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So near yet so feared: men behaving gladly

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

The Chinese are said to be inscrutable. I would say they are just better than most at pretending not to be bored.

Still, it's easy to get the impression that they're stiff and reserved - especially when you meet them in the daytime, sober. At night, with a couple of bottles of baijiu (lethal rice wine) under their belt, it's a different matter.

Two things characterise a certain kind of Chinese nightlife: men touching each other and unintended, though maybe slightly intended, violence. When Chinese men are sloshed, they get an uncontrollable urge to touch other apparently heterosexual men. Every time I've travelled with male friends on the mainland I've had to watch as guys throw arms around their shoulders, clutch their thighs, grab their chins or stroke their beards. On two occasions I've watched male friends being kissed by drunken wedding guests in lifts, in broad daylight and on the lips.

I like to visit mainland bars that, if they were in any other country, would be described as "seedy" and situated in "the underbelly of" somewhere; even populated with "sinister types". But, of course, this being China, they are just your normal super-friendly, dunk-a-dunk-a, dice-playing, beer-soaked scream-fests - with lots of male touching.

The photo (above) was taken in Venus Bar in Sihui, Guangdong province, on a long weekend with my friend L. The guy on the right, modestly covering his nipple, had been some kind of triad and as a young man chopped off half his own index finger. As he got more and more blotto we could see that he still had a tendency to self-harm; doing slamming tricks with his glass, he eventually broke it, but carried on regardless as blood spurted from his fingers.

He then started burning himself with a candle. We asked him why all his (nine) fingernails were so long, and he responded by locking L in a head-grip and placing his talon-like nails on L's jugular. Everybody laughed - they had obviously seen his act many times, to the point where they were possibly a little bored of it. To distract the kindly thug in their midst and save the digits and limbs he had left - as well as L's life - they encouraged him to get up and dance. The dance routine consisted of jumping up on the table and tearing off his shirt, and soon male nipples were being displayed all round, which suited me fine: there are few finer sights in this world than the male Chinese chest.

All I got out of that night, though, was a couple of handshakes and a hangover. Sigh.

 

 

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