Wednesday, May 12, 2004

 
Dancing in the Dark
I took a sweat-soaked stroll and found myself in a small park last night after bidding goodnight to Peter-the-SZ-fixer with whom I'd had dinner and tried to counsel as he struggled to come up with a scam that would allow him to avoid having to fork over a total of 1,200 yuan a month to the Chinese govt. ($144) to renew his American wife's visa.
China's currently pissed at the U.S. insistence on fingerprinting and photographing its citizens when they come to the States - routine procedures for PRC's national ID cards - and has retaliated by changing the visa laws for Yankee Imperialist Paper Tigers here.
Formerly, a visa cost about $24 and was good for as long as a year, depending on your status. Peter's spouse is now required to go to Hong Kong to renew hers every month for 1,200 yuan a shot. He's trying to beat it by arranging some kind of token employment for her by which an official entity, like a university, school or, uh, ahem, a newspaper group would "hire" her (for no pay), allowing her a longer, cheaper visa status.
Trouble is, as I tried to diplomatically point out based on what I'd been able to suss out about a reclusive woman I'd only met once; whether paid or not, there's not a huge demand for an apparently agoraphobic, possibly anorexic, barely verbally audible foreigner in the Shenzhen job market.
Green tea and sympathy were about all I could offer before we departed the noodleteria.
I needed a little lightening up and found it dancing in the dark, well, nearly in the dark.
There were some eateries near this small Shenzhen community park whose lighting cast a feeble glow on a group of middle-aged men and women -- some in almost formal attire, others dressed for comfort in the muggy haze and heat.
Music drifted from a small sunken concrete amphitheater surrounded by three rows of steps cum benches.
Whining mosquitoes combined with the shrill female vocals coming from a boombox that was parked on one bench while on the makeshift dance floor 10 couples -- four mixed, five female and one male -- gently two-stepped, spun, twirled and approximated a waltz and tango or two to the tunes.
Sweating, I took a seat and batted, slapped and scratched at the bugs and watched, entranced. Strings of unlit lights hung from the trees around them and it was hard to see clearly, even at reasonably close range.
The music paused and one of the two middle-aged female couples approached me shyly, giggling a little.
I nodded hello and one asked me in halting English, stopping to momentarily cover her mouth between nervous titters, if I would perhaps like to join them.
``You dance?'' asked one. ``You dance with her? My friend?'' she said, pointing at her partner, whose embarrassed face was also obscured with her hand.
``Delighted,'' I replied. The music began again -- piercing, wailing female vocals in a duet with a lusty male baritone approximating a Peking Opera-meets-Tibetan yak herders-at-Donna Summer's place arrangement.
I am more accustomed to boogying in Shenzhen nightspots such as True Colors or the V Bar to Shanghai house music or the 217th rendition of Sex Bomb. But I switched mental gears and approximated something semi-formal dredged up from Mrs Pollard's 6th grade dance lessons and took a twirl or three. The music stopped and I bowed and thanked her, then took a breather, largely because the sight of a foreign barbarian cutting the concrete had drawn more curious onlookers than mosquitoes.
One fellow who appeared to be roughly my age approached to ``practice'' his English. After the usual niceties concerning my country of origin, reassurance that I adored China and Chinese food and certifying my employment and marital status, I turned the tables by asking him about the songs.
``They are old, from our younger days,'' he said.
Ah ha. Golden oldies, I thought. Glory days. Yeah, like dancing to Creedence, Aretha, the Stones, Kinks, the Tempts, the Fabs nd getting the Led out at my high school reunions. I could relate.
``So what are they about? Love?''
``This one, yes! Love for Chairman Mao, yes!'' he replied, smiling as I might if I'd been asked to describe the eternal appeal of Good Vibrations or I Heard It Through the Grapevine to a Martian.
``What's it about?'' I asked. ``What's it called?''
`` It is Mao Zhu Xi Lai Dao Zan Nong Zhuang'' he said, thoughtfully pausing so I could scrawl some crude notes with a leaky pen on the back of a soggy bill. ``It means `Chairman Mao Came to Our Farm.' It is about all the farmers thanking him and bringing their animals to Beijing to give to Chairman Mao!''
Not exactly Jumping Jack Flash,I thought, but I pressed for more details.
``The song before this one says, `Chairman Mao is like the sun. He warms the entire earth.' It is called Bei Jing De Jin Shan Shang -- `On the Gold Mountain of Beijing.' The singer is Cai Dan Zhuo Ma. Very popular! A Tibetan woman!''
``Kind of like Diana Ross? Or Gladys Knight?'' I asked.
``Who?''
``Never mind.''
He paused for a moment and sang along for a verse or two, lost in memories that presumably didn't involve Red Guards beating him senseless in a public square while his 9-year-old daughter denounced him.
Another one began.
``What's this about?'' I queried, almost afraid to ask.
``It is Shi Wu De Yue Liang. It means `Moonlight of the Fifteenth.' The singer is Dong Wen Hua. Also very popular. It is about a soldier who fights against feudalism bravely and receives an honor, an award.''
``A medal?''
``Yes! A medal! And he takes it to his wife and tells her it is for both of them. They share it together for China!''
He was positively beaming at this point.
``Lovely,'' I said.
``Yes, very, very romantic. I am in school again when I hear it!''
``Yeah, I know the feeling,'' I said. ``I guess one man's Dong Wen Hua is another's Janis Joplin.'
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