Monday, July 02, 2007

Are you a Chicken, or a Duck?

We’d heard that Chinese love Karaoke and that in their culture it is a sign of respect to your colleagues to embarrass yourself by singing in front of them. So we asked Terry if he ever went out for Karaoke and he smiled and said “Oh, yes.” On Friday he showed us how it was done.


After work, we went out for noodles at a local place. There were sticky wooden tables with rough benches, construction workers without their shirts, and babies sans pants toddling around. Terry brought us each a huge steaming bowls of beef and dumpling noodle soup which we sloppily slurped up with chopsticks and the occasional ladle of broth with a porcelain spoon. Filling, cheap, delicious. After our quick meal, we took a taxi to a big gated complex that looked a bit like a casino.


Inside, we were greeted by girls in evening gowns who ushered us into an elevator (I should mention that every square inch of Shen Zhen is occupied with very tall buildings to maximize valuable real estate. Elevators are a way of life here.) More girls greeted us once we got off the elevator and they showed us down a long corridor and into a plush room with a big grey velvet sofa, three flat screen TVs, a mirrored coffee table and the largest basket of fruit I’d ever seen in my life. (There is a scene in the film Lost in Translation that takes place in a KTV like this. It is definitely worth watching if you are wondering what it feels like to be neck deep in culture shock.) There were five business colleagues of Terry’s and I immediately noticed that I was the only female in the room. We did a round of name card exchanging (In China, you must give and receive business cards with both hands to signify that all your attention is on the person you are meeting as an indicator of respect.) and settled in to drink some beers.


Then came a knock at the door. A woman stuck her head in and said something cheerfully in Chinese. In she came, a line of girls in identical purple sequined floor length evening gowns following behind her. They smiled and said “Ni How” and then rather inexplicably “Good Morning!” (odd, since it was around 9pm). Each girl wore some sort of identity card on a lanyard around her neck. They stood there smiling and fiddling with their hair and badges while the men in our party eyed them. One of the men waved his hand dismissively and they all shuffled out the door. In came another line up. Eric and I looked at each other wide eyed. We couldn’t help but laugh, it was all so surreal. The whole process was repeated at least seven times and by the end every man in the room now had a companion for the evening.


Now, that the matter of a date was settled, out came the dice. These are little lidded yellow cups containing five dice. You shake, slam it down on the table and peek at what you’ve rolled. Once you know what you have, the betting begins. The basic idea is to guess how many of a certain number have been rolled. Eventually someone calls someone else’s bluff and the looser has to finish his glass of beer. The girls were very good at filling glasses and handing out pieces of fruit to keep the game running smoothly.


As the night wore on, I summoned the courage to ask Terry for some more information about the female companionship. He said the trick was to come early enough that there is still a large selection of ladies. I was surprised that they would all have work in a single night, since it seemed like there was an awfully large pool of women. We had seen at least seventy! Remember choosing teams for dodge ball in gym class? It was always pretty humiliating to be chosen last, so I wonder how those last girls feel when instead of dodge ball prowess, the stakes are beauty and personality! It seems considerably more embarrassing to me, but they seemed to take it in stride.


He also told me that the Chinese euphemism for this type of lady is a “chicken” and the man who enjoys her companionship is a “duck”. Now, I had to ask, are there male “chickens”? Terry laughed, “Come with me.” he said. We headed out into the corridor and low and behold, there was a line of young men with cool spiky hairdo’s and striped shirts. I was unconvinced, they could have just been customers, and they certainly weren’t dressed all alike. Then I spotted their i.d badges and the telltale red lanyards. I couldn’t believe it. We ran back to our room laughing.


The beer certainly helps to prime people for Karaoke! It was in full swing before too long. Eric and I sang “Stand By Me” and were then challenged with a rousing rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” (imagine it as sung by a tone deaf Gong show contestant and you have a likely approximation!) I sang “Wonderful World” alone because Eric “chickened” out…It was so much fun, though I don’t think I could do it as often as these fellows seem to! They did ask Eric to come alone next time, but that’s okay with me. At least I got an inside look at the whole procedure. It was surreal and actually a big part of doing business here I think. Or, maybe next time, we can both choose a "chicken"!

1 comment:

david said...

When Eric "chickened" out did he have to go to work and become someone's companion?

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