Monday, April 5, 2010

The xx

Warning to people related to me: this post includes sexy words and pictures. Anyone who reads further than this gives up their right to send me scolding emails or make vaguely disappointed or critical comments at Thanksgiving.

Two months ago, a friend of mine told me something interesting. He said that a professional theater company was going to perform a play called《阴道独白》in Shenzhen at the end of March. I decided then and there that I was going to go see it, even though Shenzhen is far away, because 《阴道独白》means Vagina Monologues, which means loads of sex-positive feminists, and if there’s one thing I’m positive about it’s that I want to have sex with feminists.

Enough with the joshing, guys: I have no idea why I wanted to take a bus two hours each way to see a play in a language I don’t understand. About vaginas. Also, not a huge fan of the monologue as a dramatic device, in general. What I do know was that this was a unique cultural experience that I will not soon forget, not least because it’s not every day that you get to hear a middle-aged Chinese woman pause a speech in Chinese to pronounce, clearly, if not entirely fluently, the word “punani.”

(See? The sexy talk is starting already! Also, you have no idea how much incriminating googling I had to do to figure out the standard spelling of that word. If I’m deported, let the record show that it was vagina-related.)

So I did actually go see The Vagina Monologues in China, and now I know how to say a whole host of words that I didn’t know how to say before (moan, clitoris, speculum), and I had an enjoyable evening of theatre to boot. (In college slang, this can mean “to vomit,” which, incidentally, I almost did, because I’m not sure if you were aware of this but there’s a ton of vagina talk in that thing.) By the way, anyone who has read this far but doesn’t think they can continue reading a blog post that uses the word “vagina” this often (can I keep it up? yes.) is encouraged to read Gus’s far more mature treatment of the subject on his blog, though to be fair he does use the words “cunt” and “pussy” in the first two paragraphs. There’s really no way around this one.

As Gus explains, this was a sort of special production: it’s really the first time that any version of VM has been presented to the public in China, which is a pretty exciting milestone. I am totally serious — I think that’s cool. And even though it was a production in a fairly large official theater, it still felt underground somehow. They couldn’t advertise in Guangzhou because you’re not allowed to write the word 阴道 (vagina, though more on this below) on posters or flyers or anything, so for a while they were sending text messages about the XX独白 instead (take a moment to think about how beautiful and how apt censorship can be). Moral of the story is that you should all be impressed by my indie cred, street smarts, and general all-around derring-do, because this was a serious act of rebellion.

And, as we shall soon see, with a dash of intrigue! Turns out that you can’t reserve tickets online unless you’re travelling with a group, so Gus and I signed up to go with a group of people from Guangzhou. We get there and the organizers give us name tags and tell us to write our names, and I was fool enough to believe them.

Nametagged arm

Sexy pix

(Chinese speakers should excuse the last character, which is supposed to be 忠; I was writing on a slant.)

So we get on the bus and I pull out my book hoping that the lady at the front who passed out the name tags and collected our money and seems generally to be In Charge, that this lady won’t make us participate in crazy bus games of any kind on our way to Shenzhen. (I was of course dreading a game that would require us to talk about Deep Vaginal Feelings, but frankly I wasn’t interested doing much of anything, since I assumed that even the Chinese version of 99 Bottles of Beer would be alienating and potentially obscene.)

She then stood up and said that we should all introduce ourselves, which was fine and non-threatening, until people started to stand up and introduce themselves as “Big Leaf”, “Cat”, and “Natural” — buckle up, ‘cause you’re riding the obvious pseudonym bus, direct service to Vagina City, population: young Chinese people on the bus who’ve decided to use their internet screen names rather than their real names because they’d rather not have their real names associated with a subversive or sensitive event and you, young foreign rube.

We were near the front of the bus, so the lesson didn’t have time to sink in before we introduced ourselves with our full (Chinese) names, and said where we were from and where we worked. Zero other people on the bus gave this amount of information. So not only are we the only two Caucasians on this entire trip, and in the entire theater, but we’ve given everyone enough information to track us down, if they wanted to. I am doing google searches for “punani,” and I attended a semi-subversive event and told everyone there exactly where to find me.

I’m sure it won’t be a problem, though. It’s China, what’s the worst that could happen?

Once we got to the performance I ended up feeling very empowered and radically feminized. There were some weird quirks to the performance, like how there’s a line at the beginning where one of the actresses says that the word vagina “sounds like a disease”, which is funny because that’s not how it sounds at all in Chinese. The Chinese word for vagina is 阴道 (yīndào, for language learners), where 阴 is “yin”, the feminine half of yin and yang, which has all sorts of dark and negative associations and is a part of various genitalia-related words, and 道 means channel or road. So to me this word sounds not like a disease but instead like a Shadow Passage, a Hidden Road, or the Path of the Moon. In other words this is a place where I expect there to be equal parts magic and spiders, and possibly lembas bread. And maybe this high-pitched schizophrenic voice that just won’t stop nagging. (Guys: am I right or am I right??)

All of my super healthy attitudes about female sexuality were changed over the course of the night, especially during the climactic monologue which liberated once and for all the Chinese word for “cunt”, which sounds exactly like the English word “bee.” You can try screaming that alone in your room right now if you like, just to see what it feels like. And I swear that monologue was perfect: the most powerful piece of theater I’ve seen since who knows when, because to me it didn’t feel like anything: just an audience full of people screaming “bee,” over and over, but all around me people were laughing and cheering and feeling free.

And then we came home, and so far the police haven’t picked me up, so, you know, so far so