Complainers


I’ve been told by others that I complain a lot. Recently, my friend Chloe, also an avid enjoyer of long rants detailing the unfairness of life, told me I complain too much. My late grandmother, the best complainer I knew, fell silent upon hearing my tirades. I can out-complain the best of them.

Truth be told, I don’t trust people who don’t complain. What are they hiding? No one is happy all the time. These people paint on fake smiles as piles of gunk accumulate atop their souls like plaque between tight teeth. Then when they can’t feign happiness anymore, they murder their families and the middle-aged neighbor, wearing a bathrobe, hair still in curlers in mid-day because her husband pays all her living expenses — tells the newscaster that so-and-so was such a nice guy and she never imagined he could be capable of such things.

But you see, we complainers aren’t dangerous. True, you may get sick of hearing about all the sh*t going on in our lives, but at least you know where you stand with us. We don’t let the negativity and melancholy sit inside of us, rotting and festering like the two-year old yogurt in the back of your fridge. By constantly spewing it out, we remain in a continual state of cleansing. And let’s admit it: sometimes complaining just feels pretty damn good.

One of my favorite pastimes is meeting other people who like to complain. We can be openly negative, creating small portals to the abyss wherever we go. Yes, the old saying is true; misery does indeed enjoy company.

Sidetrack

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G20 has finally ended and Shanghai has mostly gone back to normal, although small hotels still won’t allow foreigners and this restriction is probably never going to be lifted. I returned to my company and am now living in the dorms, which are total shit and filled to the brim with noisy Chinese girls. But at least I have somewhere reasonably-priced to live in Shanghai.

I want to kick myself for wasting this past month away in shitty places. After Chloe and I got in a literal fist fight with the agent in Fuzhou, we took a high speed train to Shenzhen, then a ferry to Macau. There, we stayed in an over-priced and noisy hotel far from the city center. At just 300 RMB per night, it was the cheapest we could find. After two days of not sleeping due to the construction happening in the next room, we got in touch with an agent for KTVs in Macau. We’d heard from another friend that the tips every night far exceeded that of mainland clubs so we wanted to give it a shot.

The first KTV sat right above one of the main casinos. I met with the boss, then sat in a waiting area for four hours, only for them to tell me that they won’t let Americans work. I argued that other foreigners worked in their KTV but to no avail. The agent called every KTV he knew of in Macau, even accompanying me to two more, resulting in a lot more waiting for nothing. I’d had similar issues trying to find KTVs in mainland China but never have I sat for so many hours just to hear them say they won’t take Americans.

I started to feel desperate. I’d already spent most of my money on this useless trip and no KTV would let me work at all. Then the agent had an idea: go try the sauna. What’s a sauna, you ask? The lowest, worst kind of place anyone can work in Asia. The pay is dirt cheap, so you need to see many customers in a day. Unlike a KTV, where you come dressed up but remain fully clothed, chatting with customers, smiling, eating and essentially being the modern Chinese version of a geisha — the sauna is only a glorified brothel. Its customers are low-lives who can’t afford the girls inside a KTV.

Worse, this one required a deposit of 2000 Macau dollars ($300 USD) before you can begin work. Each customer only pays 1300, so you need to see two before you can even earn back your deposit. I’m embarrassed to say I was this desperate, but I’ve called my parents too many times in the past several years when I fucked up. Mommy and Daddy can’t bail me out anymore. In Macau, the sauna is the only place that will receive Western foreigners.

I entered a dingy locker room filled to the brim with young, plastic-surgery-carved, super-model-thin Asian girls. In the mainland, specifically Shanghai, these women  could earn 1500 RMB just to sit, drink, and smile. In Macau, they’re only cheap whores. The manager asked me why I’d come to such a place. I shrugged and said no KTV would accept Americans.

He took down my passport information, then asked me to try on a yellow bikini. I stood in front of the door and he snapped a picture. He took my measurements and my height.

I stood on a scale which read 62 kg.

“A bit chubby for this place.” He said.

After, three old women came into that small, dark office to check me out. The oldest one, a Cantonese version of Hillary Clinton, asked me if my hair was fake.

“Yes,” I said.

“Can we see your real hair?”

“No,” I replied sheepishly. “The truth is I’m black and I need special hair care products that are impossible to buy here. So for now, I just wear a wig.”

Cantonese Hillary Clinton nodded and asked me to change into the company uniform. As expected, all of their clothes didn’t fit. At 170 cm tall, 62 kg, I was the fattest girl working in that place and probably the only one with a natural C cup.

I wore my own dress; a KTV dress not fit for the sauna, but I didn’t have anything else to wear. Some catty Chinese girls started picking at me, saying my clothes and hair didn’t look good. Two hours in, I was ready to kill a bitch.

Finally, the mommy came to escort me and another new recruit to train for our new role. This place had themed rooms featuring every kind of porn fantasy from nurse to maid to teacher. Classic stuff.

The mommy told us that on our first day, we’d train to be maids. The amount of steps involved in this role-play made my head spin. There were dozens of props including a maid’s cart, a feather duster, a fake pizza, and a table cloth that looked like a pizza. A tray containing a small ice bucket, KY jelly, and condoms sat on the nightstand.

