I am still wearing some of the same tank tops i bought 5+ years ago because the only tank that fits me is Old Navy's ribbed tank and it is no longer available. My bras are from the first and only bra shop i went to in Germany, and they are totally mangled. My underwear is from Real (German discount store). I have a new set of socks i bought at H&M in Chongqing. And i have a giant-sized pair of skater shorts i bought at a Dickies in Taipei. The rest of my clothes are a sleeping tee and paper-thin hoodie given to me by R, and a tee i got for free when i was very drunk some night and i am not sure how i got it. I also have a pair of Adidas Superstars i bought online and a pair of ill-fitting jeans i bought in a very fast and frustrating session at a Levi's store in Berlin. That is all.
I know exactly where i bought all my clothes because i have very few, but also because clothes shopping is so traumatic that every experience has been etched into my memory. Since i have been applying for jobs, my anxiety about the interview has been rising. Actually, the interview itself is not a problem. It's having to wear interview clothes that is the problem. The thought of going out to buy clothes has been terrifying me for weeks. I even wrote several "essays" about it for Chinese homework. My teacher thought it was hilarious, till i started having an anxiety attack in class.
Everyone thinks it's hilarious. Even my family, friends and partners never seem to grasp just how fucking stressful it is for me. I always feel like a fat, ugly ogre. If i try on regular women's clothes, they are all too small for me. To get something that fits my shoulders and chest, i need to go to the plus-size section, but that is aimed at women with big tits and hips, of which i have neither. And - because i am tall - even if i find something that fits my width, it invariably doesn't have the length. Everything droops off me like a used condom. So i go over to the men's department, but their clothes go to great lengths to hide what little shape i have because tall men apparently enjoy looking like spinnakers. I would say fuck the patriarchy and just embrace being a coat hanger, but for me there is another consideration, and that is being a transperson. It is exhausting to have to constantly field questions from ignorant people. Looking a little bit feminine helps to avoid having the "do you still have a dick?" conversation every single fucking minute of the day.
But then comes my problem number two. I fucking hate traditionally feminine clothing. I hate frills. I hate lace. I hate silk. I hate hate hate fucking skirts and dresses, i cannot tell you how much i fucking hate them. I hate sheer fabrics. I hate bras. I hate embroidery. I hate all that shit, and putting it onto my skin literally makes me want to throw up. Dressing femme is probably my worst anxiety, maybe after being forced to go to social events like weddings, birthdays, dinners etc. I always hate how i look. Even if everyone tells me i look gorgeous, i hate myself. I feel like a fake. I feel like a fraud. I feel like i have been turned into mannequin and i am not myself any more. I hate it.
So, my clothing options are artificially limited by my unusual frame (for a girl), my need to show off some curves and my violent dislike of any clothes that look too girly. This makes it almost impossible to find clothes in the west, even in Europe where women tend to be much taller and slimmer than in Australia and North America. But in China? Even the biggest men are shorter and slimmer than me. Buying clothes? One great big nope.
And then yesterday, the day of fucking Mid-Autumn Festival, i got a call from an HR person in Hong Kong. Did i mention that Hong Kong is a capitalist dystopia? Yes, they work on Mid-Autumn Festival. After talking to her, it appears i passed the screening and will get an official interview invite next week when the mainland comes back to work. Oh. Shit.
Although i theoretically was planning to go clothes shopping during the golden week, subconsciously i had already decided to procrastinate and not do it. Turns out, i need to do it. I can't walk into an interview with my very ripped and beat-up jeans, my completely battered shoes and with my bra straps falling down and arms showing tattoos to the whole world. I can do that after i get the job, but not before.
My most fashion-conscious teacher suggested i go to Dongguan, which is a city north of Shenzhen that produces pretty much every sneaker in the world. They also have tons of clothing factories. There are loads of outlets and markets and places selling gear that fell off the back of a truck. She also suggested the Dongmen area of Luohu, which is where my hotel was when i visited Shenzhen the first time 3-4 months ago. But i figured my first stop should be the Rainbow department store right next to the coffee shop i visit every morning.
