Holidays in China

 人山人海   People mountain, people sea – old Chinese saying that conveys the general meaning of overcrowding.

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A surprisingly orderly passenger procession at a railway station somewhere in China during the October break. (Photo courtesy of http://www.news.cn)

The National Day holidays followed the Mid-Autumn Day long weekend which itself was hot on the heels of a two month summer holiday. This bunching of holidays is a matter of culture and history. An inconvenient grouping as the following 13 weeks are free of any breaks whatsoever!

The People’s Republic turned 69 this year and the entire population was given a few days off. It was time enough for many to travel the country on planes, trains, and automobiles.  Airports, railway stations, and highways became jam-packed with people and property.

It happens during strategic times of the year – usually during holidays. It’s awful. People complain about holidaying with 1.4 billion other people. However, there is a typical saying long-suffering Chinese like to use when faced with difficulty:

那, 没办法méi bānfáthere is nothing to be done / can’t be helped / sh*t out of luck

It’s nice to get away sometimes. We decided to head to Hong Kong for a couple of nights. It was only a couple of hours away. If we left before October the 1st then we’d beat the crowds – it made sense right?  Um. Not really. It turned out that 50,000 other people had the same idea and were also trying to enter the Guangzhou East Railway Station on September 30. SWAT team police performed random checks on citizen’s ID cards as a precaution against possible terrorism.

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And there were the ever-present queues to face in order to enter the station building. I thought of the following:

创造文明广州 –  chùangzào wénmíng Gǔangzhōu – Create a civilised Guangzhou (a popular slogan used by the government in recent times)

The lines, easily 100 people in length, converged into a narrow, flimsily-erected entrance way. Like liquid passing through a funnel, a dance of sorts occurred as people were pushed forward, on tip-toes, towards the departure gate. You wouldn’t want to trip.

A young man knew I was travelling with my family. He’d seen me talking to them. My kids look like me (no rude comments please). This loving family bond did little to dissuade him from pushing me out of the way to get through the gap first. This created a little hole in the queue which was exploited by a crowd to my right. I was now ten heads behind my wife and kids.

There was an x-ray machine that picked up my fingernail clippers and a fruit knife tucked deep in the bowels of our suitcases. Due to these dangerously violent items, we had to register our names and relevant identity numbers. Safety first.

Then the real fun started.

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We could have been at Live Aid or some other enormous rock concert such was the size of the crowds inside the station. There was no David Bowie, Queen, or Phil Collins – only loudspeakers and surly security guards. They called our train. The crowd was jammed like sardines into a small pen. You wanted to move forward but there was nowhere to go.

In many countries, this type of environment, a pressure-cooker if you will, would have led to fistfights but the Chinese took it in their stride with tolerance. A moment-capturing photo would have been good for this blog but nigh on impossible to take in such a squash. Hands and pockets would never be able to meet.

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A civilised scene. Picture courtesy of Xinhua.net

There was a small parting of the sea (thanks Moses) and we surged forward. Then came the mad scramble to reach the platform. People threw manners and caution to the wind and leaped down stairs and escalators to try to win the coveted title of First Passenger on the Train. No idea who got that title (or what they won for being first).

On the train

Everyone knows that there are too many people in China. Standing-room-only tickets had also been sold to accommodate the sheer numbers going home. These seatless passengers stood in the doorway and unintentionally blocked those entering the train with seat tickets. Suitcases were lifted into overhead shelves. Attendants told us to take these cases down again. They were dangerous apparently. Where could we put them?  There was no answer to this silly question. The cases (not just ours) sat in the aisle and incurred the wrath of those who passed. Miss K copped a flying cell phone from the passenger behind. He leaned over her, resting his large bulk on the back of our chairs.

Is this yours?”  I asked in Chinese, holding his phone.

Yessee, yessee” He replied in English, snatching it back.

“You’re welcome.” I replied, my sarcasm lost on this young gentleman.

He stumbled off the train, but not before his bag walloped the heads of several unfortunate passengers sitting in aisle seats.

The train was 30 minutes late arriving in Shenzhen, though it must be said – the carriage was clean and very modern.

More queues, pushing, shoving, dashing, sweating, and occasional swearing continued till we reached Hong Kong. It was a nice holiday and the local Hong Kongers were by and large polite despite the huge influx of tourists. We thought the suburb of Sha Tin might have provided a break from the crowds but that too was swamped with Mainland tourists. Still, the hotel was nice and we even got an upgrade to a very large suite when our neighbours decided to hold a large, raucous wedding party at 9am the following day.

