They were cutting down trees last week. That’s why I had to park a block over by the 113 Middle School. It added 10 minutes to my journey. Such is life at the Carpark of No Parks. Nestled in a dated-looking compound constructed during the early 1990s, the architects of those days couldn’t envision a modern China with cars. You bought an apartment, a refrigerator, a microwave oven, and a bicycle. With these purchases, you were made.
Along came the boom years and everyone started buying a car. At first, they were Volkswagon Santanas (“lame” said an American living in Taiwan – they were driving luxury European cars there), then Japanese brands such as Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, before the arrival of German engineering (Porsche, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes).
I first entered the Carpark of No Parks in 2018. Yes, there is ample parking, right next to the classroom. Yes, traffic is great in the afternoons. Yes, you’ll have no problems etc. etc. Those little white lies (told to me by a parent) turned into the Wednesday of Many Headaches. Traffic was appalling – jams galore. Once you’d made it through the hell that is Guangzhou traffic you’d be greeted with an impersonal, unempathetic witches hat (an orange traffic cone).
This meant: “Don’t bother entering – you’re shit out of luck.“
On the rare occasion that a park was available, one had to muster all skill/patience to manoeuvre the vehicle up on to curbside corner – mere millimetres from another vehicle. There was the 200 metre reverse-round-a-corner challenge – instructions given in a dialectical form of Mandarin that even a local would struggle to understand. The upside of this exercise? Valuable parking practice (of course).
A small group of parking attendants policed the area. Their dark skins divulged their southern Hainanese origins. They wore jet-black uniforms, not unlike those of an elite police squad (or the Khmer Rouge?). One gangly fellow, we’ll call him Jacob, assisted me in performing the 200-metre-reverse-round-a-corner-and-up-on-to-the-sidewalk-between-two-old-cars-challenge. He happened upon a newly-bought banana sitting on the passenger’s seat.
“I’ll take that!” he said, reaching into the car via the open window. I sat dumbfounded as he walked off with my pre-class snack.
The weeks passed and many bananas were shared. Spring Festival came and Jacob asked for a red envelope (lucky money). “Sorry, I don’t have cash.” I said.
“That’s alright. I have WeChat. Why don’t you just transfer money directly to my account?” he helpfully suggested.
No, I was already paying for a park but gave him five RMB as a tip. I didn’t want my car scratched.
We entered a yellow patch. Times became good and carparks were aplenty. You could choose where and how you parked. Jacob and pals still turned up hinting for bananas and money. They were given small amounts of both. It appears that the old maxim really does hold true – money opens doors.
If only I could get Jacob to open mine.
Thanks for your support and comments. This is Lifeinlifts.com’s 48th blog. Join us in celebration when we reach the 50th blog. We’ll have street beers and barbequed squid across the road!
The Americans lead the Chinese 2-1. Part two of this blog (click here for Part 1) examines three other constructs – driving behaviour, customer service, and worldliness/interest in others (or general curiosity).
Thanks for your comments about Part 1. They were much appreciated!
“It’s not as bad as it is in Vietnam” said someone recently. No, driving in China isn’t as bad as it is in Vietnam. It’s not as hair-raisingly dangerous for a start. But self-improvement is the process of making things better – not self-congratulatory rhetoric that, at the very least, you’re not the worst. Best not to have a superiority complex over the unruly!
Where do we begin? Driving in Guangdong Province is easy when you’re aware of all the nutters who populate the roads. Rules are offered as a suggestion, not as a hard and fast rule. What’s wrong with reversing up a highway offramp (because you took the wrong exit) or driving in the wrong direction to save a minute getting to the nearest U-turn? Use that mobile phone while exceeding the speed limit! Many countries have traffic signs that ask drivers to merge like a zip. This is a good, civilised idea for bottleneck situations.
Rapid lane changing, queue jumping, bossiness and bullying were all covered in an earlier blog (Driving China Mad – June 2018). Nothing has changed. People still watch their favourite sitcoms when driving. This affects their ability to drive straight and at a semi-decent speed. Toddlers help daddy drive the car. Terrified, shit-scared, learners populate the expressway fast lane.
