Feeling rested after my 11-hour bus ride from Changsha the night before, I set off to see what Guiyang has to offer. My couchsurfing.com host, Melissa, and I soon stumble onto a grizzly avenue hosting some of true free-market capitalism's more macabre offerings.
Exiting the busy clothes and shopping market we find ourselves on a quiet canal-side street. A row of greasy and blackened stalls pigeon-holed into the wall opposite the canal are filled with used tools, vices, cables and the like. The shop tenders themselves are easily lost amongst the stacks of dusty and worn equipment. A woman cooks some Chinese fare on an open fire. Two chickens walk about untethered. Then, across the street, against the canal railing, two men are sitting on small folding chairs under a parasol. Melissa and I hear a constant hum - high pitched like an electric razor. From a motorcycle battery on the ground, two wires lead up to a naked dirty and naked hand holding the buzzing tattoo gun. The patient looks off into the distance as the gun hammers the ink into his flesh. Along the canal we can count at least 10 of these 'street parlors.'
As I watch the artist dip the same needle into different colors of ink from a filthy tray on the street I can't help but wonder if either of them know the risks. In a small case next to the chairs are some different bottles of ink and some graphite stenciling paper. No sign of other needles, gauze, iodine or anything else representing safe practice. We watch with a sense of horror and intrigue. I was more shocked by the fact that none of this seemed even slightly dangerous to anyone but us. The most expensive tattoo available cost $10 USD.
Passing several of these HIV sharing parties, I find l'Creme du Squalor! In a scene from a health department horror flick, we meet our first 'street dentist.' No medical equipment, no gloves - just a man, a small wooden case and some crude metal instruments which would seem more at home in the tool shops across the street than in a dental hygenist's hands.
Holding a man in a headlock, the 'doctor' dipped his tools into some small unmarked viles in his case. He smiled sadistically at us as his 'patient' spat out a noxious compound that smelled vaguely like amonia. In his case: a preserved human mandible, a small box of human teeth, several glass viles of different powders and clear fluids and metal cookie tin. The back-alley doc slowly opened the tin to reveal to us what might be the most terrifying thing I've ever seen: a dark, rusty, 4" section of a common hacksaw blade. I still don't know what use a dentist would have for this implement.
The good doctor turns to me with an expression that seems to invite me for a 'tooth cleaning.' Thanks but no thanks.