In consideration of your valuable time, Life in Lifts will spare you the gruelling details of our trip back across the border two days later. Rest assured it was not without its challenges!

Thanks for your support. It has been great to see readership from around the globe including some of the African countries. You’re welcome to leave a comment below if you so wish.

 

 

China’s Retro Funparks

Do you do kitsch?  How about just plain weird?

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Welcome to the early 1990s. Jiang Zemin is the president and China is still rather closed to the outside world (especially after certain events in 1989). Some people are still wearing Mao suits and you’re considered rich if you own a bicycle, a refrigerator, a TV, and possibly a microwave oven to put into your work-unit designated apartment.

Think about what you were doing in 1992. Was Kenny G’s music playing in the background?

Jump forward 26 years. Don’t maintain, paint, or upgrade any of the equipment. Hire a hack English translator and you’re set to enter Luhu Children’s Amusement Park!  It’s nothing if not a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours during a national holiday.

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Out of order (thankfully)

Mooncake Day (Mid-Autumn Festival) had just been and gone and a large number of denizens left the city for this long weekend. The negatives of public holidays included appalling traffic jams but it also meant that little gems like the Luhu Amusement Park were neglected. Great for those who want to avoid crowds and the (sometimes) boorish behaviour exhibited by certain sections of society.

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Cheer up Thomas!

There were lots of rides to choose from with varying levels of suitability. A toddler isn’t allowed to go on the bumper cars or the roller coaster. An eight year old no longer finds merry-go-rounds as alluring as she did when aged five.

So, as the sun emerged from the clouds, the temperature rose into the mid-thirties (celsius) and the air became humidly thick, we ticked off a range of unusual rides. One buys a card from a booth, charges it up and swipes it at each ride – a surprisingly modern feature at such a dilapidated park. The pirate ship was out of order (thank goodness as these things aren’t quite so much fun in your forties) but the roller coaster was operational.

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You want me to fit into that?

We’d been to L.A. Disneyland and Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. This ride looked non-threatening. Just as well as the seating wasn’t designed for tall westerners.

My travelling companion is eight years old, she is the child of my current marriage

(Paul Simon, Graceland, 1986 – paraphrased lyrics, 2018)

My contorted frame resembled a basketball player flying economy. Miss K sat comfortably. It was built for short people. The ride lurched into action and reluctantly made its ascent. The ensuing jolt was like being rammed from behind by a large vehicle.

With any good roller coaster, the fun lies in the tension of the unknown. The train (designed to look like a long, garishly-painted plastic dragon) hurtled downwards and round a sharp right bend before travelling 15 metres and navigating a sharp left.

This swift move rammed my knee into the safety bar. Ouch. The speed reduced and the second lap began. Cue jerky car-crash movements all over again. The 15 metre dash ended in another smashed knee and a cry of pain. Miss K thought I had been afraid. No darn it!  I was feeling old and buggered.

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Yeah – so be warned!

An adjoining waterpark complete with exciting waterslides and other kiddy toys sat empty. Did someone pee in the pool?

Only two of us played on the bumper cars. Plenty of people came to watch the foreign monkeys and a large queue had formed by the time our turn was up. Perhaps we should have charged a commission for bringing in the punters.

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Translates into: No running or chasing

The girls rode on some other odd little rides (they were happy enough so that was the main thing) before we discovered an indoor fun park hidden in the corner. It was an air-conditioned too and it kept the girls occupied forever till the afternoon showers brought a bunch of other kids inside. Then they played for another hour or so.

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View from inside indoor play park

Groan.

To break up the tedium, it had been fun to observe the crabby middle-aged attendant. She had a plum indoor job while her younger colleagues suffered in the scorching sun. She slept on her desk, watched a Hong Kong soap opera, scolded two kids for throwing plastic balls, opened the door, closed the door, went outside and disappeared for 20 minutes (thus allowing people to enter the play area for free), returned and went back to sleep again (she was awoken by a bucket of balls that joyously rained down upon her back).

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A neverending afternoon…

What on earth did parents do before the invention of smartphones? How did they cope with the tediousness of it all?  I guess they… spoke to other parents, did the knitting or the crossword?  Someone threw a heavy object at someone else and it all ended acrimoniously. We took our cue to leave.