After she went through all of the steps, she quizzed us on them. If we got one answer wrong, we had to act out the roleplay all over again. All this for only half the price I could get in the mainland for doing a whole lot less.

After training, we lined up to stand in front of customers in various settings. First, in front of a pool. Later, in front of the massage area. And after that, in various themed rooms. These men weren’t at all gentlemanly like the KTV customers I’d become  accustomed to. They were rude, incredibly picky, and cruel. By the end of the night, I was in tears. I left at 3AM, completely penniless.

I went into a room next to the sauna and found some metal wire and a pair of pliers. I climbed the metal stairs to the top and began trying to tie a solid knot. The pliers felt dull and wouldn’t properly cut through the wire. I struggled with the wire for several minutes. One stubborn thread wouldn’t separate from the whole. Then I heard footsteps. Below the ramparts, I saw a construction worker and panicked.

“Hey!” He yelled. But I ran like a rabbit who’d seen a bobcat, zigzagging my way through the dimly-lit parking lot until I finally reached the exit of the casino. Across the street sat our shitty apartment. Completely defeated, I walked home in silence. The agent asked how the place was. I told him it was awful and I’d never go back there again.

The next day came and he asked me to go back, but I refused.

“There are many ways to do this job.” I said. “I’ll just use the Internet.”

Several hours passed and I couldn’t get a single customer through WeChat or MoMo. So, I suggested trying the casino. He brought me to one and then tried to leave me there alone. I admitted I didn’t know fuck all what I was doing and felt terrified. So we left. As we roamed the streets he said, “There are indeed many ways to do this job.”

He pointed to a corner where a long-haired Chinese girl in a knee-length white skirt reached out her hand to a man passing by. He ignored her and walked faster. “That girl is trying to pull in customers.”

“Street work is the lowest form of the business.” I replied. “You don’t understand, I’ve been paid thousands of RMB just to sit and talk with guests. I almost never go out with them.”

“Then perhaps you should go back.” He said. “G20 is over on September 6th. On that day, it’ll be safe to return to Shanghai.”

And so, Chloe and I waited it out in Zhuhai. While there, we met two awesome KTV girls who took me to a duck bar. I found a really sweet one to spend the night with. The following day he bought me a bouquet of flowers. I’m 25, and one week ago was the first time in my life a man bought flowers for me. Now I know I’m really meant to be in China.

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Full Circle

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This is Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province in Southeast China. It’s the twelfth city I’ve visited in the mainland and it’s the hometown of my previous mentor in Northern Virginia, near Washington DC. I called him Daoshi. I’d fallen in love with him but of course, he was married. Everything he’d taught me prepared me for coming back to the mainland.

Fuzhou is a second tier city, meaning it shouldn’t be as strict as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Unfortunately, though, these days even second-tier cities are starting to get strict. Then it dawned on me. Chloe told me I can pass for a person from Xinjiang province in the Northwest. A lot of them look like foreigners, speak Arabic, and don’t speak Mandarin particularly well. I even have a friend from Xinjiang who can’t read Chinese characters. I looked through my phone contacts and found that I had three friends from Xinjiang so I messaged all of them. One replied immediately and agreed to sell me one of her ID cards. In exchange, I need to accompany her to a high-level KTV in Shanghai.

This is going to open a lot of doors, allowing me to work anywhere and live in any hotel, apply for Chinese video streaming apps, and pretty much do anything that’s currently restricted.

For several months, I felt completely hopeless. This year has really fucking sucked. But now, I’m starting to feel a little bit of hope. Now, I’m starting to feel that it’s finally going to be OK.

He’s a Paul

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Imagine this guy but without the glasses, shorter, and slightly-Asian.

When you’re in the dating game long enough, you come to understand certain types of characters you won’t mesh well with. Sometimes, new guys come along bearing all the red flags of an ex, sending your flight or fight response to a healthy “get the fuck out of there”.

Back in college, a wavy-haired nano-scientist caught my attention at a potluck. He was socially awkward, sexually deviant, and somewhat handsome. But goddamn, he sat so high up on the spectrum I’m not sure how he even had any friends. If not for his good looks and intelligence, he’d be fucked. His empathy gauge always ran on empty and by the end of our relationship, I’d become convinced of his psychopathy.

Yesterday, I played around on a Chinese app called Momo. Someone sent me a message using simplified Chinese characters so I responded immediately. He looked alright in his pics. Unfortunately, when I got there, I discovered he was shorter than me by several inches, too skinny, and super awkward. And no, it’s not because he’s Chinese. I met plenty of other Chinese guys who inhale and exhale cool. I didn’t wanna be rude and I felt a bit hungry, so I sat and had coffee with the guy.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m an astronomer.” He replied.

“Wow, that’s actually super cool.”

I wasn’t lying. Studying the stars is pretty badass. But the more I talked to him, the more I realized he was a Paul, even down to the ticks and strange facial expressions.

“Sometimes, I get lonely.” He said. “I live alone. I’d like someone to talk to besides my colleagues.”

Actually, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept. We all get lonely and we all need stimulating conversation that has nothing to do with work. That’s just human nature.

