. What I find humorous about these things, is that the taxi drivers, for the most part, wear these shitty plastic construction type helmets, all as if it were some sort of regulation. As if it were really going to make a difference.
Despite the fact that many people are upgrading to motorcycles and motor scooters, many workers still rely upon the old standby. Human power. Hand drawn carts are common, even in the largest cities. Beijing included.
Nighttime starts to fall in DengFeng. And with nighttime, comes people. Lots of them. From apparently nowhere come multitudes of people, all kind of dressed up (at least better than me), to set up their wares on the sidewalk, to eat dinner at the outdoor eateries, or just to hang out in the square and play all sorts of exciting games. Like, roll the old bicycle tire so that it falls and lands around a vase which is sitting on the ground (which you then get to keep). Or, throw a small straw ring around a vase that's sitting on the ground (which you then get to keep). Or, get the small straw ring around a toy truck. And you get to keep that too. People would bring boxes of these vases, cups, trucks, etc, put them on the ground in the main square, and put a chalk line down, behind which you have to stand. You pay a Yuan for each bicycle tire or straw ring that you get to throw. And many people watch this. People cheer the woman on who's already captured her third vase. They cheer as she grabs with apparent disgust, the few remaining rings her husband has, as he's missed every damn one. It's the main form of entertainment in DengFeng. That, and congregating in mass groups, all sitting on the sidewalk and even the street, to watch some fortunate being's television and VCD player.
The main square. Here is where all the exciting games are played. The large tan building to the left in the picture is the town auditorium, where they occasionally have different types of Chinese concerts, and rarely, show movies. People come here at night to just congregate and hang out. Every night.
I noticed another type of "store" when I was in DengFeng. Yong and I were walking the streets after having some chicken and noodles in the street. I was drawn to this one door that had a sign above it that depicted a guy and a girl dancing. Thus, I, the ever observant one, deduced that it must be a dance club. Especially when the door opened and a few girls stuck their heads out to look at me. I asked Yong about it. He told me that it was a dance club. (God, I'm good). You go in there, you pick a girl, and you get a certain period of time to talk to her and dance. Kind of like getting into a cab. You pay for the time you spend with her. I kind of thought that to be a fascinating idea, so I pressed it with Yong. I said "You mean it's a whore house". He wasn't quite sure what I meant by that, so I didn't push it. The whole concept of sex in China is one that is not broached lightly.
Which brings me to the girlfriends. At least, that's what I call them. The girls at the Shaolin "hotel" (otherwise known as the Shaolin Hilton) where I'm staying. They are all in their early twenties, late teens, and they either man the front desk area, or clean the rooms, or do the laundry. Let's not get carried away here, it's not as nice as it sounds. One girl kind of talks a little English, and every once in a while, I'll help her with her lessons. She's teaching herself, in preparation to try to get into da shuie, college. She has a big entrance examination in October. I call her the head girlfriend, or, the madam. She hasn't the slightest idea of what I'm referring to.
Which brings me to the all important subject of survival rules yet again. Always smile at the girlfriends. Very important. You absolutely don't want to piss the girlfriends off. And don't touch the girlfriends. It is not a good thing for a big ugly white guy like me to be seen with a proper young Chinese girl. The local populace will get bad ideas about her, and she's finished when it comes to finding a proper Chinese mate. (And Chinese women generally don't smoke; only the prostitutes do, for the most part). So smile at the girlfriends, and don't touch.
Me, touching "Madam", the head girlfriend. Now she's absolutely ruined for life. Shame, she doesn't even realize it. And I didn't know my head was so small.
Pissing the girlfriends off leads to two things. They dump the water in your bathtub, and all smile sex stops. I guess a little explanation is in order here. Since sex is of course out of the question (hell, even a date is out of the question. Besides, with the language barrier, what would you talk about? Hmmm. Typical date....), you have smile sex. When you go downstairs in the morning, you smile at one of the girlfriends on duty, and you have all sorts of nasty little thoughts. Of course, she smiles back. And you know damn well, that she's having little nasty thoughts too. And then you go outside to work out. Smile sex. Very easy, very noncommittal. Absolutely perfect. And as time goes on, the smile sex gets better. You have nastier thoughts, and of course, so does she. And you can have it with not just one of the girlfriends, you can have it with all of them. (Though, I would strongly suggest not having it with the oldest girlfriend. She's been here for years, still unmarried, and, well, quite ugly. She hates me. F---- her, as William would say. She doesn't get any smile sex). And you don't have to wear anything funky. No dinners, no bullshit conversations, no movies, just get in your dirtiest smelliest tee shirt, go downstairs, have smile sex, and work out. The perfect beginning to a perfect day. They like it, and so do you. And besides, the better the smile sex, the less chance of them emptying your bathtub.