The girls had a wonderful afternoon of kid fun and it hadn’t cost much. The roller coaster alone at Tivoli Gardens had almost bankrupted us.  My wife remarked:

“They couldn’t have given a toss about staying in a 5-star hotel, this is all they wanted to do”

Guangzhou (and many parts of China) still has these cultural oddities in operation. Kids love the old parks and they remain popular, even though there is a very impressive amusement park located in the south of the city. It is doubtful that the park would have been so quiet during a regular weekend.

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Thanks for reading!  Please like or leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

Typhoon Mangkhut

Well, we’ve just endured a super typhoon!

Mangkhut (or Mangosteen in English) has come and gone, leaving behind a trail of debris and broken trees. We had been expecting it for a few days and there was a sense of mild panic as people cleaned supermarkets out of water and instant noodles. It was almost a case of the boy who cried typhoon. Everyone got ready for Typhoon Seahorse (2016) which was little more than a puff of wind. The same happened in 2017 with another oddly-named gust. This time was a little different.

Calm before the storm

There was a slight feeling of tension as the streets became noticeably quiet in the hours leading up to Mangkhut. This unease was not helped by reports of damage in Guam and the Philippines. It was hot, a stuffy humidity that was exhausting and sweat-inducing. Saturday seemed to be okay, even though many events and lessons were cancelled across the city.

Sunday morning

There was a light breeze as I headed to my 9am lesson. Thirty minutes later and 12kms across town the wind had picked up. Leaves flew, trees swayed, and lobby doors were near impossible to open. By 10am I’d learned that some of my Sunday lessons had been postponed. The roads had fewer cars and council workers had felled the creaky trees in anticipation of a Mangkhut onslaught.

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12pm (home)

It was time to watch a downloaded game of international rugby. The All Blacks, the world’s greatest rugby team, had hosted the South African Springboks in Wellington – New Zealand’s windiest city. Oh, the irony. It had been calm in Wellington on Saturday night and we were getting a year’s supply of wind within twelve hours.

I paused at the twenty minutes mark – the All Blacks were teaching the Springboks (or Boks for short) a lesson on free running rugby. They always did this these days.

It was time to observe the wind and rain howling around outside our 35th floor apartment. Windows in our compound’s newer, vacant apartment blocks raucously opened and slammed shut as the wind dashed from left to right and left again.

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You can’t actually hear the wind but man was it blowing!

News reports kept us updated as to the typhoon’s expected arrival in the city. The typhoon could have been Queen Elizabeth II for all the media attention it was getting. My daughters were enjoying running about the apartment as the cleaner (who braved atrocious weather to get here) worked quickly to finish her tasks and return home.

More rugby – the All Blacks were now trailing the Boks as the game began to mirror the typhoon outside.

3pm

Father-in-law (Martin) was in the kitchen preparing dinner early. Mangkhut was due at our place in two hours. While the typhoon would feast on trees, cars, street lights, and building materials, we’d have a dinner to eat and he’d be safely home.

Reports from Hong Kong and Shenzhen spoke of widespread damage and flooding. My oft-paused rugby game had recommenced and was by now a real nail-biter. Players were getting battered in brutal tackles, there was blood, guts, and passion as the Boks held out the All Blacks attack.

 

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The good guys always win

 

The rugby was paused yet again to allow for the preparation of water and recharging of mobile phones in case of power and water cuts.

4pm

It has taken four hours to get to this point. There are only two minutes remaining in the rugby (games are 80 minutes in length – this one had been paused five times). A  South African player had been yellow carded for naughty behaviour. That meant one less player on the field for the Boks and a massive advantage for New Zealand. We’d got this game won.

Smash – something had fallen over on the balcony. Think of a choir of energetic whistlers and this might sound like the wind outside. Someone’s t-shirt had just flown past our balcony. Socks and undies littered the garden below.

Darn it – despite 100 opportunities the All Blacks have managed to lose the game. That’s the first time this year.

5pm (Sounds of sirens)

Martin had taken longer than usual to finish cooking. Now he wanted to be dropped home. He had to be kidding right? This was the typhoon’s zenith. Windspeeds were now over 100kms per hour. No way. Things were flying through the air. Big things. There was a tree floating in the swimming pool downstairs. We’d be toast if we ventured out in this weather. I refused. And the noise…

 

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A great time for board games

 

8pm 

The wind had abated somewhat. There were cars on the highway but it still rained heavily. Martin suggested that this be a good time to head home. The road was littered with rubbish from all walks of life. A showroom carpet was bunched up in the middle of the road. A bus sat abandoned at a lonely stop. Branches, plastic, wood, and bicycle parts lay strewn along the route. Trees died thoughtful deaths – blocking two car lanes rather than three, falling in ways that still allowed motorists to pass.

