Jul 29, 2006

The contents of the man bag

Most men have no interest in what's in a woman's purse. We have a vague idea, of course. They have their makeup, tampons, keys, and probably some money in it, but honestly we don't care what's in there. We don't understand why women have to lug these purses wherever they go, but we can accept it. What I can't accept is when I see men carrying purses, like I do everyday in Beijing. I'm not talking about a gentleman helping out his girlfriend, but rather a man carrying a purse just for the sake of it. I need to know what would drive a straight man to tote around a purse. What does a man need to carry around in there?

It used to be that in China, if I found myself in an elevator standing beside a man carrying a purse, sometimes I'd remark to him, "Hey, where's your wife at? I see you're holding her purse." The joke never got me any laughs, so I stopped asking this question. Perhaps my Chinese isn't as good as I thought, or the ironic sense of humor is lost on them. It could also be a blessing in disguise that no one kung-f'ed me for talking trash.

I was at an expat social event the other night. It was no different from the others than I've been to in the past: held at an overpriced trendy restaurant-bar with fancy pants international consultants handing out their business cards to doe-eyed young female office workers, and a dozen other stereotypical personalities too repetitious to mention.

As I was myself talking with a couple of young self-described office ladies, it so happened that a middle-aged man, a caricature of a nouveaux riche Chinese, walked over and joined our tedious conversation. Outfit: the vinyl dress shoes, nearly transparent one-size-too-big Chinese-made short-sleeve dress shirt, "Rolax"-brand watch from a Wangfujing Street peddler loosely dangling on his silky-smooth forearm, and of course, the Bible-sized faux-leather manpurse. He clutched the man bag under his left armpit as he used the right one to shake each person's hand. I should have continued to give my attention to the young girls to my side, but I couldn't stop staring at the Man Bag.

The group continued the getting-to-know-you conversation for a few minutes, now a four-person tedious conversation rather than a three-person tedious conversation. Eventually one of the maidens got bored and excused herself to go to the can. Or she may have been so bored that she just walked away without even saying anything. I don't recall exactly.

Girl number two tagged along with her, leaving me stuck with Mr. Man Bag. He started to ask me the string of unimaginitive questions that foreigners get asked in China: "How long you have stayed in Beijing? Where are you work? You like Chinese food? You have Chinese wife?" I put a stop to this after the first few questions and butted in with my own question which I've wanted to ask every Chinese male carrying a purse like his.

"Could I ask, what do you carry inside of that bag under your arm? I see many Chinese men carrying this type of bag", I asked politely.

"Oh, a mobile and also my keys." (Note: mobile in this context means cell phone)

Hmmm, I thought, I always keep my keys and wallet in my pockets, it's never been a problem.
"What about your money? You keep that in there too?", I asked.

"No, I keep my money in my pocket. Otherwise someone could steal it easily."

At some point soon after this I also excused myself, still bewildered and no closer to understanding what would drive a man to carry a purse.

We just may need to accept that we will never understand. Regardless, I'm going to continue my bold research on the subject with the hope that I'll someday unlock the secret.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's easier to simply accept the fact that you will never understand the Chinese culture unless you were borned and raised in that environment. You can't figure everything out with your simple engineering logic because, after all, humans are illogical beings. But anyways, continue your research.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

It didn't occur to me to use engineering logic to figure this one out. I'll look into that.

2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the bay area its used to carry a pipe and some weed, in the mid west its used to carry meth.. maybe in the far east opium?

9:05 AM  

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