You’ve seen those sexy collectable figurines around Asia, right? You know the ones… in Singapore malls, Beijing shopping centers, all over Japan? Nervous kids and creepy adults browsing the aisles… subtly saucy…
Two small dogs are attacking a homeless man, while I’m nursing my lingering fever with sidewalk kebabs and a bottle of Yanjing beer. One of them bites at his ankle, and he hobbles away, cursing while diners beside me laugh, and the wind picks up again. I shield my face from the sand.
This is Erenhot, or Erlian (二连), Erlianhaote (二连浩特), Eriyen, or Ereen… a town on the Chinese/Mongolian border with too many names. Every passerby stares at me, and every child shouts “Hello” as I pass. One stranger steals a photo of me with his cellphone. Someone else asks me to pose. “And with my friend, also?” Continue reading “A Postcard from Erenhot”
Sorry for the silence. China got wise to the VPN, and issues had to be resolved. But we’re back. Hopefully for a while, at least.
While we pop the bottles of silkworm baijiu and seahorse bourbon, here’s a photo from last night’s dinner at Beijing’s newest maid cafe. (Sure, Japan had sexy 19th century French maids a decade ago, but in China? Well, they’re still an untapped welcome trend.)
Eating snake seems so sleazy, and eating ants is just gross. So much nicer than either of these? A young, innocent deer. That’s one of the most common sights in a Chinese pharmacy, and when you see one stuffed, it represents longevity, happiness, luck and benevolence. And every single part of that benevolent deer is valuable.
The antlers are sold in elaborate gift boxes, almost like moon cakes. They’re not eaten whole, but ground up and mixed with warm water, until the combo becomes a thick glue, called Deer Antler Glue (鹿角胶, $10 for 250g). Apparently it’ll tone your kidney, remove meridianal obstructions, help produce breast milk, and—like so many of these remedies—boost the libido. It balances the pairing of yin and yang, and even helps women with menstrual troubles.
Only a few places in China can make Deer Antler Glue, and one of those is the ancient Beijing pharmacy, Tongrentang. The shop opened for Beijing business eight years after the start of the Qing Dynasty, in 1669, and has been operating at the same location since 1702.
Tongrentang is a TCM institution, and it’s aisles are staffed by very professional looking young ladies dressed in medical suits. Its cabinets, as well, are filled with a world of wonders: sea cucumbers, sea horses, and snakes. One thing I couldn’t find there, though, was deer embryo.
The embryo is used as an ancient remedy for women having trouble getting pregnant. According to Chen Shiduo’s 1691 book “The New Materia Medica” (本草新编), eating a deer’s embryo will “invigorate the function of the spleen, reinforce kidney yang, tonify qi, and produce vital essence.”
It’s also extremely hard to find.
“All the embryos have already sold out this year,” Dr. Bai Xiaofeng told us. He’d spent months trying to find one for his daughter to eat. It took failed attempt after failed attempt, and the use of all his personal connections, to finally get his hands on one.
“I asked my daughter to eat three spoonfuls of the ground-up powder a day,” he offered up. “She didn’t like it—it smells so bad. But she was pregnant by the third week. I asked my wife to finish the rest. You see, deer embryo is expensive, and not a speck should be wasted.”
The owner of Zhaofeng Deer Farm didn’t want her name printed — she wouldn’t even tell it to us — but she enthusiastically agreed with Dr. Bai. “Deer embryo is especially good for women,” she said. “Men can take it as well, as a tonic.”
But the best tonic for men, she said, actually comes from a male deer. The, ahem, deer loin. Okay, I mean penis.
Penises are used a lot in Chinese med. The basic concept is that you can improve any part of your body by eating that same part from an animal. “You are what you eat,” or in Chinese, “eat something, nourish something.” (吃什么补什么。 Chi shenme, bu shenme.)
Today, deer willies are priced for the gentry (a 100g knob costs $60), and are recommended mostly for the older set. “Young men should leave it to their elders,” said Xie Chongyuan, a professor at Guangxi TCM University. “They should focus on a healthy lifestyle, not on drinking tonics.”
But if you do want to prepare this healthy tonic, cut the penis into thin slices, and soak them in a liter of strong alcohol (Chinese baijiu works well) for about two weeks. Twenty milliliters of the pecker-liquor a day should be enough to help the adrenals, boost testosterone, and improve… function.
In ancient times, this was a legendarily popular tonic for the emperors. But then again, they had so many wives, and all those concubines. Aish. They probably needed a helping hand.
Wat Suwannaram, a 12th-century temple, is hidden on the far side of the river in Bangkok. It’s remote — no tourists, only two praying women in short skirts (they’d left their high heels outside.) The real draw here is the mouth-dropping murals, which tell the most bizarre and glorious tales. While we tiptoed around, a couple of masked women carefully touched up the murals, many of which were fading and cracked.
Chiang Mai's an interesting town: a lot like Bangkok, but on a much smaller scale. Hundreds of coffee shops. Great boutiques. And old white men with young Thai girls. Absolutely everywhere. Old hippies with Thai women in their 40s, and adorable little hapa kids. Bald and bearded bikers with chubby teenagers. Backpackers with stunning beauties. It's not as offensive as it was in Hua Hin, but it's twice as pervasive.
At the UN Irish pub, I joined a group of four older farang, each of whom turned out to have come to Chiang Mai for the women.
Derek, a 76-year-old cockney, works as a tree surgeon's assistant back home. He's been in Chiang Mai on and off for forty years, but for three years he's lived here more than not. "I went into a bar," he says, "And this bird sits down next to me and asks me to buy her a drink. Now she wasn't what's normally my type. I like 'em small, you see, and this one's big. She's got some weight on her. But I said, why not — thinking to myself it's just one night. And we had some fun. Well, that was three years ago, and we're still together. Thirty six years old, she is." She's less than half his age. Continue reading “Whoring in Chiang Mai”
Siam Paragon Shopping Mall’s elaborate (and incredible) Blythe exhibit offered up some leading costume designs for the creepy oh-so-slightly-pedophilic 1972 Kenner doll, which has captured the hearts and sewing skills of, well, at least a few dozen fans. From Wikipedia, “There is a network of hobbyists who customize the doll for resale and create clothing and shoes for Blythe. Enthusiasts share photographs of their work and their dolls on the Internet.” Well, this was the Epcot Center of it all. Continue reading “Bangkok Loves Blythe”