We probably shouldn’t have been out there. The rain bucketed down with force and the wind was violent in exposed places. The road was flooded near his house. My large car wobbled like jelly when it waited at the lights. A truck drove at speed into a large puddle thus saturating a group of people huddled by the roadside. Poor sods.

Aftermath

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Covered parking

 

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Branching out: wood that be a tree?

 

 

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Uprooted and in the dark

 

And that was as bad as it got for us here in Guangzhou. Other places weren’t quite so lucky. Hong Kong took a hammering as did other southern cities. Thousands were evacuated from their homes. The Philippines copped most of it. Much of our city looked worse for wear on Monday morning but by Tuesday (as I wrote this) things were a little cleaner.

 

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The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…

 

Some of you will have experienced much worse (tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tornadoes, snowstorms etc.) but it is with relief that we didn’t have to endure such calamities. It would have made for exciting blog reading had we been in perilous danger but we’ll take safety over Hollywood-style drama any day.

Many thanks for reading. Please like and/or comment below.

 

 

Occupational Safety – Wave Goodbye to those Fingers!

Earmuffs anyone?  How about goggles?  Would you like a pair of gloves and workboots?

Why let these little annoyances get in the way of a good time?  Just walk past any urban construction site or home improvement-related store and you’ll see it. The free (reckless disregard?) approach to workplace safety. Johnny Qu and Rex Li will be dismantling, welding, nailing and sawing anything from metal to wood to plastic etcetera. Corrosive chemicals might be added to the mix too.

“She’ll be right” demonstrates a typical Kiwi approach to life. It’s not always the most sensible. “One nail will do mate” (when two or three would guarantee quality). This, however, is nothing compared to the stuff we see going on in southern China. Let’s take a look at what must get affected by such laissez-faire behaviour.

The Ears

I’ve never seen a pair of earmuffs on a construction worker. Large construction sites boast about worker safety but it’s the truth. Despite the crash of construction and bash of demolition, most workers wander about the site with ears fully exposed. Jackhammers are some of the loudest tools around, only outdone by a jet engine, gunshot, rocket, or firecracker!  Yet jackhammer operators and bystanders allow their ears to soak up all the available noise. I’ve included a decibel chart to put the jackhammer’s dulcet tones into  a wider perspective:

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Wait, do you mean that exposure to 120 decibels for 10 hours a day might actually cause long-term hearing impairment?  Yikes.

Note that “normal” conversation sits at 60 db on this chart. The Cantonese I know rarely ever have “normal” conversations. The chart could be adjusted to reflect local conditions – 110 dbs might be more accurate. Babies are loud – Cantonese are often louder.

The Eyes

Sparks will fly baby when I set my eyes on you…..   It sounds like a hard rock song from the 1980s. It might very well be the soundtrack to a movie about welders. No safety goggles in sight (excuse the pun) as their eyes sit mere inches from blindness. One wants to go up and educate them about the importance of workplace safety but this would be akin to a conversation between the English and Americans on the rules of cricket.

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Xiaomin was delighted with his new safety equipment

Fingers

In many countries, butchers and fishery workers use mesh gloves to protect against knife slippages. No such luck here. It brings new meaning to the term fish fingers.

Feet

Do you really think a pair of sneakers (or leather slip ons) is going to protect your toes from the weight of a concrete slab?  Workers (or better yet, construction managers) – buy yourselves some steel-capped boots!  Now that’s foot for thought, isn’t it?

Head

Possibly the safest part of the human body. Or is it? Most construction workers get a pretty yellow or red helmet to wear on site. The robustness of these helmets is unknown to the casual observer such as me. The worrying thing is that I’ve seen similar looking helmets in toy shops.

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Cue soundtrack music….

Official Stats?

This gets tricky with the whole truth, lies, and damn statistics deal. A workplace law was passed in 2002 focusing on certain, risky industries but there were (like any new law) gaping holes that were highlighted by several large-scale workplace catastrophes. A 2014 amendment has brought the death rate down (if the stats are actually accurate) and foreign-owned companies are under pressure to comply. It’s bad publicity if you lose half your staff in one morning.

