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Play That F#!%y Music

30/11/2015 5:02 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Double exposure of a man listening to music on his headphones.

The guests were milling, the smoked salmon and caviar canapés were being served, the champagne -- flown in for the occasion -- was being politely sipped. The top brass had jetted into Beijing and everything had been meticulously planned for the China launch of a major US computer company's much-hyped new laptop.

Then, very loudly through some large speakers, a song started up.

If you wanna be my friend

Put my d**k in your hand

Move it left, move it right

Try to lick, suck on it ...

What happened next was... no one did anything. The song kept going. The launch was on the forecourt of a major Beijing electronics chain. The song could be heard across the road and down the street. It was a dance number a local event planner obviously thought would give the occasion a funky edge. Clearly that planner had not studied English, at least not to the level of schoolboy anatomy.

And the above passage wasn't just one verse. It seemed the only verse, which kept going round and round. So while 200 Chinese dignitaries nibbled away and exchanged pleasantries about the newest thing in laptop computers, every minute or so some needy man cried out for some attention to his penis.

Then, when the song finally reached a second verse, that man's lady friend started singing and ... oh my! It's fair to say she was actually no lady. She made her lewd friend sound like a choirboy. I can't repeat what she said here but let's just say she began demanding, with some urgency, that this man should service her, and in a most uncompromising fashion.

Mercifully, the song came to a close.

And then it started again. With the handful of westerners either giggling or recoiling in horror, it repeated three or four times before it was at last time for the speeches. Next time, planners might ask an English speaker to check the lyrics. Then again, it would probably never occur to most Chinese that people might sing about such things.*

Beijing used to be littered with lots of English signs which came out looking inappropriate, obscene and just plain funny. Among others there was the Dongda Anus Hospital and a green space dedicated to China's ethnic minorities which went by the name of "Racist Park".

Then one government official, known as a "wowser", went around changing them all before the Beijing Olympics, and we all groaned and looked at our feet and shuffled off home.

But sometimes when east meets west, when Chinese meets English in this country's era of rapid change, the results can still be arresting.

I was dining with my little daughters in a restaurant featuring cuisine from the famed American food region of Kentucky. As we ate and I pondered the sweetness of the scene, I suddenly noticed the ambient music.

Back, get back,

Coz' I'm a motherf--king f--ker, that's that.

The man went on. It was hard to make out the words, a problem even he seemed aware of judging by his repeatedly asking "Know what I'm sayin'?" But as well as I could gather, it seemed he too had been endowed with quite a large penis and he wanted to celebrate by singing about it. The girls thought it was "the silliest song ever!"

A friend took his six-year-old daughter to her dance class at one of Beijing's leading academies. On this day she was trying hip hop, and there it was again: a Chinese teacher, a little girl in leotard and sequins, and a big African-American man singing about sexual intercourse. With escorts!

Sometimes, like at the laptop launch, it's perversely humorous. Sometimes you try to remove the kids. If you can't, you might try coughing loudly at key moments. In the KFC I almost passed out.

Censoring the visual form can still be hard. With 99 percent of the world's clothes made in China, many saucy English-language garments find their way onto local markets via the back of a truck. I saw a 70-year-old man riding his bike wearing a cap that said "I Want Your Sex". And it's not unusual to see some innocent-looking girl obliviously wearing an X-rated T-shirt.

Trouble is, it only goes one way. I'm at no risk of putting on a Chinese song at, say, a daughter's birthday party, only to be told that Xiao Li or whoever is singing about doing the nasty. The Chinese recording industry isn't ready for that yet. For now, people still mostly sing about hands holding other hands, not penises. No doubt that will come later as the country continues to reform and the Chinese wake up to the potential of the hand-relief ballad market.

For now, the Chinese must think we westerners are just a bunch of perverts, that we can't even launch a computer without bleating about our genitals.

I sometimes feel the need to apologise and explain we're not all obsessed. Sometimes I'm just thankful most people listening can't understand English, or that my daughters can't yet understand that sort of English. Still, we have to be watchful. I've noticed our eight-year-old has just got a book called Gangsta Granny. Call me paranoid, but I'm going to check it for profanity.

* I've since found the song. For all this old dad knows it could be a worldwide smash on the hit parade and a popular favourite at disco dances! But you can look it up yourself if you're not prudish and want to know what the crowd was being treated to that day. It's called Juicy Pen and it's by a very silly man called DJ Ozi.

PS: This post comes with a graphic language warning. I should have put it at the top, really.

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China might be rapidly modernising but with its Communist Party still holding a tight line on censorship, its music scene is not quite ready for the type of sauciness contained in some western songs. Here, government-approved mega boy band One Formation warms up for its half-time slot at the recent National Party Congress, where they delighted dignitaries with their hits Consultative Process (of the Heart) and Unanimous Love.

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