Ruining some more.
Which your probably wondering about..... The bathtub. The most important appliance in your room. A key survival rule is to fill the bathtub up every night, with the hottest (if available) water you can get. It fulfills many functions. In the autumn, and winter, if your stupid enough to come here as I do, it heats the room. (I hope you didn't think there was heat here...). It ends up being slightly lukewarm by morning, and when you wake up disgusting in the morning, because you weren't able to wash yourself properly the night before with cold water and Chinese soap, you can dip yourself in it to rinse off. But most important, it is a reservoir for the almost daily water outages that occur here. You dump the trash out of the bathroom bucket onto the floor, and use it to convey water to the toilet in order to flush it. God forbid you have to go outside and use a "conventional" bathroom.
Another girlfriend. Same tee shirt. Two weeks later.
But the girlfriends are as regimented and unyielding as the waitresses. (I almost got into a fist fight with a waitress tonight, as she kept putting my plate in front of my laptop, and my chopsticks where the keyboard is supposed to be. I would move them and she would move them back. I would move them again, and she would stand there and move them back. Then, she just stood there and waited for me to move them again. I did. And she did. All damn night. I should have smacked her. But chances are, she knows gong fu and she would just kick my ass all over the restaurant). If the girlfriends show up, they kind of clean the room. That is, if you get up early enough. If you're not out of the room by 9AM, they don't bother. And with Yong staying up later and later watching VCD's into the early hours of the morning, we were getting up later and later. (The room was an absolute mess by the end of this week. I was either going to have to leave it, or burn it down). If you get up early enough to work out, and you smile at the girlfriends on the way out, and the smile sex is good, they'll go to your room, and fold up the sheet that you've been using for the past three weeks, and put it at the head of your bed. If there is trash on the floor, they'll push it under the thing they call a "bed". (Another survival rule: don't ever look under the thing they call a "bed"). If the thing they call a "roll of toilet paper" has been used, they'll give you another one. If it has one sandpaper like sheet left on it, then that's what you get for the rest of the day (another survival rule: bring toilet paper. And not the stuff with the flowers on it. You don't want the girlfriends to think that you're a sissy.) If there are a hole mess of dead bugs on the floor, well, they leave them. They won't touch and organize your stuff, and they'll always turn off the air conditioner (Yes, that's right, an air conditioner. And most of the time, it blows cool air. A blessed device). Occasionally, they'll open the door to the thing they pretend is a balcony. Just got to let all that humid air into the room. And, of course, more bugs. What fun would it be if you didn't go ugly bug hunting every night?
An honorary girlfriend. Doesn't work at the Shaolin Hilton. But from the way she dresses, I got the impression she was more the town "loose one" than a girlfriend. (Now my reputation is ruined). Same tee shirt?
And if there is water in the bathtub, they'll find a way to drain it. I had thought that I was fortunate when I saw that I had a rubber drain plug that, well, worked, and that, well, couldn't be grabbed with the fingers. I had to use my knife to stab it and pop it up out of the drain. (Oh, that reminds me, bring a knife. You'll need it for the drain plug, and for the watermelon. And, also for the bigger bugs). So, initially, I had thought my water stash was safe. There wasn't a girlfriend alive that could grab that little rubber drain plug, especially if I pushed it all the way down into the drain.
I was wrong. The girlfriends, though regimented and untrainable, are resourceful. They drained my bathtub every time. How they did it, I don't know. I always hid my knife. And this was a major problem. We were losing water during the day, and with that, proper "bathroom privileges". I was at a complete loss. Telling them to keep the water in the tub just didn't do it regardless of how good the smile sex was. I had to come up with something else.
