Monday, August 3, 2015

Learning to Speak Lingerie Chinese merchants and the inroads of globalization.

By Peter Hessler

The New York Times - Letter from Egypt August 10, 2015 Issue

The city of Asyut sits in the heart of Upper Egypt, at a crescent-shaped bend in the Nile River, where the western bank is home to a university, a train station, approximately four hundred thousand people, and three shops in which Chinese migrants sell racy lingerie to locals. These shops are not hard to find. The first time I visited Asyut, I hailed a cab at the entrance of the city and asked the driver if he knew of any Chinese people in town. Without hesitation, he drove along the Nile Corniche, turned through a series of alleyways, and pointed to a sign that said, in Arabic, “Chinese Lingerie.” The two other shops, China Star and Noma China, are less than a block away. All three are owned by natives of Zhejiang province, in southeastern China, and they sell similar products, many of which are inexpensive, garishly colored, and profoundly impractical. There are buttless body stockings, and nightgowns that cover only one breast, and G-strings accessorized with feathers. There are see-through tops decorated with plastic gold coins that dangle from chains. Brand names include Laugh Girl, Shady Tex Lingerie, Hot Love Italy Design, and Sexy Fashion Reticulation Alluring.
Upper Egypt is the most conservative part of the country. Virtually all Muslim women there wear the head scarf, and it’s not uncommon for them to dress in the niqab, the black garment that covers everything but the eyes. In most towns, there’s no tourism to speak of, and very little industry; Asyut is the poorest governorate in Egypt. Apart from small groups of Syrians who occasionally pass through in travelling market fairs, it’s all but unimaginable for a foreigner to do business there. And yet I found Chinese lingerie dealers scattered throughout the region. In Beni Suef, at an open-air market called the Syrian Fair, two Chinese underwear salesmen had somehow embedded with the Syrians who were hawking cheap clothes and trinkets. Minya, the next city to the south, had a Chinese Lingerie Corner in a mall whose entrance featured a Koranic verse that warned against jealousy. In the remote town of Mallawi, a Chinese husband and wife were selling thongs and nightgowns across the street from the ruins of the Mallawi Museum, which, not long before the Chinese arrived, had been looted and set afire by a mob of Islamists.

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