As an early lunch, Winston and I decided to head back to apparently the only restaurant in Xinglong village which offered Western food, A-ONE. We spent a good deal of time there hovering over pancakes, French fries, and coffee thinking it would be our last meal away from Haikou for a while. But the more we sat there laughing over things from the last few days and contemplating returning to the school and students, the more we wanted to continue on for just one more day, so we decided to check out our options by getting a three-wheel taxi down to the other, more touristy end of town.
The driver of the cart (whose entire English vocabulary consisted of a few American city names, “Vietnam,” and “very good!”) was a friendly guy who took it upon himself to get us the best deals in Xinglong (though in the end, most were scams).
While we were in the tourism office and Winston touched the hearts of the female clerks with his bilingual tongue, the driver and I scanned the photos of Xinglong attractions posted along the wall. When I pointed out one board which was covered in pictures of scantily-clad dancing women, the driver patted me on the shoulder and, pointing at the pictures, said in Chinese, Those aren’t women. Those are men.
I said, What? They’re not women?
Then, using multi-cultural sign language, the driver showed me what he meant: he stuck a finger out from his crotch like a makeshift wee-wee, then pretended to cut it off with the other. Then he brought both hands up to his chest and pretended to pull out two huge knockers and shook his shoulders a little. I couldn’t believe what he was…“saying.”
Come to find out, the she-males are all stars in a very popular Xinglong show, which a clerk called “Lady-Boy.” For 100rmb we could experience two hours of the show-of-a-lifetime and mark it up as the greatest surprise of Hainan Island. Of course, after short deliberation, Winston and I both declined the offer despite the apparent discount of 80rmb, saying, Too weird! without trying to sound too offensive.
The next day, after experiencing the afore-mentioned scam at a minority farm, we decided to return to the A-ONE restaurant and end our vacation on a good, westernized note.
We got a table in the corner, Winston facing the wall holding framed pictures cut out of American magazines—pictures of Drew Barrymore, Catherine Zeta Jones and an ad for Christian Dior—and I faced out toward the rest of the restaurant. The place was empty, so for the time being I had very little to look at.
After I finished my jiaozi and fried chicken wing, however, two tall, busty women walked up to the door of the restaurant. I pointed them out, and Winston said—as per usual when attractive women come within our sight-range—“Hello!” and I responded, Ni hao!
They entered our restaurant and chose the table behind Winston, eyeing us foreigners the entire way, as if we had stolen their favorite, possibly reserved, booth.
Then it struck me who these people might be—nay!—probably were. I promptly wrote on the paper in front of me for Winston to read, “She-males!”
“What?” Winston was incredulous and so took a quick glance back. He saw two huge breasts and little else. “No way,” he said quietly. “How do you know?”
I eyed their non-attractive faces alongside their perfectly—almost surgically—formed bodies. Then I continued to write: “chests.” Then under that, “voices.”
Winston listened. Sure enough, the voices were clear and low, albeit feminine and soft.
“Beeeeast!” was Winston’s initial response, quickly followed by the admission, “Those could never be real in China. They have to be fake.” He paused in thought, then added, “I’d have no problem just reaching around and grabbing them to see if they’re real.”
“I don’t think that would be wrong,” I mused. “I mean, I touched guys’ chests in college. It’s not the same thing, but really, it is.”
“I really want to just get up and go to the bathroom so I can get a clear view.” As Winston was speaking, however, in walked three more women (?), joining the two already sitting down.
One seemed quite excited to see us, crying, “Hello!” as s/he sat down.
“Hello!” I responded in my China-talk and continued my game of bowling dice with Winston. We continued to discuss the oddity of our present situation in pig-Latin (for the chances of their knowing English were decent, since they’ve probably traveled before, for there’s no hospital in Hainan that would perform the surgeries these people have had). All the while, they had their own conversation, continually glancing back at us.
