My Chinese Bargirl Really Was Different
By Gaijin Pete
I met Tsai (Chai) at the end of June 2004 in one of the curiously-named "snack" bars that cluster around train stations of any size here in Japan. Why would I think you gentle reader might be interested in a story of a Chinese bar-girl? Having read every line of Stick's site over the last year I was amazed by fascinating stories from various countries in Asia (and even NIGERIA) so why not Japan. Surely those with whom we have these love-hate relationships exist in so many countries besides Thailand and variety as they say is the spice of life. I had been in Japan for one year with no female company, I'll say it's because I live in a small town in the countryside instead of Tokyo. Perhaps the fact that everyone here knows I have a wife somewhere and I'm no longer young plays a part too. Not speaking Japanese well and with train service ending before midnight also made things difficult. Why would I want to go to the trouble of penning this missive? It will be cathartic for me, and perhaps help me find "closure". If it helps someone else in a similar situation then that would be reward enough. So one night a couple of guys (students) want to go for a drink and I suggest a gaijin (foreigner) bar in the next town. When we get there I'm surprised to see it's closed tonight – no problem says one businessman we'll go to "my" bar. First he calls to ask if a gaijin is ok and can any of the girls speak English (always major considerations in Japan). Yes they have a couple of Chinese girls one of whom speaks English and on his say-so I'm acceptable as a customer. So we arrive at my first "snack".
It's an industrial building with garish neon signs like all the others in this corner of town, distinguished by a huge mural blaring "Russian Girls" – which turns out to be for the ground-floor bar which has gone out of business. We are going upstairs, arm-in-arm with laughing young lovelies who were waiting at the door to welcome us. I'd walked past this very building a number of times during the day on scouting expeditions, but never had the audacity to go in at night. Not knowing how much it would cost (considerable) or what to expect (nothing like I've experienced anywhere before). We sit down in a large "booth" in a very elegant open area like a high-class restaurant. My businessman friend is well-known there and the girls rush to him with his own bottle of whiskey, ice, glasses and tiny bowls of some shredded root vegetable (hence the name "snack"). He and the other Japanese guy are the focus of attention of some Filipinos who are trying to look as California-like as they can with dyed curled hair and tottering about on platform shoes and short skirts to make their legs look longer. Their Japanese is excellent, so long as the conversation doesn't stray too far from commiserating about the stresses of the men's careers and family lives. They've been working there without papers (illegally) for MANY years but form a well-accepted part of the "mizu-shobai" (literally "water-trade"). I look behind me just in time to see the most spectacular Chinese woman floating towards me in a diaphanous blue gown, she doesn't so much walk as glide across the floor as if by magic. Her jet-black hair cascades down like a train behind her and glistens in the lights from the stage. She smiles a smile which lights up the whole room and introduces herself in perfect English. I later learn this is her fourth language, after two Chinese languages plus working Japanese. At this point I am absolutely confident that I have got the best deal of any man there. I have my arm over the back of the couch and she nestles comfortably against me whereas the other two guys are sitting stiffly across the low table from me with always a small gap between them and the girls. I never drink whiskey and ask for a beer, she has juice. She says her name is Natsuko – nonsense of course. I tell her I cannot call her that because she's Chinese so she admits her first (family) name. Her generational and personal names do not render easily into English, so even though she hates this name – being her father's, forever afterwards she is my "Tsai" but "Natsuko" to everyone else there. We make small talk, sing a little karaoke together and I am smitten like (almost) never before. We have agreed to pay for one hour which is quickly over (as the weedy young Chinese "manager" reminds us). Do we want to stay for another? I hope so but say nothing. The Filipinos beg and pout and grip arms enthusiastically, then cheer loudly when our leader nods his head. I fleetingly worry what this will cost but snuggle up to Tsai all the more and wonder how to make her mine. I am going going gone already. She says she's "28 and never married" which I find almost believable and let slide. I too exaggerate my youth a bit but otherwise I'm completely open and honest with her. During the second hour she slips ONCE when I ask where else she's worked – several countries in Asia "for more than 20 years – oops no not that long" (sheepishly) – I laugh "20 years is ok" I say – she laughs too. I give her my business card. I love this girl already (why are the tears rolling down my face as I write this? How pathetic I am). Time to go, we each put 5,000 yen on the table (the agreed amount) and the girls press their name-cards into our hands as we head out of the building. Lots of bowing, waving and very polite Japanese as we smile and walk away. Later I learn that the fee was 10,000 yen each but our leader had quietly paid the extra when he "went to the toilet" just before we left. So about $300 U.S. between us for one drink each and two hours with these girls.
