The hotel rules had stated quite clearly that there should be no adultery in the rooms, but since neither of us was married, there was no problem technically. We were simply trying to save some money and get a respite from the oppressive bureaucracy of the People's Republic of China. Standing in the huge lobby designed in more decadent times, I was playing the game of patience recommended in the guidebooks of 1982, the year before. You were supposed to ask for the dormitory style rooms, because this particular hotel in Guangzhou had a whole floor of such rooms, cheap, but they would not give them to you unless you were willing to stand in stony stubbornness and insist for a very long time. They wanted you to take the more expensive private rooms to enhance their foreign exchange revenues.
I felt someone at a distance with that other sense we all have. A cute curly haired guy with a backpack and an earring in one ear was also calling their bluff. I checked him out and decided he was a reasonably safe bet as a roommate. We huddled and then smugly booked a more expensive room with twin beds, but splitting the cost to make it as cheap as the dormitory rooms. This was a good deal. The clerk was obviously dismayed and showed disapproval of the immorality of these capitalist running dogs: strangers willing to share a room and denying them two revenues. This was 1983, only one year after the doors to individual travelers had been opened.
Simon and I settled in, and I went to sleep in my own twin bed to nurse my cold, while he went off to find a bakery. The sweet smell of fresh bread and coffee at my bedside woke me up a few hours later and Simon mothered me and my cold till I submitted to the care. I didn't know him but it felt like we had been traveling together a long time. He was so cute, and he was insisting I have this good instant coffee, rare then in China. It was some of his last reserve, as he was leaving the very next morning for Hong Kong and then back home to Australia. We played Lou Reed tapes on the little Walkman with little speakers housed in a shoe polish tin. Life was cool. Simon excitedly told me he had met several other travelers from Germany, France and the U.S. and we were all having dinner together in a restaurant he had been to six weeks ago, and they remembered him well. He had thoughtfully searched the back alleys for Mao-Tai, his favourite illicit rice wine to have at the social. He was bubbling with eagerness and was really happy. I had just entered China and definitely didn't know the ropes, so I was very pleased to be taken under his attentive wings.
At dinner, I sat next to Simon at a large round table, and since he was a willing connoisseur compared to the rest of us, we let him order everything. The sweet smells of ginger, garlic and rice mingled with smoke and humidity. Simon chatted relentlessly, made everyone laugh, and offered us all a swig of his potent Mao-Tai. It was strong. I felt a warm shiver along my spine and my bones slowly came back to life. The café staff knew the vintage well and were very hospitable. I couldn't help giggling at Simon's joie de vivre and enthusiasm, and he was so charmed he made me drink another capful of the firewater. Actually he made everyone else drink it too, so the mood was merry. He thought I was giggling at his clever witticisms. I felt coy. It wasn't clear who was entertaining whom, but it was clear we knew each other using that other sense. The others seemed oblivious to our subtle intimacy. He told all of us stories about his adventures in China, his haggling and socialising, and showed off his Mao cap which he insisted he would wear to the election next week back home. I inched my chair over to be a bit closer. His cosy Icelandic sweater made me feel very secure. I was giggling because he was too cute and too good and too funny to be true.
Somehow we stumbled back to the hotel, and in a most gentlemanly manner, he helped me into bed, arranged the mosquito net and tucked me in like a little baby. He set the alarm clock. I was definitely intoxicated, but not unconscious by any means. It had been a lovely evening. He went to bed on his side of the room, and I was almost asleep...
“Marnie?” he said after a few minutes, in a very low and cautious voice.
”Yes, Simon.” I quietly replied.
“No, not yet.” I giggled inside and felt this tenderness rise up in my heart.
“Can I lie beside you?”
I took stock of the situation as well as I could under the influence. The collective memories of a million generations of biological urges flooded my body for several seconds. The inexpressive faces of the Chinese border patrols and the inscrutable face of the hotel clerk, complete with imposed morality internalized to perfection, had to be subverted. Nor did I want to say "no". But I was tired, dead tired. My cold was barely holding off thanks to the alcohol, and really I wanted to go to sleep. Alcohol and intimacy had always been mutually exclusive in my matrix.
“OK, but we're just going to sleep, right?”
Simon tried to get up, but fell out of bed and groaned. He stumbled over, and crept in beside me, very respectfully, inside the mosquito net. I lay on my back and tried to sleep. He lay on his back beside me. Several minutes later,
“Can I touch you?”
By this time, I had given up hope of sleeping and had surrendered, somewhat sweetly, to the idea of Simon. We groped in the humid southern Chinese night. His body was sticky and I could feel he had hair on his chest. Like kids we touched each other's lips and eyes. We tried to kiss, but missed often, unable to see or judge very well. The bed was narrow. It was a dark night. We had to be quiet. The rules were posted: no adultery. No problem yet as I did not feel a familiar hardness, but perhaps I was groping in the wrong places. I knew about alcohol's side effects. Simon explained defensively it was only a matter of clothing. We tried to get some clothes off. Simon fell off the bed and the mosquito net tore loose from the ceiling on one side. I got up to help him and the other side of the mosquito net fell on top of me, and I fell on top of him on the floor. We tried to untangle ourselves, giggling and laughing. The net got wound up more in our bodies, and we collapsed, laughing hard, exhausted, on the floor. It had been a great try.
The morning sun was bright in my eyes. I was alone. The other side of the room was cleared and tidy. I fell back into my pillow and remembered the night before. I smiled. Where was he? Gone for fresh bread again? I got up and saw a beautifully arranged night table, complete with the jar of instant coffee, an alternative guidebook to China, a cassette tape of Australian rock'n'roll and a very sweet love letter, extolling my charms and virtues. Simon had caught the early ferry to Hong Kong to be back for law school and the elections. But he did mention in a p.s. that the hot water in the bath only dribbled so switch it on well before I wanted to take a bath.