As for the Americans? They do merge like a zip (great job Los Angeles!), queue in an orderly fashion (witnessed at George Washington Bridge, NYC; or Everton, Washington). They stop at red and go on green. They don’t park as well as the Chinese but when you’ve got enormous car parks then you’d don’t need to be so skilful.
Winner: The United States (easily). USA 3 China 1.
Customer service is difficult to define precisely due to the variables at play. Company culture, employee attitudes, customer temperament, and external factors (such as whether people are having a good day or how inclement is the weather) can affect human interaction. How about the kids? Are they naughty today? Did your boss just scream at you in her office? Are you in an irritable and argumentative mood? Maybe you just got married, won the lottery, or won free tickets to your favourite concert.
These are but some of the factors that will influence a customer service experience.
We compared the places that involved customer interaction e.g. supermarkets, gas stations, small shops (bakeries, convenience stores, pharmacies/drug stores, clothing stores), restaurants, and airlines. The United States has well-known companies such as Walmart, Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Target, GAP, CVS, BP, Exxon, Denny’s, Wendy’s, Subway, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, Circle K, United and American Airlines. Phew! Goodness, I’ve forgotten Starbucks.
China also has many of the above and some of its own including Vanguard supermarkets and the C-Store chain, plus the Japanese-owned Family Mart convenience stores. There are an awful lot of Chinese airlines nowadays too. Restaurants are often ma and pa setups but there are hundreds (thousands in KFC’s instance) of Yankee fast food places throughout China.
The Americans and Chinese are not as different as you think. Staff will greet you with a smile and a hello or ni hao if they’re in the mood. You might be asked if you need assistance. An employee might bring you a clothing item in three different colours and in as many sizes.
Or they might just look at their mobile phone.
Or chat with each other and ignore you.
“Sir, keep your hand behind the glass!!” – “Assertive” server in pizzeria/salad bar, Seattle 2019.
“It’s not my fault we don’t have your car. Don’t blame me. I don’t order the cars!” – Avis employee (loudly) to a teary customer, Philadelphia, 2017.
“I’m gonna get a soda pop.” – customer service officer to a long queue of customers, California, 2014. It took him 20 minutes to return.
Starbucks staff are much friendlier in China. I won’t delve into the deep and meaningful reasons here. Are they better paid than their American counterparts? Chinese are also a lot more patient at restaurants and fastfood outlets. There’s little in the way of the eye-rolling, or the impatient sighs that we witnessed (not just to us I might add) in the American food service industry, but many Chinese workers DO look downright bored.
Lifeinlifts.com discussed levels of friendliness in relation to a city’s size (i.e. the smaller the city, the nicer the folk) in Part One. Were it not for the helpfulness of a number of railway staff during Chinese National Day Holiday (are you reading this AMTRAK?) then the U.S. would win this category. The empathy shown towards a flustered Westerner and his preschool-aged daughter during National Day, battling the squash of a few million fellow travellers, has given China bonus points.
Surprise Winner: China (current score: USA 3 China 2)
Worldliness / Interest in Others
“What d’ya mean you haven’t heard of Albuquerque?”
“Where are you from?” A question I heard more times in one day in Canada than two weeks in the States.
The prevalence of worldliness or curiosity was, in America, determined, by the size of the city. It appeared that once one got out of the city, any city, people were more likely to take note of your accent, ask a little bit about your origins, and generally relax!
The lovely citizens of Las Vegas:
“Oh,New Zealand! Yes, we flew over it on our way to Nigeria!”
“Nooo Zeeland? No, never heard of it. Is it in Europe?”
“What is that?”
At least they bothered to ask.
No one did in Boston, Philly, Seattle, L.A., San Diego, Portland, Honululu, or New York.
That’s okay, they’re busy.
Note the lack of research into middle-American cities? That’s because I haven’t been there yet! Texans might be the friendliest people in the world. You never know. The Windy City (Chicago) might be a haven of fantastically interesting and interested people.
Guangzhou has a larger population than the above U.S. cities (except New York) and the people (not only the local Police) take great interest in quizzing foreigners about their country of origin. They have an impressive knowledge of many countries around the world. It is as if they’ve all been studying the CIA World Factbook.
Chinese stranger: “Where are you from?”