Life in Lifts.com reports only what it sees.  Large-scale building sites were not visited during the writing of this blog. That said, several small-scale operations were observed in action.  Jackhammer teams sans earmuffs, relaxed carpenters with circular saws, sparkly sidewalk welders, the wet market pork hackers, maskless maintenance men carrying buckets of strong-smelling (liquid) chemicals…..

Thank you again for your time – they’re not making any more of it so your support is much appreciated. Leave a comment or a like below!

 

 

 

​Selling Canton by the Jin

Hello dear reader!  Have you had a good summer holiday?  Maybe it’s winter where you are. New Zealand readers have been rocked by rain and worn down by wind gusts.

The Life in Lifts team has been away from Southern China for much of the past two months visiting cool places like Scandinavia and New Zealand. This blog back was intended to be about the behaviours of Chinese tourists abroad – thing is, we saw so few of them that there was little to write about. The ones we did see behaved far better than tourists from other countries.

A Chat with the Oldies

This “oldies” term is a little unfair. They may be senior citizens but they’re active, vivacious, and intelligent. It was a real pleasure to give a talk to the Tasman Bay (ex-Probus) Club in Nelson, New Zealand. About 70 to 80 people squashed into a small hall on a horribly wet day. It was their monthly meeting and I was the main speaker. China is an incredibly broad subject so I stuck to the area I live – Guangzhou.

We chatted about the bizarre results of Chinglish (on signposts and t-shirts); school life and the lives of senior citizens; food; street life; how Chinese regard Westerners; and a bit about the Mandarin language. A number of good questions were asked and I did try to answer as best I could.

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My eight-year-old, Miss K, demonstrated the differences between Mandarin and Cantonese (which Lonely Planet once suggested were as great as those between Spanish and French) and we gave a brief lesson on the very basics of Mandarin. They were a great audience and laughed at most jokes. I think it hit home to them just how different life is here. They live in a city of about 30,000 people. Guangzhou has a population of at least 14 million (though I think this figure maybe somewhat understated). Worlds apart in size.

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Pointing out the sheer size of Guangzhou

I wish more of my regular students here in China would behave like the Tasman Club members!

We’ll be back with another blog some time next week. Cheerio.

 

 

Chalkface: The Ungrateful Departed

A different class of students

I have a bunch of good classes filled with great students and super attitudes. Their homework is nearly always completed and many make a real effort to attend class despite having conflicting arrangements. One girl, Lucy, even turned down a weekend holiday in a 5-star resort to attend my English class. I couldn’t believe it. Others race from family dinners or dance recitals, make up still on their faces. Their level of commitment can never be questioned.

Then there’s the Sunday afternoon class. I’ve kept a wee diary of what happens whenever you put a bunch of lazy kids together. I hope you enjoy reading this more than I did teaching them!

Sunday 4:45

Harriet – The best of this motley crew, she is actually a good student who puts in the work. Homework is usually done well and she takes things very seriously. I feel a bit sorry for her being stuck with the other three kids.

Jeremy – A skinny 10-year-old boy that tries desperately to be funny but doesn’t always succeed. Jeremy has quite a few talents (math, piano, sport) but doesn’t always use his brain as evidenced by his struggles in learning Bingo rules.

Celia – Skinny younger sister of Jeremy. Seems to be smarter than her brother but also hellbent on jeopardising her own future. Her great-aunt warned me – “Don’t trust this one, she’s trouble!”  I didn’t quite follow her meaning, until well into this semester.

Jordie – A supposed math genius that hasn’t learned to tell the time yet. He’s always late. A chubby nine-year-old with a mild but rather unsophisticated personality.

The Plot

Week 1 – The class forms three weeks after all other lessons are already in flow. It was surprising there was a timeslot available for them to use. The contact parent hadn’t checked her messages (sent in February) to arrange a class. English levels are rusty (e.g. “My beast friend is Tommy” and “My sausages (science) teacher is Mr. Wang.”  Celia gets my name wrong (I only taught her 10 times last term).

Week 2 – Can someone let me into your apartment?  No-one bothers to let the teacher into the class. A ten-minute fiasco ensues as I thrice ring Block Five’s downstairs doorbell. I’m left waiting while the kids wait upstairs. Nobody has thought to go downstairs and let me in, not even Daddy Pig (a nickname I’ve given Jeremy and Celia’s father).

