Recent Work By Ryan Day

One thing that makes me sad about the prospect of one day not  living in China: nothing will ever seem weird again. I’ve spent so many of my favorite Sundays walking about, having dispensed to me, by my companions of necessity, such Midwestern subsidized corn kernels of observation as “holy shit-troopers!” upon the sight of a Chinese abortion ad that describes the process as, ‘seven minutes in a dream,’ or the strange pronunciation of, “Look at them’ens!” when the rare and lone Shantou punk rocker presents himself, or even just hearing it stated plainly, “That’s weird, like R. Simmons weird!” when the old man makes the finger of one hand in the hole of the other gesture everytime we pass. I’m not sure who he’s trying to sell us, though I’m hopeful it is not himself.

I am all but certain that China has been the apex of my favorite pastime: walking around and listening to the loosely tethered ramblings of the hungover and displaced that spring up in the tired and unguarded mind of the expat suffering from his or her own self-inflicted wounds. One day I will miss my Sundays in Shantou.

The veneer of caution, regulation, accuracy and concern for health and safety, that covers up the utter disreguard for the individual in the face of profit, makes the United States not only a hypocritical country, but more importantly, a decidedly less exciting place to take a foggy Sunday stroll. The raw honesty of Shantou, a city with little veneer, sets an apt stage for the wonderings of a mind stripped to its most basic function: noticing stuff.

For instance, to find Nazi themed porn in America, one may have to do an internet search, or go to a specialty store, where one would suffer embarrassment upon making such a request. And seeing as one’s desire for such a product (if such a desire exists) is mostly based on the shock arising from the arbitrary discovery that such a medium exists, seeking it out would diminish the thrill. In China, these things find you.

I didn’t even know Grand Theft Auto 12 existed, or Rambo 5 starring Kevin Kostner, and though I saw them both on my Sunday stroll, I’m still almost 100 % certain that they do not exist. China poses these sorts of challenges to phenomenolgy on a daily basis. Does the experience of a thing make it real? If so, Kevin Kostner is owed some serious royalties, and our current generation of delinquents should be about 7 editions better educated in car thievery.

In the US, no one ever insists upon making me a suit, especially not one with my name sewed neatly on the breast pocket combining jet set style with just a touch of grease monkey down-to-earthiness, and even if they did I wouldn’t be able to afford it. No such problems in these parts. I have two such suits and I didn’t even skip a meal.

In the US, no one ever asks me if I can use a fork, especially not while I’m using one. And if they did ask, they wouldn’t laugh hysterically for a minimum of twenty uninterrupted seconds upon hearing the answer, yes. Yet, in China, on a weekly basis I am confronted with the Chopstick conundrum: You are in front of me and eating with chopsticks, yet you’re white so that fact is impossible. These are the sources of the tares in the space time continuum Doc Brown warned us about.

Creative evasion of copyright infringement that may or may not just be bad translating provides a constant source of amusement. Watch the digression of this Chinese wine brand into the lesser form of its imitators: Great Wall, Grape Wall, Great Will, Greet well, Greek Welts, Grit Wilp… all fine products might I add.

Or the wonderful tobacco shop across the street: Pipesmoker.

Or the Jazz Classical Steak Museum, which is of course, a sushi restaurant.

Or the regular sight of a family of five, from infant daughter to grandpa, travelling on one motor-scooter.

There’s the constant joy of poor translation, but I don’t want to sink into that territory in written form. I do chuckle, but I feel guilty about it, plus there are whole websites dedicated to the perils of Chinglish, so I’ll leave you to seek elsewhere.

I’m talking about the mind boggling visions that you bring home from walking about the streets, and I’ll leave you with two that I saw today.

First, I saw a man trying to push a wheel barrow brimming with bricks onto the back of a semi, using a 2X4 as a ramp. He took a running start. There was a crowd of onlookers including myself, but nobody said, “Excuse me, sir, have you taken the laws of physics, or even those of Murphey, into consideration during the planning phase of this operation?” The result was as expected, but it was followed with laughter and a defeated cigarette break rather than anything somber or angry.