Me: New Zealand
Chinese stranger: “Oh, New Zealand. A primarily agricultural country based in the South Pacific. It has large numbers of beef cattle and it has a strong dairy industry too…”
He went on to discuss forestry and tourism before I cut him short. I’d just put my baby daughter to sleep. His excited musings were beginning to disturb her.
Many Chinese men have enormous geographical knowledge. What can I say? They’re curious. Men and women love to travel and experience new things.
The majority of Americans that I met while (travelling) inside the U.S. didn’t seem that interested in the outside world. They had everything they needed and didn’t feel the need to look further afield than their own city, state or country. Not saying that’s bad or good. Just sayin’.
And the score is tied! We might need a tie-breaker. Perhaps we could discuss the issue of personal safety?
And that ends this month’s blog. Thank you very much for reading! Please leave a comment in the comments section below.
So who’s better? Chinese or Americans? Who is smarter? Stronger? Sexier? More productive and agile? Which country is better, smarter, prettier, stronger etc.?
What do you think? Are you able to put away your prejudices, biased thinking and generalisations and make a considered response to the questions above?
The provocative blog title is designed to A) provide clickbait for this blog and B) to get you thinking about the (rather obvious) differences and surprising similarities between the countries of the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. The blog’s timing is fortuitous considering that both countries are locked in the middle of a trade war. Perhaps the leaders will take note!
This debate is broken into two parts due to the number of categories. These include friendliness, manners, patriotism, drivingbehaviour, customer service, and geographical knowledge / interest in other cultures. Each country will “compete” for each section and the winner allocated a point. The country with the most points wins.
Part One covers friendliness, manners, and patriotism.
It is suggested that one best read this blog with an open mind. Yes, I’ve lived in China for over 19 years and visited the U.S. on many occasions but both countries are enormous. One cannot compare a Cantonese lawyer with a Beijing bicycle repairman. Nor can one assume that a Manhattan fashion designer shares a lot in common with a lumberjack from Bend, Oregon.
That said, I am in daily contact with people from all corners of China. There are noticeable differences in their dialects, diet, customs, and beliefs. Lifeinlifts.com is going to try and put aside all these potential discrepancies and throw caution to the wind. New Zealanders are rather neutral when debating the merits of Americans and the Chinese. We don’t tend to take sides. At least not with these two giants.
So… let’s compare apples with oranges and conduct the most unscientific research of the year!
Category One: Friendliness
This category includes smiles, greetings, and small talk. Both countries are pretty friendly once you get outside of the big smoke. Even some of the larger cities here in China will have people who come up to you and say:
“Hello, good morning, sorry, please, thank you”
All in the one sentence! Would you get this sort of approach in Jersey City? I think not. The majority of people here (southern China) seem to keep their heads down and frown earnestly.
Americans seem to be very friendly in some of the smaller places, and in bigger places like Portland (Oregon), and Boston. Other places (looking at you Seattle and Philadelphia) were not quite so warm. It is beyond the scope (or word limit) of this blog to go into any sort of depth about this category. Shall we flip a coin? No, I’ll go with personal experiences.
Category Two: Manners
This includes common courtesies like please and thank you. We factor in other mannerly elements such as queuing in lines, holding the door open for others, spitting and littering in public, laughing and mocking people behind their backs (but in full view of others), talking loudly in elevators, etc.
There are some very polite people here that would put my countrymen to shame but… the amount of crude behaviour witnessed here on a daily basis is extraordinary. It appears that some people haven’t been told that it is not okay to hurl litter out the car window or defecate in public places. Please note that the data is not influenced by the author’s own cultural bias. If someone is p*ssing on the street at lunchtime then they’re p*ssing on the street at lunchtime!
Other examples of loutish conduct include smoking in enclosed spaces and cursing loudly in front of grandmothers and babies. I hasten to add that most people don’t behave like that in the parts I live. It’s just that I see it every single day. Every. Single. Day.
This uncouth, boorish decorum doesn’t appear to be as common in the United States. Maybe I need to live in a dangerous, lower socio-economic area (Detroit? St. Louis? Baltimore?) for 19 years to provide balance to the findings. However, people still queued politely for Wendy’s in a lower socio-economic part of Philadephia that I visited.
There were pleases and thank yous in the States but too many saying “What?” for my liking. I’d prefer “Pardon?” That’s just me. Every culture is different sure, but I felt the United States might have the edge over China in this category.