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A new member (Harriet) joins the class. Things should improve as she is a top student. Games are played and Harriet wins every one, Jeremy is furious and violently beats the armrest of an expensive armchair.

Week 3 – “Our parents have just invested in a new Chinese restaurant at the local mall” the Yang kids tell me. Goody I think, perhaps I’ll get a free meal (yeah right, they’ve never even offered so much as a glass of water).

Week 4 – Harriet’s mother attends the lesson and gets to witness all manner of bad behaviour from the Yang siblings. Celia flips the middle finger at her brother while my back is turned. Accusations fly and the two of them burst into tears. This really is a bad cartoon. Harriet’s politely mother describes the siblings and Yang family in general as chaotic.

Week 5 – We’ve switched venues! We’re at Harriet’s apartment in Block Seven. There is a test today. Celia has gone missing in action. Jordie has joined the class as an additional member and scores 6/10. Not too bad for someone who hadn’t prepared. Harriet’s little brother, Kevin (aged five) offers everyone snacks and refreshments, several times over.

Week 6 – Still no Celia. I don’t think she wants to come to class! Jeremy has a temper tantrum in class. Jordie hasn’t done his homework – about three minutes worth of fill-in-the-blank exercises and a quick read of his textbook. Apparently, this is too onerous.  Little Kevin seems to enjoy / follow the lesson more than Jordie.

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Celia went missing in action…..

 

Week 7 – No Jordie today. No reason was given. I think we can guess. Celia arrives 20 minutes late. Harriet’s little brother makes his presence known by climbing all over Jeremy during the lesson.

Week 8 – Jordie is given a yellow card warning for repeated laziness. He had recently been to our apartment for a (free) make-up lesson on Tuesday. He’d enjoyed our hospitality and got to play with Rachel Rabbit. Clear instructions were given as to which pages he should do. Total homework time – 10 minutes. Result – no homework done. The thought of this backbreaking homework load was obviously more than he could bear.

A flushed and book-less Celia is 30 minutes late. She gets my name wrong too (“Hello Cherry”). Celia also has a blub (cry) when it dawns on her realising that she’ll end up last place in a game we’re playing (revision Celia?).

Week 9 – It’s presentation day – the students are to display and introduce their freshly made advertisements (in poster form). They’ve had four weeks to prepare. Jeremy surprises me with a wonderful advertisement for cake. Jordie and Celia hide somewhere in the garden. Kevin is becoming a bloody nuisance and is threatened with court-marshal unless he behaves. Harriet’s presentation is compromised by her little brother’s clown antics. Mother is called to come home from work and take him away.

 

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Jordie ran away to join the circus.

 

Week 10 – Celia doesn’t want to have the lesson in Harriet’s apartment so we shift back to her place.  Jeremy scores exceptionally well in the much harder second test. He takes pride in outscoring Harriet. We’ve finally turned the corner with him. This is what teachers live for – the blossoming of a student’s true ability. I return home elated.

Week 11 – Celia hiding in her bedroom. Apparently, they’ve been away all weekend at a n exclusive resort and mummy forgot to inform her of tonight’s English lesson. Where is Jordie? Jeremy starts the lesson well enough but becomes a gibbering mess by the end of it all. What happened?

Week 12 – The kids have been given a lecture by Coach KJ tonight. Harriet escapes censure as she has done little wrong and most things very well. Jeremy nods in agreement and promises to perform better. Jordie does his homework. Celia is a no-show, hiding in her bedroom the entire lesson. Am I some sort of monster? I didn’t raise my voice or hiss. No, I’m assured – Celia is a dreadful student who causes her school teachers quite a few headaches.

Week 13 – A rather uneventful lesson – thank goodness, though Celia arrives an hour late. She had been playing downstairs. Am wondering how their parent’s restaurant investment is going.

Week 14 –  I had to slap myself in the face. Was this some sort of a dream?  All four kids were in attendance. All had done their homework including “Clean-book Celia”. Praise was lavished upon them (though in reality, they’d done the bare minimum and only half what some classes willingly do). Stickers for everyone!

Week 15 – There’s a test today. Jeremy and Harriet perform well. Jordie barely scraps though and Celia scores a whopping 35%. She is disappointed, hoping to score 100% from absolutely no revision. Still no sign of those restaurant vouchers.