Second, a man in a business suit (without embroidered name) but no shoes, was holding three strings in his hand. Naturally, my eyes followed the strings to their ends, where they were tied to the fangs of three rats in such a way that forced them to appear as though they were smiling like fat little kites that would never become airborne.

I asked if I could take his picture, but was heartily denied.

All of this can be taken to signify the craziness of China, but I rather take it to signify the caution gone awry of the US. Who’s afraid of a little competition? Why not let MecDoneld’s enter the market? Or Nake? Or Adedas? Or Koppa? Why not save a little money on these fancy ramps, seat belts, accurate translations? Why not let Kevin Kostner be Rambo for a change? All this brand loyalty and perceived caution is allowing us to live in a fantasy, while in reality we are being recklessly hurled towards a cliff by the profiteers of our loyalty and the writers of the tenants of our false caution (a hardy yarl for all the pirates about us).

Ultimately, and most importantly, China is just way more fun to walk around on a Sunday afternoon. Who wants to live in a land where everything is spelled right, and people wouldn’t dream of tying strings to the teeth of a rat? On the off chance rats do well on leashes, who will find out first, the person who tied the string to his fangs, or the person who shut down the best burrito restaurant in the neighborhood because one was spotted?

There were fifteen people in the room representing eight nations. A Filipino couple was onstage performing like a pair of high school music teachers. A plump Indian man and his partner meshed ballroom dancing and sweet third grade swaying to a castrated rendition of “She’s a Little Runaway.” An Austrian and an Italian were, for god knows what reason, doing lines of salt into a rolled up hundred Yuan note and squirting lemons into each others eyes prior to taking one of what must have been many tequila shots.

The bar room was big and dimly lit except for the neon lights illumintating the synthetic fog around the stage as if it were our own very little Vegas. With just us fifteen it should have felt empty, but united by a common boredom which had brought us to demand the most of out limited chances for camaraderie and by a general fish-out-of-water existence that accompanied a desperation pregnant with all the magic potential of life in someone else’s borders, we could revel in the bars emptiness. We could fill out nostrils with salt and our eyes with lemon if that’s what we so chose. Of course, we could also choose not to.

Randy, a Laotian man whose constant head nodding affirmations led one to believe he knew much more English than he truly did, stepped, rather uninvited, up to the stage and began to play the bongos along with the band. He fit the scene with the same casual awkwardness as the middle aged Bangladeshi fellow that tends to grace Wes Anderson pics. A few nights before I had been walking with Randy when he pointed at a bar.

“Three years ago, I get in fight there.”

“Yikes,” I said, putting on a fighting-is-icky face. “Did you win?”

Randy nodded leading me to believe that he had understood. “Not yet.”

Our international dance extravaganza fizzled to a halt despite some hoofers’ sodium based efforts to feed the party’s faltering energy. I found myself riverside, moralizing to the salt and lemon Austrian and Randy about the evil tax swindling wealthy who hide their funds offshore only to find that the Austrian was just such a one. I drunkenly laid into him about his secret stash.

“The money needs people to make it hospitals,” I explained.

“Why should I feed people hospitals?” I was pretty sure he meant ‘give’ in place of ‘feed.’

“Because people shouldn’t have to eat…” I paused for far to long having forgotten what was supposed to come next “…whatever you give them.”

Randy nodded. I sensed I had gained the victory, but then I was the only real speaker of the argument’s language.

The Austrian then let out the age old argument: “I am making jobs. My factory puts food inside of 30 Chinese families.”

Just what kind of factory is involved in the task of filling Chinese people with food? Was this some kind of still crueler fois gras? Which thought led me to another, more disturbing still, of a sea of young Americans who’d been fattened up for the slaughter… I’ll abandon that image for now.