Winner: The United States
Category Three: Patriotism
How much do you love your country? What do you like about it? What did the history books say about the founders of your country? How many national flags do you see as you go about your everyday life?
It’s okay to be patriotic, it really is. No, seriously.
I decided to perform a national flag count in two random places. The USA was represented by a largely rural area in Washington State – the drive from Port Angeles to the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon (120kms or 75 miles).
The Chinese sample was taken during a drive from my apartment building to the Guangzhou South Railway Station (23kms or 14 miles). The distances aren’t exactly similar but we won’t let that skew the findings. There was nobody living in that part of Washington State and those 23 kilometres in the Chinese sample represented one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Data results (flags counted):
USA – 32
China – 27
Winner: The United States (a bit lucky too as National Day is upon us in China. I noticed, post-blog, that there were two national flags on every street light – that’s over 100 flags per street! China should really win this but the flags are only here on a temporary basis).
So, at the end of Part One, The United States leads China 2 to 1. Can China come back in Part Two and claim the mantle of Best People, Best Country?
What do you think is the worst music in the world? The worst genre? The genre that parades itself as music but, in your opinion, isn’t actually music – but noise?
My father called hip-hop the “travesty of music“. Heavy metal doesn’t rock his boat either.
I’d answer that the worst music in the world is Cantonese Opera. There, said it – online even. I’ve been saying it to myself for 18 years now – pretty much the entire duration I’ve lived in Canton / Guangzhou. My parents-in-law love it. I’ve endured it most mornings and feel that it’s time to share this genre with the world.
Music can grow on the listener. Familiarity often breeds approval. Your pal’s taste in jazz may become less irritating once you’ve become accustomed to the jarring, loose rhythmic instrumentation of a late-sixties Miles Davis album (think Bitches Brew). Country music is another grower with its warm melodies and folkish, working-class lyrics.
So, what does Cantonese Opera sound like? There are high pitched feminine squeals, cymbal crashes, wooden tapping, alien instrumentation, climaxes and lulls, artillery fire and lullabies. It’s hard to categorize something that is so very foreign to Western ears. Complicated time structures and banjo-like string instruments, heavy make-up and elaborate costumes, traditional roles, and characters and representations of history. When you consider the included acrobatics, martial arts, and complex footwork performed then one realises Cantonese Opera isn’t as simplistically raucous as it first appears.
One cannot say that it is an idiotic genre or music or that it is appreciated by idiots. The Chinese are an intelligent group of people. They wouldn’t settle for rubbish, surely.
Actors need to learn a range of skills to become well-rounded in this genre. Cantonese Opera was also used as a propaganda vehicle by leaders in earlier times. It was also used to tell audiences stories of good moral and ethical behaviour before formal education became widespread in China.
It is well beyond the scope of this humble blog to explain in detail the inner workings of Cantonese Opera. This really would be the blind leading the blind. There is a lot to explain and the truly interested could consult Google or Wikipedia to learn more. The Wikipedia entry bizarrely mentioned a rift between two famous Cantonese Opera performers. It involved cake.
Lifeinlifts.com is able, however, share some photos from the local Cantonese Opera Museum. Yes, there is a museum dedicated to this traditional Chinese art form. I’ve been here twice and remained as puzzled as ever by Cantonese Opera.
A New Zealand-based friend asked me about the popularity of Cantonese Opera. Who actually likes it? What age group? The over 50s seem to enjoy it though some primary aged students have taken up the artform in recent years. I’ve asked my students many times:
“Who here likes Cantonese Opera?”
The answer is always (yes always) a resounding “NO!”
The museum is actually very well presented, using a mix of open spaces, lighting, technology, and tradition (check out the garden at the entrance – wow!). Cantonese Opera is a royal pain the backside when played at 6am through a distorted transistor radio. Thank my mother-in-law for that. It’s also pretty bad on a Sunday night after a heavy weekend of teaching. That said, even I enjoyed a visit here.
I’ll leave you with an interesting video on display at the museum. It features a man, quite an esteemed actor apparently, playing the role of a villain (or wild boar – take your pick). So enjoyable it was – I watched it three times.
