An American in Chengdu

Seven | November 1, 2009

On Friday I went to a club with Albert, a Uyghur doctor from my spoken English class, and a couple of his friends. We went to a place called Seven, because one of them has a VIP card for the club. It’s unclear to me how a math student at Sichuan University spends enough money at a club to get a VIP card, but there are a lot of things I don’t understand here.

The four of us got our own table, fruit plate, and pitcher of weak cocktail. I was happy that so little Johnny Walker had gone into the pitcher when we started drinking: we toasted and drank about three shots in a row, after which some leather-covered cups and dice appeared and I learned a drinking game. I did pretty abysmally at first and resorted to cheating by taking only half a shot at a time, but my luck improved considerably as the evening wore on. Nevertheless, I was happy when we abandoned the dice for the dance floor.

I was interested to see what people wore to the club, since Chinese fashion is a bit more conservative than American. That is, it’s not too rare to see women here wearing miniskirts, but no one displays any cleavage or midriff. Even shoulder-baring tank tops are just about non-existent. There were a few lower necklines at the club, but some women were covered all the way to the neck.

The DJ played only English-language dance music, but periodically live performers would appear on the tiny stage in the middle of the center bar and sing in Chinese, with plenty of audience participation. At one point a male dancer appeared wearing only a pair of electric blue briefs decorated with feathers and sparkly eye shadow painted onto his face in the shape of a masquerade mask. He danced seductively, at one point pretending to pull one of the male audience members in for a kiss, then pushing him away coyly. Then he plucked a woman out of the audience and performed a few highly suggestive dance moves with (to?) her, and tossed her around the stage like a rag doll, throwing her off balance with lifts and dips, then catching her just before she hit the floor. It was an impressively athletic performance.

In between live performances anyone could dance on the stage, a situation that in the States would be called “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” The stage was less than four feet wide and perhaps 15 feet long. The bartenders worked in a narrow walkway about two feet below, and the bar itself surrounded the stage/walkway at shin height to the dancers. It was crowded up there, and I wondered how often people fell on to the bar. It didn’t take long before I saw someone do it; a bartender calmly helped him back up on to the stage.

At some point in the evening I acquired a Uyghur name, Xahida (pronounced Sha-hee-da, meaning princess), and in return dubbed one of Albert’s friends “Eric” (he just seemed like an Eric).

Later I sat outside getting some air and listening to Albert and Eric talk to each other. Uyghur is related to Turkish and dominated by the sounds of high-points Scrabble letters like J, K, and Z, a marked contrast to the vowel-y Sichuan dialect. A very drunk couple sat down across from us and the woman, who had feathery hair died a lighter shade of brown and looked to be an undergraduate, yelled “Hello!” and waved at me enthusiastically. Later she interrupted the conversation again to tell me in Chinese, “You’re pretty, you’re very pretty.” “No, I’m not,” I said. Albert, who seemed to have temporarily forsaken Mandarin for Uyghur and English, told her “You’re very beautiful too.” I should have thought of that. Finally, when she sensed attention again drifting away from her, she deployed another English phrase. “I love you!” she yelled, hanging on her date, who looked about halfway passed out. “I love you!” It was unclear whether this was meant for her date, me, the Uyghurs, or everyone within earshot. We went back inside.

We left comparatively early and dodged two people with trained monkeys on leashes. This was the first time I’d seen such a thing, and it wasn’t clear to me what the monkeys did if you paid their owners. The next night I would see a monkey grab onto one of my students’ calves and cling cutely until the student paid the owner one RMB to call off his pet.


1 Comment »

  1. Now that was an evening to remember!
    Also I like the idea of randomly renaming people.

    Comment by Carolyn — November 4, 2009 @ 4:29 am

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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