Friday, November 13, 2009

I hear Venice is the Suzhou of the Occident

No seriously, everyone's talking about it.

Sorry for the lack of a Jiangsu post last night (I know, you were crushed), but I was too busy kicking a whole lot of Chinese ass at Settlers of Catan. I credit my capitalist upbringing and my ability to stab friends in the back.

So, as much fun as we were having in Nanjing (site, let's not forget, of the eponymous slaughter and rape), we decided to take a two-day trip out to the city of Suzhou, 2.5 hours away by bus, which is notable both for its canals and also for its lack of an oppressive collective memory of slaughter and rape.


Suzhou is great blah blah blah; I don't want to describe it too much because it'll just make me want to go back. I will say that they have a Silk Museum in Suzhou which is all about: silk. Ask me a question about silk or silk production, and I promise you I don't know the answer, because I spent 10 minutes in the silk museum before deciding that they could keep my 20 kuai because I was tired of silk.

Whatever, I'm not going to say much about Suzhou because during our trip to Suzhou we stopped in Tongli, home of the world famous 中华性文化博物馆, which is to say the Chinese Sex Culture Museum. The rest of the info about this museum is after the jump. Don't click through if you are offended by dirty words, statues of people with large sex organs, or naked pictures of me. (I don't think there will be any naked pictures of me, but I haven't written it yet and I'm not willing to make any promises.)

In case you don't know what sex is: when a man loves a woman, and he actually wants to make love, to her, something very very special happens, and uh, with deep, deep concentration, and great focus, he is often able to achieve an erec-

So, the Chinese Sex Culture Museum. It had a lot of very nice historic holdings, including sexy woodcuts and more penis statues than you can shake a penis at. But it really was very tasteful and mature as a museum. Gus and I were not always tasteful and mature as visitors. But how did you expect us to act at a museum that has this statue at its entrance?

The name of this statue was something like "You Can't Chain Me Down", to which I respond: yes, yes, that is correct.* I'm sorry that you have to see it in a two-dimensional picture, because I think that makes it sort of hard to grasp. How big it is.

* "There Will Be Blood" fans should ask me to do my "Gay Daniel Plainview" routine next time we talk, which Gus and I have honed over weeks of There Are No Other English Speakers To Talk To. SNL auditions, here I come!

Things really start to get interesting when we leave the land of big penises and join the land of penises integrated strangely into otherwise non-sexual statues:

This is a statue of a man with a child on his back, except the man's head is a penis, and then there's a turtle on the head of the man's head-penis. I couldn't understand the title of this statue, but I remember that it was something like "The Younger Generation on Back Penis Penis Turtle". I prefer to think that the sculptor was all set to make a regular sculpture of a man with a child on his back and a turtle on his head until some enterprising coworker poked his head into the studio and said, "Say, I've been thinking..."

This museum also had a section on homosexuality, which is supposedly one of the only places in China that homosexuality is officially recognized as a part of Chinese culture and history. It had some more sexy woodcuts and some double-sided wood dildos for ancient lesbians (who in Chinese slang are called 拉拉, which is pronounced "lala"). Confusingly, it also had this small statue in the corner of a display case, with no attached placard:

This is a little pencil holder inscribed with the German words "kleines Arschloch" ("tiny asshole"). I do not know what it is doing in the homosexuality section of a Chinese sex culture museum.

So all that was fun, but my favorite part of the museum was a section devoted to explaining the sexual etymologies of common Chinese characters. Like 且, good old 且, which means "moreover" and is, evidently, modeled on the shape of a penis. A rectangular, three-level penis.

They also talked a little bit about the chinese word cào, which means "(to) fuck". One interesting thing about this museum is that they wrote cào as 操. This is actually not the correct character for cào: 操 is usually pronounced first tone (cāo) and means "to grasp, to hold, to operate, to exercise, to drill" and a host of other things. The actual character for the fuck cào is 肏, but this vulgar character wasn't included in early Chinese computer fonts because it means fuck, and designers had enough fucking Chinese characters to worry about as it was. So people used 操 because it has a similar pronunciation.

Two more brief things about fuck in Chinese. The character 肏 is really easy to understand: the top part is 入, which means "to enter", and the bottom part is 肉, which means "meat." So there's fuck. The second thing is that the Chinese word for playground is 操场, where the second character 场 means "field". So 操场 is "exercise field" or "playground", but it could also mean fuckfield if you pronounce the first word with the wrong tone. This concludes our lesson on the importance of paying attention to tones when learning Chinese.

And that's about it for Tongli and Suzhou. There's more, but hopefully Gus will touch on some of it on his blog. Only time will tell. I'm going to bed because I'm tired because we swam today. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that I was walking to the pool on Tuesday and one of my students turned around, saw me in my pool gear, and laughed in my face. So if you've been wondering whether my students respect and fear me, the answer is: no.