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Published: March 20th 2008
There are rules in Kunming as in all towns, in all societies, but the young expats, a tribe of drifters, don't much adhere to them. One guy, I forget his name, remains behind bars, caught with a large possession of drugs a few months ago. A girlfriend paid him a visit. I forget her name too. She invited Joan but he declined. Like most in Kunming he had distanced himself from the pusher, told me in a taxi ride various instances that summarized the enprisoned foreigner's fate as following logically. There are plenty of pills in Kunming. Little baggies exchange hands, conversations mention 'pink ones', 'green ones'. It comes from labs in Guangzhou is one story or smuggled across from Burma. In the hillsides throughout Yunnan the clear mild weather encourages cannabis to grow wild. In Dali, the old minority ladies dressed in checkered shawls, adorned in bright magenta or violet wool, sit outside the Bad Monkey here they approach the young lawai, "Ganga? Hashish?" Young foreigners pretend to study or teach, an alibi or a means to an end. Their intentions are to party, slowly forget the world, forget the rat race, careers, family, mortgages. Drugs are cheap, alcohol cheaper.
Rent, utilities, groceries don't put too much a dent in your pocket. A revolving door community of twentysomething expats, few remain long in Kunming, only a handful think to settle.
My friend Joan has been here almost five years doing god knows what besides Chinese lessons, alcohol and pills. At twenty-four he has bought a large apartment with his parent's money and rents two others in the same building. He owns a dog, a black lab with a streek of doberman. It terrifies the locals, tugging its leash, jumping, playing, active and healthy in contrast to the longer haired snarling pekinese slumbering in the midday sun, growling at Pawan on his twice daily circumlocution. Pawan, I thought was Spanish but it turns out, is Chinese for secutiry guard. Half the young men in China are dressed in dark blue uniforms, fitted with formal caps, standing at iron gates at various interpretations of attention. Two of them knock at the door late one morning. One is young and stands little more than five feet tall, the other fellow towers over six feet with broad shoulders and grasps a harness in his hands. I think they've come for Pawan. He has
grown too strong for his leash and on a few occasions has run off to terrorize the growly Pekinese and small children whose galloping flee of terror Pawan mistakes for a game. The poor kids and many of the grown ups see only a dark phantom with claws and mastibles. The harness is for the small security guard. A tenant a few floors up is locked inside her apartment. The young guard with a nervous smile perches on the window sill before he is hoisted on a long rope, scaling the side of the building.
Joan doesn't take very good care of his dog. Granted, the weather is colder these days, at least in the evenings and there's little space to walk a dog without worrying for cars and bikes and pedestrians. I walk him nonetheless and complain to his owner that we need a stronger leash. Late morning and late evening Joan leads the lab down in the lift and out to the shrubs in the car park for a piss. Pawan's a clever canine, horny, but clever for his young age. He rarely pees inside the flat. He relieves himself only after sniffing the lawn and bushes
for a private patch of absorbant flora. Caleb, a chocolate brown pit bull mutt lives with Matt and Jacob, a gay couple from the UK and Denmark respectively. Caleb wees in the flat routinely and shits where he shouldn't or grabs hold of the neighbour's grocery bags or a live chicken in the market. Matt and Jacob are a handsome couple, perhaps a little too quiet. Matt used to drink and hang out much more, Joan tells me. He helsp run a small English school suffering from less than satisfactory PR skills among the staff. One fellow, a strong handsome Israeli has the charm of a neanderthal. Joan prefers Matt whose body is slim to the point of anorexic looking, perhaps diverting attention to his big blue eyes and thick dark hair, unshowered and greasy in posh British fashion. I would choose Jacob, an A&F model type, and though he doesn't say much I'd have his lovely woodsman's chest to curl up to. The four of us cook dinner together for New Year's Eve, pumpkin soup, tender roasted chicken, potatoes and a salad served with a simple viaigrette. Wine flows, candle wicks burn, electronica fills the empty spaces. Matt and
JinZhouWan / Golden Land Bay
staying for free in a brand new flat sure beats the hostel
Jacob speak in soft voices like two big dods curled up on the sofa.
Joan and I met on an internet personals site. His photos, black and white, were taken over four years ago by his then boyfriend, a Dutch studying in Leiden. I write to Joan a few times before arriving in Kunming where we meet my first night in town. He takes me for drinks at Salatore's in the foreign students' district near Green Lake. We sit at a table in the loft sipping g&t's. Joan looks horny, big puppy dog eyes and a slim figgity figure squirming in his seat. I retrun to his place and we make out. He's not my type. I don't like long hair when it falls in my face and feels itchy or looks unsightly all the loose strands picnicing on the bed sheets. His drinking and smoking is seldom interrupted. I prefer young men who've interests, hobbies, who keep good care of themselves. But that's not to say I don't admire Joan. He's a character. His mother calls most evenings. Her only child is seldom receptive and often hangs up on her. She's well off. Joan regularly asks for money.
