Friendship binds: casting aside desire, what remains when the bonds are stripped away?
Like most people, my initial understanding of bondage came from amateurish adult films. In those scenes, the ropes were often white or black, looking soft and elastic, with an unidentified man, his face concealed, standing dominantly over the submissive person. The knots were haphazard and loose, and the feeling of being bound quickly got overshadowed by desire. Bondage appeared to be a means of reaching a state of desire, with all the preparations focusing not on the bondage itself but on folding someone in a soft manner.
01 Encountering Oranges and the Bonds of Friendship
On my second day in Dali, I happened to come across Oranges setting up her stall at the market.
Dali's market was like a university student's final exam, with one happening every two days. When we arrived, Dali was shrouded in a light drizzle, the sky overcast, and the market was filled with stalls selling food, blaring music, from Northeastern cold noodles to hot milk buns, hand-knitted woolen hats to roadside coffee.
Oranges' stall was hidden behind a mint green van, with two uneven-height tables and a few paintings secured with stones at the corners. At the forefront of the stall, there was a row filled with spicy prince and hand-pulled duck necks. Just like her stall, her artwork was nestled among these things, in the bustling crowd, amidst the fragrant aroma of food, it suddenly appeared before my eyes.
Most of Oranges' stone sculptures were quite small, about the size of half a palm. Glancing over, there lay a group of lazily colorful little creatures on the table. They mostly resembled dumplings with thin ends and a thick middle, covered in round spots and eyes, like a yin-yang symbol that had been kneaded. The colors were always patchy, contrasting yet soft. They always overlapped, like freshly baked flaky croissants, and also like two lively creatures locked in combat.
There were also some larger pieces, resembling copper mirrors placed on a vanity. These larger works incorporated a variety of materials. Within the colorful frames created by Oranges, red threads were intricately woven into a soft web, with gaps and supports that resembled both a trampoline and a trap.
This is the first time I met Oranges. She was wearing a milky white jumpsuit with bright peach-pink highlights in her hair, and beneath it, a gray-green sweater. Green earrings adorned her ears, giving her an air of lightness and boldness.
Oranges told me that, in addition to selling her artwork, they also hosted a "bonds of friendship" event. I asked, "What is 'bonds of friendship'? Is it something explicit or do I need to undress?"
Oranges chuckled and said, "It's not that kind of thing."
We sat on a thin blanket, beneath which lay dry yellow grass. Before starting the bondage, Oranges requested that I share a story with her, with no specific theme in mind.
I sat there feeling somewhat at a loss, not knowing what story to tell. But soon, I remembered a long-time friend of mine. At that moment, thinking of her, I suddenly felt a sense of relief. I began to tell Oranges how we had grown closer to each other and also wounded each other, recounting our encounters and separations, countless late-night conversations, and our reconciliation after a period of growth.
I spoke rapidly and eagerly, with the loud music and laughter around us even stronger than the desires in my heart. My brows were tightly furrowed, and words flowed from my mouth like sticky syrup. I was lost in my own story.
The story flowed out of my heart like sand through my fingers. Oranges took out a rope, preparing to begin the bondage.
I felt nervous as the crowd in the market surrounded me. Some were complete strangers, while others were friends I had just met today. Everyone held up their phones, and the crowd continued to gather around. I felt tense and embarrassed. This was my first encounter with bondage, and it was the first time I would be bound in front of so many eyes.
Oranges blindfolded me and inserted earplugs into my ears. I felt the earplugs slowly expand inside my ears, gradually squeezing out the sounds until they became muffled, like background music. It was as if the world suddenly muted.
As I lost my senses, an unfamiliar and chilling coldness made me shiver uncontrollably.
Suddenly, a pair of hands firmly grasped mine, and I realized that the bondage was about to begin.Oranges started with a hug, but it was unlike many polite or gentle hugs I had received before. Oranges' hug was heavy, as if the person giving it exerted ten times their strength for every action. It felt like a tremor before sinking into sleep, and this hug was so heavy that it made me forget many things at once.
I slowly stopped trembling.
Suddenly, her hands left me, replaced by a rope gently unfolding behind me. Despite wearing thick clothing, I could still distinctly feel the presence of this rope. The further Oranges' hands moved away from me, the longer the rope grew. The rope and the remnants of the hug formed a complementary relationship. It was so tight, so firm, so calm that the hug never left me; it became a substitute and continuation of the hug.
