Sunday, February 20, 2005

Questions 67 and 68
"Have you had many beers?" This was the second question from a young Chinese woman I'd encountered for the first time as we waited for the elevator to take us to our respective floors in the Lucky Number Complex this weekend.
Her initial query had been, "Do you live here?" to which I'd responded affirmatively and ever-so-politely without slurring, staggering, lurching or otherwise projectile vomiting. In fact I had consumed one and half after splitting the third with an expat friend at a Shenzhen lamb and clam BBQ shack and was going back to the apartment for perhaps another before retiring with a book in bed.
."Actually, no. Why do you ask?" I said as I watched the flickering elevator floor indicator slowly, painfully grind its way downward.
"Because it seems that your face is red."
My immediate instinct was to respond that my 15-minute walk back through the rain and 40-degrees of windy, whipped chill might have had something to do with my flush, and I hesitated to comment that her badly permed and fecal orange hair resembled a primary school science experiment gone awry after Miss Jeannie's Special Education Class had had their way with random bottles of lye, soy sauce, red wine and bleach. Not to mention her outfit which looked as if she'd taken her fashion cues from a Taiwan hillbilly who'd been overly impressed by a Ukrainian "Velibor of Hollywood" lingerie catalogue.
But that's SOP in the PRC. Questions and observations some - not all, of course - Chinese routinely disgorge are often ones we'd only ask or volunteer among intimates.
"It seems that you are fat," is another one often bandied about, perhaps just after the new aquaintance has inquired about your salary and rent details.
I call them the "It seems..." questions. The phrase is presumably intended as a polite buffer - it must be standard issue in the primary English language classes - but it does nothing to allay the unintended sting of what often follows -- "...that you smoke many cigarettes," "...that you have pimples," "...that you smell strangely," "...that your wife/girlfriend is having sexual knowledge of livestock."
But be the questioner male or female, Mao help the barbarian who responds with a question that would cause no flurry in the Western regions outside the Middle Kingdom. I still recall the hesitation and slight grimace that "Are you married?" or "So, what does your spouse/boy/girlfriend do?" or even "What did you do this weekend?" produced from SZ Daily coworkers, male and female alike.
I quickly stopped asking and stuck with impersonal basics such as "How much did you pay for that lousy haircut?" or "It seems that you have the manners of a civet cat."
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