I found a dirty tee shirt, which really wasn't a problem, as that's all I really had, and threw it into the tub of water. I had found a dilemma for which the girlfriends had no conditioned response. Do they drain the tub and leave a sopping wet tee shirt in it? Of course not, then the tub doesn't look like it's supposed to. Besides, what to do with a sopping wet tee shirt? Carry it through the room to hang it outside and get all those bugs on the floor wet? It certainly didn't look clean, so it didn't belong on the line I had jury rigged outside (survival rule: hang a reliable dry line outside, and wash your clothes every day. You never know when the water will stop, and when the tub will run out). It really threw them. So every night we had water, a shirt, or a pair of socks stayed in the tub. We never ran out of water again. The girlfriends had been conquered.
Back to DengFeng. I can't remember where I was..... Oh, sex in China. The girls in the dance club. Yes, Yong had told me that that building had a dance club in it, and he kind of left it at that. He didn't understand the term whore house, so I didn't bother explaining it. I just kind of ignored it. But my interest was piqued. As we walked around DengFeng, I decided that I wanted to investigate the crowd that had gathered around that main hall in the main square. Yong said that there was a concert going on. I wanted to go. We got there, and Yong had felt that the concert wasn't going to be that good, because he knew of the artist who was performing there. It really didn't make any difference to me; I wasn't going to understand it anyway. But right next door was a larger building, and it, again, had that figure of a girl and a guy dancing lit up in neon on top of it, in a slightly inconspicuous spot. I asked Yong about it, and he told me you can dance with the girls or get massages from them there. I was all for it. I said we're going, and I'm paying. After a month of gong fu workout, a massage is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, the only other option for getting a massage is from the Chinese "doctor" who works at the wushu guan. He asks me every day with his very limited English. "Massage?" "No". Besides, I think he's gay. He ain't gonna touch my back. So when this prospect opened, I was all over it.
As we entered, a policeman greeted us at the door, and escorted us in. Inside, behind a large wall of glass, were a whole bunch of nice looking girls, sitting on couches, watching television, and eating peanuts. Yong said that you could pick any of them to talk to or dance with. Since I can't talk Chinese, and I can't dance, I told him that we would just get massages and get out of there. It was getting late, and tomorrow was another day of working out. We had a lot of work to do to get through that last form. So Yong told the girl at the entrance that we wanted massages, the cop said goodbye to us, and we were escorted into the back.
We passed the sauna on the way back (Yong asked if I had wanted a sauna. As if I needed one, working out in 95 degree weather....) Way in the back were more girls, who, from what I could tell, had not seen an American before. Think of their reaction as somewhere between irresistible fascination and absolute fear. I was told to pick one, and she would massage me for forty five minutes. The cost? One hundred Yuan, about, twelve bucks. So I grabbed one, and off we went for my massage. Yong just didn't want one despite my offer to pay for it.
As far as massages go, it wasn't the best. I took my shirt off and laid on this bamboo thing. Not the most comfortable thing in the world, but a massage is a massage, and I needed it. She seemed to be a little scared of me, well, no, make it a lot scared of me. My forty five minute massage lasted fifteen. She was definitely in a rush to get out of there. No matter, twelve bucks to have someone rub my back was worth it. She finished, and I left.
As we headed out to find a taxi, Yong asked me if I got anything special. I told him that I did. He was a bit surprised at that. Yes, to me, a fifteen minute backrub was pretty special. He then told me that wasn't what he meant. There really isn't much of a language barrier between Yong and I, as he lived in Montreal for three years, and he spoke pretty damn good English. But he did have some trouble with the slang.
He told me that you can get special things at these places. For about three hundred Yuan, I could have had a special service. And if you're Chinese, it only costs about two hundred Yuan. I was completely lost. And then he told me, that because I was a big foreigner, I would probably have to pay five hundred Yuan. I was starting to get the picture. I thought. "You mean, you can get laid for a few hundred Yuan?" He kind of looked at me funny. "Laid? What is laid?" How do you explain that to an English speaking Chinese?
I explained to him that getting laid was having sex. He just couldn't understand the logic behind "getting laid" and "having sex". This started a whole half hour conversation about how laid means to lay down, well, no, more like, you did lay down, and, when you lay down, you have sex, so, getting laid means having sex. By the time I got through my thoroughly complete explanation, I was confused too. I had no idea why "getting laid" means "having sex". That's when he told me "getting something special" meant having sex. He couldn't explain that one to me either.
