Friday, June 09, 2006

Changchun , China

I am finally making progress in Chinese. By that I mean that I stop using set phrases and I am starting to mix and match stuff. I noticed this at my last lesson when I had not done my homework for reason of going to the pub. My old schooldays instincts woke up from their long slumber and made me use the tried and tested technique of playing for time. I am very proud that my Chinese is now good enough to steer discussion towards fun and irrelevant stuff instead of going over directions and public transport as we were supposed to. Necessity may be the mother of invention but I found that procrastination, laziness and a complete absence of willpower when facing beer have finally spawned the mental flip I needed to get serious about using my vocabulary. I feel ashamed and proud at the same time.

Usual categories will be dropped for this post as I’ll focus on my haunts for the past week:

Park Life.

I have taken to spending my afternoons in the many parks of this place as they are pleasant, full of local life and I can attempt to recuperate my now-faded South East Asia tan. It’s a great place to chill out with your colleagues, watch the dozens of kites permanently airborne, bitch about work, munch on some fruit bought off street vendors or just go by myself and be contemplative. By that I mean that I ogle Chinese women.

China is not a land with an unusually high ratio of babes but there are a fair few stunners around. Chinese women between 18 and 25 (the age when they are supposed to bag a hubby) are fanatical about how their body looks and spend several hours in the gym to ensure their charmingly petite bodies are all trim and yummy. Umbrellas are out in force as, like a lot of places in Asia, they want their skin to be as pale as possible. Add to that the fact that they move around in groups and like to hold hands, hug and touch each other a lot and it all makes forgreat stuff to watch from behind mirrored sunglasses.

What sometimes spoils my happy perving moments is the Chinese sense of fashion. One of the big gripes of laowai men here is the insane tendency amongst Chinese women to perm and dye their beautiful silky jet-black hair. Bad, Bad, Bad. As for clothing I am unsure if I should love or loathe the local talent’s dress sense. Like a lot of British women, Chinese girls have sort of twigged that a man’s appreciation of a garment is inversely proportionate to the square yardage of the cloth. So, in a strange telepathic bond between the high streets of Essex and Jilin, the general attire for summer comes straight from the Street Corner Hooker school of seduction. It’s all crop tops, tight T-shirts, teensie little shorts and fuck-me boots. However, as the local women live on the treadmill and don’t down 7 pints of cider each night before a greasy kebab, Chinese women carry off this fashion much better than the lasses of my country.

You could think it’s all good and wonder what I am bitching about. I admit it’s not much but there are two things that sort of freak me out about the way they dress. The first one is furry bras. They love silly stuff on bras and particularly fake fur. I suppose it would look fantastic on its own but when added to a cute little top it often looks like they have a strange sprout of hair sticking out form their cleavage. Also, when I say cute I mean cute in the nauseating sense of the word. You will often spot a very nice piece of tottie walking towards you. As the sweet thing approaches you start the up-down scan and put a few tentative numbers on the shaggabilty scorechart each man has in his head. When she gets close enough for final marks you can’t help but see what decorates that wonderfully tight top. It’s all sparkles, teddy bears, hearts, “I’m a pretty girl” in cursive and other candyfloss type shit. I just find it a bit freaky. It’s like getting invited back to a woman’s place and finding that she has shedloads of teddy bears in her bedroom. It shouldn’t matter but it still feels weird.

So am I going to “sign up for advanced Chinese”? This is the euphemism used by resident expats for going native in the bedroom. I understand that a Western boyfriend is very appealing to the local chicks for several reasons. The usual income disparity, hope of bagging an exit visa, free English practice, fashion statement and street cred, more gallantry and general pandering to whims than local boys, a guarantee that it will annoy the fuck out of the old guard and of course penis size, though this might be wishful thinking on behalf of the resident male whities. The problem with going local is that you are unsure of the real motivations of the girl or have to be callous enough not to give a shit.

For the moment I am going to give it a pass. What I know about women from my culture can be written on a matchbox so having to deal with Chinese culture as well might lead to consequential misunderstandings. I have also had a sign from fate that prompts me to be wary. I met a very nice Chinese girl who was all flirty and doing a good job at petting my ego by pretending I was knowledgeable and interesting. She was pretty much clued up on most things and had gone out with laowais before so I thought she could be the best of two worlds. Right up to the moment I found out her last boyfriend had lost it and tossed himself out of a window. Therefore, as with pharmaceuticals and wine, I am going to stick with imported. A lot more effort to acquire but no nasty surprises.

Though leering at the local fluff is one of the main activities in Changchun’s parks other things are on offer. Apparently a day out with the kid wouldn’t be complete in China without guns. There are various electric car rides in the big parks but for some reason they all include a toy gun of some sort and targets on the side of the rails. I must say I find it a bit worrying that the local sprogs are going to have fond childhood memories of playing at drive-by shootings with Daddy. God help us if they get nostalgic and try to get Proust’s “Madeleine” effect.

The shooting stands are also a good place to draw a crowd if a laowai indulges. Our tendency for afternoon bevvies on our days off means that a trip to the park involves regular sessions of waiting for the girls outside the toilets (blokes can, and do, take a slash wherever they want without raising eyebrows). Enterprising locals have put their stands just outside the bogs and they are a good way to waste a few minutes. Westerners with guns being fascinating to Chinese blokes you will get a crowd who will very kindly sound impressed if you manage to hit something.

As with all parks in the world you can also have fun mocking the groups of teenage boys who are trying to look tough and intimidating. A great source of mirth back home, except for tabloid readers and those prone to urban hysteria, it is particularly amusing here due to Chinese mores. There is a widely believed and semi-official creed that there are no homosexuals in China. A casual visitor might think otherwise as it is common and acceptable for boys to hold hands, hug each other, sit on each other’s lap and even groom each other’s hair. It’s hard enough not to laugh at a teenager’s stare-down but it’s somewhat impossible if the wannabe tough guy has got his pal’s head in his lap and is stroking his hair.

The one snag with Chinese parks is finding somewhere to chill out. The authorities like the idea of everyone staying on the concrete paths being grateful at the kind gift from a benevolent government instead of actually enjoying the place so a strict Stay Off The Grass policy is in effect. Like most rules in China, is it somewhat subjective but you should try to find a discreet area for your picnic. I have learnt to avoid places where you can hear singing as this will be the Lovers Grove where Chinese couples go and serenade each other. Beyond that it’s quite easy to find the area where the rules don’t apply. In any case I can pretty much do what I want as the signs are in Hanzi and I reckon that if the regular plod can’t deal with Laowais, the parkies certainly aren’t going to bother.

That’s it for this post. Can't be arsed to to political stuff and the sun is shining so I'm going out.

Take care,