NOTE: I wrote this immediately after it happened, over two months ago, and now that I read over it, it looks like total fiction.
All I can say is that this is the complete and whole truth, and that despite my general tendency to be full of shit, you will find not a word of it here.
Flashback to Beijing in early August:
The Den disco is next to the City Hotel, slightly south of south Sanlitun. Unlike most of the other discos in the area, where the music is almost all rap, they play a weird mix of American techno here, with the occasional Xinjiang pop song thrown in for variety. That’s Beijing magazine describes the atmosphere of The Den as “hormonally-charged,” and it is, in much the same way that the air in Beijing is “polluted,” or that the Cultural Revolution was “not a great idea.”
Steve’s girlfriend has had way too much to drink tonight.
We all meet up – Alex, Coco, the Finnish girl with the impossible-to-remember name, and I – at the Black Sun, and hang out there for a few hours. Steve shows up with his girlfriend fairly late – she just arrived back in China today – and her first order is two tequilas.
This strikes me as an extremely bad idea – she’s about the same size as I am, and I can’t handle tequila at all – and I relate the cautionary tale of my first experience with tequila*, that she might learn from my mistake.
“No problem,” she says. “It’s no problem at all.”
She goes on to drink two more tequilas, a Long Island Iced Tea, two B-52s, and a Blowjob*, and then we all go off to The Den to dance.
About five minutes after we get there, I go downstairs and outside to see Steve sitting at a table with his girlfriend, who is passed-out. I sit down too, and a few minutes later we’re joined by Coco, Alex, and the Finnish girl. They all sit for a while, but Alex is dancing with the Finnish girl, and Steve wants to go up and dance some more, and Coco disappears somewhere or another, and so I end up babysitting Steve’s girlfriend for three hours.
She wakes up slightly after Steve comes out and thanks him for staying with her the whole itme, and they go back to her apartment in the Haidian district. As they’re going out, I ask her how she’s feeling.
“Top of the world,” she says, miserably.
Alex and the Finnish girl leave around 15 minutes later – separately, to his apparent dismay – and when I get back upstairs, pretty much everyone else has gone too.
Screw it, I think, and order a Coke at the bar downstairs. (Cokes are expensive at discos for some reason; looking at the menu, I note that I could have gotten a shot of Jack Daniels for less, but decide that I’ve seen quite enough alcohol being consumed and then reverse-consumed for one night.)
I sat there and drank my Coke, and watched people filing out of the disco in various stages of disarray. A pretty girl with blond-dyed hair came up and sat next to me. When she saw that I was chatting with the bartenders in Chinese, she struck up a conversation:
“You’re drinking Coke?” (She spoke Mandarin with what sounded like a southern accent.)
“Yeah. I just babysat a friend of mine who’d had too much to drink for three hours, so I don’t think I’ll be drinking any more tonight.”
“Oh my God, that’s awful. You missed all the fun.”
We chatted for a bit – the usual what’s-your-name (Jenny) which-country-are-you-from (Korea) how-old-are-you (19 too – an amazing coincidence, she seemed to think) routine. She switched to English after I told her that I was from Ireland; she spoke almost perfectly.
“Where did you learn your English? Do you go to university in Beijing, or…”
“No, I work.”
“Oh? What j–”
“–I am a working girl.”
There was an awkward pause.
“You must have a terrible impression of foreigners.”
“No. They get what they want and I get what I want. It is not what I want to do, but it’s OK.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Go to a university, but it’s so…too expensive. With this way, I can save money and send money home to my mother and father.”
“Is it good money?”
She smiled proudly.
“Every day I can even eat at KFC, if I want to. I never can make so much money at home.”
“How long have you been in Beijing?”
“Almost three years.”
“Don’t you miss home?”
She looked at me strangely.
“No, of course not.”
We went on chatting – she seemed like a nice girl, besides the “prostitute” thing – for another half-hour or so, until about 6.
“It’s late,” she said, and then leaned over and whispered: “I must go back to my apartment. –Do you want to come with me?”
“-No money. You’re a nice guy.”
I declined, perhaps a little regretfully.
“At least I can call my driver and send you back to your hotel.”
Her driver was a friendly, bearish Beijingnese guy in his 40s or 50s. He pulled up in a black car with blackened windows and put on one of Jenny’s CDs when we got in.
“Sorry to call you so late,” Jenny said.
“It’s no problem,” he said. “My job, right? Your business is good, my business is good.”
“No no no – we’re just giving him a lift back to his hotel. Alone.”
He looked back, surprised.
“Hey, good for him.”
The sun was already up by the time the car arrived at the hotel. Jenny kissed me on the cheek as I got out, and her driver complimented me on my Mandarin.
The last thing I saw as I stepped out of the car was Jenny’s shoulder and the tattoo on it: a butterfly, faded such that it seemed to have had a wing torn off. Then they drove off, German techno blaring from the car’s speakers.
The next night, at the Den, I overhear an American guy talking to a Mongolian girl at the upstairs bar. He is very drunk, and she is smiling at him as seductively as she can. His head nods back and forth and his speech is heavily slurred as he asks her what her name is.
“Jenny,” she says.
And when I look out at the dance floor, all I see are Jennies. My Jenny* is nowhere to be seen, but the others might almost be her – their hair dyed, their faces made up, their bodies clad in homemade hoochie tops and cutoffs.
Later in the evening, I explain the meaning of the phrase “beer goggles” to Alex. It means that when you’re drunk, everyone is beautiful, I say. He laughs and gestures towards the dance floor, raising his eyebrows.
“Not drunk enough,” I say, and we laugh.
But they are beautiful, the Jennies and their johns, lit by flashes of strobe, seen through clouds of cigarette smoke, their faces lovely, their names forgotten and their homes far away, dancing from nightfall to daybreak.