One can easily journey through the underbelly of Shanghai without even realizing. As I waited for my turn with the fruit lady I subconsciously ticked through my learnt Chinese phrases to find the ones relevant to measuring-shopping-and-calculating. Distracted, I began to take in the activity in my immediate vicinity. I giggled at the sight of two toddlers who were arguing over the use of a plastic children’s scooter. Neither child wore a diaper but wore split pants, and this allowed the furious wiggle of their tiny rear ends to be available for public consumption. More prevalent in rural than urban China, split pants (they have no crotch but rather a huge hole) have still not been eclipsed by the disposable diaper since many parents still prefer that their child be able to relieve himself whenever and wherever he likes. I am certain that a communal scooter would defy all rules of common hygiene. An older woman crouched a few feet away, looked away from her task of extracting peas from their pods and simultaneously shouted at the children, throwing a few pods in their direction for effect. The children did not seem to feel threatened and continued to battle.
The sun flashed on the transparent but slightly frosted glass door behind the children. I strained to adjust my eyes to the milky-outlined figures in a room that was dimly lit with Christmas lights and pink neon tubes. I saw a few scantily clothed women perched on stools next to barber chairs. However, there were no magazines, brushes, blow-dryers or scissors in sight. A young man pushed past me and entered the salon. One of the women sighed and placed her knitting in a basket by her feet. Her makeup was heavy and exaggerated and after a few minutes of vibrant banter, she took him by the elbow and disappeared from my view.
Despite the measures enacted by the government, prostitutes still work within such pseudo hair salons. The government is debating whether an AIDS outreach program should be extended to include workers in the sex industry. The issue of safety, no longer morality, has thrown the industry into the spotlight. Many wonder, do the same rules apply to the salon workers, the street walkers, the KTV escorts? I was surprised to find that certain salons, frequented by conservative expatriate women and men, also cater to the industry. Those in the know offer a special code when booking a ‘treatment’ and are able to choose services that do not configure in the pristine book located in the lobby. Wouldn’t the conservative housewives from the mid-west be pleased to discover that they were given a massage from 1-2pm on the same bed where less discreet activity took place from 12-1pm? Perhaps expatriates should consider purchasing and utilizing a portable black light.
I mentioned my recent discovery to a friend who has been living in Shanghai for some time and he was not surprised. Rather, he transitioned into a conversation about the potential union of the quintessential male (African) and quintessential woman (Asian) in the sex industry. Let us stop here…