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12.13.2002

Sex In Shanghai

Are you a dusty old fetishist interested in Asian women, medical fantasies, and the delights that only a lover of a certain age can offer? And are you are interested in all three together - finding a mature older Asian woman to be your “doctor”? [ I can’t wait to see what Google searches this post will bring in ]. While I’m sure there are a hundred porn sites that will cater to your whim (I am afraid to check, but is the Internet), I know of a better place for you. Run - don’t walk - to Nanjing Lu in Shanghai.

The streets in Shanghai follow a handy naming scheme - cities run east/west, provinces north/south - and Nanjing Lu is an east-west avenue that serves as Shanghai’s main commercial drag. To make it more tourist-friendly, a long stretch of it has been cordoned off into a pedestrian strollway (not that you don’t risk being hit by the electric sightseeing train). The street is a combination of Fifth Avenue, Las Vegas, and general bedlam, and it is a great place to spend a few hours just strolling about. At night, the whole spectacle is lit up in the best Chinese fashion, with neon everywhere and night markets spilling off onto the side streets. You can get Haägen Dazs on Nanjing Lu, or a glass of hot soy milk, or pretty much anything in between.

You can also find the world’s strangest sex shop. If you follow the street to its eastern terminus at the Bund, you will find on the southern edge of the penultimate block a little promontory of concrete with the words ‘sex shop’ stencilled onto the window. Stroll by this outcrop at just the right, casual pace (you might need to make a few passes). If you peek in as you pass the narrow open doorway, you will see a selection of rubber dildos, a slinky black negligée, two varieties of plastic ass - and looking right back at you, three matronly Chinese women in lab coats.

I dare you to go in. I really dare you. Because you know that the second you walk in the store, they will help you, and if you show the least whisper of indecision, they will begin suggesting items on their own. This is, after all, the country in which a waitress brings the menu and then stands patiently at the table, waiting for you to decide on an order. The country where, if you stop to examine a pen in a stationery store, a woman will float over to help you make your selection - do you really think they’ll let you palpate the plastic ass in peace, the three of them, in a space the size of a walk-in closet?

I have always been terrified of helpful salespeople, especially the hovering kind, and so my first few days in China were rough. Everywhere you go, there is a mob of employees, nearly always young women, floating about in every aisle and corner, coming to your assistance whether you like it or not. China was good corrective therapy for me - it even got to be a kind of game, to see how many employees we would attract (winner: hotel restaurants, two waiters each), or whether we could stop in front of a restaurant without instantly being invited in by an alert hostess shooting out the front door.

It stopped being a game for me in Beijing when I left the hotel in the morning and returned quite late at night, only to see the same greeter shivering outside the front door, having spent the better part of twelve hours in the bitter wind without even a coat to warm her. Several times we arrived or left a hotel in the wee hours, only to have the entire staff wake up for our benefit, fully dressed, having slept at their stations.

The missing men we found in Chengdu, where the whole city was crawling with construction crews, doing hard manual labor. Everything was done by hand - carrying bricks, laying pipe, digging foundations - much of the heavy stuff carried in two buckets suspended from a wooden yoke worn across the shoulders. Returning one night, we passed a construction site that had been busy during the afternoon, and were mortified to realize that the whole crew was asleep there under nothing more than a tarp.

For all the modernization and change, China remains a place where labor is cheap and abundant, and any job is precious. Despite the massive overstaffing, unemployment is terribly high and rising as they privatize old industries away. Much of the time you feel like you’ve stepped straight into Charles Dickens, and it’s a powerless and guilty feeling.

But if you dream of stern Asian scientists in their golden years, waiting to invite you in to their laboratory, you might be able to forget your cares on a visit to Nanjing Lu.

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