Woman In The Rain Part 1
Woman In The Rain
A lone woman stands on a pedestrian bridge overlooking the gleaming wet, empty boulevard below, cold December rain pelting her umbrella. The silhouette the streetlight creates tells me it's a woman–short jacket to mid thigh, knee high boots with stilted heels. It is well after midnight and I think to myself, “She must really need the money to be out in this weather.” All the other hookers have long since gone, giving up to the rain, the chill, the empty streets. This is mainland China and the city is Guangzhou, better known as Canton in the west.
I have to cross the bridge. It's the way home. As I reach the top of the steps I lower my umbrella to avoid her gaze and solicitations. “Michael?” I stop walking, smiling now when I recognize the voice.
“Lily!” I say, tilting back my umbrella to lean in and kiss her quickly; her cheek is ice cold. She huddles closer, our umbrellas bumping intimately. She offers me a cigarette, and though I don't usually smoke, I accept. She lights me up with Marlene Dietrich flair, touching the glowing tip of hers to mine until it lights. Lily is honest, straightforward, and sincere, which is exceptional in her world of sex, money, and danger. Unlike other hookers, she never propositioned me. The first time I met her was very similar to this night, minus the rain.
“Ni chi fan le ma?” Have you eaten?, I ask after we finish our smoke. She smiles and takes my arm without answering, guiding me across the bridge, intuitive to our destination. We've played these roles before. It has the surreal sense of a movie scene; a little intrigue and a little danger. Six months before it was exactly that because she saved me from being robbed and perhaps a lot worse.
The pubs in central Canton cater to a varied crowd of visiting foreign businessmen and expatriates. I have friends from nearly every corner of the world there: Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia–even Finland. Because of that, there was never a problem finding a drinking partner; Hemingway would have loved it. A few of us routinely made pub crawls to change things up, inevitably catching the eyes of the “gi”. A word for chicken, Chinese slang for prostitute.
As a group, the street walkers can be formidable, surrounding an individual mark, purring their lines of seduction. So having a friend or two in tow while changing bar venues made it a safer gambit. A buddy pushing you along, saying “She's pretty, I know! Just follow me into the pub, you'll thank me tomorrow!” makes a run through the chicken coop much easier. Most are reasonably pretty, as well as young, and nearly all come from the countryside of other provinces, driven away by their families to make money in any way they can.
The Hopeful Hookers
They come along with tens of millions* of migrant workers who hope to tap into the vast wealth and opportunity of the “world's factory floor” as the area surrounding Guangzhou is known. Most of the girls end up here or in one of its many satellite factory cities: Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, and Zhuhai. That's exactly why I and so many other foreigners were here—money.
Hookers in China are surprisingly moral. These filial daughters will send back half of their income to their family for support. The fortunate ones can end up learning a trade, such as waitressing, or bar tending. I watched a young girl named Flower transform this way. She came into the employ of the Hill Bar when she was just 16, was naturally beautiful and always had a smile. She started helping out behind the bar and soon became a bartender. Her entire English vocabulary consisted of “Hello”, “Tank you” and “Bye Bye” when she arrived. Within six months she was rather fluent, within a year she was reading as well as writing. She saved her money and began taking computer classes in her free time. For every success story like Flower though, there are tens of thousands in China less fortunate. It is estimated there are between 200,000 to 500,000 prostitutes working throughout China. Big discrepancy, but big numbers to say the least.
I wait at a table, glancing out the rain streaked window that looks out onto the street. Lily gets our food from the buffet line at the Blue & White Cafe, a local 24 hour restaurant. She returns with steaming bowls of the local lo fo tong, (slowly cooked soup), grilled chili peppers in black bean sauce, spicy grilled fish, sautéed corn with pine nuts, and aged tofu with mushrooms, and heaping bowls of rice. We both dig in, shedding the chill from the rainy night outside. She sits close to me, her legs crossed my way, touching my knee to hers, at times feeding me bites with her own chopsticks. There is an attraction between us, with unspoken boundaries. It isn't love, it's about companionship.
*26.7 million migrant workers thrive in Guangdong Province, one third of the entire country's migrant work force.
Rescue in The Disco
A few months after I first met Lily, I went to a night club I had heard about. It was after 2:00 am and I was alone. It was typical cheesy Chinese: loads of overstuffed wall sofas, high tables and chairs, gogo dancers gyrating on pedestals, bartenders flipping bottles, and about forty patrons. Groups of thin Chinese men nervously eyeballed tables of shy, Chinese girls they would never get the courage to mingle with or talk to. A clump of Indian and Pakistani businessmen flirted with four hostess girls, driving up their drink bill. Chinese couples flirted while drinking sangria from fruit laden pitchers and playing liar's dice.
I ogled one of the dancing gogo girls when a curvaceous woman showing ample cleavage appeared beside me. She took my arm and led me to a table with two other girls and so I sat with them. She kept smiling at me, speaking Chinese, stroking my arm, then my upper leg beneath the table, slowly working her way up higher with each pass. I soon found a drink in front of me that I didn't order. I was already half drunk when it arrived–“what the hell” I thought. Yet after two glasses I could hardly hold my head up. The girl who now squeezed at my crotch a little too enthusiastically whispered “massagy You, me–go!” She stood and pulled me to very wobbly feet, and as I lurched around, there stood Lily before me. She wore a shiny, long sleeved dress that hugged her body like a second skin, looking like an albino python, ready to squeeze the life out of someone. Her silky, blue-black hair shone in the pulsating lights. She took my arm from the girl and said “We go Michael, she is ma fan–trouble!” I stumbled but Lily put my arm around her shoulder, the other girl yelling at us as we weaved toward the door, Lily hailing a cab once outside. Slipping into the backseat together, Lily gave directions to the driver, then she pulled my head over to her shoulder, stroking my hair, whispering “We go my home!” I draped my arm over her legs and blacked out.
Wow, what a start to a story!