The People's Red Army owns it. Why the Red Army should own one of the biggest whorehouses in the Fujian Province of Eastern China is beyond me, but that's what everybody in the city whispers to me when I mention the place. They whisper it with a smile of satisfaction which could mean, "We all KNEW they were corrupt", or it could mean, "See how progressive the People's Army is?" or it could mean, "You see what kind of shit we have to deal with?" in a humorous, ironic way. Based on what I know so far about the Chinese, possibly the world's most ironic nation, I think it means the latter: like everything about the relation of the People to the Communist Party, its both a come on and a tease, a source of pride, bewilderment, and anger. But what I'm wondering is what the answer is to the question Lenin asked much more prosaically, that is: Who Gets Fucked?
It doesn't seem to the prostitutes, at least, not certainly. Like in most whorehouses worthy of the name in the wealthy eastern part of China, the girls who are working there are not exactly prostitutes: they are nominally free agents, selling only their company for about an hour. They sell it cheap. $20 dollars will buy you an hour's worth from an understanding, giggly, romantic specimen of pure femininity, complete with having the fruit juice wiped from your lips, being fed grapes, and getting a whole bunch of compliments about whatever part of you the girls thing it's wise to compliment you about. Sometimes one of the girls will go off with a client, but more often not: I'd say about 80% of the time the prostitutes reject the mens advances.
But onto the first stage of the war between the sexes: the incredibly kitch nightclub at the top. The ambiance is Noveau Riche Russian Mobster meets Saturday Night Fever - there are disco lights and the walls are black but the stage is framed with a 10 foot high Egyptian Pyramid with two paper mache Sphinx framing it on either side. The cocktail waitresses are dressed like some kind of 20's playboy gangster bunny, with frilly red dresses with cotton white balls. The waiters are no better: they are wearing pleated checkered pants with suspenders and no shirt. On their head is the type of floppy cap Jewish Immigrants wore on the Lower East Side in the 20's. As the show goes on, they are serving good fruit and bad wine.
The girls hired to work in this place are all wearing bronze metal tags on their belts. Each has a number. When you want to take one into a private karaoke both, you just tell the hostess the number.
In the meantime, you drink with them while watching the show. The clients seem to fall into three types: a small little gaggle of amazed foreigners like me; we all look like we woke up this morning and Idaho and accidentally walked onto the set of Blade-Runner. Surrounding us are kids with ready money: dressed impeccably, wearing big rings and smoking cigars, they fondle, are slapped, and are joking with the prostitutes. I'm not sure how accurate my perception of this is, but everyone seems to be having a good time - even the girls, if they're faking it, are faking it amazingly well.
Surrounding them are Army Colonels and Generals, all in their uniform, and all lookingly remarkably tall, well built, muscular and handome. Surrounding them are the most beautiful women. They are wearing qipongs and red makeup, they look like the stereotypical girl with small hands and porcelain skin..They slink when they need to slink...they smile when they need to smile...they are sassy when they need to be sassy...and they seem to have the generals in a trance. Every now and then one of them will have a sickened smile on their face - or maybe my feminist New York mind just tells me they do - surrounded by this whirl of seduction and music, most of it payed for, I no longer know how to read it. If you were there, neither would you.
In the back they're playing the drinking game. This is a game played with dice; the rules are too complicated to explain. It requires a combination of numerical skill and the ability to lie like a poker player. It's called Liar's Dice. When the ladies win, the men pay them money; when the gentleman win, the girls drink a shot. Everyone is laughing and drinking rice-wine at that table; they see a friend and call him over; soon he has ordered girl 486, and they are dicing intensley together.
Then the show starts; it's mainly in Fuzhou dialect and I don't understand most of it. There's certainly a naked girl wearing a Mao mask, and a mock dominatrix firing squad; other than the nudity, there is no vulgar sex, and mainly there's speaking and dancing. Some of the acts are artistic - there's a Beijing Opera troupe as well. The Communists Have Saturnailia!
On the three floors below, Karaoke booths; each of them is filled with businessmen relaxing, surrounded by two or three girls. They are singing romantic Cantopop songs, the men mainly getting the words wrong, the girls giggling and edging them on; I am looking in vain for the plaintiveness, the desperation I am expecting to see. Is it there, in this massive bordello? Or am I too damn moral to just join the party?