School is out in China. The summer holidays have begun. This means no more homework, parent-teacher meetings, or tantrums. No more early morning starts, no more crowded lift (elevator) rides to the first floor. No more Mrs. Pigeonface.
We’ll be somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, maybe a cafe in Portland or the Boeing Museum in Seattle, and my eyes will tear up at the thought of all that we’re missing… until September 1 that is. Six weeks without these colourful walks to school. Sniff.
The daily walk to school is an exercise in people-watching. The armchair sociologist’s wet dream. Here are some of the things I’ll miss.
This fellow sells belts outside the school every second Friday. Dressed in camo pants and military haircut he hectors us about the foolishness of missing out on a deal. “Come buy your belts now or you’ll miss out!” He’s back again with the same product line a fortnight later. Even my nine year old daughter can see through his sophisticated marketing strategy.
The Bitchfaced Princess (BFP) takes her son to school at the same every day. She is 30-something and in very good shape. Pity about the permanent scowl she wears. The wind must have changed during a particularly bad moment in time. She sees me coming and looks the other way!
The Effeminate Man
This guy rocks. Not many males here would have the bravery to wear a rainbow coloured polo shirt with earring and necklace in China? His look is ever-changing but his designer (grey) hair remains timeless.
This old codger takes his rebellious grandson to school every day. He once called me a foreign devil! Don’t worry about me mate, fix your grandson’s ill-fitting uniform first.
GG Bond is a Chinese cartoon superhero. Piggish in nature, he has a loyal following of about 200 million kids. GG Bond is a nickname for a piggish-looking motorscooting parent who glares at me most mornings. Never a smile, never a hello – just an unfriendly glare with a pair of GG Bondish eyes!
Vat ‘n kak in die veld
I never thought this Afrikaans slang/saying would make its way to the blog. It translates into “take a sh*t in the fields”. This little boy didn’t quite get as far as the fields. He was spotted fertilising our gardens one morning on my way home from school.
There was a public toilet right behind him.
It smells as good as it looks.
Pedestrian Friendly Walkways
If there’s a road – we’ll dig it up. We’ll also block commuters from getting to work.
This caused quite an alarm
Until we realised it was just a drill. Pity there weren’t signs posted outside informing the small crowd of horrified passersby.
Farewell My Little Walk
As we take in the sights of the Vancouver waterfront and natural beauty of British Columbia, I’ll pause for a second and think of…
And realise that while those North American places are stunningly beautiful, they’ll never match the Liwan District of Guangzhou for re nao (liveliness) and luan (chaos).
There’s never a dull moment. Enjoy your summer holiday (unless you live in the southern hemisphere and are enduring a bleak and nasty winter).
And there she was, a nine year old in southern China, doing homework at midnight.
Ten of her classmates were also awake trying to complete the same task.
It’s the bane of many parents – homework. It gets written into a little, specially designed notebook. Sections are created for Chinese, Math, and English. It gets worse as they get older. Big kids have to deal with the sciences too. Let’s not forget history. And politics.
It’s now June
Which means that the end of year exams are lurking around the corner like the shadowy monsters that inhabit children’s dreams. This will be our third year of exams in China (as parents). Evenings are filled with mock exam papers, extra math tests, extra English dictation, extra Chinese essays, and extra headaches.
My task will be to keep our preschooler away from the young scholar.
A Typical Day
Kids finish school at 4 or 5pm depending on the weekday. They either go home or head to an education centre till their parents finish work. A typical homework load might contain:
Chinese – four items (correct and review the previous lesson, preview new characters, a fill-in-the-gaps worksheet, essay)
Math – three items (textbook work, calculation book, double-sided A4-sized worksheet)
English – three items (dictation, reading and writing comprehension)
If she doesn’t muck around (playing on her grandfather’s phone), gets on with things and does a proper job, and one allows time for dinner and shower (Chinese almost always shower at night) she might be finished by 9pm. If she decides to delay the commencement of the homework… well we’re looking at a much later bedtime.
There’s also the music and art homework which can be very time-consuming.
Three hours of homework is the average amount Chinese kids do each night.
This is twice the global average according to the Global Times.
A third of Chinese kids spent more than 30 minutes a night on math.
ONE MILLION GRAINS OF RICE!
