Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don’t Stop Baby. Please Don’t Stop. I Need a Little Edge in My Electro Pop.

Over the course of the camel adventure I made a new friend in the form of Philip, a goldsmith who lives above the Arctic Circle in Finland, and I also became quite close to my guide. When I got back to my hotel that evening I invited the guide out to dinner with me and we had a fantastic meal at an outdoor Uigher restaurant. Over the course of the meal we talked about our religions, our homes, our girlfriends, our families, wanting to have kids etc. etc. It was one of those intensely personal conversations you can really only have with people you probably won’t see again. Anyway, after dinner we were feeling very close to one another and I told him about my plans for that evening of going out to find a dance place with Philip and this German reporter we met. The guide brightened and said he knew the perfect place and that he would come meet us at the hotel at ten. So began one of the oddest and most awkward nights of my life.
I had a list of potential clubs in my pocket but upon meeting us the guide led us directly to what looked like a high rise electronics mall. It was past ten and the lights were off but he led us on climbing thru the moist, pitch black concrete stairwell without hesitation. At about the fifth floor a faint red light began to illuminate posters in Arabic script along the hallway with pictures of the nude and armless Venus De Milo. Finally we reached a door flanked by two small mustached men who insisted on an entry fee of about two dollars. This price was exorbitant for the area so we agreed that before we paid I was allowed to go in alone and report to my companions whether it was worth it or not. What I saw was one of the most amazing scenes of my entire life and on my advice we all eagerly paid up without complaint and were each given tickets printed in bold “CLUB WEENUS”.
Now, I want to make sure that my tone in describing this club does not come off as condescending or tongue in cheek in anyway. I honestly loved this place. It is the only night club I have ever been to which made me want to be a better person. Imagine a night club that actually restored my faith in humanity (a little).
The space was large, about the size of a good sized high school gym. Along one wall was the bar and on the opposite wall was a stage with a live band and a dj. In the center was a large dance floor with a glass floor made of light up squares. All around the floor were small tables with chairs and the occasional booth. The club was unbearably Smokey. For the most part the sexes remained completely segregated. Men sat in large mustached groups pounding redbulls and offering each other cigarettes, while groups of women often wearing matching outfits giggled and eyed each other over their redbulls (in kashgar they sell something called red camel, how sick is that?). To me the music all sounded the same. Catchy loud Arabic sounding techno pop with a live singer and guitarist over a pulsing beat. The people at the club could discern a difference I could not. Some songs were couples songs in which couples of two women or the occasional boyfriend/ girlfriend husband/wife duo would hold each other tight and spin together somehow perfectly in time to the driving techno beat. The other songs were what I’ll call freestyle songs and they were thrilling. During the freestyle songs it was every man for himself and everyone would crowd onto the dance floor spinning, bobbing their heads, clapping and bowing to each other. It was an entire different school of dancing from what I’m used to. The most popular move was spinning clockwise with one arm behind your back and the other hand raised as if you were saying “stop”. Then the arms switched and they spun counterclockwise then a quick clap and a polite bow. Picture the dance scene from Elizabeth but sped up and to a pounding jungle dance beat. Although in this dance the sexes drifted among each other they were very careful not to make contact and most interaction happened between members of the same sex. The innocence of this place was astounding and oddly moving. Everyone bowed to each other. Upon accidently brushing against one another the man would apologize blushing and the woman would giggle hiding her face behind her hand. Everyone seemed so young (the average age was probably about 19) awkward and happy. My guide was in his element. He watched me drink my beer and would sometimes giddily say, as if he couldn’t control himself while gesturing behind him to some girl who looked just like everyone else, “Look! I don’t think she has a boyfriend! Look!” He kept telling me to dance and after a beer or three I took him up on it. I was extremely self conscious of doing something inappropriate and was trying hard not to even make eye contact with any women when I started to spin with my arms out and palms open following my guide’s lead. I had not even made one full rotation when I accidently gave the woman dancing behind me a full palmed hearty spank on the ass. The dance improved from there but I was too embarrassed to dance more songs. Also the innocence of the place was making me feel oddly guilty and I couldn’t relax.
That’s when I suggested to the guide that since he had shown us a Uigher dance club he should let us take him to a Chinese dance club. This was a mistake.