It’s moments like these, almost as divisive as someone trumping fossils with saviors, that I realize I’m involved in an extension of the same conversation I’ve been involved in since I started having conversations, but that somehow life has advanced to the point when, rather than some naive defense of the Russian Revolution laced with too much caffeine, I’ve moved to drunken attacks of an economic system that I scarcely understand, essentially putting my faith in the pundits who have stolen my smile most of the last 2, 500 mornings. How had the midwestern high school classmate who once insisted to me that her father earned every last dollar of the twelve-million he inherited by also inheriting a last name, magically transformed into the Austrian owner of a Chinese underwear factory.

In the midst of all this I came to three realisations: A) time is really quite strange and only aided in its being so by intoxicants, B) I really should avoid conversations about economics as if they were conversations about religion, and C) I will always be right-er than people who put finger quotes around the word ‘ethics’ (sorry Nietszche) when talking about the working conditions of their employees.

Back to A) for a moment. What happened to all the time? When did it start to be measured in hangovers, break ups and years gone by without a savings account? Which brings me to B):(by the way that is not a frowny face in either direction, just an unintentional puncuational pun followed by a slightly more intentional one) I shouldn’t talk about economics. Despite this self-applied advice, I’ll probably continue to do so, because as much as I wish it was not the case, economics matter. They are the instruments through which the finger quoters from point C) are busy baffling us, stealing our taxes and often even our wages themselves and helping our planet to devour itself. Most offensively of all, they do it with the help of guns and god soaked lobby money which situates all of the wrong politics in all the wrong places so that the greasy machine will move faster and faster. But we all know this by now…

Let’s go back to the start. There we were. Fifteen representatives of our various nations at a bar in a small industrial center of a country that may or may not be emerging as the world’s leading economy. Fifteen over-educated and variously employed representatives. Fifteen representatives who fear for the future, who look  with the same distant weariness at the tips of their cigarettes at the mention of words and phrases like global warming, and marriage, because these words and phrases bookend their justified anxieties and beleagured intentions; justified anxieties that all too recently seemed paranoid, and beleaguered intentions that were through most of their lives reasonable expectations.

I don’t know… maybe they would have been snorting salt and squirting lemon in each other’s eyes anyway, but for the moment, just briefly, I wondered if there wasn’t some tinge of insanity, insanity based on hopelessness, feeding on these well equipped members of this well equipped generation. I wondered if they had been knocked out of contention before even arriving to fight. I wondered how we could continue to allow ourselves for so long to be duped, and how we could more often than not go to the bar for our revenge, which was really a sort of non-revenge. I wondered how we could accept allowing our friends, ourselves even, to sink into the machine, to feed it even, or perhaps worse still to be fed by it, to be fed well by it. To be fattened.

And I wondered when we would realize that eventually what is fattened is eaten.

I looked up at Randy, calmly hovering over his Bongo.

“Not yet.”

It’s odd to grow accustomed to rickshaw travel: the fresh air, the cruising under the night sky just a little buzzed after a stop at Shantou’s finest wine bar where elbows were rubbed against those of the budding bourgeois. Sometimes I think of the rickshaw as a time machine, transporting me back to a moment when the triangular straw hats and tattered short pants of the driver were no less obsolete than… rickshaws. Despite the allure, I think I’m witnessing the last days of rickshaw culture here in Shantou. Traffic is getting a little too car oriented and I can’t imagine this mode of travel making it very long in such a fast growing city. There are other bits of local culture in Shantou, however, that seem perfectly safe for the forseeable future, and one of those was exactly what I set out to explore on the back of my rickshaw last Saturday night.

All my local friends have assured me that KTV, or karaoke, is the best time to be had in Shantou. In my mind a karaoke bar is a big open room where people get sloppy drunk and sing their favorite Credence, their least favorite Fine Young Canibals or their hopeless renditions of Queen (which always begins seriously but quickly, upon coming to the realization that nobody can really sing those high notes, become hopeless), as friends berate their lack of vocal prowess, and at the end of the night everyone’s that much more certain of the fact that they made the right choice in giving up their operatic aspirations and going back to whatever tone deaf, sobriety laden occupation keeps them busy on weekdays.

