This is part of an exclusive, copyrighted series by British novelist Jonathan Chandler, “Low(down) on the (Shang)Hai.” For permission to publish elsewhere, contact the author at jonathan at jagchandler dot com.
Since the Great Sage Confucious, Mencius and others, the Chinese maiden is supposed to be a demure, but immaculate Stepford Han. We are not talking about Li Bai’s drunken odes to the gorgeous courtesans of the Tang Dynasty, the willow leaf sirens and pipa–playing exotiques of that glorious cultural plateau which took place, incidentally, while the Western world was still in the Dark Ages.
I am talking about some new kind of female entity – a prototype, that from my very fleeting acquaintance, will, in my estimation, shortly and with great alacrity and style, knock the knickers, panty-liners’n all, off Madge and Brit and Posh or whatever passes for the female ideal these days.
But first, a little back story:
So, I was at a wedding stag night last weekend. A mixed cultural affair and not young people. At the bachelor affair the dress code was black tie or Regimental colours – you should be starting to get my drift.
After an exquisite dinner with fine wines and cigars and the rest, we ended up at one of those breath-taking and elegant bars perched on the Waitan (Bund) overlooking the psychedelic vista of modern Pudong across the way and the traditional sweep of colonial structures on our West side.
However, just as we arrived in our hired mini-bus, we were a bit startled when a brand new Bentley Maybach (twas slight befuddlement at the time) pulled up and four bedraggled spiky haired teenagers fell out giggling in a haze of Yunnan’s finest. And there was no mistaking the roar of the yellow Lamborghini (not my friend, the Peony Pavillionaire’s) followed by the Porsche Cayenne and the besotted and glam-slam young ladies who floated out of the supercars on the ether and disappeared intoxicatingly into one of the Bund’s secret doorways which are the domain of the Shanghai lootocracy.
We followed by as the ever-present nongmin-ong (migrant worker) road sweeper swept the supercars’ litter into the gutter.
That’s today’s China, there, in a snapshot.
Anyway, we made it to the bar overlooking the Huangpu and you should have seen those young foreign girls on their big trip away from home gawping at our hard men in bowties. Especially after I told the young ladies that the men they were all ex-Regiment, trained killers, well-blooded and wore woad under their tuxedos. The night ended in disgraceful behaviour on notorious and feral Julu Lu. But that will remain forever sealed. (Or until MI6 allow their records to be opened in thirty years’ time.)
The next day, the wedding took place at a famous converted last century go-down warehouse, now a trendy loft gallery, a huge space by the old, cleaned-up Soochow Creek.
It was there on the sidewalk I ran into DeeDee. She was acting as the bride’s friend, and since the bride and family came from Hong Kong, I discovered they could speak no Mandarin and not great English – their Cantonese (Guandonghua) was good, though. So I acted as a kind of usher along with DeeDee.
From the first she had me curious.
Far from the sweet little Han xao-jie, I quickly gathered from her broken English that she was 26 years old, had come up on her own accord, was a licensed taxi driver, a trained gemologist, a roving trader who rode Husqvarna off-road trail motorbikes for fun. She’d traveled everywhere and had neither patron nor family wealth.
My curiosity was piqued and I asked around the Hong Kong
lao-wai – what was up with that DeeDee? (First, I ought to inform you that these Hong Kongers, as with all the foreign and local guests, were highly successful lao-ban, (bosses) and senior executives of multinational companies of which you all have heard.)
“So what’s the story about DeeDee?” I casually enquired. conversationally, the model of discretion, just in case one of the ex-Regiment types put me in an SAS stranglehold and threw me out the warehouse window into the not quite clean Soochow Creek six floors below.
“Oh… DeeDee….”, they rolled their eyes with an ecstatic shudder of desire, amazement, wistfulness and admiration and, shaking their heads slowly, just repeated, “Oh, DeeDee…..”
Determined to get to the bottom of this spectacularly un-Confucian, un-Han, 21st Century wonderment of female pulchritude, I stayed on dancing to the Filipina band till the very last guest left until only family and their party (DeeDee included) needed to be rounded up and got off that muddy Creek alley before the dawn.
By then we had lost our voices and were soaked with sweat…DeeDee just glanced up with a wave and twinkle in her eye.
(To be continued…)
Illustration from the collection of Leland Wong: http://www.atowngraphics.com/shanghai/