So I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to make this a dull “then I did this” sort of travelogue. And hopefully I’ve achieved that so far. But for all the dull travelogues out there, some people send me really spectacular travel accounts that make me laugh my arse off. And given I like sharing things with you, reading public, I’m going to share the odd example of this on this very page. This is one of my favourites, an account from my famous friend Rabbi on his relatively recent excursion.
B-Boys, Sex Shops and Charlie Sheen
I spend most of my time in China either being on trains, finding a place to stay near the train station, or eating food. I’ve been playing a lot of Cuisine Roulette, where I point at something in Chinese on the menu and order it. I’ve only lost badly once: I ended up with thousand-year eggs and river squid (it looked like tapeworm) in a Szechuan sauce. I nearly threw up. But back to my hair.
Since I decided I was close enough to take-off date to not care whether I offended my bosses with unruly hair, I haven’t had it cut. This makes a total of about six months sans cut. So, my somewhat fetching ‘corner of Brunswick and Collins St’ haircut has grown into a rather ungainly and randomised light brown mane. It’s probably fair to say that I look like Chris with a haircut. In India this wasn’t so much of an issue – there were people with far more tangled manes than me, and wearing much funnier clothes too. As far as the Indians were concerned, I pretty much looked like an accountant. But China is an altogether different story.
Whilst I don’t imagine that I have the sort of trouble that a blonde person would have here (I think in certain parts of China that shit would make their heads explode) I have run into certain hiccups. In India, the most I would get is an unflattering comparison to Shane Warne’s coiffure in the early 1990s. In China, most every Chinese native I have met who speaks English says something along the lines of, “You look just like Charlie Sheen.” It’s never anyone else. There are plenty of other brown-haired celebrities out there, but for some reason I always get Charlie Sheen. I’m not sure anyone realises just how racist this comment is; I have been tempted on occasion to say, “And you look just like Jackie Chan.”
The other thing that fascinates Chinese people about my hair is that it is so damn messy most of the time. People randomly tug on it at bars to see what will happen (half the time following up with something about Charlie Sheen). I would keep it cleaner, but the showerheads over here aren’t up to much, and they certainly can’t penetrate five centimetres of sweaty kerotonin. People feel I must be somehow ashamed of this – whenever I even walk near a hairdresser someone tries to pull me inside. They seem to feel really, really bad for me – “Come have a haircut Charlie Sheen…”, “Too messy Charlie Sheen”. By contrast, the Chinese boys who have longish hair are always meticulously groomed. Young people over here simply love being neat, tidy and obeying ALL THE RULES. No-one even walks on the grass. Ever. Case in point: Chinese B-Boys.
Chinese B-Boys (or CB-Boys, or Breaker-Breakers) wear all the ghetto fabulous gear they can get their hands on. But they wear it neatly. They’ll wear their Converses with the laces done up properly. They’ll wear baggy jeans at a level so their underwear doesn’t show, but conveys the fact that it could if they wanted it to (but they don’t). They wear singlets in the street, with nice neat plaid shirts open over the top. And when they break, and I’ve seen this happen on flagstoned backstreets, they do it to early 90s happy hip-hop. It’s actually pretty fun: these ultra-fly, ultra-neat Breakers working it out to Naughty-By-Nature, ‘Whoomp! There It Is’ and Will Smith. I guess this is because in China, they still think of hip-hop stars as guys like Will Smith; over here, gangsta rap simply never happened.
I actually figured this out when I was at Dalian, and some students of Dad’s were telling me the one incident of campus violence anyone can remember was three of four years ago, when a student was stabbed in Cafeteria Five. I joked that, ‘He must have got on the wrong side of the Wu-Tang Clan’ (Five translates as Wu in Mandarin). They all stared at me blankly. It wasn’t a great joke (well, I liked it) but they simply had no idea who Wu-Tang were. I said, you know, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. More blank looks. Um…NWA? Nope. ‘Fuck Tha Police?’. They looked simply horrified. I guess gangsta was censored from release, so this idea of sticking it to authority through hip-hop never got a leg up. If you wanted to redo NWA and release it here you’d have to call it ‘Respect Tha Police’. You’d probably sell a billion.
That said, whilst I may make China sound very buttoned-down and repressed, it’s not. People are economically emancipated. If you come to China, the national hobby is not kite-flying, it’s shopping. During the middle of the work day, gargantuan shopping malls will be filled with people on their lunch breaks just buying everything and anything. It’s amazing. Along with shopping (or alongside advertising), they’ve also got the hang of a liberalised sexual culture (or ‘raunch culture’, or whatever). Chinese people are now half expected to have three or four boyfriends or girlfriends before they get married. One of the English teachers on CCTV6 is a flaming homosexual who spends most of his lessons on Slang English demonstrating scenes from The Bodyguard where Kevin Costner asks for an orange juice ’straight’, and emphasising that he personally ‘would prefer it a little different’. The government, in order to keep everyone from getting pregnant, started putting sex aid vending machines on the streets. These machines sell everything from condoms through to a nasal spray which says on the box (it’s in the mail to you Geoff) ‘makes you a goldengun but not actually turn into a gun’. Which I guess is a relief (although somewhat disappointing if your girlfriend has a Transformers fetish).
What I find really interesting about this whole phenomenon is that the government in their ‘we’ll do everything, but do it to the extreme’ philosophy is that it has, along with the sex aid vending machines, okayed the promulgation of sex shops. Now, I don’t mean the back alley, Club X, brown-paper bag, old men in a dirty mac shops. I mean shops, open onto the street selling everything under the sun. Particularly near the train stations (I think the logic being that people take the train to see their lovers). It’s a very weird experience, walking along stocking up on everything you need for your 12hr train ride: “Two litres of water? Check. Marinated duck in an Al Foil bag? Check. Lollies? Check. Double ended black suction-pump magnetic fisting machine? Check and mate, Mr. Boredom.”