But that is not this karaoke bar. ‘Bar’ is really not the applicable term. It’s a palace, reminiscent of the home of a Suadi Prince who fell in love with a Vegas based interior decorator. It’s divided into hundreds of private rooms like a hotel. These private rooms line the neon and mirror filled mazes of hallways on floor after floor of closed doors, the gentle whiff of John Denver or the Carpenters slipping from under the threshold.

I wanted in. KTV is supposedly a Shantou delicacy (though that seems to be the claim no matter where you go in Southeast Asia), and I wanted a big fat bite of some local culture that wasn’t coated in MSG (I love my MSG, but too much is too much). Alas, we, myself and three other Americans, were led down one of the long magical hallways and into our own private room. The room was ours for the night at 300RMB (about 50 USD) and came complete with 30 cans of Budweiser. There was even a bathroom in our room, which meant that for the next six hours or so, we had no reason to exit our private salon.

We turned on the machine to look through the song list. Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… Chinese… What’s this here “three little Indians.” In case you don’t recall your primary education in the days of zero cultural sensitivity that is the song that goes a little something like, “one little, two little, three little Indians, four little, five little, six little Indians, seven little, eight little, nine little Indians, ten little Indian boys.” Over and over again. And that was it. That was our English selection. Well, that and a couple of Avril tunes.

It was just as the confusion of the one-English-song karaoke machine was wearing off that the tray of six assorted varieties of chicken feet was brought in, and we were all forced to acknowledge that the next three hours, or however long it was going to take us to finish those 30 beers and six trays of feet, and we were determined to finish them, were going to be very long hours. Not so much because of the short song supply, or even the chicken feet, but mostly because we were going to be stuck with each other in a confined space with little to no odds of meeting new friends, girls, practicing Chinese… In short, all of the reasons that I go to a bar were locked away in identical, tantalizingly closed-off worlds, spread around this massive karaoke palace as if it were the honey-comb universe of Quantum Leap and I was Scott Bakula.

Ultimately, we were forced to breach the force field of the vigilant hallway security team by doing a sort of, ‘I’m just standing in the hall whistling and leaning… doing some fresh air… taken a break from the little Indian song…’ charade, and darting into random rooms as soon as security’s heads were turned. No one was fooled except perhaps us in assuming that they cared if we entered random rooms, but too much Budweiser mixed with the giddiness of four quasi-grown men thrown into what felt like grade school sleepover conditions, led to a little bit of make-believing. To us, these forays into the unfamiliar rooms were bona fide adventures.

Once inside, we were greeted with more Budweiser and chicken feet, and Chinese songs being calmly, sweetly sung amongst mostly sober friends who were caught just a little off guard by the beer filled, socially starved Americans who had sabotaged their gathering.

By chance, on one of our clandestine missions into unknown territories we stumbled upon a couple of Chinese friends from work, and they came back to our room to get a little taste of what American karaoke was like. They told us that the spicy bird feet were good luck. I picked one up and asked if you were supposed to rub it, like a rabbits foot, our eat it for luck, but they didn’t seem to follow. I ate it, but then decided to name it Rub to be sure I was respecting both of our traditions.

It was time for Avril, and lets just say the gods of rock would have been pleased with the show we put on… The Chinese fan of karaoke on the other hand…

There was some fundamental misunderstanding here about the meaning of Karaoke, and beyond that about the meaning of going out. While it seemed that the patrons were fully attempting to create a barrier between their own group of friends and the outside world, that idea was the height of undesirable to my mind. I was going ‘out,’ after all, not staying ‘in.’ And yet, here I’d gone ‘out,’ just to end up being locked ‘in,’ and I’d ended up acting like my friends parents had gone to sleep and we had to sneak out of his room, and down to the pantry to steal more Poptarts.

