Thursday, July 17, 2008


Night Moves
An element that never fails to delight me is watching Beijing after dark. It's a bit how I imagine American communities must have been before TV and the Internet and suburbia sealed us all inside, though of course China doesn't lack for the plug ins. Still, on a hot summer night one can easily walk slowly through a park or neighborhood and see people - young, old, fat, thin, and in-between strolling and talking, comparing notes, laughing, occasionally arguing, gossiping, flirting, eating, drinking and generally passing time. It's a mostly slow, gentle urban rhythm that pulses according to the humidity and heat (slower if it's steamy, slightly faster otherwise...)

There's even a resident crazy guy; a harmless middle aged, clean, casually dressed, short plump fellow with one of the ubquitious tiny snuffling long haired lap dogs that seem to be standard issue for most pet owners here. His is white and on a long leash.

The local loon keeps a regular schedule, I believe. At least he can be seen regularly between 7-8pm daily outside my favorite area grocery, next to the same light pole and across from a small food stall with a line of people eating and waiting to buy barbequed beef and chicken on wooden sticks. He talks loudly to himself, gesturing frequently and passionately and the passerbys and loiterers seem to pay him no mind, just letting him be. I've tried making eye contact and even greeted him in Chinese once or twice but the talking man just keeps on talking until it's time for him and his dog to go elsewhere.

Last night a group of us found another kind of community bond in a large park and bar area called Houhai, a ring of eateries, shops, tourist stands and nightclubs around a man-made lake, one end of which had at least 100 or so older and middle aged couples dancing to recorded tunes on a hot Thursday summer night. Foxtrots, waltz's, even some Bollywood tunes - a sweet festive scene. Some in finery, a few others like older men in wife beaters, shorts and sandals. On the sidelines younger men kicked a badminton shuttlecock around like a hackey sack, one adroitly doing behind-the-body kicks everytime, nailing it.

We watched for awhile and then a Bollywood mix got the best of me. I spotted an stout older woman - obviously a looker in her prime and still carrying herself with all the elegance she'd once had, dressed like a glitter gypsy in a ballroom gown. She began dancing by herself til I glided up in my flipflops, T-shirt and cargo pants and began spinning her gently around, guiding the best I could in my less-than-suave footwear. She didn't miss a beat the entire time and bowed, hands clasped together in the traditional Chinese way when the music ended.

My coworkers were flattering. "Nice white guy dance moves!" said 20-year-old, Z. "Way to bust 'em. Didn't know you had it in you." And a bald, older Chinese man who'd been watching came up and shook my hand. "Wonderful!" he told me. "Please join us tomorrow night. Thank you! You are a true egg!"

"An egg?" I was puzzled. Son of a turtle egg is a base insult in Cantonese and I wasn't sure how this was meant.

"Yes," he said. "White on the outside but yellow inside. Chinese yellow! You have a Chinese soul." Z - a Chinese-American woman - and I laughed. We knew "banana", for "white" Asians, but never the reverse.

"Yes, thank you," I told him. "I am the egg man."

5 comments:

Peter said...

Trying to imagine your smooth moved, but have to say that a short video would help a bit. Remember that next time you go bollywood dancing.

john said...

I think the vid would be just too scary. But one of my assistants is a ballroom dance teacher. If you would like her to come to Beijing and give you some pointers I'm sure she would!

Fritz said...

Absolutely charming little piece! The positive slant works wonders.

Matthew said...

Never heard of the egg compliment before. I'll have to remember it.

My old community had dancing all the time. Not in the new one though. I think they moved it to the park near Book City.

Anonymous said...

Hi Justin,
Cool post, it must've been fun. Remember the night we danced in HH? That was fun too!

Keep the posts coming,
Marianne