This homework assignment made national headlines a few months back and caused both students and parents many headaches. Students in Foshan City were expected to count 100,000,000 grains of rice. Some parents even made calculations that it would take a year to count that much rice at a rate of three grains per second. The teacher defended her position and said she was trying to promote critical thinking.
of Chinese students felt under great pressure according to the study. Many struggled with Math and Chinese which led to enrolment at:
Very popular now, even after the criticism that was levelled at such institutions. It is not uncommon to see kids spend their entire weekends at these “places”. Ironically these places hand out extra homework which leads to more stress which leads to futher underperformance at school etcetera etcetera….
How do you feel about the Chinese homework situation KJ?
As a language teacher – one can see the absolute benefits of a bit of revision and prep for an upcoming lesson.
As a parent I can also see the absolute hell a three hour homework load can wreak on a family life. Everyone is affected by late night study sessions.
Why the heck would you keep your daughter in the Chinese education system?
Because it pushes her to levels she would never achieve in my home country. Her math is streets ahead of many Western kids her own age. She gets opportunities to perform in front of large crowds (owing to her Western features). She gets to become trilingual at a young age. She gets out of her comfort zone!
It forces her to form good study habits at a young age. She also gets a few international holidays (and expensive presents) a year which softens the edges…
The blog title was a bit misleading but it points to some essential summer reading. This little gem was written nearly 20 years ago. I am not in the business of subverting the authorities but if I could get this book into the hands of the policy makers here then we might see a reduction in the amount of homework done!
Or maybe it’s a case of the family that slaves together stays together.
I hate taking the lift here. There said it – no fairy dusting the truth. Sure, the elevator is a great place to meet neighbours and network. You might see a cute kid or two, maybe a puppy or a kindly educated grandmother. More often than not it’s a grumpy old bugger / buggeress that shuffles in and gives you the stink eye.
If looks could kill.
Lifeinlifts.com hasn’t discussed elevators for quite some time. Let’s break the drought and explore areas of “lift ridiculousness” in May 2019.
Air China now flies direct to Johannesburg said the advertisement. The accompanying picture showed Cape Town.
Advertising is a funny thing here in China. Things sell best when a celebrity is involved. That’s the same anywhere, isn’t it? Here, the celebrity needs to flash the thumbs up or show the Richard Nixon victory sign. Products and services need to be marketed in a luxuriant way, showing a life of opulence that awaits when you choose the right brand. The West is just as guilty of this sort of manipulation but you wonder if we’re not stuck in a kind of time warp in China.
Marketing experts used to view their target Chinese audiences as being rather unsophisticated. You wonder sometimes whether their thinking has changed…
This advertisement for Ganten water (shot by famous actress Jing Tian and American model Donny Lewis) is ubiquitous in lifts throughout the city. My nine year old daughter cannot get her head around the message and wonders why two oversized water bottles are in the backseat. There are some things a father just can’t answer.
These are the people whose time is more important than yours. They rush the lift before you exit. The humid weather of May has seen a 50% increase in incidents of elevator bumrushing (China Elevator Bumrush Quarterly Review, 2019).
It’s really a no-no. Fourteen other people don’t need to hear you and your husband discussing your grocery shopping list at 120 decibels. Nor do they need to know about the paint you plan to use in the kitchen.
Curry beef balls are best enjoyed outdoors, not in transit! Also, take note Mr. Wang – it is not okay to rip loudly / cut the cheese in an elevator, especially when you’re only three floors from your destination. Do you think that we can’t hear / smell it?
This video clip was filmed on Tuesday, May 21. To the right – me. On the left, a middle-aged woman with a loud smartphone stuffed into her pocket. This really was a compulsory concert. Confined space with nowhere to go! Talk about a captive audience. The video doesn’t capture just how loud the music really was.
Well, May is almost to a close. Yes – the weather and traffic have both been terrible in Guangzhou but the weather and traffic are nothing if not consistent.
You know life is going pretty well when all you’ve really got to complain about is the elevators!
Upcoming blog posts include: Trials and Tribulations of Finding a Kindergarten in China, Unlikely Bedfellows – Sex Markets and Primary Schools, and The Daily Walk of Death.
Thanks for reading. Your support is much appreciated.
