There are a number of professions I think where short termism is very much the order of the day. Think back to the Olympics of yesteryear and remember those almost pre-teen girls from countries such as Romania excelling at gymnastics; how many contestants could possibly hope to win gymnastics gold when they were well past their prime by the time they had reached 16?
Or what about the legendary David Beckham, who last year every football commentator was tipping for retirement … at 35!
(And yet conversely, how many aged pop stars from the 1960s are still out there strutting their stuff when simple logic dictates that they should have hung up their microphones decades ago!)
Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair and ageism hangs like a curse around the necks of those who would wish to fight the ravages of growing old.
I was reminded of all this on a recent visit to Beijing. My hotel was near the Embassy quarter, near Liangmaqiao station on Line 10 of the metro. There I was one evening, walking along minding my own business when this Chinese floosie sidles up to me, puts one arm around my left arm, and in the most beguiling manner, eyes all a-flutter, murmurs “You wan sexy massage yes?”
“Err, no, actually,” I riposte, taken somewhat by surprise.
“But I vely cheep. Only 1200 kuai. I spen night wid you yes? You like me. I vely good.”
She flutters her eyes again. She is indeed very cute, but I have never picked up a hooker in my life before and I don’t intend to start now. “I am sure you are very good, but I’m going back to my hotel to bed,” I say firmly trying to shake her off me.
“Yes, meester. We go bed. I vely good. You enjoy sexy massage. Vely cheap. Where you hotel?”
I continue to shake her off determinedly, deciding to appeal to her better nature. “I’m sorry, I’m tired,” I lie. “Not tonight.”
“OK then. Tomollow night. You take my card. I vely good. Vely cheap. You call me tomollow yes?”
And at that moment a bolt of lightning strikes me. How stupid am I FGS? For those that know me well also know of one of my (more) unusual hobbies, for want of a better word: I have been collecting prostitute calling cards for well over a decade!
Floosie disappears back into the shadows, only to be replaced some 50 metres along the road by another cutie. “You wan sexy massage meester?” she says, sidling up to me. “I vely cheap. For you special price. Only 800.” We walk under a street light and it is clear this lady of the night is a little older. Perhaps in her mid 20s.
I repeat that I am just a little tired but perhaps I might feel up to it tomorrow night. “You have a card perhaps?” She does indeed. She blows me a kiss and goes on her way.
The next night I am approached by two guys. “You want sexy girl? Vely young. Velllly bootiful. Beeg blests. She please you. You choose which girl. You stay here. We call girls here now. You will love these girls. Vely young. Vely cheap. Vely bootiful.”
“How much,” I find myself asking. “They vely cheap. Special plice for you. 1400 kuai. You get big pleasure. You wait here yes?”
Again I trot out my well rehearsed answer and am rewarded with a handful of cards for my collection.
And finally it dawns on me that here too we have a market that is dominated by ageism; and in which age is directly related to the price charged. For it is an unfortunate fact that Chinese women age much faster than their western sisterhood. This was explained to me by a nursing professional friend that it is down to the food the Chinese eat – something to do with the fats found in their diet that don’t give their skin the elasticity enjoyed by western women.
And this of course translates directly into the price charged. The youngest girls can charge premium prices – in this case 1400 kuai (also known as Yuan, or Renminbi – equivalent to just over $200). By the time they are in their mid 20s, the price has fallen to around 800Y. Approaching 30 and you can probably negotiate the rate right down to 400-500Y.
On one evening, I was stopped by three women who all looked like they were in their mid 30s. They were touting for much younger girls; but I didn’t realise this at the time. When I asked how much they charged for their ‘sexy massage’ they fell about laughing and was told I could have all three of them together for 500Y! But that surely I would prefer one of their very young charges?
So spare a thought for poor Zhang Xiao Qing. Xiao is a tour guide working for the CITS (China international Travel Service) HQ. It says so on her card. And now imagine something akin to a cross between Ugly Betty and Genghis Khan. For that is what poor Xiao looks like. Not that she appears too phased by this unfortunate quirk of fate. She is 35 years old (she tells me proudly) and she much prefers her evening job to simply taking tourists around in the day time.
Xiao tries to lead me into one of the information kiosks that are to be found everywhere around Beijing and deftly grabs poor Junior, miming in no uncertain terms what she will do to him when we spend the night together. “For you, only 200. For the whole night.” I wince at the thought. “OK. For you 150 for the night.” I mentally do my calculations - $23. I decline once again. “100 kuai?”
At this rate it will not be long before she is offering to pay ME for the privilege of doing everything she has got it in her mind to do to Junior. She gives me her card. Not a titillating picture in sight. Just her business card for the CITS coupled with the Beijing Air Service Company.
I am left wondering what her office says when (if) someone there ever answers her phone to a desperado asking for a ‘sexy massage’. I wonder, too, if it helps to know that our beloved Xiao is also registered with IATA?