My love affair with China began before the Middle Kingdom was the most fashionable place on the planet, when I begged my mother to bandage my feet. Mummy didn’t want me having the biggest boats in Louboutin boots so she wrapped them in tight bandages at bedtime. If only she had mummified my entire body; I would have stayed size zero.
So I grew up with Cinderella feet, married a spy, went to live in Beijing, and got poked in my 32E chest with chopsticks by a man who wanted me to star in a porn movie about a very white lady and a wooden bed.
Every time I go to Beijing it’s different. In Paris or Venice, the city stays the same; it’s me who changes. But Beijing transforms in the time it takes to make a restaurant reservation and down a plate of deep-fried donkey cock. I’m a tourist, not a traveler. I want glamour and luxury, not an authentic experience with a cockroach on a third-class train. And the Northern Capital is material-girl heaven full of designer stores at third-world prices.
But there’s always a problem in paradise, and mine is worrying I’ll be the fattest one there. On a good day, after a stomach bug, I’m a size two. The rest of the time I’m size four. But in China, where women don’t have bodies, any number in that range translates to large, sometimes extra large.
Cutting off the labels doesn’t prevent me becoming suicidal hearing my size shouted out in a shop. Losing sleep over this shrank me to medium, but unless I have my bum surgically removed, I’m never going to be small in Beijing.
But things are changing in China. The La Nu (hot chicks) are eating western food, as well as wearing western fashion. The rich students are studying art and fashion at college, instead of business and marketing. Some of the yuanillionaires are even having therapy, though it’s more natural for the Chinese to discuss a bowel movement than an emotion.
Sex isn’t mentioned either. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a movie star, but I didn’t expect to get an offer in San Litun from the small man with the big chopsticks to be his Beijing Blonde. My new friend, Bing-Bing (pancake pancake), translated as the enthusiastic director poked me in the chest. “He wants to know if these are real?” She’s forgotten the word, so she takes out her phone, checks the dictionary, and snaps a few pictures of me while she’s at it. “He’s making you an offer but I advise you not to accept.”
The director offers me ten dollars to star in his sexy movie about the white lady and the wooden bed. I have my suspicions he said fat white lady. Bing-Bing assures me his comments were all complimentary. But why a wooden bed? “Because it’s very sexy.” Well, it’s definitely hot. Traditional wooden beds, which have a fire under them, double as stoves.
Mr. Lash thinks I should have accepted since Chinese culture is conservative. They are both ahead and behind. The director would probably have just taken my picture fully clothed sitting on the wooden bed, maybe sipping on some dragon tea. I’ve missed my chance to be Suzy Wrong.