I had no idea I was in a whore house. In the middle of DengFeng. Right smack in the middle of the town square, Next to the town civic center. And I was escorted in by a policeman. When you consider the very simple fact that prostitution is illegal here, and, prostitution where a foreigner is involved (god forbid we ruin their women), these are things that carry heavy fines. And jail sentences. I've heard of foreigners being thrown into prison and being fined anywhere from a thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars. Actually, it really did all make sense. From what I hear, the police run these little prostitution rings. And the prostitutes "inform" the police when they have a foreigner. Thirty bucks is nothing for the "special service" when the fine is in the thousands of dollars. Quite the business set up they have here.
But what really blew my mind was the fact that it was right in the middle of town, fully exposed, with all to know exactly what went on in there. For the Chinese men, it is no big deal, almost like going down to the local pizzeria to get a slice. An illegal slice, but still an easy slice. It was the last thing I expected to find in what I thought was a civil and proper China.
Of course we went back.
My last night Shaolin brought us back to DengFeng for the celebratory real chicken dinner. Chicken thighs and noodles, all while sitting in the street under a full moon. Amidst the diesel smoke and bicycles. You can't beat it. After dinner, I just wanted to go home and crash. I was absolutely exhausted. Between my three week email access problem, and threats from home of putting my dogs in a kennel, I was mentally wiped out. But Yong was finally up for his massage, and he wanted to go. We went, again greeted at the door by a policeman who smiled at us like we were old friends.
I told Yong that I would pay for it, but that I was just going to rest downstairs while he got massaged. He encouraged me to get one too, and after a while, I figured what the hell. That's when the fun began.
Going to the back to pick my massager was an experience. When I showed up, all the "irresistible curiosity" I had experienced the previous night was more replaced by "absolute terror". They wanted nothing to do with me. No eye contact, just sit there, pretend to watch the TV and hope that "he doesn't pick me". Kind of reminded me of my experiences at college dances. At first I thought that maybe I should have washed in the cold water a little better before I had left. Then it had occurred to me that these women were not just massage women, they were prostitutes too. All of them. And they did "special services". And I was a big American. Five hundred Yuan. Two hundred for a Chinese man. It all came together. No wonder why they didn't want me. They thought I was there for "special services". All I wanted was a damn massage.
Yong noticed the problem too, so he started talking to them. He went from one to the other, all, from what I could tell, giving him one kind of story or the other. No eye contact, just fear. I could sense it. I was an outcast. An outcast in a whore house no less.
The manager picked one and told her to go upstairs. I really thought that this was a bad idea now, telling Yong that I was just going to wait while he got his massage, which was my original plan. But Yong thought that would be "losing face", and you just don't "lose face" to a prostitute. Like I really cared. (As William would say, "F--- losing face. F--- all of you. Get the F--- upstairs". William had a way with words). But I went upstairs, and when I got there, the girl the manager picked to give me the massage ran downstairs. It was kind of funny, actually. Now, Yong said, I was really "losing face".
I thought of how the IBM salesman kicked my ass at the bargaining table when we were trying to buy Yong's computer. I "lost face" there, but I really didn't care. Now a hooker was making me "lose face", and as a representative of all of the males of America, I felt a tremendous responsibility on my shoulders. I wasn't going to stand for it. I went back down stairs, pointed at the girl who gave me the shitty (but enjoyable) massage the night before, and waved her to come with me with a stern look. She wasn't all that happy. I really didn't care. At this point, I was going to get that massage. And I was going to leave here with "my face".
I got my massage, and this time, after about ten minutes, when she finally realized that there was nothing "special" in this deal, she did a good job. And my massage lasted an hour and ten minutes. When she had finished, I gave her the hundred Yuan, plus a fifty Yuan tip. She was happy, and my back was happy. I left with "my face", and the knowledge that the other girls in there were really pissed off that they lost the opportunity to make an easy hundred and fifty Yuan on just a back rub.
I finally got into a battle here in China in which I left as the victor. After all of these yearly visits learning gong fu here in China, I finally won a battle. OK, so I beat a bunch of prostitutes. But I still won. I didn't "lose face". William would have been proud of me....
Oh, and the policeman. The policeman smiled at us as we left, slapped me on the back, and told us to come back the next night. Not only did I kick some hooker ass, but I made a friend in the police department.