A linear embrace.
The rope slowly wound around my body, and I felt like a stake entwined by morning glory vines, waiting for this gentle embrace as the distance between spring and me narrowed.
My nerves vividly sensed a section of rope being pulled from another, their interlacing resembling two small snakes sliding their scales against each other, an intimate curiosity. I heard them attracting, meeting, and parting, one edge at a time. I couldn't think of anything else; all memories and emotions were gently drawn away.
The rope was tied, and I received three hugs, signifying that it had wrapped around me at least three times. I was the core of tree rings.
Finally, the end of the rope was placed in my hand, and I held the rope that bound me.
Oranges departed, and I quickly felt the air around me turn cold.
I felt a bit anxious. But soon, this rope became like a tight circle, and as I began to breathe, I felt filled. I was like a heart, my left hand was my left atrium, and my outstretched right hand was my right atrium. Every time I inhaled, the flesh of my body would fold and layer, rising from the bottom of this circle to fill it. Every time I exhaled, the circle would loosen, like an ebbing tide.
I became my heart, and my breath was my heartbeat.
I found myself not alone in this isolated, senseless world. Oranges was my sole anchor during the bondage. She silently walked away, but her warmth and weight did not leave me. The rope was her extension, echoing with each beat of my jumping heart. For the first time, I felt that a piece of rope could be like a wall, like a pool of water. Strangely, I no longer felt cold.
The rope wound around me in circles, and my soul untangled in its nakedness. The rope unwound in circles from my body, and my soul sank back into the calm waters.
In that moment, I suddenly understood bondage. What I had previously thought of as rough and paradigmatic in BDSM was turned upside down. I suddenly understood why some people needed to be bound by a rope, why such an experience could be called "bonds of friendship." The rope miraculously brought Oranges and me closer. She had heard my story, and together we revisited past times, finding the painful, uncertain me in the narrative. It was like pulling up a heavy bucket of water from a well—she had salvaged the past me from deep within.
When the bondage ended, Oranges gave me another hug.
The tides in my heart could no longer be calm. These gentle and understanding forces that had filled me rolled into tears.
02 It's Not Just the Rope That Binds People
The rope binds her to the one she loves.
Oranges has a sister, and over the years of living together, their shared upbringing shattered them both. Unhealed wounds often turned into the sharpest thorns, and they had many unspoken taboos between them. They cared for each other, yet maintained a safe distance.
Until they attended a bondage workshop together. They learned bondage, bought blankets together, designed and printed posters, and set up stalls together. On that day, they gained unexpected stories and tears, as if different people's stories reflected their shared heartbreak. Oranges and her sister finally moved past their long-standing opposition to each other. Fresh cracks allowed their blood ties to merge once again, and the strings of emotion began to resonate, just as they did when they were born. Oranges had never experienced anything so peculiar in her life—revisiting the same emotions, making herself transparent once more. So, they made a pact not to interact as sisters anymore; they became each other's closest friends.
I seemed to find the true meaning of bondage through Oranges. The rope cannot and will not provide an escape from life, but the emotional flow mediated by the rope may give each of us a chance to glimpse our struggles within a certain restraint, to find our own antidote through a certain experiment.
For a long time, Oranges was prone to sudden moments of self-examination, unable to resist observing and scrutinizing herself. Despite her strong desire for deep connections with others, this self-examination would inadvertently detach her from her own body.
Especially when she started doing bondage, Oranges wanted to give a lot to others, so she habitually tied the ropes very tightly. However, bondage is not simply about giving or receiving; it's about mutual communication. Being the binder or the dominant does not mean serving or controlling unilaterally. She felt frustrated, yet she was also acutely aware that her strictness during bondage stemmed from her pursuit of perfection, a trait that existed in every aspect of her life.
Though, for Oranges, most of the time, the rope and bondage were acts of care, gentle gazes. But when it came to herself, she openly admitted that she had always been bound by many invisible ropes. As the eldest sister, she was required to understand her parents' favoritism from a young age and take on more household chores, learning to care for others even before she could care for herself.
As a woman, she struggled constantly with male gazes that had never stopped since her adolescence. Not being beautiful was a sin, and being too beautiful was even more serious. Shame associated with both loving and hating beauty entwined her youth like creeping vines. As a sister raised as if she were a boy, she inherited the society's preference for masculinity. Yet, the sensitive Oranges had to accept her 'feminization' of character and fate, continually seeking something she didn't even know within these bindings.
