Wednesday, November 16, 2005

They can't see us, you idiot, we're in the Spirit World

I got a haircut on Saturday. For some reason, every time I thought about living in a foreign country, the first thing that came to mind was “How will I get my hair cut?” I have no idea why it’s this thought that surfaces, I’m not very finicky about my hair, I just like it simple, but when you get a bad haircut, you have to look at it every day. Plus, you try to think about the ‘everyday’ things that you will have to do without being able to communicate. I think everyone would have something on that list that would concern them, or stick in their minds; groceries, getting gas, taxis, for some reason haircut got stuck in my head like that song you cant stop singing.

In Langfang there are about ten thousand salons, every other building is one with a handful of people lounging around. I would call them salons only in the most technical sense; they’ve got the haircutting chairs (maybe one or two), there are scissors and mirrors with lights around them, and there are people in there that will cut your hair, but most of them just want to take you upstairs for a mid-body manicure. For obvious reasons, I dreaded visiting one of those places. Niall had told me that the hotel salon is pretty good, so I gathered up the courage and hit the 2nd floor salon.

Up until now, I’ve always thought this room was a massage parlor of some sort. There are always a couple very attractive women in there in short skirts with deadly eyes. If you’re an attractive woman here that’s not working behind the front desk or helping you to your seat, there’s a good bet you’re a prostitute of some sort. I walked in and there was a guy sleeping in the corner and a very attractive tall woman sitting there brushing her hair. She saw me and jumped up and I made the international sign for haircut and she nodded and let me to a chair (this may be the first time anyone has used the international sign for haircut, I’m a pioneer).

The best haircuts are the quick ones. I don't like to make an afternoon out of it, just clip my shit for 20 minutes or so, let me hand you a fist of money and I’ll be on my way. She sat me down and gave me the first of three hair washings I would receive for the day. She scrubbed my hair and head for about 15 minutes, then proceeded to massage my neck and hitting all kinds of strange pressure points that felt really good. Then she went and started on my neck and shoulders and came around front and placed my arm across her nice bare legs and began rubbing my hands. This felt so good; I should do this every day. I was watching her with an intrigue of someone who cannot speak but still tries to see someone’s soul.

After about a half hour of hand and arm massaging, she asked me if I’d like a private massage in my room for 100 yaks (about $10.50 US), but she had that twinkle in her eye and a very coy grin. She wanted to give me a massage then get me to go for the Premium Package, complete with dirty sex and whatnot. There it is, she says goodnight the naughty way.

This is the first time I’ve really been tempted to do anything like this. I don't know why, it just seemed so innocent, and I was in a weakened state of post-finger massaging bliss that my will was nearly broken. This is also the first time that I’ve been proposed to when the girl has already been rubbing me down. I told her no, but if I had a beer or two in me, there’s no telling what I would have done. It’s just that there is sex all around this city, everyone is selling it. There are three facilities in my hotel alone that offer ladies; two of them have their own rooms for it. Everywhere you look, there is the advertised service and the moneymaking service and they are never the same. It’s a dangerous game and my conscious could never live with that in it’s closet. If I’m having bad dreams now, I can’t even imagine the dreams that would come from playing an active part in the prostitution industry. To date, this is the closest I’ve come to being broken and it frightens me more than a little bit.

As these thoughts were racing through my head, she leaned me forward and dunked me in a tub of water to rinse my hair. I now had about two cups of water in my nose and was coughing uncontrollably. I still haven’t seen a pair of scissors or clippers, so I’m hoping that I’m in the right place. The guy is still sleeping in the corner, but the massage slut with the bomb legs yells something to him and he comes over to lead me to another chair and begins pulling out clippers, brushes, rusty scalpels and other implements of destruction. It was all fun and games until the sharp instruments are brought into play. I’m also nervous about this guy’s capability of going from deep REM sleep to haircutting speed in a matter of 20 seconds. I know when I’m tired, I can’t spell right, I trip over stuff on the floor, I can’t even look at lights. This man has razor sharp blades in one hand and my scalp in the other.

He begins to comb my hair over and play around with it. This is particular communication issue that I’ve had on my mind. How the hell am I going to tell this guy what to do? The only thing I could do was point to different parts of my head and make show of fingers of how long my hair was and then make it half that. Either he understood or he didn't care because he just started lopping hair off left and right. Keeping in mind that I have worn glasses since I was in fifth grade, I cannot even see the mirror, let alone my hair, but I notice that something feels strange, like my hair is sitting differently. After about three minutes of wandering what’s going on, my anticipation of what he’s doing to me climaxes. I ‘casually’ put my glasses on and look at myself in the mirror.