I am not intending to make any judgments about who was wrong and who was right here. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I were to make any they would not be in my favor. Among other things, I realized that my sense of social is completely distorted. I don’t claim to speak for Americans by any means, but I think that I have witnessed in many Americans (or maybe I’m projecting) a fear of intimacy that precludes the kind of deep friendship that most of us crave. Mostly, I spent a night being extremely immature, sneaking about like an interdemensional hopper from a crap sci-fi program, and shotgunning cans of beer like I haven’t since the last time I was in Indiana (long story), because the idea of being in a quiet room with three friends and no distractions (chicken feet and children’s songs excluded) made me quite anxious. But, I’m not going to be too hard on me. It was a pretty good time.

But, it’s true that intimacy is something other than what it used to be (or at least what I used to think it was supposed to be), no? We (I) are more self-absorbed in all the best and worst ways than I thought we (I) were. We don’t think of relationships in terms of self-sacrifice for the preservation of tradition, family, etc…, which as far as I can tell are still very much a part of Chinese society. For better or worse, I think I see relationships almost like the various rooms in this karaoke palace; we spend a lifetime wandering from one to another, learning the lyrics to Raffi, Green Day, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone and finally, morbidly humming the tune to some Requiem all alone, watching for the door handle to jiggle when the white gloved waiter walks in with the bill.

I’m thinking of friends who’ve said to me after particularly hard break-ups, “well, I guess you two had learned what you needed from one another.” After which I nod my head in agreement. On to the next room. Even serious relationships (and I am including friendships) lack intimacy when you expect them to end, when you remove the possibility of their being, for lack of a better word, eternal.

And, maybe, this makes relationships potentially stonger, more realistic, someohow more intimate in the acceptance of the joint limitedness of their partakers. But, usually it just taps into our insecurities and makes us avert our eyes, maybe drink faster, wish that Rickshaws didn’t have to go out of style instead of listening to the person who is sitting next to us in one, pretend that you are in an episode of Quantum Leap instead of taking advantage of some time with friends… Maybe it’s just me.

On the way out of the karaoke palace, we were all just a little bit wobbly, and in quick need of a rickshaw back home, potentially making a stop for some barbeque to reconcile the Budweiser and bird feet churning in our stomachs. There were, however, no rickshaws to be found. The rickshaw drivers, it would seem, had gone on strike at some point between 10pm and 3am. Maybe we would be seeing the end of that relic sooner than I thought. It looked like rather than cruising home pretending to be on the back of a very lo-fi time machine, we would be walking down the long road that passed Wu’s sweater shop. But atleast we were finally ‘out.’

Copy Watch?

By Ryan Day

Travel

“Sex finish?”

“Ummmm…”

“You want sex finish or you no want?”

“Ummmm…”

Suddenly the slapping and moaning from behind the curtain to the adjoining booth lost the innocence of some thin skinned newby to the Thai massage. I should have known something was up when my masseuse kept awkwardly letting her vagina rest on my upturned palm as she persisted in giving me what may have been the least effective massage a person with hands could give. But, you know, I thought maybe she was just one of the oblivious people. I sat up and unconvincingly waved off her offer while forcing a smile of disapproval. It may have been more tempting had my coworkers not been waiting in the lobby having just finished massages of their own. But even then, I wasn’t entirely sure this was one of the life paths I was willing to open up. I buttoned my shirt slowly, wondering if I was going to change my mind.

“It okay… You no have to.” She said with a smile. I was relieved. For a second there I thought it might not be up to me. But I left the booth, self-respect intact, even if my will had been called into question.

My coworkers were waiting in the lobby, looking refreshed from their massages. “How was it they asked?” I squinted and gave it three or four seconds of earnest thought. “Good.” I said. And I meant it.