Unfortunately, I’m a shallow bitch and can’t be serious about a dude who makes me look like an Amazonian warrior princess when I stand next to him. Nor can I stomach looking at his oddly-shaped dick. I’ve seen a lot of cocks in my life and this guy’s wang is in the top 5 list of least aesthetically-pleasing. It’s skinny at the bottom and thick at the top like an ice cream cone. Worse, he likes blowjobs. A trouser snake needs to appeal to my eyes if I’m gonna stick my face anywhere near the damn thing.

It gets worse. He’s got a receding hairline at 33 years old. He can’t look me in the eye during conversations. He won’t sit still for five minutes. Despite his PhD and international travel, the most basic social skills seem to elude him. Also, he’s from mainland China. There’s just too many deal-breakers with this guy. On to the next one.

Independent Girls

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I really miss Chloe. Upon arriving at the Internet cafe, we sat down to our respective computer stations. Electronic poker, her game of choice, booted slowly on the subpar Internet connection. My MMO of choice, League of Angels, didn’t fare much better.

“You’ve got a gambling problem,” I joked while staring blankly at a seemingly never-ending load screen.

“No, I usually win. I only lost money yesterday because the game cheated. Today, I’m gonna get lucky,” she replied.

I only had six beers today, my scruffy ex-boyfriend’s voice slurred through my skull.

I just need one more Xanax, the ghost of my childhood best friend whispered in my ear.

I gotta get some dick tonight, a mirage of my college roommate chuckled.

Just one more level, a childhood memory of me whined at Dad after a 16-hour gaming binge.

“Where I have I heard that line before?” I mumbled under my breath.

Chloe snapped her fingers and clicked her tongue. “Yes! Finally! I just won 200!”

A few moments later, League of Angels finally loaded. Before I could fully immerse myself in the digital realm, I heard a loud groan coming from the desk behind me.

“Holy shit, this game cheated me again. Now I lost 400.”

Most of the people in my life are addicts. In the past, it’s been difficult to resist the temptations of all the aforementioned demons.

We continued chatting during lag times and somehow the subject of independence came up.

“I feel wrong for saying this, but I can’t connect with most Chinese girls. They act so childish.”

“It’s a cultural thing,” Chloe replied. “Even in their 30s and 40s, they continue to act like teenagers.”

“But you’re 27 and you act so mature. You’re so independent, like a Western girl.”

Chloe frowned. “It’s because I have no choice.”

We sat for a moment in silence.

“I guess I also have no choice,” I replied.

“I’m really tired of living a random life.” She sighed. “I really want to settle down and have a family.”

“Me too. Independence isn’t worth dying alone.”

 

 

Hello Taiwan

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Taiwanese graffiti is the shit.

Chloe awoke swiftly to the sound of heavy knocking at our hotel room door.

“Who is it?” She yelled several times in Chinese. No answer.

She rolled out of bed, threw on some pants, and slowly slid open the door. The clerk had come to inform us that the police had called to let them know about a routine check to be performed the following day. As a small, newly-opened hotel, they weren’t allowed to rent to foreigners. They weren’t even allowed to rent to a Chinese who would have foreigners as guests.

Shanghai has become ridiculously strict in light of the looming G20 summit – a huge international meeting where a bunch of privileged big wigs talk policy – policy often designed to fuck over the poor and immigrants. My former customer’s friend had arranged the room for us so we’d assumed there be no problems. We were wrong.

I wish I could say this only happened to me once. However, this year I’ve been kicked out of places onto the street at least five times, usually for no reason at all. That’s China. After this, I decided I didn’t want to stay anymore. 

When I first went to Guangdong in 2014, I was treated quite warmly by most everyone. I could stay in any hotel, even a hostel that only cost 20 RMB per night. I doubt that’s possible now. If I wanted to rent an apartment in Shanghai, I’d need to be certain I wanted to stay for a long time as they all require several months of rent in advance plus a security deposit, plus an agency fee. That puts the cost to around 10K RMB or higher. Rent in Shanghai is quickly becoming as bad as NYC and Chicago. And honestly, what’s the point? If I wanted to spend every ounce of my income on rent, I could have simply stayed in the USA.

I made up my mind two nights ago, as we were packing our bags with no place to go, for what felt like the hundredth time, that none of this was worth it.  I booked a budget, next-day flight to Taipei. My last night in Shanghai was spent sleeping in an internet cafe. One of my Taiwanese customers put me in touch with a club on this side of the strait. Within hours, I made an arrangement with a local agent.

The Taipei hostel owner, Robin, greeted me with enthusiasm, even allowing me to check-in early. He gave me a bottle of soda and chatted with me in Chinese. I told him I can only read the simple characters because I stayed almost two years in the mainland. He said that’s still excellent and informed me that pretty much every Taiwanese person can also read simplified Chinese. I felt right at home.

Exhausted, I took a nap around 1:30 and woke up around 4PM with plenty of energy. Around midnight, I went out to the club. A suave Taiwanese guy caught my fancy. Before we knew it, we were in some hotel downtown making enough noise to wake the folks across the street. I have a feeling Taiwan is gonna be so much better.