I understand that, being only halfway done, this haircut should be considered a work in progress, but he parted my hair the wrong way! What does this mean? Not much other that when I reached up and fixed it, showed him where my part really was, my head looked like a big triangle, or a rapper from 1986, or maybe an anime cartoon character. This meant that he had to start the sculpting process over.

When it was all said and done, it actually looked pretty good and it cost about $6 US, plus I got my head, neck, arms and ear lobes massaged by a hot hooker and my hair washed three times.

The entire rest of the day, I couldn't get it out of my mind how close I was to breaking back there and it really bothered me. The act of sex is such a strange idea over here. It’s everywhere, but no one talks about it. The non-slutty chick part of society is so shy and timid, it’s hard to imagine that they would ever have sex; they get all flushed when you smile at them and cringe and tremble like wounded deer when you touch them. The slutty chick part of society just throws it right out in your face, flashing you, making funny animal sounds, eating lollipops. There’s an amazing gap between the two sides of the world and is no middle ground. David goes to the places several times a week; he says he usually gets two women for about 400 yaks (about $50) and that they’ll do anything he wants (“Do you want to see the pictures?” He asks me). I’m not sure how kinky the British can be, but I’ve got a good imagination. I hope his fiancĂ© doesn't find out.

Prostitution is still very much illegal here, but like so many laws, it is mainly ignored. How can it be enforced? The only prostitution related statistic that I could find was one that said in 1996, there were 420,000 prostitution arrests. In 1995, the population of China was reported at 1.22 billion people. First of all, that was nine years ago. Second of all, I have never seen one arrest in six months, and I live next to an entire neighborhood dedicated to it (in fact, I’ve never seen a cop outside of running traffic at busy intersections). So you would think that number might be one-tenth the total number (from what I have seen, even one-tenth is a very low number). That would put the number of prostitutes in China at 4.2 million (zeros are impressive: 4,200,000 women). Chinese police are more corrupt than Texas politicians, I bet the reason I haven’t seen any cops is because they’re all in the knock-shops helping young ladies ‘reduce their fines’.

By population growth charts that I casually looked up on the internet, the Chinese population has been estimated to be 1.5 billion by 2025, that would put it at roughly 1.32 million people now (a mere difference of 100 million people), so maybe 4.55 million women are prostitutes. Please keep in mind, the Chinese are not known for their honest statistics, they have historically reported numbers that reflect good on the country, I liken the Chinese government to a frat-boy’s response to the question “How many women have you slept with?” (Bad karma China, bad karma).

If you were to crack down on prostitution, that would flood the job market with and extra 4.55 million people. Jobs here are tough enough to get, if you made it more difficult by adding another 4 ½ million people, there would be some serious problems. What would they do? How would they make money? That’s a number that could affect the value of the yak, dropping it even lower. It’s quite a predicament and the government just doesn't have the manpower to stop it. I see relatively few police around here, many less than the number of police in the States. Every cop is bribable; you’d have to be an extremely bad prostitute to get arrested.

I will let my subconscious ponder the results of writing negatively about the Chinese government, in the meantime, I must move on to a happier and less hairy problem, my deodorant situation.

I’m nearly out of deodorant already, so I went to the shopping market/grocery store/mall to get some, I searched that place head to toe and came up with nothing. I was told that Chinese men don't stink. What the hell ever, I can’t even walk down the street past them sometimes. I think they just have really shitty noses around here. I’m going to have to figure a way to get some from America. One more thing to tack to the list of crap to have Chris bring when he comes in a week or so.

I noticed that the moon was blood red Tuesday night. Some cultures think that they can see the future in the color of the moon. I have never seen a moon as red as it was Tuesday. You only get to see the sun or moon once every couple weeks here, which makes them the two most endangered species in Asia.

