Column: Sex in Beijing

Published on August 12, 2008

It was already spring, but at night the wind was sharp, even wintry. Leaving the Foreign Languages bookstore after finding all three volumes of “Three Kingdoms” (I had been looking for this classic Chinese novel for a long time), I started to cross Wangfujing street, all bundled up in my suddenly inadequate suit. A lovely lady in a fur coat, looking to all the world like a heroine in a Korean “telenovela”  — almond eyes, alabaster skin — approached me. I thought she was going to ask for the time.

“You like videoke?” she said. “Very near. Pretty girls.”

“No, thanks,” I said, and started on my way to the McDonald’s branch right across the street from the bookstore.

At night, a portion of Wangfujing turns into a promenade. Despite the weather, there were still many strollers, some obviously tourists like me taking in the sights.

She followed me. “Pretty girls. Very near,” she said again. Then, even before I could say no a second time: “You want massage? Or sex in your room? Only 400.”

Unfortunately, after a couple of days in China, I was already in full tourist mode. Thus my instinctive, almost involuntary reaction was to compute. (Did she say 400 yuan? That’s about P2,400).

Korean Heroine must have seen the momentary flicker in my eye.

She followed me across the street. “Only 400. One night, 1,000. Very pretty girls.”

I said “No, thanks” again (and again). But she thought she had seen me rise to the bait, so she kept fishing. “Where are you going?” she asked.

“McDonald’s,” I said, and immediately felt foolish for answering.

“It’s very near. Wait here,” she said. “I bring pretty girl. If you don’t like, it’s okay.”

No, I said again, feebly, in the wintry wind. “It’s very near,” she said. “Wait here.”

By then we had reached the McDonald’s branch, which had an anteroom on the first floor. “Very near,” she said. “Pretty girls.”

No, I said, my voice becoming firmer inside the restaurant’s foyer. “No, thank you.”

Korean Heroine snapped. “What are you?!” she said indignantly, almost shouting.

I, whatever I was, watched her stalk off after new game.

* * *

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a stunning success. Except for a couple of relatively weak scenes, and that short but vivid march of goose-stepping soldiers, the show was an extraordinary triumph. It met Leonard Bernstein’s unforgiving standard of inevitability: it was all new, but almost every part of it seemed inevitable, “just right.”

The pictures available on the Web caught much of the creative genius Zhang Yimou channeled into the event. Comparing the photo galleries of The New York Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, I thought the Times had the best photos (I think they sent the most number of newspaper photographers to Beijing too).

One of my favorite shots, however, is by a Filipino: Bullit Marquez of The Associated Press. (It can be seen on the Guardian’s “24 Hours in Pictures” gallery for Aug. 8.) He uses the old reflection-on-water trick, but he does it so well he fulfills the modernist object, and makes it new.

* * *

My favorite image of Lorenzo Tañada, the grand old man of the anti-Marcos opposition whose 110th birthday was remembered last Sunday, is not any of the famous ones, such as the time he (and others, like Manila Times publisher Chino Roces) were drenched by the riot police’s water cannon, or the time when, under arrest yet again, he raised a clenched fist from the back of the police van. (I think it was either a Toyota Tamaraw or a Ford Fiera.)

The image I have in mind is altogether a quieter one. In the mid-1980s, my school’s student council used to hold seminars in his Tagaytay City rest house. He kept a becoming distance. At one such seminar, however, I saw him conferring closely with a guest, who turned out to be JV Bautista (at least I think it was JV Bautista). They huddled on the veranda, looking down on the unchanging Taal scene. It looked like an old warrior passing on his wisdom to the next generation. Or a grandfather explaining things to a grandson. Maybe it was both. “Ka Tanny” had foster-fathered an entire generation of activists.

True, the country’s longest-serving senator was a founder of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance]. But he was also a founder of many other organizations. He was, for instance, a co-founder of the PDP-Laban political party too. He was a stirring example of personal courage, but (thinking on it now) it seems to me he never neglected the need for institutional or organizational action either. To that end, he lent his resources, his nationwide network, his good name.

* * *

The decision of the Zamboanga City Council to declare journalist Al Jacinto “persona non grata” is misbegotten. Jacinto was merely doing his job, filing stories for

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the council’s decision, and explained the context. “Jacinto is a veteran and was simply performing his duties, as demanded by his profession and news organization. Any statement against the formation of BJE [Bangsamoro Juridical Entity] was not Jacinto’s but [was] quoted from different sources duly identified in the articles. They were uttered by personalities campaigning against the controversial and emotional BJE issue. Contrary to the council’s belief, Jacinto’s articles did not bring shame to the city.”

In fact, it was the council’s resolution that brought shame to Zamboanga Hermosa. When politicians declare a journalist out of bounds, it means either of two things: They have lost their heads, or the argument.


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