A Taste of Nanjing, China



 He moved away, only to be replaced a minute later by another guy, another toast—a pickup? No. Politeness. These men seemed less flirty than the ones who’d snapped my photo.

Meanwhile, on the stage, a new queen was performing: “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Chinese.

Beside me sat the first singer, sweaty from the spotlights, who kissed my cheek and took my hand in hers. She had the classic chevron-shaped Chinese face, cheekbones sharp enough to hang your hat on. Her lipstick shade, if there’s any justice, should be called Mao’s Little Red Book.

“Hi!” she said. “What your name? My name Ming [something] [something].”

I tried but couldn’t pronounce it.

Fine, then. Just “Miss Ming.”

Fawningly, she told me, “You so handsome.”

Broken English sometimes does the opposite of breaking! To hear my native tongue was like a balm. (But wait, wasn’t I seeking the unfamiliar? See: conundrum.)

She asked me where I came from, my age; she stroked my arm. And then, in a tone that seemed a mix of pride and wonderment, she leaned in close and whispered, “I am boy.”

I’d known, of course, but somehow this still rang with revelation: that someone could be other and the same, all at once; that I too, so far from home, could be so much myself, wrestling with the same old set of questions.

I had a chance, later, to confirm what she’d confessed. The show had ended, and “Play That Funky Music” now was blaring. I had to piss, so I walked past all the tables, to the bathroom. No sooner had I started, at one of two flanking urinals, than Miss Ming materialized beside me. Tilting on her too-high heels, she lifted up her miniskirt, wrenched her stockings, and out flopped the proof.

Next I knew, Miss Ming smashed her lipsticked mouth on mine. I started to resist: Sorry—not into drag queens. But how would I know? When had I ever tried one?

I had journeyed all this way, and finally, here I was.

Westerners in China tend to panic at the toilets: little more than open holes in the floor. But now, when Miss Ming pulled me into the single stall, I learned a key advantage of squat toilets: nothing to obstruct a snogging couple.

We were in there for only five minutes. (OK, 10.) Miss Ming was an ardent kisser, her face and falsies smooth. The whole time, I was thinking, I am boy!

When we emerged, the club was dark, the tables cleared, no patrons—as if I had dreamed the whole thing up. There might as well have been mice and pumpkins.

Miss Ming said, “I want make love in bed with you tonight.”

My hotel, though it was one of the slickest in Nanjing, did not allow visitors after 11:30 at night, nor sharing of rooms by “a male and a female who are not bound my marriage.”

But that was just the excuse I gave. I didn’t want her. Why? Maybe because it wasn’t fair to use her as “exotic”? Or my taste buds, after all, are just too timid.

“Sorry,” I said, and pulled her close—the next day, I’d find glitter on my collar— and kissed her in the darkness, one last time. Her tongue was like a tiny, salty lollipop of flesh.

Tags: Travel