This was Hong Kong in a nut shell. The night we arrived a friend and I asked the clerk at the hotel which was the best neighborhood to find a beer. He gave a sly smile and told us we had to go to Wan Chai. We looked confusedly at one and other, trying to divine the meaning of his smile, but without any other information to go on, and being a pair that prided ourselves on traveling guide-bookless, we took him at his word and started off on the walk to Wan Chai. It looked harmless enough. A big city neighborhood. It could have been anywhere really. We walked into a bar that had all the charm of an Applebees, because after a month on the mainland the prospect of a beer that wasn’t Tsing Tao was enticing. We looked over the full page beer list with stupid grins. I ordered a Hooegarden and my friend asked for a Pilsner.

I scanned the bar to see if there were any potential English speakers. I was hungry to have a conversation that wasn’t about the price of my taxi back to campus or trying to explain why I didn’t want pork in my chow mien without knowing the word for pork. But as I looked around it wasn’t potential English speakers that I noticed, but the fact that there were old business men at every table and every one of them was surrounded by young women. I’m not totally sure what doting looks like, but I think these women might have been doting. Still, nothing concrete registered. I looked at my friend and he looked back at me with an equally quizzical expression. “What’s going on here?” I asked him. “Don’t know. Must be rich or something.” Or something.

It was just about then that two women, two absolutely stunning women, came up to our table to bolster our denial of the situation before they shattered our illusions of being what my Chinese students might call luck-lucky boys. “Hello,” says the first. I have a prepared answer for these occassions which is to turn my eyes groundward, give a nervous giggle and mumble an indistinguishable “hi.” Fortunately, my friend was a bit more suited to these sorts of interactions. He asked them if they wanted to sit with us. They sat. They ordered drinks, expensive drinks and the bill was handed to us. My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged. Hong Kong’s not cheap and teachers don’t make a lot of money on the mainland. Still, here we were with two beautiful girls interested in us. We awkwardly did the chivalrous thing and offered to pay for half. We were met with silence and in a panic paid the whole thing.

“So,” said my friend, “what do you two do in Hong Kong?” They looked at each other and laughed. “Business women,” she said matter of factly. “We come from Manila.” “Oh,” I respond with all my previous suaveness intact, “Manila. That’s where they have all the…” All the what? Think fast. Faster. “Coups.” I hoped they hadn’t understood, but the immediate deflation of everyone’s giddiness led me to think that they had. “And fried bananas,” I added, my voice trailing off amidst the bars sudden silence. “So what sort of business are you in?” Asked my friend. Good one. The girl next to me opened her mouth and I could see that she had a pretty extensive set of braces. Still though, she was pretty. She paused, showing off her crooked, acrylic-coated teeth. “We good fockers,” she said plainly. I nodded. I always feel rude when I can’t understand somebody’s English. “And what’s a good focker do?” I asked. The girls laughed again. This time it had the distinct feeling of at-rather-than-with. My friend seemed to have processed things faster than me. He looked at me incredulously and somehow that drove the whole thing home. “Ohhhh,” I said.

So we headed back to the Chungking Mansion, our residence of necessity, all on our own. If you are not familiar with the Chungking Mansion I encourage you to become so on your first trip to Hong Kong. Book it for one night, and have alternatives. It isn’t for everyone. The ground floor is a haven for fake Rolexes and pushy tailors alongside samosa vendors and imitation ipods. You can’t get two steps without someone lunging in front of you, then suddenly becoming discrete, leaning in quietly, “Copy watch?” If you express an interest you are led through some back alley, up six flights of stairs and into an apartment. The best thing I saw on sale was a pair of spy glasses that had utterly indiscreet cameras half-heartedly attached to the sides of blu-blockers… Just so you don’t look creepy when you’re trying to video tape strangers from behind dark, over-sized lenses with AA battery sized recording technology dangling from your temples.

