“Never heard of her!“
And that just about sums up the year in China. A year that most of us would like to see eff off and never return. It started well enough but by February the wheels had begun to wobble.
Why on earth would you go back to China?
We spent February in New Zealand. News of some mysterious virus was coming out of Wuhan, China. Kiwis were really good, asking if my inlaws were okay. A cousin gave us some masks to take back to China as did my father. I also heard plenty of the following:
“Don’t go back!“
“You’ll be mad to go back to that environment!“
“Stay here in New Zealand!“
On the return flight, a fellow passenger asked me why I would dare take my family back to China when things were so uncertain. Wasn’t there this COVID-19 epidemic (it wasn’t quite a pandemic then). He obviously hadn’t met my determined wife! The passenger was from Indonesia and had yet to face the COVID calamity in his own country.
Auckland Airport seemed to be relaxed about the threat of a global pandemic, letting all and sundry into the country without performing checks of any kind. Before long, many Chinese cities were beginning to allow citizens freedom of movement while much of the West was now under lockdown.
Face masks became the new normal.
This was a strange thing. Kids were supposed to log on at a designated time every morning. Our daughter slept through at least one art lesson while her mother stepped in to answer questions and pretend to be Miss K. Schools reopened in May, much to the delight of parents nationwide. Several videos were posted of elated parents (dancing) following their sunken-hearted offspring to school.
America and Trump
The United States became rather unpopular this year. It was pointed out via media (and, rather eagerly by some locals here) that China’s main rival was a basket case. The U.S. president had apparently lost his mind and was “trouble making”. A group of nine year olds told me just how bad America had become one Saturday evening in August:
“Thousands are dying“
“America wants to bully us and take over our territory!“
“The president is a war-monger. All this is true. I read about it in the newspaper.“
Then it appeared that Australia was next in the firing line. I started seeing a lot more NZ steak in the local supermarket. Aussie wine was supposed to become more expensive. I saw a bottle of their Shiraz at half price the next day (January 2021 update – no Aussie steak in the local supermarket now!).
The Five Star Experience
Unable to travel internationally, we visited a number of good quality hotels near Guangzhou during July and August. The Sheraton was having a special in Nansha. The Intercontinental was going cheap in Shenzhen. The Garden Hotel, a large building shaped like a cruise-ship, was taking 40% off etc. We learned a lot about buffets, pools, and hotel gyms. A certain type of Chinese consumer frequented these hotels. Marketers could almost write a strategy based on the middle class Mr and Mrs Wang, such was the level of uniformity to a certain behaviour. They all wore dressing gowns to breakfast for a start!
It didn’t take long before the mountains of homework started piling up on Miss K’s desk. It got particularly bad in June and again in December. Exams loom then and one has to be able to recite lengthy passages from the Chinese textbook. I’m impressed at the mathematical ability of students here. A number of older students speak really good English too. And yes, it’s important to embrace your heritage and take some pride in your country but… some of the stuff kids were being asked to do was a bit much. A number of the fathers were up till 1am colouring in propaganda posters so that their beloved children could get seven hours of sleep.
There has been a real shift inwards with popular culture. Kids used to enjoy a mix of local and western music, movies, and literature. Big stars like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Beyonce have been replaced by local versions. One handsome young man is called Cai Xukun. I’d never heard a note from him, let alone seen his face, but the constant questioning about him from students piqued my interest and I searched him out on Apple Music (they use their own versions in China now). There he was, under the name Kun.
I set about tearing into this imposter, much like I had with Milli Vanilli and Ricky Martin. Turns out he’s not that bad. The music is certainly 2020 and he can hold a tune. Original? No. But then much of the stuff on Billboard is not original.
The cinemas mostly show domestically-produced films now. I haven’t been to see them so can’t comment on the quality. Netflix has released some great films and TV programs this year but the Hollywood remakes that we’ve seen over the last few years are getting tired. Ironically, the worst of Western film seems to be the most popular here.
A very different focus
China has changed dramatically from being a place hellbent on importing Western luxury products, copying Western folkways, eating Western food, sending kids to Western universities, and looking to the West for inspiration. They’ve had plenty of reasons in 2020 to doubt the West’s ability to remain at the forefront of everything. Pretty much all the foreign beer is locally brewed and a good number of people now use Huawei mobile phones. KFC sells rice dishes.
Hang, even Christmas was delayed
“Christmas has been put back to January the 8th” said one second grader in mid-December. Judging by the lack of Christmas spirit (no trees outside shopping centres) you’d be forgiven for believing her.
There has been real sorrow across the world in 2020. It has been a year like no other. Here in little old Guangzhou, raising a family and keeping out of trouble, I’d say it has been okay.
Life in Lifts Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
Postscript in 2021
VPN issues have often prevented the author’s access to WordPress, hence the delay in publishing this post. We had more visitors to Lifeinlifts.com than any other year. Thanks so much for your support!