The remnants of Typhoon Muifa are pouring over Dalian today. The streets are rivers and my entire department is skipping work, since the whole area around my office building is flooded (Some people actually are going to work, but I’m not sure how exactly. Fords?)
On the way home from the grocery store, I noticed that the neighbourhood sex shop was still open. I’ve been curious about these shops for a while, but due to my reputation, as a foreign girl, of being promiscuous, I’ve avoided approaching them. But today nobody was around.
There are a couple of striking things about these shops: their tiny size and ubiquity. These mini-sex shops are scattered all over the city (there are about four or five in my neighbourhood alone). This is very unlike Montreal, where the sex shops can mostly be found on one block downtown.
The goods are probably easy for the shopkeepers to get, since China manufactures 70% of the world’s sex toys. Online porn may be censored, the state of sex ed may be miserable (a student told me that during the procedure of getting her marriage license, she had to watch a sex ed video for the first time in her life), but sex shops seem to be booming business in my neighborhood.
And in 2004, a survey showed that only 21% of Chinese men could find the clitoris…well, that suggests an enormous educational (and business) opportunity to me.
This is what I knew, but I hadn’t really prepared for the reality of what a sex shop looks like when it’s a mom-and-pop business in a poor country.
I yelled from outside, “Open or not?”
A lady poked her head out and said, “Come inside, come inside,” so I did…
This sex shop was about 4×4 meters. Two single beds were lined up on the floor and two more beds were suspended from the ceiling. On these beds sat the woman’s family (probably). There were a couple of middle-aged men, a second middle-aged woman, and a beautiful young girl, probably around six, looking rather grumpy. They were clearly packed in in order to wait out the typhoon – but the beds – did they live there as well?
The sex toys/porn were lined up on tiny shelves behind the bunks. I couldn’t really see clearly what they were. The woman asked, “Are you looking for —– (indecipherable Mandarin) or ———-?”
The family looked at me.
I said, “I’m sorry, my Mandarin isn’t too great. I was just curious about your store. I’ll come back another day when the weather is better.”
“Okay,” she said, beaming. I glanced at the little girl – she was staring determinedly into the middle distance.
Then I got the hell out of there. I might be curious about Chinese approaches to sex, but not curious enough to browse in front of a large group of strangers, probably a family.
One half of me says sex toys are just another commodity and it’s cool that the family can make a living this way…and sex toys are great things in their way. But what is it like for a little girl to grow up inside a sex store? Is she embarrassed? Are her friends or family? Is it a high social price to pay for a living?.
UPDATE: For those of you who have arrived at this post looking to find sex shops in Dalian, just look for these characters: 成人用品, “adult useful items”…. they’re everywhere.