For Oranges, exploring bondage and feminism has been particularly important. It's only when one has struggled to breathe freely for thirty years that they realize the sudden oxygen is so precious, and so is liberation. It's as if the tighter the ropes bind, the more one can feel the needle-like tingling sensation of blood flowing through their body when they are untied. The deeper the marks on their arms, the more they realize the value of freedom.
It wasn't until recently that she slowly accepted that she could go without wearing underwear and makeup every day. She discovered how angry and full of vitality she truly was. She laughed and said she now wanted to curse people every day, and she felt powerful every day.
Before attending the bondage workshop, Oranges was introverted and invisible. Even the thought of being seen by others would stress her out. However, after attending the workshop, she gradually discovered her likes – her fondness for ropes, for bondage, for self-expression. This fondness slowly grew and unexpectedly evolved into a form of freedom.
Using ropes that can bind people to set herself free, the rope became an extension and metaphor for her life. From self-examination full of tension to greater calmness, relaxation, and a focus on present sensations, she no longer worried about her perfection. Oranges began to believe in what her heart could truly express.
The perfect unbinding also made Oranges revisit her past regrets. She mentioned how she always thought saying goodbye was important, yet for some reason, the more important something was, the easier it was to leave regrets behind. In her memory, she seemed to have many regrets – things left unsaid, separations without proper farewells. However, during the bondage workshop, a clear thought popped into her mind: she wanted to say proper goodbyes to everyone, marking the first time she had such a distinct idea.
It wasn't until I heard Oranges' story that I truly understood the common thread running through her artwork: connection. What she creates goes beyond the intertwined states in her stone sculptures; the complex emotions extend to the connections between individuals, bridging her past and future in life.
03 Unbinding Through Communication and Connection
Oranges told me that her encounter with bondage was a chance happening. She attended a bondage workshop recommended by her sister, where she saw Gandalf (her teacher) doing bondage for the first time. She was immensely curious, so she watched intently. The seamless coordination between the teacher and the assistant, their graceful movements, and unwavering trust were like a drop of water falling into the center of a lake. Every slight tremor of the ropes followed the reactions of the assistant's body. The binder, the ropes, and the person being bound all became one. Oranges watched in awe, feeling herself melting into this mesmerizing performance.
Afterward, Oranges decided to try her hand at bondage. From setting up stalls at markets to attending workshops, Oranges cherished every opportunity. She listened to each story shared and remembered every face. Without interruption or judgment, all her responses merged silently into the layers of entwining.
"Most of the time, I feel like I'm just experiencing, feeling the other person, the ropes, and something between the person and the ropes," Oranges paused, her voice resonating through the dimly lit night.
In her eyes, everyone's texture was unique. Some people had very soft and sensitive bodies, while others were rigid and resistant. Some bodies even felt lively. At the moment of bondage, language in the world of the other person dwindled to just the ropes. So she used the ropes cautiously, adjusting the tension based on subtle differences, aiming to create a unique experience for the other person throughout the process.
This keen sensitivity could even evoke special emotions.
Once, Oranges met a girl at the market who, after a moment's thought, candidly told Oranges that she didn't have a story to share. Oranges didn't push further.
However, when the bondage started, Oranges unexpectedly found that the girl was unusually open. Her body was different from most people's—supple and sensitive, flexible and agile, like spreading warm butter with a spatula. She almost effortlessly followed Oranges' ropes. The girl entrusted herself entirely to Oranges and Oranges' ropes, despite never having experienced bondage or knowing Oranges before.
It was at this moment that Oranges understood the source of this "simplicity." It was as if it wasn't Oranges leading her with the ropes anymore. Instead, she became the rope entwined around Oranges. In the entire process of binding and the rhythm of their bodies, she gently guided Oranges, who held the ropes. Oranges felt a sense of release, comfort, and acceptance—a feeling of being loved within the bondage.
The completeness of a person without gaps nurtured Oranges, who was in the dominant role.
Ropes not only carry the exchange of emotions but also subtly encompass the notions of seeing and being seen, reflection, and introspection.
