The sky falls

Beer girls

  • Published 10.11.11
  • a few seconds read
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Once in a while, something so outrageous comes your way that you are shocked into asking, “In Mao’s China?”

Imagine waitresses in a restaurant addressing you as “master’’. Apparently, such restaurants have been around in Beijing and Shanghai. The latest has just opened in the historic city of Kunming. They are called “cosplay’’ restaurants (a combination of ‘costume’ and ‘play’), and are styled on similar restaurants popular in Tokyo in the late 1990s. Their speciality is the role-playing by their waitresses. They dress up as French maids, or wear what French maids wore perhaps decades ago — a short dress with a small frilly apron over the skirt. The maids address male customers as “master’’. The men like to think of themselves as noblemen of yore. The Kunming restaurant is actually called “maid restaurant’’.

An interview with one of the waitresses revealed, contrary to expectations, that she loved her job. She had grown up on Japanese comics and animation, and said she felt like a child when she wore the costume. Fortunately, the role playing can only charm the “masters’’ that much. One customer told the official news agency, Xinhua, that he had stopped going to the “maid restaurant’’ in his city because the food was no good.

Forget Mao’s “women hold up half the sky’’ saying. Even in today’s free-market China, waitresses and shop assistants are commonly addressed as “xiaojie’’ or “Miss’’. The literal meaning of this term is “little big sister’’. Phrases like “master’’ and “servant’’ are unheard of. Two photographs of a recent car show invoked the same reaction — “In Mao’s China?” They appeared on an expat website and showed five models, in the briefest of bikinis, leaning on one car, and one model, nude except for a string round her waist, leaning on another car. These pictures were taken right in the centre of an exhibition hall.

Beer girls

Now leggy waitresses standing outside restaurants in Chinese gowns slit up to the thigh are a common sight. Equally common are the ubiquitous “beer girls’’ in open air cafés, in the miniest of hot pants, never mind the weather. This diaryist has even caught a glimpse of a call girl exiting from a hotel braless, in a transparent top. But nude models at a car show?

Why not? A restaurant in Xian recently had models wearing bikinis made out of vegetables posing outside its entrance, as part of its promotion. Inspired no doubt, by the Bikini International Beauty Contest hosted in China this year. At the China International Fashion Week in Beijing last week, the organizers had put up a sign that read: “Models must eat before going on runway. Spraying your hunger away is not enough!” — a reference to the widespread use of a slimming spray that has caught the fancy of models across the world. Last year, a starving model had collapsed on the catwalk.

There is no feminist movement in China to protest against all this; just as there’s no workers’ or students’ movement. After all, the exploited sections were supposedly liberated when Mao took over in 1949. But 30 years of communism weren’t apparently enough to counter the rush of capitalism that has reigned for the following 30 years. So you have the official Chinese women’s organization training migrant women to work as house maids, and minimum height requirements for jobs such as receptionists, waitresses and shop assistants. Some prospective employers have even made female aspirants walk the ramp.

Should it be surprising then that the need for a law to curb domestic violence is now being felt? Last month, the All-China Women’s Federation said that one in four women has faced domestic violence. The most high-profile wife-beater is Li Yang, the English teacher who is almost a cult figure.