Open Sesame is a sparkly silver magazine entirely dedicated to Taobao, a Chinese online shopping site that sells anything you can possibly imagine buying — from chopping boards to relationship advice. The biggest shopping day of the year on Taobao is 11 November: Single’s Day, a holiday invented by Chinese students to celebrate (or commiserate) singledom. This issue, entitled All Alone, is about the lucrative relationship between loneliness and online shopping.
Of course, there are sex dolls in here: blow-up women folded into transparent packets, with horribly lifelike wrinkles in the soles of their plastic feet. (Happily, Open Sesame include blow-up “boyfriend dolls” as well as “girlfriends”.) But the most wonderful pages of this issue detail products you never knew existed. One photography feature, entitled ‘The Illusion of Privacy’, is about the art of trying to carve out space in a shared dorm room — Chinese students mostly live in bunk-beds shared with seven other students. It is possible to buy a small “sleeping desk” to clip on to your bed on Taobao. Bunk bed curtains are another popular purchase.
The joy of this magazine is that you’re never quite sure if what you’re looking at is real or not. Early on, there’s a photo-shoot of different “huggables” (human-sized teddy bears you can cuddle in bed). One teddy has a small pouch in its tummy, like a kangaroo, big enough for an adult woman to climb inside. All the huggables pictured are genuine products. Later, there’s a sci-fi story about a love affair between a Taobao customer and her delivery driver. Set in the middle of a national emergency that forces residents to stay locked inside their houses — this might be fiction but it reads like reality.
One of the most intriguing pieces in the issue is about the psychology of sending nudes. Posting a naked photo of yourself is more about communication than it is about sex, argues writer Geisel Cabrera: “the exchange of imagery online becomes a confessional sexual activity in its own right, quite apart from… physical meetings”. The sexts accompanying the piece are so strange, and disjointed, they could be poetry:
like! Like! Husband husband can I also like to like her husband likes I can be great, my husband can like it!
Which hotel are you at right now? I would like to come and touch it!
What I love about this issue is its unpicking of the strange, creative power of loneliness. What would you write, or buy online, in the hope of finding a connection? How lonely are you? Would you like to climb into a kangaroo’s pouch?