A girl invited Orange to participate in a friendship bondage session. Before they began, she shared a very long, detailed story. After finishing the story, Orange bound one of her hands, one foot, and her body's core together. In most cases, when people are bound, they tend to stay in their restrained position, immersing themselves in their own world. Some may contemplate, while others may drift away. However, after a moment of quiet, this girl quickly began to explore outward. She arched her body, attempting to use her unbound foot and hand to slowly maneuver her body. Soon enough, her hand found the knot tied around her bound foot – a knot deliberately left by Orange.
With her eyes tightly closed, the girl wriggled and crawled on the ground, struggling in various positions, doing her best to break free. For some reason, she never attempted to undo the knot on her foot.
Orange didn't explain to me what exactly happened to the girl; she simply said that everyone has the power to choose to end a painful relationship. The challenge lies in the lack of belief in their ability to break free and escape. Having a rope provides at least the sensation of being bound, but if even the last trace of restraint is removed, then there's nothing left.
Orange stood there, not knowing how long she had waited. Later, the girl unexpectedly untied the rope herself. After undoing the bindings, she slowly got up, holding the knot in her hand, standing there in a daze. She didn't know what had happened or what she should do. So, Orange stepped forward, took the rope from her, gently guided her to sit on the ground, and then slowly untied her.
The girl discovered that after the rope was untied, there was someone there to catch her, and she had something to do. She had been unable to escape her trauma for a long time, but finally, under the bondage of the rope and the gaze of others, the healing process began.
I asked, "Meeting so many different people and listening to so many stories, do you feel any pressure?"
Orange didn't hesitate for a moment. She said she didn't know why those stories she'd heard suddenly popped up in her mind at certain moments in her life. Those stories hadn't faded with time; they were like wild fruits on a tree, picked one by one by Orange and turned into preserves that could be stored for a long time. When tasting the preserves, Orange also savored the complex flavors within the fruits – a perspective on life that belonged uniquely to them, slowly seeping into her own life. As Orange shared these thoughts with me, she resembled an endlessly curious adventurer.
I believe Orange is someone who skillfully gathers fragments using ropes. Just like how I, in a blank canvas, instinctively choose to narrate the friendships I cherish the most, each person deciding to tell a story, after some hesitation, perhaps eventually chooses their most profound experiences. So, whenever someone shares a story with Orange, it's like their glistening life fragments falling into Orange's hands.
Later, when Orange returned to her classes, she accidentally learned from her teacher that in proper bondage techniques, each knot should be a reverse loop. However, she had been repeatedly making loops in the market where she tied ropes. But for those who were bound, whether a knot was right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, was something they couldn't perceive with their eyes closed.
Orange said, "The knots don't matter, not at all." In the end, the ropes were just an excuse for everyone to sit here and listen to each other attentively, to earnestly tie knots together.
I suddenly realized that the intimacy between Orange and me, formed through bondage, was so rapid, yet it didn't turn us into a "modern urban fast-food" relationship.
Perhaps the only similarity between traditional bondage and Orange's friendship bondage is the form of bondage itself. In Orange's bondage, I not only had the space and time to interact with Orange, but I even had the time to carefully observe the ropes themselves.
During the bondage process, I could feel the ropes winding around me, tightening, and then relaxing. The red ropes, entwined in strands of threads, seemed to reveal a subtle oily texture, emitting a faint and unique fragrance. Red, strand by strand, like wheat spikes tinged with the colors of the evening sky, impeccably full and irresistible.
And when the ropes departed, they left behind distinct marks, sharp and neat, like the engravings on Miao silver jewelry. The ropes used for bondage weren't soft or particularly elastic. On the contrary, they had to be resilient, with knots tied tightly, just like something truly full of vitality.
I felt that, in a short time, the ropes sculpted the body in a three-dimensional manner, like a pale tattoo, an inlay belonging to the relationship of belonging.
This equality, respect, and emotional flow, fundamentally require one person to acknowledge their vulnerability from the very beginning, while the other person, holding absolute power, insists on understanding this vulnerability and striving for equality.
This form of communication, which requires strong trust and intense communication right from the beginning, makes me vaguely sense it as a unique feminine perspective. In contrast, within the context of erotic bondage in pornography, if the two individuals' intentions are solely work-related or driven by desire, with no desire for communication throughout, then, to me, no matter how much physical contact occurs, it's merely a temporary form of warmth.
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