Finally, after a good ten minutes of awkward table-to-table silence, the one whose back faced me turned around and asked Winston if he spoke Chinese. When he responded, Yes, we heard the most terrifying, disgusting, odd, screechy male-trying-to-be-a-female scream we’ve ever heard. S/he caught the attention of the whole place, then screamed again. Everyone went silent and her friends told her to stop. S/he made one more piercing scream for good measure, then fanned herself as if s/he were about to faint.
“I guess they were talking about us, huh?” I whispered to Winston.
“Well, I didn’t hear anything scandalous,” he said, and we continued with our game, and they with their conversation.
Incidentally, while we were chatting and waiting for the next freaky thing to happen, Winston got a text from one of his students, which read: “Do you know homosex? How many Chinese homosex in America?” He didn’t reply.
Finally, the talker turned around again and asked us a whole bunch of questions about who we were, where we’re from, what we do, who we’re dating, etc. We were honest and composed, and the whole time I was jotting down notes and thinking how cool it would be to get a picture of myself with these…folks.
The talker then introduced herself as Sasha, a fittingly transsexual name. Then s/he introduced her “sisters” as Lucy, Doo-doo, Jie-jie and Di-di.
Lucy was a middle-aged person who looked like s/he made the ultimate change because s/he was really just bored with life and because s/he looked like neither a man nor a woman. S/he wore an olive green pantsuit and sunglasses.
Di-di had the large man-knockers we saw walking in initially. S/he boasted the most painted face of them all, though the whitewashing hid nothing masculine in the facial features. The terrified, everyone’s-staring-at-me-cuz-my face-looks-like-a-dude’s look in her eyes was startling, and I couldn’t force myself to make eye-contact. S/he wore a white skirt with a low-cut red sun-shirt.
Jie-jie was the only true female of the lot, and we have yet to figure out why she was hanging out with the rest. She wasn’t entirely attractive.
Doo-doo proved him/herself to be the prize of the lot. S/he more than likely had plastic surgery on every part of the body including the face and throat, for S/he both sounded and looked like your average attractive Chinese woman. But we were not so easily fooled. S/he wore a flower-patterned blouse, white dress pants and silver high heels with blue-glitter-painted toenails. She was the one who initially said, “Hello!”
Satisfied to know the name of The Sisters (for some reason Shawshank Redemption comes to mind), Winston decided to use the restroom and take a breather from our own personal in-house show of Lady-Boy. I feared being alone amidst this would-be Sausage Fest, but my fear under-weighed his desire for fresh air.
As he stood up and walked toward the can, all ten eyes fixed on his 6’3” stature, and all of them gasped in unison, Aye-yah! So tall!
Then they turned to me and asked how tall I was. I told them 185cm, and that Winston was roughly 190. They looked me up and down as I sat there at the table jotting notes, and I felt more uncomfortable than most ever before. And then Sasha asked, Do you go to bars in Haikou?
I said, I’ve visited a few places with my students as they’ve shown me around town. They took me to the Allen bar last week.
Aye-yah! That is the number-one bar in Hiakou! s/he said, and I know I should have changed the subject there to fruit or arithmetic or baseball or something, but before I could, s/he asked me the question I didn’t want to get asked: When I am in Haikou, can I give you a call and we can go out?
I began my little speech about how I had just bought my phone and didn’t know the number and couldn’t give it out and maybe I’d be busy and phone service is shoddy, when Doo-doo reprimanded her for even asking, saying, essentially, You can’t expect foreigners to want to go out with us.
I wondered where the heck Winston had gotten to, then he came back.
After he sat down, I told him via pig Latin that I had just been asked out by a transvestite and things in the room were getting a little too friendly. Let’s ask for a picture and get the heck out of there. We’ve got a bus to catch.
And so, after another short conversation where Sasha told Winston we should all get together at one of the clubs in Haikou, and after Winston’s careful dodging of the offer by saying we don’t frequent bars, we called for the bill and began to pack up.
The dancers went back to their fruit tea (“fruity”?), and we slowly tried to get up without causing too much a scene. Winston was formulating the right phrasing to ask for a photo while I fidgeted with my camera. Finally, he busted out his question: “We were unable to go to your show last night, but really wanted to. And we cannot go tonight, because we have to get back to Haikou. So we were wondering if we could get a picture together.”
