Chengdu is known for Pandas. Ok, let’s get that over with asap, because really, who gives a shit?
Unlike Britain and the U.S., Chinese official discourse does not tend to universalize everything about being Chinese. Being Chinese is not universal, is not “common humanity,” like Americans and Europeans seem to think about themselves. This sometimes leaves room for questionable rhetoric:
“Pandas care for their young, and try to protect them, just like Chinese women care for their children.”
Not like those damn Japanese!
In Chengdu people really assume I’m Chinese, perhaps because we are close to the Chinese minorities in the Southwest, who I do kind of resemble. My terrible Chinese language skills probably sounds like a broken Southwestern dialect. There are so many dialects, it’s typical to not understand each other.
Even foreigners seem to assume I’m a local. When I take a picture of a smiling Buddha, which is forbidden, one of the white foreigners yells at her partner: “See! Chinese do take pictures in temples. It’s not taboo!”
I tell another traveler about this, a guy from Estonia.
“But you not like these Chinese men. They are just like women. You just put makeup on them, turn them around, screw them from behind. Feels like a woman.”
–I just told you I’m part Asian.
“Right. So you would be needing lots of make-up.”
At the hostel, I meet a Chinese guy going to study in East LA; his friend is going to Brown. I tell him I went to the University of Nevada.
“What is that? A Chinese school?”
The hostel is full of foreign travelers, most of them eco-tourists.
“China would be wonderful it if weren’t for all the Chinese people. Rude, intolerant people can ruin a country.”
I don’t refer to myself as a backpacker—first of all, those packs just look stupid, don’t fit on airplane bins well, are heavy to lug around, and make young people look like they’re going camping. Camping in the wilderness is not the same as exploring a city. People are there to engage with, share things with, respect, and learn from–not to gawk at like they were an exotic bird or famous waterfall. Not all backpackers act this way, but well, some definitely do.
On a backpacker’s budget, perhaps, but not a backpacker.
“I tried learning Chinese,” one of them says, “but then I could understand their hate speech towards me. Now I would rather not know what they are saying.”
How prejudice these foreign visitors are, I think to myself throughout the night, as I try to sleep in the dorm. I can’t, because the Chinese men in my room stay up shouting into their cellphones. There are rooms outside for that, and they don’t seem to care that I’m trying to sleep.
How prejudice these foreign visitors are I repeat like a lullaby.
On Chengdu’s “Bar Street,” bar girls feign crying to try and get customers inside. They ball into their hands dramatically, playing the part of the distressed young woman who just needs a man to come save them (preferably intoxicated and rich). Very performative.
Most bars cater to only one type of beer. There are all Budweiser bars, all Coors bars—different levels of hell.
What does it take to find an all TsingTao bar?
When I finally relent and order a Coors, it’s warm. There’s a reason American beers are always served cold. It’s called taste repression.
I run into a middle-aged Chinese man at the bar. My favorite type of people to run into while traveling, perhaps, are middle-aged men who like to drink. Their uninhibited attitude towards things around them is always revealing. For example:
“When you really want to cheat on your wife, the best way is to just screw a girl you don’t care about. Then no love, no problem. Watch out for love, that is the worst. If you feel like you love the new girl, wait 6 months before you screw her again. Then you go home and you love your wife, no problems.”
—Do you love your wife?
“Of course I love her! Why ask me that?”
And later on:
“You see all these guys in this bar? They all losers. You know who the women really want? They want to screw us. The men with confidence. “
Silly man! I mistakenly think, only to notice that he is touching each waitress, whispering in their ears in the meantime. Damn it, that’s right. Silly men often have a lot of power.
“You don’t even need to spend a dollar. China not about your money, but about who you know. And I am friends with everyone. Government officials love me, so I can do anything. I get what I want. Welcome to China!”
As an American, I have the privilege of universalizing. I tell him: “Welcome to the world.”