Tuesday’s United Nations drinking marathon featured the standard cast of David, Niall, Laura, Franz and Michael (unfortunately, last week, we had to say goodbye to the Sperm Sorter and a bottomless well of joke material). David and the South African Franz started talking crap to each other right off the bat about who could drink more. The South African started every sentence with “I’m from lion country.” No one was sure what exactly that was supposed to mean, but he was proud of it. I quickly immediately began to make fun of it, which could have been dangerous because the guy is twice my size. “I’m from BBQ country.” “I’m from Country country.” “I’m from chocolate nougat country.”
These went on and on into the night, the absurdity increasing with each empty beer bottle on the table. Before we knew it, South African bought a bottle of the booty wine and we all had a shot. I then cut my tongue out and let it rest in my front pocket the rest of the night. Soon, we had us a good old-fashioned drinking contest going on between the nations. I tried to keep a level head in lieu of the fact that it was Tuesday, but Laura stepped up like a champ to represent the stars and stripes. Waitress Jenny refused to give Laura booty wine, she said that it is a mans only drink, but the South African strong-armed her into forking it over, and I can attest to the fact that Laura can out drink about 90% of the men in the world.

Soon, David had to be helped out of his chair and up to his room where he could dream of hangovers and prostitutes he has yet to defile UK style.

By now, it was approaching 12:00 (the only reason I know this is because shift-change is 11:30). This is about the time of night that our alcohol consumption tends to bring out the deep-drunk conversations. No topic is taboo and all answers are held in strict confidence (until some asshole writes about them and passes it out to all his friends). Anyone who drinks knows all about these talks.

The first question came from Niall and it was simply this: Why do Americans always say ‘I’m sorry’ after saying that they’re from the USA?

When you think about it, the natives of most countries in the world have deep-seeded love and immense pride for their country. While most Americans are definitely happy to be Americans, American pride is often not shown off much (outside of cool eagle tattoos), especially over the last decade. I don't apologize for being an American, but what I usually do is feel the need to separate ‘America the government’ from ‘America the people’. Right now, our government has reached astronomical levels of corruption and greed on a global scale. People from other nations are always questioning me to why our government is up in everyone’s asses all the time (or, arses when you’re talking to people from England); it’s often embarrassing to have to explain the governments actions. That’s one reason why I think people apologize from being American, we’re not sorry to be Americans, we’re sorry to impose our government on the rest of the world and embarrassed that the people have less governmental influence than corporations (who, technically, are not even citizens).

My second reason that it may not seem as though Americans have much ‘American pride’ is because we’re still a very young country. Most people here are only four or five generations or so from foreign soil descent. This places us into somewhat of an identity crisis where we still identify with our old blood some (kind of like a high-school kid). I drunkenly proved this point by asking Niall, who is Irish and married to an English wife, what descent his son would say he is. He said that he would probably say he’s English-Irish. England-Ireland is not a country (I had to check a map to make sure). What about his children? Well, it would depend on where they lived. That’s only two generations; I think the subconscious works longer than that. Americans are fighting a subconscious identity crisis. Drunk point made and drunk point taken.

Then came a more uncomfortable conversation on why Africa fails constantly. Niall says that the black people aren’t in a position to manage themselves. He wasn't saying this in a racist way, he explained, but take the sheer number of tribes plus country and state borders that do not follow tribal borders; this makes an immense cultural quilt.

Plus, in the slavery times, many tribes were capturing other tribe’s members and selling them to the white people. This, as you can imagine, created a very deep seeded anger between many tribes, anger that is not easily satiated and overcome by handshakes and apologies. The South African is racist, however, and says that they’re just idiots. That was about the last thing he said before stumbling to bed.

Then there were three; Laura, Niall and myself. We’ve already tackled racism and politics, what else could there be to discuss. Oh yeah, religion.

“What’s the point of religion?” Who the hell is asking these questions? It’s not me; I’m still reeling from the booty wine and slavery questions.

Laura is a Catholic, as is Niall. Since the gloves were off, they wanted to know how I felt about religion. Therefore, I felt free to tell them my opinion of the Catholic Church. Sham. The Catholic Church strong-arms its people with guilt and threats of damnation while it turns a blind eye on causes that aren’t financially suitable for discussion. It alienates homosexuals when everyone knows that historically the convents and priest-palaces have been a safe haven for gay people who would be tarred, feathered and hung by the general population if their ‘secret’ were to get out.

“Ok, then you’re an atheist, right?” Niall asked.

“No, absolutely not, I’m just a proud non-Catholic”

“Then, what’s religion to you?”

