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Archive for June 4th, 2008

My hosts and I were unable to give the cab driver sufficiently detailed directions to our intended dining spot, (not an uncommon event when street names change each block and street numbers are not sequential) After 30 frustrating minutes of getting nowhere fast, we obeyed the dictates of our rumbling stomachs and got out and walked south in search of a late evening dinner. Normally, a dinner for 3 at a quite elegant Sichuan or Yunnan restaurant would never top $70, even with drinks. But it was getting on 9:30, and with no such haven in sight, we threw frugality to the wind and walked into Jasmine, a high concept and high end Asian fusion restaurant/club.

Here we had entered the rarefied land of plush expense accounts and equally padded bodies camouflaged by well cut Italian suits. It was the sort of place where the only reasonably priced bottles of wine were the 350ml kind. (It took sending the waiter back twice to figure that out!)

As we settled into our large club chairs, I leaned back, enjoying the stylish ambiance, I happened to catch the conversation between the 2 businessmen seated close behind me. (The chairs were so large that it was easier to hear them than converse with my dining companions. Really.) One was Chinese, and the other an attractive American with lots of salt and pepper hair. As the conversation drifted from congratulating each other on the conclusion of a successful deal and an equally pleasant dinner, the Chinese gentleman asked the other if he had a girlfriend. Frankly, as a woman in about the same demographic cohort as the American, my ears perked up. The American said no, that he was in fact, looking for a new girl, that he was not looking for anything long term, and that he had learned that from his previous experience. All of this is verbatim by the way. Then the conversation shifted to real estate in California, how much his wife loved growing grapes in their $11.1 million property, and how his gorgeous and brilliant 25 year old daughter would love the challenge of China but his son was too conventional and would not take the risk.

Now, I am not going to comment on the morality of the man’s choice to have a long term girl friend here in China: he knows what California divorce laws are like and perhaps his wife was fully aware of his arrangements. No one really understands anyone else’s marriage. It’s not the first time that I had heard reference to a “Chinese wife”. But I did wonder what had happened to this person , now known only as “Previous Experience”.

Was she a still young woman of 30, who after 5 years of entertaining Mr. California, had decided it was time to move on, get her own life, husband and possibly child? Or was it a case of a lady who had spend years catering to him while he was in town for his monthly meetings, planning the special outings, making sure the cupboard had his preferred foods and drink, and the fridge was stocked with cold water and ice, the way Westerners like it. I hoped that he had siphoned off enough funds from his personal or corporate accounts to leave her well provided for, and that she still had her apartment that he had arranged for their trysts: it is unlikely that a Westerner would have been willing to live in a Chinese style flat. I hoped that she was not still not waiting patiently for the special ring tone, the nudge on Messenger, or the knock on the door. But I was unable to suppress the vision of a small elegant woman of a certain age, sitting straight backed , dressed in his favourite silk kimono, hoping it was not, but knowing, that like those beautiful Beijing roses in June, they were finished.

There would be no “unintended consequences” from this liaison: with the Chinese one child policy, abortion is easily available at public hospitals for about $65 per procedure. However, in response to some international pressure about the high rate of abortions, the government outlawed promotional advertising some years ago. Still, flyers and newspaper ads offering the procedure from less savory and less safe outlets are commonplace. Indeed, the easy access to abortion was intended for married women to comply with stringent laws. However, with the increasing rate of sexual activity of unmarried women, especially in urban areas, young single women have become major users of the service. While sexual activity is on the upswing, sexual education has lagged seriously behind. Slogans are everywhere: useful information is not. Getting pregnant while unmarried would be a major loss of face for her family and so her support system would disappear: few unmarried women would want to carry a baby to full term.

Small packs of condoms are available in bright pink, girly packaging and displayed optimistically at the beauty counter check out, along with the lip gloss and the breath mints. But a young male acquaintance of mine told me that his friends will not use them So that other “unintended consequence” of unprotected sexual activity, STD’s are also on the rise.

Clubs in cities like Beijing offer frenetic “hook up” opportunities, for Westerners and Chinese natives. Although the nightly outcomes might be the same, intentions between the 2 groups differ. I was told that Chinese men seek out Western women for a night of unencumbered fun because the beautiful Chinese girls in the same clubs might charge them for the privilege. On the other side, young Chinese women often see Western men as their ticket out of China, and would do pretty much anything to make that happen. Western men are not oblivious to the opportunity that circumstance represents and have been known to see the city as a sexual “all you can eat buffet”, if you pardon the metaphor. Getting the girl home to your apartment is as easy as flashing a passport: getting her to leave once ensconced is a bit more tricky. Parties that should have been over in the light of day have a strange way of continuing until the next afternoon or evening. But then, how do you get her to leave when she won’t put her pants on?

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