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.

Jul 23, 2006

Michelle Wie's Doppelgänger

Seen recently on a recent trip to the Beijing countryside.

A countryside roadside merchant or ...Michelle Wie lining up her last chip shot to the green? You be the judge.

Above: the real Michelle Wie

And some other photos that I took in the Beijing countryside.

Above: Watermelon and beverage lady. Giardia included with watermelon for no extra charge.

Above: Fashion victim or trendsetter?

Jul 22, 2006

The Dog Whisperer

The other week I spent some time with the family dog taking many long walks so we could do some bonding. When I was correcting her behavior I found myself saying "no" or "heel" frequently, and I realized it was a lot easier if I just act like Cesar Millan from the Dog Whisperer TV show and make a tsst sound. If you've watched even 5 minutes of his National Geographic channel show, you'd surely know this sound. They even spoofed him on South Park last season. The technique is that whenever your dog does something you do not want him to do, you make a loud tsst and correct the behavior. Over time, he learns that whenever he hears tsst, he needs to stop doing what he's doing and behave.

After having gone on so many walks with the dog and after saying tsst more than a few times, I realized that I would inadvertently tsst the people around me. If someone said something I didn't agree with, or didn't go along with a course of action I recommended, they'd get a high pitched tsst in their face. If they were really making me upset, I'd contort my hand to form a C-shape to mimic another dogs mouth getting ready to attack, and pair that with the tsst sound.

I had to stop using Dog Whisperer techniques on people while I was in the US or risk being pummled, but while back in Beijing I've found myself doing them again. It must be the pure amount of aggravation and frustration that you encounter every day just being out and about in China. When you cram enough people into a small space we all degenerate to the level of animals. The other day I unexpectedly used the tsst on a person. It just happened to slip out.

First some background. If you've been to China, you may know that the Chinese can't really walk in a straight line. They'll stop suddenly, or swerve unexpectedly to either side. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers all do the same thing. Not exactly wise in a densely populated country with zooming motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, and giant tricycles all around you.

The other day I was walking at a brisk pace down a 10-foot wide sidewalk. The sun was beating down hard despite the cover provided by the thick air pollution. As I walked at my brisk 4 MPH pace, I gradually approached from behind a mother-daughter pair directly in my path. They were walking in the same direction as I was but at a much slower speed. Senior citizen speed. Seeing that the sidewalk was so wide, I had reasonable clearance and veered far to the left to pass around them. As I neared within 5 feet of them, I sensed them begin to do the Chinese swervy-walk, and they started to encroach on my intended line of travel. "TSST!", I burst out suddenly at full volume, about 2 feet from the older lady's ear as I passed on the left, just prior to a potential collision. The lady looked like a sleeping cat that just had ice water dumped on it. She excitedly jumped to attention, and started to look around in all directions and shout irately:

(Yikes! Scared the crap out of me! What the heck! What the heck are you doing!)

As I continued at my 4 MPH pace and put more distance between myself and the irate pair, I thought to myself, that encounter could be thought by some to be culturally inappropriate and I was perceived as being The Rude Foreigner. I had to ask myself, would I do that in my own country? You bet your socks I would. And I have done that, as previously mentioned. I don't do anything in any country that I wouldn't dare to do in my own. In this particular case I had cleverly avoided a pedestrian collision. I prevented bodily harm to myself and another person. And now the older lady in the encounter has learned some rules, boundaries, and limitations. Thanks to me, she'll be a better citizen in the future.

Because: "I am the Pedestrian Whisperer. I rehabilitate dogs. I train people not to suddenly change direction while walking in public places."