Friday, November 04, 2005
Chinese are not racist (Part II)
I’d been trying to get into Maggie’s for the past one year and a half since I moved to Beijing. It’s not that I desperately needed to hookup with Beijing girls (Heaven forbid!). But Maggie’s reputation as the ultimate pickup joint in Beijing intrigued me. I imagined a place draped in aged velvet and lit by red lanterns, a cross between Moulin rouge and an opium den.
In the summer of 2004 I made the first attempt. A male Chinese friend of mine was visiting from the US. He was tired of meeting country girls at KTVs so I took him to Maggie’s.
We were stopped at the door. The two security guards there informed us that the place was membership only. I asked how we could get a membership. They looked again at my baggy jeans and my friend’s blue dress shirt and khaki pants, then shook their heads – they no longer issued new memberships.
Later my Beijing friends told me that I should have spoke English with them. That place was Lao Wai (foreigner) only.
Last night I made a second attempt. My friend Michael was in town with his Caucasian colleague Steve for some financing deal involving astronomical numbers. At dinner I told them the story of my luck at Maggie’s and asked if I could borrow Steve to get me in there. Steve enthusiastically consented.
Just to be sure my first experience wasn’t atypical, I walked ahead of them and approached the door by myself. Maggie’s had moved to a new location but there were still two security guards. They stopped me with their extended arms.
“Mister, it’s membership only.”
“How can I get a membership?” I acted all innocent.
Their hands retreated to their pockets and brought out a pack of cigarettes. “We are not giving out any more membership.”
“Are you telling me,” I raised my voice a notch, “that my American friend visiting all the way from America CANNOT get into your bar?” I pointed at Michael and Steve who had arrived at the door by now.
They stared at Steve’s big frame and warm American smile for a beat. Then they waved towards the inside. “You can go in this time.”
The inside of Maggie’s was not too far from what I had imagined. Half lit by red table lights, the couch covers did appear velvety. Along the extended bar, more than ten young Chinese girls, all wearing heavy makeup and short skirts, drifted about lethargically.
It was still early, only 9pm. There were two Caucasian guys sitting at the bar. Inside by the dance floor, two mid-aged Asian men were talking to four more girls. The disco ball rotated light spots on the floor sleepishly.
We sat down at the bar so all the girls could easily spot us, and ordered RMB 50 (US$6) drinks which were not too bad. Within five minutes three girls came to talk to us. Mind you, they were not hanging out after work; they worked for the bar. We ordered drinks for them that cost RMB 100 (US$12) a piece.
Steve later told me that the girl talking to me, Sophia, had the best body, which I didn’t notice. I liked her personality though. At the tender age of 20, she had the flightiness of a young kid, bouncing around me constantly.
“Later on this place will be more fun. There will be a lot more people after 11.” Sophia sipped her drink. Two new Caucasian customers walked in. She glanced at them and mentioned casually, “I actually like Chinese guys a lot more than the white devils.” I liked her immediately.
“Is it true that Chinese are not allowed here?” I poked at her. She winced dramatically and whined, “that hurt!.” Then she yelled across Steve at the girl in Steve’s arm, “Cindy, how many Chinese are allowed in with each white guy?”
Cindy stuck out two fingers.
Sophia then turned back at me, “you and that Chinese guy are allowed in since you are with him,” She pointed at Steve.
“How about them?” I gestured towards two Asian men walking in.
“Don’t you see they have the membership cards?” She went back to her drink. I saw one of them putting a card back in his wallet.
I wanted to ask her how a Chinese could get a membership card but immediately felt pointless. What else? – The Asian men there were all business looking with well-coifed hair, slightly protruding bellies and mechanical smile. Money speaks as loud as race.
“What if I needed company back home? Would you go with me?” I finished my drink and decided that’d be my last question.
Sophia giggled, “you are such an impatient monkey!” Yeah right, I said to myself.
“No we don’t go out until we finish working here at 3:30 in the morning.” She looked into my eyes as if daring me to stay until she’d become available.
“But suppose I really needed company now.” I pressed on, fully realizing that it’d be among the worst pickup lines in your average straight bars.
Sophia laughed out loud. She shared my seeming lustfulness with her girlfriends. Everyone laughed.
“The Mongolian women here would go with you.” Then she pointed at the far corner of the bar. “See there?”
In the dark corner sat a woman with sharp and dark eyebrows and a mature face that looked too serious for the easy merriment of the place.
More people came in. Sophia moved closer to me, her soft body constantly pressing against my thigh and my arm. I told her I needed to leave for home where someone was waiting for me. I asked for her number and promised to make her a star in my next documentary film.
We each tipped the girl RMB 200 for keeping us company. They walked us to the door.
On our way out, I passed by the Mongolian woman who continued to sit expressionlessly. I wondered how she felt trying to squeeze a living between the Chinese girls and the Caucasian men everyday.
At the door, the girls all kissed Steve good night. I just couldn’t help asking one more question, “Is the owner of the bar Chinese or Lao Wai (foreigner)?”
“Chinese. And call me the next time if the guards don’t let you in.” Sophia smiled at me with a wink, then flew back in with quick steps.
We walked into the street where the fog, with all the pollution and dirt trapped in it, embraced us. I dug for the positives of my evening experience and found this one –
At least we have passed the stage where foreign colonists forbade Chinese into fancy establishments. Time has indeed moved on.