Huang wears a dark grey sweatshirt with a plastic Playboy logo. He is middle-aged, open and very chatty. We discuss sex change operations. He was the first surgeon in China to specialise in this procedure and advised the government on the regulations that now govern the operations. Every hospital in China tries to provide them now, since they are seen as proof of the technical skills of their surgeons, as well as of the open-mindedness of their bosses.
However, he himself has given up performing operations however, and not because of their grueling length or because his clients have struggled to readjust to normal life. Many of them end up dancing in the seedy bars on Sanya island, he says, because they are unable to hold down their original jobs or face down the prejudice and curiosity of society.
He quit because his mother insisted that his failure to have a child with his wife was because he had disrespected the laws of nature. Huang visited a Buddhist monk, together with three of his patients, in order to seek advice. He said that while no ordinary person would have been able to spot that the women were transsexuals, and that one of them was even married to a man who didn’t know she had formerly been a man, the monk saw through them straight away. He warned Huang it was bad karma to continue, but that he could do some modest repair work on previous clients if necessary. Huang lamented, however, that his wife had still not been able to conceive.
Then he told us about the growing demand for plastic surgery among Chinese government officials. Faced with having to appear before the television cameras on a more regular basis, and with having to make more public appearances, officials want to make sure they look the real deal. Demand for eye-lifting operations, nose jobs and other facial operations is through the roof. They now represent 20 per cent of all his work. He said no Politburo members had been tampered with, but said provincial governors and party secretaries were common enough and are smuggled in under cover of darkness, his other clients having been hustled out of the clinic.
Plastic surgery is also becoming a popular corporate gift for the senior executives of state-owned enterprises and their wives. It’s one way of cementing a deal, I suppose, although I’m surprised that the people giving the presents are willing to risk offending the recipients with the suggestion that they could benefit from a touch-up.
Dinner with Peter Foster, our Beijing bureau chief and his wife Claire in Sanlitun, where we went to a French restaurant above a flamenco dancing club, which itself was above a hip hop club, which sat in turn on top of a kebab stand that infused the whole building with its fragrance.
December 10, 2009 – SHUANGQIAO
Adam and I return this morning to room 208 to eat a meagre breakfast of millet porridge, a few stale steamed buns and a tea egg.
Shuangqiao, the nearest town to the village, is clearly coal-powered. Huge lorries trundle through, carrying coal to nearby factories and homes. We visit a few private coal yards close to the hotel. At each one, two or three temporary workers spade coal from middling piles into bags or onto the back of horse-drawn carts. The horses look well-fed, but frequently whipped. As I approached them, they bowed their heads to the ground with worry. The hairs on the back of their legs had frozen into icicles of sweat.
The people are much jollier than down in the south, and universally preoccupied with my height and Adam’s PLA hat, which has flaps and makes him look Russian in their eyes. The bosses of the coal yards we visit say they have heard of the biofuel, but dismiss it as a fuel for peasants who can’t afford the superior luxuries of coal. One worker, however, says he is interested in investing in a biofuel machine, since he feels that it represents the future.
In the biggest yard, we sit inside with a family who have been coal salesmen for a decade. They tell us that with more people moving into apartments and using electricity, their sales have halved in three years. A brand new coal-fired power station at Hulan, with four cooling towers, has also crippled them – the station gets its coal from a state-owned mine and supplies their former customers.
After a huge lunch of beef, potatoes and a mix of cucumber, gourd, and egg and mushroom dumplings we return to the village. Yesterday, the boss claimed that he was selling his biofuels to nearby factories. When we asked if he could take us to them, he hesitantly agreed.
But when we get to the village, we are too early. The chief is still in the middle of his baijiu lunch. He sends his wife to look after us, but we scarper into the fields to avoid putting her out because she hasn’t eaten yet.
After half-an-hour, one of the chief’s cronies shows up, roaring drunk and with his flies undones. He takes us to the “factory”. This turns out to be where they made their biofuel compressor machine, which is romantically titled “Compress and Support BioEnergy Machine”. Rather than a production line, the factory is a yard in which two men are welding a few boilers.
Inside, another couple of engineers are busy reverse-engineering an enormous machine made by a company called Weida. The men take it slowly to pieces before hammering out their version of the machine’s cogs and gears from brick-sized blocks of steel. Adam is forbidden to photograph the process in case he lands them in trouble from the manufacturer. A small boiler in the corner is burning the biofuel briquettes.
When we push the chief to take us to a factory that is actually using biofuel for production, he demurs, muttering that there was a chicken farm that was heated with his biofuel but that they had sold all of their chickens yesterday. Adam nudges me and reminds me not to ask too many awkward questions. If the chief has to admit he was exaggerating, it will be a huge loss of face. And since he is relatively drunk, and staggering around the room, he might not react well to pushy foreigners. Adam reaches out to stroke his fur coat in a friendly manner and is rewarded with a venomous stare.
Welcome to Foreign Correspondent.
This is the diary of a foreign journalist working in China.
Over the last 18 months, my assistant and I have travelled across the
country, from Heilongjiang to Guangdong, from Zhejiang to Xinjiang.
The idea of this blog is to bring you a running commentary of what
life is like for journalists in China and hopefully entertain you with
some of the characters we meet along the way.
There will be a time lapse of a few days before we post each day’s
diary. This is to allow my newspaper to publish my articles first –
they are my employers, after all.
Each post will appear in English and Chinese. I hope you enjoy them,
and please do leave comments so we can improve our work.