Songs for the Shanghai Laowai Love Affair Part 1: Sour Candy

Posted on April 24, 2012

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Hai Hai Shanghai! foto@me

In Shanghai, I sit around quite a bit in various bars, pubs, clubs and cafes. Because I am a shameless busybody, I often stare and eavesdrop on other people’s business – especially couples – while feigning interest in an overpriced Vedett. From my admittedly limited and overwhelmingly prejudiced observations, I’ve gained perspectives on some recognisable general characteristics and nuances of the typical Shanghai Laowai 老外 Love Affair.

And because when I do not sit around in bars, I sit around at home watching youtube videos, I have compiled a list of songs which exemplify the different types of relationships I’ve observed. Some are depressing, some are sweet. Since we love happy endings (hur hur hur), Part 1 opens with some slightly unsavory examples before Part 2 gambols in fields of daisies.

(Disclaimer [1]: If your relationship isn’t described here, please do not hesitate to keep it to yourself. I could not give less of a shit.)

(Disclaimed [2]: Any resemblance to persons living or dead is quite certainly intentional, although I will deny it to my grave.)

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Buyings and Sellings make the City go round. foto@me

1. The Transactional

And she was like, I give you my virgin, you be my boyfriend.

I told her no way man, I don’t do that sort of thing.

And she said, OK, OK you just say you my boyfriend for 6 months.

I said no, 2 months. She said OK, 4 months.

I’m like, yeah, whatever.

–  J. C., 31, at Not Me Bar 

Yael Naim “Toxic”

This kind is the most visually recognisable, and usually manifests in the form of a lovely young thing and an unlovely old thing. Don’t be fooled, though. In sexy Shanghai, transactional relationships abound in several forms. What’s common between them is well represented by Yael Naim’s brilliant cover of Britney Spear’s “Toxic”. It’s sweet, sultry, irresistibly sensual but absolutely venomous. When this relationship disintegrates under the crushing weight of one party’s unmet expectations and the other’s boredom and search for greener pastures, rivers of acid sweep all decency into the abyss. Given that Chinese courts tend to look after their own (as an acquaintance of mine going through a bitter divorce just found out)  it is quite likely that the toxic transactional love will leave you not just unlovely and old, but also irreparably fucking broke.

Also:

The Cure “Lullaby”

“And I feel like I’m being eaten
by a thousand million shivering furry holes
and I know that in the morning I will wake up
in the shivering cold

and the Spiderman is always hungry…”

Take a hint, OK?

Gotta learn to recognise a red flag when you see one. foto@me

2. The Unadulterated Lust

She had no teeth, man. No teeth!

– K, 23 (describing a massage with a surprising but particularly happy ending), at Beedees Bar.

Sir Mix-A-Lot “Baby Got Back”


Somehow, Shanghai brings out untapped reservoirs of raging lust in many of the groggy-eyed, dizzy-headed goldseekers that descend upon it. The Shanghai newbie laowai is easily recognisable by his/ her feverish, treasure-seeking eyes and particularly frenzied club dancing that a bonobo might employ as a mating ritual. The newbie, unleashed upon the City of Possibilities, wants adventure and wants it now. It’s crass, it’s literal, it’s urgent, it’s unapologetic. They may fancy themselves suave and subtle in their seeking, but that would be like calling Sir Mix-A-Lot’s paean to the gluteal a tender exploration of the search for human connection through the sumptuous composition and delicate symbolism of desire.

Also:

Dire Straits “Money For Nothing”

So after the feeding frenzy, most people calm down and start to get more discreet with their carrying-ons. Again, do not be fooled into thinking that sexy times are out, working times are in. Indeed, the only thing that changes is that one starts to get more discerning with choices. Some of us might call this “developing standards”, but let’s not get picky with semantics here. Burnt, branded and possibly banished from several establishments and households, the noob is now transformed into a seasoned hunter/huntress who pursues quarry with the kind of single-minded drive and tenacity that helps companies get ISO certified.

The Bizarre beckon on every street corner. foto@me

3. The Weird

So there we were banging away, and suddenly she went,

“Um, could you do a Sean Connery accent?”

And I said, “…yeah.”

– W.M., 26, at Bulldog Pub

George Michael “Father Figure”

Everyone in Shanghai has a weird/ creepy/ sometimes downright disgusting sex story to tell. The grossest one I’ve heard is almost unreal in barf-inducing propensity. In fact, it actually involves barf. Think drunk boy mouth and unsuspecting girl orifice. Yeap. Although I’ve heard it told so often it’s probably more urban legend than true tale.

Joining the ranks of weird-osity is this very disturbing song by George Michael, a man we can quite fairly call a disturbed individual. Only consider:

“That’s all I wanted, something special…
For just one moment, to be bold and naked at your side…
I will be your father figure… [while you’re bold and naked? Really?]
Put your tiny hand in mine… [tiny? not like child tiny, right? Right?]
I will be your preacher teacher…
(Be your daddy)
I have had enough of crime… [??!!]
But sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime… [now wait just a minute, George]
Greet me with the eyes of a child [uh, George…? Should we talk about this?]

Egads. The thoughts in [brackets] are not mine, they’re the ones his manager should have had before allowing him to release this song. The Weird Worm feels the same.

But, lest you come away thinking that love and dating in Shanghai is all gloom and doom, you’ll be happy to know that things do work out for some people. Stay tuned for the sickening and happy shit in Part 2. You will regret it.