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A Letter from China:
Shanghai, Yangshou, Wuhan, Prostitution and Drug Busts

Last month, a friend and co-worker of mine made a two-week trip to China to visit a relative who’s teaching there, and to see as much of China as he could see in that short time.

A note he sent me from Beijing while waiting for his flight back to Seattle contained a few surprises even for me.

Here’s an excerpt:

I can see why you say that Shanghai is like New York if you want it to be. There were so many chic and trendy neighborhoods. It’s a playground for Westerners in many ways too, I think. I’ve also got good skyline photos of Shanghai. I can’t get over the size of that city. I think it’s like two Manhattans.

On another note, Guilin was nice, I thought, nicer than Yangshuo. More to see, bigger, and not as much of a tourist trap. I went on the boat tour down the river from Guilin to Yangshuo. It was beautiful, but the whole time the tour guide was trying to sell us more tours, lots of people in my group opted to buy into this one ‘Shangri-La’ tour, but I honestly didn’t want to see it, they refused to give me a ride back unless I also bought the tour, so I just chewed the girl out a bit and got my own ride back into town. The train ride from Guilin to Wuhan is a brisk 13 hours–ugh. And those trains are a trip–if I could write, that trip alone would be enough fodder for two novels. Luckily, I had the soft sleeper. I should have spent the extra days in Shanghai (what a great city).

Also, some things that surprised me about China: Prostitution is very prolific They have these ‘rooms’ that have frosted pink doors that you can sort of see through and see lots of beautiful women in there, and they are everywhere, or at least in all the places that the buildings I wanted to photograph were. (Don’t worry, I didn’t participate there.) I was jolly pleased with the amount of ‘turn of the century’ architecture….

Also, drugs are common in China. As a Westerner in Wuhan, I think I was invited to some places the regular folk might not see often; for instance, a night club where people were devouring giant plates of cocaine in a private room, the size of a regular night club, and it was packed with people too. Don’t worry, I didn’t participate there either, but I think they were amused at how my brother and I were shocked. We must’ve looked like we saw the Loch Ness monster. Last night we went to another a night club, and the entire second floor of the place was quarantined half way through the night by the local police–an impressive sight to see them all storming in and secure the place–and everyone there arrested onto buses. It was a bust on people doing ecstasy, and there must’ve been about 80 people busted. Believe it or not, my brother said this show of force was his first taste of Communist China after being here for eight months. He must mean explicitly, because implicitly it’s all there. There is no tipping. The food is negligible in cost. Mega employees in every place of business, doing any meager job for long periods of time….

Some of what my friend saw surprised even me. A decade ago, prostitution was already as visible and prolific in China, but it sounds like the visible drug situation is a bit different. Marijuana and hash were becoming more popular with the rebellious and non-conformist young adult sets, and one would hear rumors of heroin use in the big cities … but giant cocaine and ecstacy dens, at least in my experience, were still unheard of.

May 2005

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