Tuesday, April 10, 2007

 
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke

Following that heartning Easter tale, I thought it only fair that I disclose what transpired on Easter Eve, not that it's up there with Christmas or New Year when it comes to the Eves.

One of my few ersatz-soul mates in Hong Kong is a foreigner who goes by the nom de blog, Spike, mostly because his Mainstream American Corporate Overlords would not appreciate knowing that their Asia-Pacific rep loves the Hong Kong nightlife enough to frankly detail his countless sexual misadventures and occasional moments of spiritual clarity in a wonderfully neurotic and witty blog called Hongkie Town. (See link at left.)

Or did. He almost killed Hongkie Town last year citing burn-out and what I sensed was some unjustified self-loathing based on comments taking him to task for his obsessions -- sex, food, sex, music, sex, his two dogs, movies, sex, and movies about sex, music, sex, his dogs, food, sex and sex. Spike's since reconsidered and ratcheted Hongkie Town down from NC17 content to more broadly appealing R and PG fare. More songs about movies, his dogs and food and less sex. Still, more than a little content centers around his stomping grounds, Hong Kong's infamous Wanchai bar scene.

He's also somewhat settled down with a more or less steady Thai galpal, though in Spike's world there are no guarantees. Turns out she has been outta town for a few weeks and he was getting restless. We met on Thursday afternoon by chance, and as it turned out he was up for a Saturday night in Shenzhen.

I was flattered. None of my Hong Kong pals have ever made the leap, though a few have talked about it. The Lord of Wanchai wanted to check out Shenzhen's equivalent, a small, even seedier area in a foreign enclave of Shekou district. Or "Show-koh" as I continually mispronounce it. Spike has been here for almost a decade, had a Real Chinese Wife for 8 years ("three wonderful years, five horrible" as he put it) and despite his wasted expat exterior speaks a modicum of respectable Mandarin and lost no time in correcting my pathetic pronounciation upon his arrival.

"It's 'Shuh-kuh' " he said. "How long have you been here? 'Shu-kuh, Shu-kuh.! Nobody says 'Shoowww-kooohh."

"I do. C doesn't correct me. She doesn't insist that I learn proper Chinese. Or any Chinese."

C wasn't around at the moment to contradict me. She was out with her mother but would later prove me a liar.

We repaired to Shuh-kuh and began searching for food. Nearly four years ago there was precious little western fare available at non-hotel prices in Shenzhen. But Shekou was one of the few places it could be found. An Irish pub, a Euro and American-cuisine place called Casablanca run by a blowsy, hard-bitten French or Belgian woman, and a fake burgers and fries place were about it. (Upon my initial arrival in Shenzhen with my son Julian to teach English for three weeks, we'd been ferried to Casablanca by our pitying Chinese hosts after about a week without dairy products, red meat and steamed vegetables. Julian famously proclaimed the baked potato with real sour cream and butter at Casablanca to be "the best potato I have ever eaten! Anywhere! Anytime!")

Shekou/Shu-kuh/Show-koh has grown enormously since and I steered Spike to one of my faves, Gypsy's -- mostly because of its ribs, wasabi mashed potatoes and Thai salads. Spike had the ribs and wasabi taters and was underwhelmed, I could tell. Gracious, yes, but it was clear if this trip to Shekou was going to make a posting in Hongkie Town it wouldn't be about food.

"Okay, we're going to Chicken Row," I said.

It's my tag -- "chicken" is Chinese slang for hooker-- for the small lane of tiny red light bars outside of the main glitz of the New Shekou where a beached cruise ship and lots of mainstream dining and nightlife are now the norm.

It was drizzling, dark and Chicken Row looked, well, mostly lifeless but we stopped in a place where C and I had been last year when she was mistaken for a Chinese movie star named Li Bing-bing. "I want to see if they hung up the pictures they took of her," I told Spike.

No C-as-Li Bing-bing pics, but a warm welcome nonetheless. "You have been here before I think?" asked one girl, as another began to silently and expertly massage my back. Spike already had three wrapped around him and was settling into his element.

"Christ, they have long memories," I shouted to him through the dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music. "No, well, yes, no, maybe I have," I said to her, hoping she wouldn't ask where Li Bing-bing was.

"They never forget a face," Spike said. "Never." He was undergoing a transformation. I swear about 5 years melted from his face and a few more as the admiring throng took our drink orders (two Cokes, 20 yuan apiece or US$2.60 each) and began stroking us for their "special drinks."

"How much?" I knew, but played along. "Only 40 (US$5.20)" one said. "But only a Coke with no alcohol, right?" I replied. "Oh, you have been here before," she said, laughing. I thought of C who said she'd join us later and how much she'd appreciate me laying out the equivalent of five or ten bucks of my rapidly dwindling savings for the Cokes For Chickens Fund.

"It's on me," said Spike generously. I can't recall how many five dollar, six-ounce glasses of "special drinks" enused but I wound up buying a few also. Spike settled in more or less with one fluent English-speaking 20something girl in glasses who I did recall seeing at Li Bing-bing Night. She'd told me at the time she was a "college student" and it's possible she had been. The English was certainly good enough.

Meanwhile, the one attached to me like a remora eel spoke no English, looked about 16 and it was clear that she'd been on the job for about 3 weeks, if that. Sweet young thing, but damn, it's an old, sad story and it's never going to change. I did glean she was from an impoverished province called Anhui and bought her another drink outta foolishness and sympathy, I suppose. Finally C called and I detached myself, motioned to Spike and we were out and chicken-free upon her arrival.

"Have fun?" she asked. "Are my Li Bing-bing pictures there?" No. But can I buy you a special drink? We repaired to a more conventional nightclub where "Singles Night" was in full swing with a Philippino band was playing western and Chinese cover tunes. Spike grew restless, though, I was getting weary and the remaining money was about enough for a cab ride home. He'd gotten the cell phone number of the Chicken in Glasses and had been text messaging her between looking at the less-than-appealing white-collar female singles nursing their watered down fruity cocktails. Actually, it was like singles night anywhere.

The last I saw of Spike we'd left Singles Night and he was on his way back to Chicken Row. But not before correcting me again.

"It's Shu-kuh," he said. Then to C. "Don't you ever encourage him to learn Mandarin?"

"All the time," she said. Spike looked at me mock-accusingly. I inwardly cringed. It just goes to Shu that it doesn't pay to lie.
Comments:
Uh... C appears to have grown an entire name at the end there, in case you're worried about that sort of thing...
 
Shek-o, not shu-ku for goodness sake!

And T and I have now split up. Perhaps I need to explore a few more singles parties up there?
 
Great post, but that has to be the lamest pun ever. I almost spit.
 
Just goes to show how different peoples tastes are. Getting a Thai g/f when in HK, home of totally hot Cantonese women is just completely inexplicable to me.
 
Justin, thanks for the blog comment. FYI, I read your blog regularly and you are definitely more than just a memory. I look forward to our next drink together...whenever that may be.

Take care!
 
I haven't been down in that area since about August. And I haven't had fun drinking in Shekou since my British friends moved away last spring.
And we generally refer to the roads of Shekou as Chicken St., Chicken Alley, and Chicken Blvd.
 
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