Rainbow is local chain that seems relatively upmarket. As is the trend with department stores here, it is made up of "mini stores" inside the bigger department store - it feels more like walking around a mall. In Rainbow, a lot of the "mini stores" are international brands - Adidas, Levi's, Caterpillar, LaCoste, Vero Moda, Esprit etc. Buying clothes from international brands is a profligate thing to do here because it costs the same price as it does in other countries, even though the average salary is comparable to minimum wage in the west and many of the clothes are made just a few miles up the road. There are hundreds and hundreds of local clothing stores where the clothes are much cheaper and way more interesting (fashion-wise), but their sizes are smaller and a lot of those stores do not have dressing rooms. I hate buying clothes so much that i am willing to pay the hideous surcharge in the small hope i might go home with something that fits.
I did. I bought a slightly-too-small chequered shirt, which i can easily put on over my tank just for the interview. Then i bought a very light polyester hoodie for the same purpose in case i have two interviews with the same company. It seems i only have two "looks" when it comes to wearing something over my tank - cowboy and gangster. Or rural Canadian and urban Canadian? Actually, come to think of it, both the flannel and the hoodie are pretty much mandatory in every Canadian's wardrobe.
On a roll, i headed down to Dongmen, where i walked through a bunch of malls and department stores desperately trying to find pants. What i really wanted to find was a pair of clamdiggers, since i figured that would avoid the problem of nothing being long enough. I found lots of ankle-length skinny jeans for men that on me came halfway up my shin and looked stupid. Actually, they might have been legit three-quarter pants, but even though i am quite slim my calves are bigger than most Chinese men's and the tightness made it look odd. The women's section had tons of perfect capris with a wide leg - you know, those flared skirt-looking ones - but even the largest size was much, much smaller than my waist. It was depressing.
Just when i was about to WeChat my teacher and tell her i told her so, and PS i am about to have a fucking breakdown, one of the hawkers at a Levi's enticed me in. I am not sure if hawker is the correct term. In Australia they are called spruikers. Either way, in China almost all the stores have them out the front - people using noisemakers or sound systems or just calling out to attract customers. It's part of what makes walking around in the commercial districts here so delightfully cacophonous and chaotic. But this one seemed to make a particular effort for me, and handed me off to a salesgirl who managed to find some 34/34s. I tried a few different ones and settled on a skinny jean. I fucking hate skinny jeans, but it's been a trend for 10 years now so i guess i better get over my shit and just fucking deal. Even though a 34" leg is a touch short for me, i know that pants stopping at the ankle is reasonably fashionable in China, so i guess it's okay. Not gonna lie, it certainly felt like taking a literal weight off after hauling around baggy 501s for a year.
I am also (not so) secretly thrilled that they might be easier to handwash. Since i have been handwashing all of my clothes for a month now, ease of washing and speed of drying was another consideration i had been factoring in.
Anyway. To cut off this ramble - i bought some clothes. Two tops and a jeans. And although it was extremely stressful and i felt fat and ugly, i didn't cry. I didn't even have an anxiety attack. I am trying not to think about the fact that three items of clothing cost as much as 10 days at this hotel, otherwise i will hate myself for giving so much money to western companies who manufacture here for peanuts and then charge a ridiculous markup to sell it back to the people who made it.
Afterwards i bought a "jin" (500g/1lb) of fruit for 10 kuai from one of those fruit shops that puts out a buffet-style spread and then cuts it up for you after you choose what you want. And a lychee juice. And then for dinner i spent up big - i got steamed rice plus a dish of dry fry potato (exactly what it sounds like, plus a bunch of sliced chilis) and a dish of bok choy. Twice the price and probably twice the amount of food i normally eat for dinner, but i needed to eat to celebrate.
And then i got home and realized i had spoken Chinese all day. Nothing spectacular - just saying why i am buying clothes and what i am looking for and whether it fits and i like the color - but still. It's nice to know i am starting to be able to communicate comfortably out in the real world.
Now all i need is a pair of shoes. This is much, much harder to find, because all the stores here stop at 43. My current pair is 46, which most Chinese consider to be Shaq-like. Fortunately, since they are all made in the factories up the road, i think i will be able to order a pair online. For the same price they cost everywhere else in the world, of course. I will have to rope in one of my Chinese friends since i don't yet have a bank account. I guess that will change quicksmart if i find work. But, yeah. Bought clothes. Spoke Chinese. Ate fruit. And veg. Drank beer. Good day. I think i will have a mooncake.