Anyway, there is always a long line for the elevator. Yes, the elevator, which has a capacity of four and serves thirty floors of hostels. The line is sort of like a low rent model UN. Drunk people from every corner of the globe await their opportunity to ride four by four up to their tenement style residence in an elevator that averages three vomits an hour and a cleaning every eight. Low and behold while standing in line after having taken our own fair share of beverages, we met another couple of interesting characters. This time they were from Dublin rather than Manila, and male as opposed to female, but the temptation of English drew us in. On their advice, we abandoned the line and headed back out to the bars on the promise that after five am the elevator line was always vacant, which for future reference, is a lie.

The place we went to was crowded. As we got up to the bar to order I was fairly squished against a white haired man with coke bottle lenses in his glasses. He looked up at me as if it took him all the vision he had left just to penetrate his bifocals. He stared and then his head bobbled, He opened his mouth as if he was going to talk, then closed it, reeled his head around to the bar tender and shouted something indistinguishable while pointing at me. The bar tender brought me a scotch. I thanked the man with a nod. He waved his hands over the five cups in front of him and I noticed for the first time the menagerie of beverages he was selecting from. A whiskey, a tequila shot, a glass of wine, some sort of clear mixed drink and a beer.

He began to tell me about himself in almost unintelligible English. What I gathered was that he was the Vice President of a major US financial institution. I believed him… I think. Then he showed me his bullet wounds from his stint in South African intelligence. Maybe the two things were not mutually exclusive. I don’t know. I like to believe that he was who he said he was, because his decadence, his lonliness, his confusion, his blindness, his misguided pride in his violent past, hell, even his immigrant status seemed to me the perfect allegory to the American Financial institution he was claiming to be in charge of, and as coming days would show, that institution was just about as drunk as he was.

Everywhere I went there were people like this man. Sometimes younger and more put together, but those circumstances were only light cover for the vapid state of their industries and by extension their selves. I don’t believe that you necessarily are what you do, but surroundings in which you spend a vast majority of your waking hours must certainly make an imprint. By the way, the quickest way to end a conversation with a Hong Kong business type, is to say the sentence, “I am a teacher.”

I don’t want to simplify the whole of my experience in Hong Kong to the fetishization of commodity, or to the commodification of women, but I can say that it robbed whatever lingering sexiness there was for me in designer clothes, the lateset in electronics… well, even that pure and loveless sex that’s sometimes called fucking. I know several people in Shantou, where I live, who take regular trips to Hong Kong for the latest copied iphone, Omega watch, Italian shoes and oftentimes these people make a stop or two in Wan Chai for the girls from Manila.

I don’t have anything special to articulate about the relationship between the desire for material and the desire for sex; the desire to ease loneliness and the desire to surround one’s self by the newest and most desirable products; the connection between the seeking of copied products and that of imitated passion. I just want to point out that it is all there, bubbling around in the same pot.

I don’t think that prostitution is a capitalist invention, nor do I think that capitalism is the root of all evil, but I’ve certainly been brought back to what was an instinctual knowledge when I was younger: the pursuit of material is one without end. That simple conundrum, if such a thing can exist, may be the inescapable prison in which contemporary ideology has locked itself. But, even as you acknowledge your own confinement, it’s tough to completely disavow yourself from its appeal. And so I drank my scotch and let this man drunkenly vent his frustrations in his mostly indecipherable English for what turned out to be a very long time.

I had lost my friend. He was nowhere in the bar. I started back alone, but soon came across him stumbling back towards the hotel. “Hey!” I yelled. “Wait up!” He turned to me with a dopey smile and then fell limply forward without so much as putting out a hand to protect himself. His head went hard into the brick surrounding a storefront window. He was bleeding pretty badly. I flagged a taxi and we went to the hospital in the hopes of getting him repaired.

On our last night, my friend’s head all stitched-up, we sat scarfing nachos and margaritas, listening to French hip hop in a bar owned by a Malaysian Elvis impersonator. I was at a loss as to whether I felt empty or full, moral or depraved, predatorial or preservationist. All I felt for sure was hungry, and that if someone asked me how my trip was, I would probably squint at them, and after a little earnest thought tell them, “It was good.”