Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sex and the City
Trying to make sense of Chinese sexual mores is a puzzle for a lot us gweilo (foreign devil) types. On one hand you have a country where a cleavage sighting is as rare as beer at a Mormon picnic but where you can find a shop called "Sex Store" (no tasteful euphemism like "Sinsations"), wander in and see mulitiple shelves of tasefully lit vibrators and other sexual toys displayed like museum pieces and where the modestly dressed, young female clerk will demonstrate how a penis vacuum device works with the aplomb and sincerity of a Nebraska 4-H teenager demonstrating a quilting technique.
It's a country with numerous red light districts, but one where full frontal kissing (but no tongues, please) both in real life and on screen is a relative rarity.
A country where men commonly take "second" or "third wives" but where men and women are generally expected to marry the first person they date.
Porn is illegal and 98 percent of any ads depicting any skin feature western models, as if to say "only decadent foreigners will display themselves shamelessly for this product but buy it anyway."
So it was with some wonder that I recently found myself talking frankly about sex with a group of young and middle aged Chinese men and women.
The occasion was an English language salon sponsored by the SZ Daily. I had been enlisted as a last minute subsitute for another speaker and the real topic was the anarchy that is Chinese traffic.
I dutifully and soberly delivered "Blood on the Bumper: A Foreigner's View of Traffic in China" and then, according to the salon format, opened the floor for a Q&A session.
At first the questions were (by now) numbingly familiar and few were about traffic. They already know it's bad.
Yes, I like Chinese food.
Yes, I use chopsticks. (Demonstrates with two pens. Gasps and murmurs follow because....)
Yes, I am left handed.
Yes, I really use chopsticks with my left hand. (Demonstrates again. Feels like Barnum sideshow oddity)
Yes, I have heard it said here that left handed people are very clever.
Yes, I like Chinese food.
No, I don't speak Chinese.
I am from Colorado.
No, I did not know John Denver.
No, the Grand Canyon is not in Colorado. Neither is Yellowstone Park.
Then the talk turned to movies. Several wanted to know why, exactly, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had won an Oscar. I got the feeling that it was not as popular here as in the U.S. - sort of as if the likes of Roger Corman's Slumber Party Massacre III was acclaimed at Cannes.
As film chat continued it became alarmingly clear to me that more than a few in attendance also thought that American movies and TV shows depict real American life.
No, American Beauty and Sex and the City (a hit here when it was recently broadcast) are not "real."
They are comedies. Exaggerations. Hollywood is not reality. Does a Jackie Chan movie show real Chinese life?
No, but don't all Americans have sex as much as they want all the time?
No, we only wish we did. Do Chinese? You must if you have a one child-only policy.
Giggles. No.
But is it true that American women can have sex with many men and not marry any of them? And she will not shame herself or her family?
Well, it depends on the woman and the family but theoretically, yes.
The formal Q&A came to an end and then a group of us convened for more talk about the fire down below and dinner at a nearby restaurant.
By then I felt like a combination of the Kinsey Report and Dr. Ruth.
Based on this non-scientific beer-fueled survey of 9 out of 1.3 billion Chinese it was clear that there's a lot of pent-up sexual/social frustration and curiousity among men and women alike.
They all thought the recent publicized expulsion of an unmarried college couple from a Beijing college after the woman became pregnant was wrong and asked if the same thing happened in the U.S.
Except for maybe BYU or Bob Jones, or Oral Roberts U, no. Otherwise, it's not really an issue, I said.
All bemoaned the lack of sex-ed in Chinese schools.
"I was 28 and did not know how to sex my first time!" said one man, now 33 and miserably married to the first and only woman he did finally figure out how to "sex."
"They only teach us the biology," said a 27-year old woman who works at an insurance company. "Nothing specific. The teachers are all too embarrassed and our parents, never, ever."
Well, that last part about the parents sounds familiar, I told them. You're not alone in that.
So, at the urging of another man, we raised our plastic beer cups in a toast to better sexual relations and sex education - both in China and the USA.

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