Something strange has been going on in Canton. It’s a bit like saying that there’s sand at the beach. Guangzhou is, more often than not, a marathon of the weird and wonderful. A telethon of trials and tribulations.
Someone has been eating on an overpass nearby. This pattern became apparent last September when several empty crisp packets were spotted on a flight of steps at one end of the bridge. Their place was taken by oily plastic containers the following day. He (let’s assume it was a male) had dined out on Sichuan hotpot.
This behaviour continued for a few weeks before the author had an idea – let’s document the detritus left by this scoundrel and put it in a blog!
One only needs a smartphone to capture these gormandic moments. Days of al fresco dining turned into months of munch and mess. Who was this bold banqueter? Was he a homeless man with nowhere to go or some hapless soul escaping a tiger wife (a local term for angry woman)? Perhaps the kids got too much so he sought solace in food. He could have been on his way home from the pub?
He left his waste (ladies, aren’t you glad this mystery person is a male?) in exactly the same spot every time. He was nothing if not consistent.
Pedestrians were forced to navigate a trail of KFC chicken legs, instant noodles, cup cakes, biscuits, spicy beef hotpot, curry beef balls, soup, apples, watermelon peel and oranges, french fries, sandwiches, sausages, and bowls of rice. There is more but my memory is not what it used to be.
He has offended for months without apprehension. It seems likely that his feasting has been occurring during the small hours. The cleaners come at about 8:30am and clean up the rubbish. The area is usually spotless during the day. An idea was to go there one night and catch him in action – surprise him mid-mouthful. Then there was another dilemma – ethics (yes, a killjoy word). Could one go up to him and say:
“Hello, Mr. Homeless Person can I interview you for the school newspaper?”
Or “Stop right there! I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest!”
So, the glutton remains a mystery, though I do have my suspicions. Like Jack the Ripper, albeit this one is a rather harmless rogue, he hasn’t been caught in the act.
Last week, a Bob Marley lookalike was seen acting suspiciously on the bridge. I took a photo of him from behind. He wasn’t caught in the actual act of overpass al fresco but a detective would put him on a list of possible suspects.
So, at this juncture, the nibbler remains a mystery. Who are you sneaky snacker and can you tidy up after yourself?
Was it really Easter? There was absolutely no evidence here on the streets in southern China. Perhaps it is an unhelpful distraction. One that the hard-working population didn’t need to be bothered by.
Easter Sunday started out like any other day. A dash across the city in a scene reminiscent of 1980s computer games. Avoid slow drivers and careless pedestrians. Dodge oncoming vehicles and wobbly bicycles.
Someone forgot the key to the classroom. There was a congregation of apologetic parents milling about the entrance. It was damp outside and it was suggested that I begin the lesson in the covered area next to the bikes.
“Have a seat” I said. They couldn’t – everything was wet. Thankfully the key was found and the lesson proceeded inside.
It was damp at the next venue. This made the students restless. A large black bug rested on my neck and began sucking blood. What was it? No-one could identify. Larger than a mosquito and smaller than a fly.
The roads were wet and someone arranged a heavy downpour at the exact moment I needed to exit the car. You can go through several pairs of shoes on a weekend here.
Time for the bottom-ranked class. It’s week eight and they’ve been bad in all aspects of their study and conduct. There were six kids in attendance but only four books.
“Sorry, I forgot my book.”
And “I’ve lost it. Ha ha.” That cute laugh was the pits.
Had they prepared their English speeches? I asked. The task was assigned on March the 23rd. Twenty-eight days would be enough to complete such a task. Nope, the pressure of computer games and reality TV binge-watching was too much. Only one girl was ready.
Okay, how about your homework on page 100? Oh, you haven’t done that either? Right, it’s punishment time – take out your activity books and begin completing the exercises on page 40.
They hadn’t remembered to bring their activity books. Or their pens.
It was at this point that I exited the classroom and stood outside. It was still raining. The 25-year-old me would have quit – there and then. Stormed off in a huff. Sulked even. The 40-something me thought about some of the mentally unbalanced people that wander the neighbourhood here. Nutter plus knife – you could imagine the headlines:
Foreign Teacher Abandons Students Moments Before Brutal Slaying and Irresponsible Kiwi Expat Walks Out on Kids – Throws China-NZ Relations Into Turmoil!
