Thursday, October 30, 2003

Peep show
Privacy is hard to come by here, at least in a Western sense. For instance, dentistry and hair care are great specatator sports when a traffic accident isn't available. It's not unusual to see a "dentist office" or "barbershop" consisting of several shoddy, knockoff La-Z-Boy type chairs in a vacant lot or sharing space with cars in a dirt parking lot. Crowds gather to see Mr. Wu grimace and spit blood into a tin can or gasp in awe at little Peng Fei getting her first haircut under a street light.
I also recently saw one "dentist" apparently cleaning his right toe with one of his instruments in one of these outdoor clinics.
The indoor varieties offer protection from the elements and presumably better sterile conditions, but often also have the seats plunked right in front of a plate glass window for easy sidewalk display.
If you're a foreigner is being displayed, the crowds are even larger. Foreigners are adorable when they've got a head full of shampoo and don't think they're being watched.
Generally I've gotten used to it and worse. Small children sometimes want to pull the hair on my "monkey" arms and a black American woman told me several months ago that she's had children and adults alike want to rub her skin to see if the color comes off. Lucky for them that she's a patient, tolerant soul.
I was not so patient the other day, however while giving my laundry to my smiling-laundress-with-the-forehead-goiter. Her shop is an open face affair and she has a ritual we go through everytime. She plucks each soiled garment from the plastic laundry bag, examines it, shakes it -- occasionally giving a "tsk-tsk" kind of sound/comment indicating that I was raised and clothed by wolves -- counts it in English and Chinese and records it in a notebook.
She was on boxer-shorts-no. 1 when I heard some giggles and turned to see two skinny middle-aged men with bad teeth marveling at my Homer Simpson boxers. The titters and stares increased by shorts-no. 3, a tasteful red pair sporting small pink and white dancing elephants. I gave 'em my best unrelenting glare at that point and they finally moved on. Too bad. The purple and yellow chili pepper shorts would've brought the house down.
The positive side of the privacy issue here is that it works both ways. There's a guy on my apartment floor who thinks nothing of every morning standing with back to his open doorway, generally clad in nothing but black briefs, arms outstretched and singing as loudly and lustily as he can.
I've come to think of him as my morning wakeup call. If I miss his performance, I'm probably late for work.
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