The first club we went to was called baby face and was your typical Chinese disco. Loud electro pop, strobe lights, and instead of a dance floor lots of tables and stools where Chinese people got bottle service and played dice drinking games. People danced at their seats and in between their tables and every once and a while a scantily clad Chinese girl would gather up the courage to go all out nasty on the DJ booth. I ordered bevies and started dancing at my table getting more and more raucous. The guide took the first few minutes to shake his head open mouthed at the girls on stage and then began to copy my dance moves just as I had followed his lead at the Uigher club. For those of you who know me my dance style is not the easiest for a devout Muslim (or anyone with any self respect for that matter) to emulate. Without the vigorous air humping, hip movement, tongue wagging and gratuitous display of nipples the guide was left shuffling back and forth, throwing up indecipherable gang signs and every once and a while snapping. Watching the weakest parts of my style played back to me in real time had a decidedly detrimental effect on my dancing and after a few drinks we decided to find a new place.
The second place, whose name I have forgotten, was a lot like the first but more crowded and with an actual dance floor surrounded by nooks with couches and small tables. We hit the dance floor and were quickly enveloped in the crown dancing with abandon. I was having a blast until I looked up and saw the guide looking at me with wide mouthed disgust. “What are you doing?!” He yelled. “I thought you had a girl friend! Charley your drunk! You’re making a mistake!” Now let me take a moment to explain that I was doing nothing even slightly inappropriate. Yes I was dancing with strange women, strange men too, but I was in the midst of a throbbing dancing crowd and was certainly not doing anything out of line. Had my girlfriend (or even my mother for that matter) been their watching I would not have done anything differently. I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. That I was just dancing. That at this very moment my girlfriend was at a dance party of her own and that I was sure she was behaving just as I was (how do you say “She is not trippin’” in Chinese?). None of this seemed to affect him at all. The people I had been dancing with told me the club was about to close but they were all going to go and get something to eat at a night market down the street (I love China sometimes). My friend/ guide’s expression turned from bewildered disgust into straight up repulsion when I got my new friends numbers to meet up with them later. Instead of trying to explain in Chinese my view of gender and how I was allowed to hang out with other women, how these were just friends etc. etc. I decided just to lie and told him that I was getting the numbers for my friend who really liked them and wanted to go with them. At this point the guide took us aside and told us it wasn’t safe to be out this late, that when Chinese people were drunk they became very violent and we were in extreme danger. Now, my friend Philip had developed quite a crush on one of the women we met at the club and at this moment she was pulling him by his sleeve out the door. He certainly wasn’t about to go back to the Hotel. And I had spent years getting drunk with Chinese people and that although I could do without the new companionship, I had overheard one of our new friends talking about the spicy shrimp they were about to eat and so I was committed heart and soul to the night market. Finally the poor exhausted guide relented but for our safety insisted on accompanying us.
The night market was amazing. I made hundreds of friends. Old Chinese men kept buying me beer and I ended up in a drinking contest with a bunch of police officers. The spicy shrimps were the best I have ever tasted. I must have eaten about four hundred of them. That said, my mood was dampened by the guide who certainly would have fallen asleep at the table if he had not been so nervous. Finally I turned to him and insisted he go home saying I would stay here until 10am in the morning. He agreed grudgingly only if I composed a written statement saying our behavior was our own responsibility and we all signed it. He explained that he was worried we would get in trouble and because he was a Uigher the Government would blame and arrest him. So on the back on a napkin I composed,
“Sakeem is a good man, a great guide and a Patriot. He warned us not to go out but we, in our ignorance, ignored his good counsel. Our behavior and its consequences are ours alone.”
We all signed and looking finally satisfied he headed for bed. It turned out that the night market closed about two minutes after he left so we followed behind him.
I slept wonderfully but in the morning I decided it was time to head somewhere new, perhaps Kazakhstan. I loved Kashgar and everyone I met was amazing but after my days there I couldn’t shake a kind of guilty feeling. The Uighers were so pious, open, warm and innocent and this contrasted sharply with the modern, money driven no nonsense Chinese. I know I am WAY over simplifying here the Chinese people I met were all wonderful to a fault and behind the Uigher “simplicity” was the segregation of women, keeping children out of schools (especially daughters), and I’m sure all kinds of domestic abuse. It’s just that you could see the Uigher culture being eroded away so vividly. You could literally watch the bulldozers in the old towns and see the two ways of life scrape against each other. Especially after the night at the discos I started really feeling the inevitability of the Uigher’s tenuous position. Life as they knew it couldn’t last and more and more I knew that I was both a symptom and an agent of that change.
C-Murderous Y’a Heard of us.

1 comment:

Randall said...

great post, charley! love the ending. you should publish a book of your travel essays!

-randall