He sists at his computer checking emails from various companies. He and Mia, an Italian who lives bewteen Kunming, Shanghai and rome, share a business exporting and importing simple goods. Everybody in town knows Joan, most of them as acquaintances. He puts on a smile for everyone and converses with each in one of half a dozen languages until they've left and Joan will turn to me and admit this or that person is rather annoying or boring for this or that reason. But mostly beacuse Joan is difficult. I enjoy the company in his circle of closer friends whose characters develop more openly and honestly than the guarded acquaintances, happy faced passers by or who sit a row back from the table. Joan is generous with his friends, hosts them, celebrates them, cooks them dinners, buys them drinks or small souvenirs from brought back from his trips. Like anybody, Joan's character is a reflection of his friends, and their freindship with each passing day, less and less a consequence of circumstance or pleasant diversion, grows more and more so an intended bond, an interest and admiration for one another.
On the edge of his circle lies a grey
Joan & I, moto taxi
the cheap little three wheel motorbikes have actually been declared illegal recently for taxi purposes
area where friends are demoted or acquaintances accepted. My first evening at Joan's after he falls off into deep snoring, I return to the company of young men smoking spliffs in the livingroom playing videogames. Yu, his family from Fujian, grew up in the same village as Joan somewhere north of Barcelona. Seeing as he wasn't doing much back home he accepted Joan's invitation. He'd been here several months without managing more than a little marijuana grow op in his bedroom. He's become sickly thin, a reaction to the local cuisine and towards the end of his stay the evening of his farewell dinner, is rushed to emergency where he's diagnosed with an ulcer. Joan pays him a visit over the xmas holidays, sees that Yu's mother is taking good care of him and he's put back on five kilos. The outspoken of the three is an Italian, Giorgio Giacomelli, of Venice, very handsome, a gay guy in his mid twenties I figured. "Aah, what are you doing! You suck!" He i unimpresed with my videogame skills. "Be one with the car." Good advice for a stoner. I crash into fewre walls, keep to the circuit for a couple hundred
house party at Joan's
to my left the Catalonians, to my right the Italians, across from me, Betty from Prague
metres. Giorgio's in fact a year older than me. He's on of the funniest, most charming, most handsome young men I've ever met. He was dating a gorgeous woman who'd recently returned to Australia, a curious place named Nimban. The plan was for Giorgio to join her mid-December but while I was away for the month something split them apart. Giorgio confides with me one evening how she did not want to be responsible for his well being, that if he were to come to Australia it could not be to serve a dependant life but rather to follow his own goals. From month to month her phone calls and emails express a different opinion. I caution Giorgio that she has been filled with ideas of her friends, or worse, admirers. Alas, it seems that Giorgio and Panya may get back together and eek out a living traveling the world together. Joan and I both have a crush on the guy. Joan buys him designer lable underpants and i afforded an all too quick vision of his aistline. Giorgio's visits come usually late night after his lessons. He arrives ot the sixth floor flat aboard his scooter, hugging his helmet,
beaming and laughing with us. I feel funnier and more charming in his company. We encourage each other. We take the pis out of Kunming night life.
Sergio moved into the flat late last summer. He's shorter than most Chinese though incredibly built and energetic. I joined the gym where he works and follow his reccomended weight training plan, four visits per week each with a half hour of cardio followed by an hour on the weights, toning and building stamina. Sergio leads me through my first spinning class, a sweaty stationary adventure through techno music and laser light show. A few models and other lean or pumped bodies regular the gym, surrounding me, haunting me with visions of my younger days and a swimmer's build. I feel determined, turned thrity, to find back the lost sexy. Second night at Joan's, my rucksack is still locked in a hostel's dormitory. Late evening, Joan, Sergio and I each prepare for sleep and for the next day. Sergio stands just inside Joan's door, dressed in his pyjamas and furry pokemon slippers, folding an item of laundry, perhaps anticipating my footsteps. I approach his silhoette, "can I touch you?" I slide my
hands over his muscles. It's quiet, the door is open, Joan's shuffling downstairs sounds like a cat. Sergio turns, unbuttons my jeans and squats before me. I ride with the moment. I hear Joan's slippers climb the staircase and Sergio and I continue inside the open doorway. I don't think to hide this. I expect a threesome to ensue but Joan's reaction is not encouraging. I getsure to Sergio to stand up and pull my pants back up. Joan and i talk in his room, upset, angry, but I'm free to do as I please. He does not own me. Normally I would not have entered the doorway, nor followed the magnetic instructions of my libido, would not have threatened a precarious balance. But Kunming as far as I'd seen and Joan's flat no exception, is a place to enjoy the ego, to feed it sex, drugs, pleasure, the only reprecussions being one's role in next day's gossip. "If you wanna f**k him, go ahead!" he rolls over and goes to sleep. I lay next to him unable to let go the hard smooth attraction of his muscled flat mate. I cross the landing into Sergio's room where he sleeps
on his tummy in the middle of a firm queen size mattress. Straddling the duvee i smooth his back and disturb his sleep with soft lips, a game heats up beneath the covers. My conscience suddenly catches me, jumps at my throat, Ï'm sorry, Sergio. I can't. I made a mistake. I'm such an ass." He pulls me back down on the mattress, not caring to listen, needing to see this through. I take a pillow and blanket downstairs and share the couch with Pawan. Middle of the night Yu slips through the livingroom to the toilet, a little shocked to see Sergio molesting the dog. Unsatisfied, Sergio had climbed downstairs and witout saying a word used my mouth to get off. I speak with Joan in the morning and apologize for my contemptable behaviour. I cannot be his sexual partner. I want he and I to be friends, "sisters" I said.
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