I like the feeling of exploring new Chinese cities. There is nothing of much tourist interest in Wenzhou (though Professor Yan strongly disagrees), but the city has a very different vibe from any other I’ve been in. It’s edgy and wild and feels a little dangerous.

Wenzhou is known for shoes. Fake shoes, more precisely. Wenzhounese are fantastic business people and there are some fantastically rich people there. Shanghailanders, to a man, all look down on Wenzhounese. Fake goods of every stripe they call “Wenzhou ban” instead of “daoban.” Around the rest of China, the name Wenzhou is indelibly linked to the ubiquitous pink and purple lit massage parlors. Wenzhounese have immigrated far and wide. Professor Yan himself is studying an enclave of Wenzhou in Italy where they only speak Wenzhouhua.

Along with the business comes sex. There are saunas on every corner, hookers roaming downtown at night, massage parlors in all the side streets. On my second (and last) night in Wenzhou I visited the Xialipu bar district. There I met Ah Bao and Ah Jin. They suggested I come with them to their bar which was a little more lively and near my hotel. I sussed them for genuine and off we went. Ah Bao’s bar turns out to be a virtual brothel catering to scions of Wenzhou’s great business families. I saw a Porsche and Audis parked outside. Inside, there were beautiful girls in skimpy outfits, a stage, and tables full of back-slapping Wenzhounese businessmen. I had read about such places before, but never been in one. I sat at the boss’s table and drank free beers and back-slapped with my new best friends. They introduced me to all the girls, they told everyone I went to Harvard. Finally that Harvard education pays off!

The way it works is this: the girls come up on stage and sing a song. If you like her you “give flowers” (送花儿). The flowers aren’t real, they are plastic. A bouquet costs RMB100. Give a bouquet and she will come over and drink with you. One of the girls got so drunk she could barely stand up on stage. Give enough and you can take one home for the night. Ah Bao told me even giving a thousand RMB worth of flowers was no guarantee.

Being an observer got old pretty soon and it was back to the hotel. The next day I hopped the 10:05 a.m. express bus back to Shanghai. Four and a half hours later we crossed the new Hangzhou Bay Bridge. Precisely six hours later I was back in Shanghai and the trip was over.


Details:
Stay in Wenzhou:
Overseas Chinese Hotel is the nicest in town (RMB800)
Olympic Hotel (RMB400)
Jinjiang Star (RMB209)

Back to Shanghai:
Leave from the Xinnanzhan (新南站) on the Express Bus (快客) for RMB205.