I’m drunk and in an honest mood so I decide to break down my feelings on religion and god for these two to hear. My feelings are this; there is a god and I talk to him on a daily basis. What do I believe is the key to get into heaven? Be good and believe. Ask every day for clarity, ask to be blessed to see the difference between right and wrong and truly repent for not knowing the difference in my past.

There it is, my views on religion and how I attempt to apply it to my life in less than 100 words.

“What about spirituality?” Niall asked next.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“Well, for example, seeing spirits, other worlds, ghosts that kind of stuff.”

“Well, I can’t see ghosts or anything, but just because I cannot perceive them doesn't mean that they don't exist. I can’t hear a dog whistle, but that doesn't mean it’s not making a sound. How do you feel about it?”

“I’ve seen sprits my whole life. In this room right now, for example, there are two spirits.”

We have just lost cabin pressure.

“There is one guy standing over there in the corner, “ He pointed over to a corner. “He’s just kind of standing there; I really don't know what he’s doing here. He’s not in the way, for the life of me I can’t figure out why he’s here. He appears to be a waiter of some sort.”

Wow, this is great stuff. I mean, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up, but this is great stuff.

“Do they see you?” Laura quietly asked.

“Oh yeah, they try to communicate with me, but they can’t see you or each other.” By this time he’s whispering and has a glassed over look to his eyes, staring off into another direction. “But it’s this other guys that scares me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, slightly afraid of the answer.

“Well, I know why he’s here and he’s got me freaked out pretty good. He really wants to communicate with me more, but there’s no way I’ll let him closer to me. He’s a real bad person, real bad. He was an executioner or murderer or something, he killed, he killed a lot and he enjoyed it, really loved it. Even as I talk to you about it, his wicked smile gets larger and I can just see it in his eyes. He’s tied to this place somehow; this is the place that he did his killing long ago. He’s a very very bad person”

Just great, I won’t sleep for two weeks now.

Laura and I are speechless. The way he’s whispering, the look of fear in his eyes, there is no way I would doubt him. I’ve got another friend whose entire family sees the same things and they freak me out periodically.

Niall fell asleep shortly after that and we decided it would be a good time to call it a night. Laura and I thought that it was probably be a good idea not to explain our conversation with Sky or Jenny; these girls would piss themselves. Let this be a lesson: spirits can be a real buzz kill.

We all stumbled up to our rooms and tried to sleep. I had to call my friend in KC to tell her what happened, I was more than a little freaked out, but soon the ten beers I had won the battle and I was off into another strange dream infested sleep.

Another colleague got to town on Saturday evening, Chris. He’s a database administrator in our company and is going to perform some sort of computer magic that I’ll never understand. He’ll be here for two weeks and he brought me two very important things - deodorant and a 2nd laptop battery. Now, I’ll be able to work longer and smell better (not necessarily in that order).

Sunday was a Chinese holiday – Mid Autumn Day. The big thing is to eat Moon Cakes; everyone’s been talking it for about three months. I’m kind of glad to get it over. It’s been like Christmas advertisements around here. As I was leaving dinner Sunday, Jenny pulled me aside and wanted to give me a moon cake. She’s so damn nice to us, me especially. Her attitude is amazing and smile and laugh are great. Moon Cakes are like eating hockey pucks and I have accumulated about 100 of them in my room from various people (I was recently informed that no one really eats the things, they take the ones their given and give them as gifts to other people, pass it on, pass it on).

The people here are always being so nice to me. We’re all starting to be pretty comfortable around each other despite the language differences (which means that I’m responsible for getting my own beer and making sure they write it down on my bill). I was showed a few different people the Chinese for Two Year olds book that Feng bought me, and they just about die laughing, but then they each go over it with me. It’s slow going, but I’ve finally had my interest sparked in this language. It’s just like every other thing I have to do, at first it’s such a huge mountain that I’m just intimidated out of even trying it, then eventually you realize that a mountain is just made up of rocks and dirt that can be moved if you just start on it (or, as my dad would say “Hey, this mountain isn’t going to move itself buddy”).

1 comment:

killabeas said...

sounds like this hair salon appt. was a little more entertaining than when i took you here to hipster locale with chinese element (that would be bamboo floor).. anyway, i am so jealous of your spooky night with niall!!! kickass! where is he from again? can you keep getting him drunk so that you can hang out with more "las fantasmas"? or better yet, send him back here to KC for date with me and i'll take him to stull, kansas (consult your fav ghost lore reference or urge overkill album)... chao-chao, un beso