This caused quite an arousal in the group. Di-di and Lucy both stood up and walked away, and Jie-jie moved her chair back away from the table. A short discussion ensued.
Finally, with only two Lady-Boys left at the table, Doo-doo said, “We admire your culture’s openness, but some of my sisters don’t want to get their picture taken. Di-di doesn’t think her boyfriend would like it” (a claim which Winston later called “a laugh”).
So the two adventurous people (Sasha the talker and Doo-doo the most feminine looking) beckoned us over and we sat down. Doo-doo held me out, both surrounded me with peace signs, and I got the photo of a lifetime.
Thanking the Lady-Boys for the conversation and pictures, we began to walk out, but then Sasha again struck up the old conversation of meeting up in Haikou. S/he asked for Winston’s phone number, and for fear of making the dudes/gals feel like we only took their picture as part of some multi-cultural freak show, he had to give in. Now I am not going to say that Winston actually gave them his number. For all I know, he could have switched two or three of the digits around “on accident” or something. But I do know that he wrote his name and ten digits down on a piece of paper, and that paper is probably now safely tucked away in Sasha’s dude-cleavage or something, waiting to be read and dialed. I really can’t say for sure.
While Winston was writing, Doo-doo told me her real name was Shali (I don’t know where the nickname “Doo-doo” came from, but I have a pretty good idea). We then discussed our plans for getting home. Once we were all talking about it, Sasha yelled that Shali had a car and could drive us over to the bus station very quick-like.
Now, keep in mind that we are two foreigners in a local restaurant having full conversations and taking our pictures with these obvious transvestites, and now were about to get into one of their cars and go somewhere with them. I can only imagine what the patrons were thinking. Nevertheless, we decided we’d never see any of these people again and the sooner we shook the dust of this town from our feet, the better. So we followed Shali to her brand new white Buick Regal and climbed inside.
Winston called shotgun (though I don’t know why), so I got the back. I guess I have shorter legs. The backseat was decked out with stuffed animals and seat cushions. Attached to each seatbelt holder was a little dog that squeaked a bark every time Shali touched the brakes. If I hadn’t known any better, I would say it was inside the car of any rich teenage Chinese girl. But it wasn’t. It was inside the car of a twenty-two year old rich Chinese transvestite, and just the thought made me second-guess the cleanliness of those seat cushions.
We drove about a mile to the village’s bus station, though as we pulled up, the last bus to Haikou for the next two hours was just pulling out. Shali slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and shouted for the bus to stop. Now, up to this point we had had very little hard evidence to prove that Shali really was a man, save for the very un-Asian-like breasts and the company she kept. But when s/he screamed for that bus, s/he must have blown a stitch in her throat, for the voice immediately changed from your generic female tone to that of a young man on the better half of puberty. It rocked our little world, and I immediately turned to Winston and said, “I am not staying here until 3:30! We are going to Wanning or wherever-the-heck we have to, but we are getting out of this town now!”
He agreed wholeheartedly—the way only Winston can—and we jumped back in the car and waited for Shali to return. S/he did, and we then said in an I’m-not-really-scared-(but-really-I’m-about-to-crap-my-pants)-type of way that we could just as easily pick up one of the short buses to Wanning and catch the Haikou bus from there. S/he agreed, and we made the same-mile drive back to the main village road, found a bus and bought our tickets.
Our “Goodbye” was not hard at all. As we walked toward the bus and saw all the passengers watching us from the windows above, I told Winston, “I can only imagine the type of conversation starter this is going to be on the bus.” Once we got in and sat down and watched Shali wave and drive away, we began to feel somewhat safe.
We traveled most of the way back in silence, though each of us, lost in our own little world of thoughts, could see the other crack a small, dumbstruck smile at the thoughts of what we just experienced. And now the only thing to truly remind us of these events are the photograph of me and them and the slight possibility that one of these days Winston is going to get a deep-voiced call from one of Xinglong’s Lady-Boys.