A day or two I wait. Then I call her, heart in mouth. She asks me to come back to the bar – this is her job and this is why they gave us the cards with "personal" mobile phone numbers on. I am prepared for this and take a breath – no I won't go back to the bar. SHE is interesting to me but the bar is of no interest. I am not Japanese and don't think it's right to give money to another man to spend time with a woman. But haven't I already done exactly this? Isn't this how the Japanese system works? I know I'm right but still feel somehow ridiculous and paternalistic. I want an egalitarian relationship based on mutual respect and enjoyment but fear that I just sound like a cheapskate. It's horrible. Maybe she'll say "come to the bar or you won't see me again". Perhaps then I'll break down and spend every cent I have just to be near her for a few hours one night per week. Unlike the sad tales of other readers though, I know that for me the story would end right there. I'm old enough to control my emotions – just. Please God don't let me find out whether that's really true or not. Suddenly she says "ok meet me at the flower shop tomorrow (Sunday) at 1:00" – I know where it is. The next day I go early and wait – and wait. After an hour I know I've been stood up, first time since high school. I have crazy thoughts about staying until night-time or putting up a sign on the wall saying "I'm here where are you" and my phone number. I'm secretly happy in a way as I've saved myself a lot of money and time and grief over this girl. But wait, two days later she phones me. First she says she was there but didn't see me then admits she didn't show up and is contrite. Anything before 2:00 pm is early for these girls it turns out. Meet her today (Wednesday) outside her club at 2:00? "Please wear pants" I say then I fire up the motorcycle and race over there. It's pouring rain as I leave my little town and I wear rain gear until I get close, then strip it off and hide it under the seat before turning the corner just as the sun comes out. She comes up the street, that perfect smile, simply dressed, white pants, reasonable shoes (she's too tall for most Japanese men actually). We go for coffee and chat, maybe I buy her flowers, I can't remember but she has to be back to her apartment building behind the club before 7:00 so she can change for work. That becomes the daily deadline of our lives for the next two months. The next day is the first day that I have written on my calendar "no sleep" – why? These girls have only 2 days off per month and she's been asked to take one of them the next day – would I be willing to meet her? Stupid question. We go for a meal (my lunch, her breakfast) and to a karaoke room, nomihodai (all you can drink). She sings like an angel, part of her job description I guess. I invite her to my apartment "what to do?" I say watch a movie, listen to music. Off we go. When it gets time to slip into bed she borrows a t-shirt but won't take off her dress pants. Eventually I work out it's because she doesn't wear panties. I offer her some small clean underwear that I use when laundry day is overdue and she shyly changes in the bathroom. I realise she has a lot less sexual experience than I have. This is a shock given her job – and the fact that her passport tells me she's actually 41 – whoah. To say I'm stunned is an understatement. I admit my age too and we laugh some more. Did I mention I love this "girl" (woman) already? I ask her the question of course. She assures me the girls do NOT usually have sex with customers. I'd heard that but found it hard to believe. She explains that they are selling the IDEA of having sex with them. They never say "yes" but they never say "no" either, just "maybe". The Japanese men come back with endless money just for the fantasy of spending the night with them. Then they go home and bang their accommodating Japanese wives. I feel sick. She says every night is like participating in a Shakespearean play "They pretend that they love us, but we KNOW they are pretending so WE pretend to believe them". She says the Japanese men know the Japanese rules, come often, spend much and eventually, maybe their wish might come true. Is she really not married? She tells me she's said it so often she forgets herself that actually she has a husband – a "boy" in India. He was a virgin on their wedding night she says "we were like teenagers together" – more laughter. Not even her girlfriends or closest family know. He's very poor and her best-kept secret. Being married to him means she can go to India to pray and meditate in a temple as long as her savings from this work lasts, which is a long time. About dawn her mobile phone rings and she has a tense, hushed conversation in English. It's her tearful "boy" in India. He's lovesick over her and the sleeping pills the doctor gave him aren't working anymore. He's lost weight and cries all the time for her. I learn that cheerful Japanese conversations are for customers, sad strained English conversations are for her Hindi/Bengali-speaking husband. English is their only common language.
This becomes our life together. Four nights a week we usually don't see each other because I have to work in the morning but three nights a week I pick her up after her club closes at 2:00 am. We race back on the motorbike, stopping somewhere on the way to buy vegetarian food. If I dare to eat any meat or fish she knows as soon as we kiss. We strip and shower and she prepares something hot and delicious then we eat naked on the floor with the music playing. Afterwards she sits in the one chair on the balcony to have a last cigarette before bed. She likes to have me sit in the sliding doorway beside her and we watch the sun start to appear. We hold hands. The birds chirp. It's very romantic. We talk. I am still naked but sometimes she has a towel draped over her. No-one can see us from the street below and there's almost no traffic anyway. Sometimes her husband calls. I am quiet and serve her tea while she lies to him. Sometimes she has to call him back and I offer her to use my phone, now I know her husband's phone number. She trusts me completely. We can't actually have sex because of her religion. Something about her husband's karma and future lifetimes. However she loves me to eat her and masturbate her, and I know from experience it's only a matter of time before she changes her mind. It takes well over two hours to make her "come" each time, she's not used to this pleasure. During that time, if the phone rings I continue working on her gently while she talks to him, then afterwards she concentrates, squirms and her body explodes. It lasts a long long long time when it finally happens. I ask if her husband does this and she says "this pleasure is not important". I ask again after she "comes" and she's not so sure now. Her body tastes of the kim-chee (spicy Korean food) that she eats every day. When I tell her she is surprised and asks me what it should taste like, I say sort of lemony. She's amazed and stops eating kim-chee forever. She tries to please me but doesn't really know how. Her few (Asian) lovers in the past didn't demand much technique on her part, just compliance. She had one English teacher before (his last night in Taiwan) just to see what it would be like. It wasn't great by all accounts. After awhile she allows me to cut her pubic hair off to make things better. She likes the result. The two months left on her (visitor's) visa disappear and we go away for a quick weekend on the 'bike to a very expensive ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in a scenic area near here. They have hollowed out a cave in the rock under the hotel and a hot spring flows through it, forming three large pools of an onsen. It's for naked couples only. We are both a bit shy and she decides to wear a g-string when we go in. We see three Japanese men and no women as we walk in and wash ourselves down. They confer quickly and all leave. How nice, the ceiling is covered with fairy lights and we have the place to ourselves. The service is excellent and the (specially prepared) vegetarian food is fantastic. We do not sleep much, she assures me there are ghosts in the room and we have to change sleeping arrangements several times. What a shame that her second day off was cancelled so instead of three days together we had to race back on day two for 7:00 pm. An hour later I am sleeping the sleep of the dead, but she is performing her play once more, poor girl. I really truly feel for her. All too soon she has to return to Taiwan and renew her visa for India. My businessman friend and other regular customers see her onto the airport bus at 4:00 am. Little do they know that I am flying too, to meet her at the airport in Taipei. We spend two fantastic last days and nights together, by then we are making love completely. The hotel room she has arranged (and paid for) is spectacular. Huge bed huge hot-tub lots of marble and mirrors. We go out to dance, she shows me the city that she despises. Can I ever forget her face seen through the window of the bus as I leave for the airport? She stands on the sidewalk staring right through me, I feel guilty as hell for leaving her. Tears come, I feel like a child and panic as the traffic makes me NEARLY miss the return flight. I get in trouble at the airport trying to skip the baggage x-ray machine and jump the immigration exit line-up. Finally on the plane "home" to an empty apartment. I feel I want to die.
There is one hope to keep in touch with her. I know her e-mail address (and password) because she needs help to use it. It was set up for her by her husband so he knows it too. I promise to send her e-mail as "Zespri". I think of asking her to change the password so her husband doesn't know it, but think it would probably cause more trouble than it's worth. This is a mistake I shall regret always. The pathetic messages I read there from her husband make me want to throw up. How can any man speak such drivel? I send an innocuous message the day I return then login as her once in awhile, to check it really arrived and to see if it's been read. After 6 weeks she reads it and replies that she's very happy there with her "husbad". Is it really her? Is it her "husbad"? Is he beside her and is she trying to slip me a message of despair, or is it just a typo? Have I completely lost my perspective on everything? I notice her husband has added "Zespri" to his friends list in Messenger. I send him a message in pidgin English asking who he is and why he wants to add me but I never see him online. In the e-mail reply is a phone number which is perplexing and I suspect a trap set by her husband to see if there's another man involved. I get a Japanese girl to phone the number but the man who answers hangs up when she asks for her (by her Indian name of Tungavidya). Several tries, no joy – I am frantic. My Japanese friend is very unimpressed. Finally I get the e-mail message I have been dreading. She says her husband has taken all her money and left her for another woman. She is alone and lonely and has no place to live, please come to India to rescue her. I confer with a knowledgeable friend from the subcontinent and he advises against the trip. "You'll come back dead or just disappear" he assures me. Anyway how can I find her knowing only the city? There are 5,000 temples there. I reply saying I need to be sure this is really her and ask for details of her situation. Again I login as her each day to see if my message has been read yet. Finally it gets read and a detailed, harrowing message of betrayal and ill-fortune comes back including the loss of her bag containing her personal phone the last of her money and her address book. She begs me to come to a certain temple on a certain day of the week as she'll be there. Now I'm convinced it's her and I lay it all on the line. I detail when and where and how we can get back together and even include a picture of us together. That day I can check her e-mail account – but the FOLLOWING day the password has been changed. Oops! At last I see her husband online and send him a message as "Zespri". This is my only contact point now. He asks to see my picture and I have a suitable one ready to display. He asks what my e-mail address is and I tell him then he says "You are NOT a Japanese girl you are a liar" and he disappears. I finally know the roller coaster ride is over. I am shattered, she's gone forever because she no longer knows my phone number or e-mail address and cannot access her own e-mail unless her husband makes peace with her. We cannot contact each other. It's definitely the end. I feel numb from head to toe. I have to go "home" for Christmas and pretend that nothing has happened in front of my family. It's difficult, let me tell you and I'm glad to get back to my tiny quiet Japanese apartment and compose this account of hope and despair, love found and love lost.
Hard as this might be to believe, last night as I was planning how to put this into words, the phone rang. It was nearly midnight. A scratchy voice could barely be heard over some loud beeps for less than a minute.
"You remember me?"
"Tsai? Oh I miss you! Where are you? What country? Are you ok?"
"No I will send you e-mail, tell you everything"
"I can't hear you well"
"This is STD" (long distance)
"Do you have my e-mail address? Are you ok? What country are you in now?"
"Have to go, I send you e-mail"
I am waiting Tsai. Please let me know you're ok. God it hurts