I stayed and returned to the lesson. It took a monumental amount of patience not to throw something at them.
Lesson Four (these little darlings were exposed in a previous blog) also had a speech competition. Celia (20 minutes late) refused to budge. Come on, share just a couple of sentences. She hid behind her knees.
Brother Jeremy invented an entirely new lexicon:
“Duplo Mountain in air conditioner” and “Pressure from the Carrot family brought problems with young.” Deep, though he couldn’t clarify what “pervert Peru” was supposed to mean.
I found myself asking – if this is Easter, why does it feel like I’ve entered Hell?
Then a quick trip home to hide easter eggs for my daughters and a cup of coffee. Last year, they fought bitterly over who got more eggs. On Sunday they cooperated and worked together. The egg hunt proved so popular that they made their mother hide the eggs a second time.
The final lesson was a kindergarten level class. Thank heavens the kids were good tonight. Each kid received a little egg. The eggs rolled off the table and under the chairs. One girl lost hers and enlisted a number of the parents to search for the missing item. It became a real life egg hunt.
There were tears when her helpers came up empty-handed.
Dreams of neck massages, hearty dinners, and an ice-cold beverage.
Home to Peppa Pig reruns and poorly edited English newspapers.
Homework completed! No, not mine.
Did you have a wonderful Easter holiday? Did the Easter bunny visit your home? What kind of stories do rabbits like best? Ones with hoppy endings!
Thanks for reading. Your support is much appreciated.
Ah, the movies in China. Flashing lights, suspense, excitement, funny smells, and sound effects – and that’s before the film has even started!
There’s a cinema a mere stone’s throw from Block Six (our building). It’s often empty and one feels a sense of “social responsibility” to attend such a venue if only to delay its inevitable demise. Many expats now avoid this form of entertainment due to the peculiarities of movie-going in China.
Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings) was no match for the afternoon sun when the cinema door opened. Liam Neeson got drowned out by audience chatter like some hapless politician. We’ve observed Minions (Despicable Me) being sworn at and, most surprisingly, Darth Vader being interrupted by a man on his mobile phone. Who’d have thought?
Darth Vader: “I’m altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it… “
Uncouth man: “Lao Xiong, I’m in the cinema watching Star Wars! Yes, it’s really good though I can’t understand what they’re saying! Tonight? Yes, I’ll meet you for dinner at 7pm”
Once, the Chinese subtitles were out of sync with the (Western) actor’s voices, confusing many and leading to an audience walkout. We had the remaining 90 minutes to ourselves that day. Bliss.
A Dog’s Way Home, a fluffy family film about a dog finding its way home, was attended by four people (my daughter and I, plus an elderly Cantonese couple who talked loudly throughout). Recent cinematic experiences had seemed okay so we decided to see…
There was a choice of Dumbo or the second Lego Movie. We chose the former. Surely there couldn’t be anyone attending the theatre on a Friday morning (it was the Qingming Festival too). Well, there was a good-sized crowd including a former student who bellowed my name and drew everyone’s attention to the presence of a foreigner.
The movie started and we (daughter and I) had the entire fourth row to ourselves. Pure heaven. Late arrivers were being ushered to their seats in different rows.
The Dumbo movie was 15 minutes in when a middle-aged staff member walked towards us, torch in hand. Perhaps she’d spotted us eating snacks from home. No, she was a solo movie-goer and that wasn’t a torch. It was an iPhone. Perhaps she was seated in our row. Maybe she was sitting right next to me despite the six other EMPTY seats available. She crashlanded in her seat, employed my drink holder for her Pepsi and her drink holder for the popcorn. There was also a faint whiff of body odour. No, I’m not being nasty.
She laughed, slurped, squirmed, wriggled, jolted upright, and at one point turned abruptly to stare at us. It was just like being in economy class.
The movie was engaging. Monkeys, snakes, clowns, a one-armed man (Colin Farrell), a very short man (Danny DeVito), an Oscar winner (Michael Keaton) and plenty of exquisite set designs. Woman-with-glasses was forgotten for the next 40 minutes until she started checking her phone. The iPhone’s glow was more obvious than Dumbo’s ears.
Suddenly, a restless toddler stood up from behind and whacked the woman’s head! Triumph!