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Gone on – have a blub

Week 16 – “boo hoo hoo”. The sound of Celia crying in her bedroom. Stay there little girl, for everyone’s sake! Jeremy has a remarkably clean looking book which suggests he hasn’t done a spot of homework this week. Harriet is perfect as always. She must be wondering why she is stuck with these buffoon students. Jordie was absent having gone somewhere to take photographs.

Week 17 – The semester’s final lesson. The circus is coming to an end!  I’ve prepared three of their favourite games plus some very cool gifts. It’s 4:40pm and I’ve rung the doorbell three times. Where are they?

“#@#$%$@#$%” – they’ve forgotten today’s lesson!

I wander down to the river, feeling like a jilted lover, and curse the horror that is this class!

Postscript

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This is a diary of one very atypical class, taken from notes made throughout the term. I cannot emphasize enough just how superb most of my other classes have been this semester.  You’re always going to get that one group that stands out for their complete lack of self-awareness or diligence. The 4:45pm class takes out the 2018 Classroom Circus Award. But wait – there’s more! I’ve just been told – they intend to continue with me next term!  Nuts.

Post-Postscript

I’ve been told that quite a few people have ended up with food poisoning from that restaurant!  One diner even found a metal bolt in her fried rice.

 

 

 

 

 

Lifts: July Digest (China edition) – Curse of Horace

Life from Southern China’s most beautiful elevators

It has been a while since we wrote about lifts.

There has been little to report from Block Six during June. People had behaved themselves during the month of June. Dogs, mattresses, kind old ladies, angry old ladies,  household refuse, and schoolkids have gone about their collective business in an orderly fashion. Lift C’s advertisement for square dancing finals – a shared first prize of two million RMB was the only peculiarity, till last week.

Here goes:

Pigeon Face (and Son)

They’re at it again. Is it possible to be any more annoying?  Horace (a seven-year-old boy) and Mrs. Pigeonface  (his mother) are inventing new ways to bother others.

Just shut the bleedin’ thing

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Lift B (the middle elevator) has a door closing issue – a disease known as Shutting Hindrance Impediment Termination (or S.H.I.T.). The close button needs to be pressed and held for a minimum of five seconds to successfully shut the doors. Horace pushed the button for a duration of three seconds, and repeated this action not once – but five times with predictable results.

Ten bad-tempered people were squeezed into the elevator and in beast mode. The doors opened, an old man entered and Horace pressed the “shut door” button for three seconds – VOILA!  The doors opened again. The lift remained motionless and the attraction of a Korean soap opera (downloaded to a mobile phone) rendered Madame Pigeonface inoperative. Passengers sighed loudly, a final act of protest before the remaining veneer of civility gave way to explosive language.

Horace, you need to press the button for five seconds. Your mother hasn’t taught you to count but trust us on this one. She’s living out vicarious moments in suburban Seoul – you’re present – in the here and now!  The penny dropped and we reached the first floor after a ten-year journey.

My wife found the whole experience amusing. Luckily for Pigeonface and Son, she wasn’t in a rush (Hell hath no fury like a Cantonese scorned).

Stopping

Horace my boy, what better place to stop and slowly tie your shoelace than in the doorway of a big apartment block during rush hour. Forget the fact that there are acres of space both inside and outside the door. Forget that the seven people behind you are also trying to exit the building. Forget that anyone else on earth exists…..

Follow the leader

Last week Miss K, my eight-year-old, and I saw Mrs. Pigeonface and Horace on the way to school.

Groan.

What are they going to do now?  Nothing surely, they’re on their way to school. What can they do? One could make up an exaggerated story for the purpose of a blog but this is China. One doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. We passed them on a pedestrian crossing and tried to get out of their orbit. Quickly.

Miss K and I walked and talked. We discussed the usual things – her classmates, exams, the weather, changes to the neighbourhood (a new gym had opened, the newsstand now sold princess stickers, no that arthritic dog did not look cute, why were those men still drinking out the front of their restaurant at 7:45am?) when we heard little footsteps right behind us. Was it an assailant?

It was Horace. He was walking so close behind us that his nose was touching our backs. Mrs. Pigeonface was 50 metres behind. We looked at him angrily but this didn’t seem to register. I said something rude in English (which he wouldn’t understand) and this privacy pestering continued for the next five minutes. It took forever to shake him but his fitness wasn’t up to ours and he tired on the home stretch.

Having dropped Miss K at school, I mustered my worst stink eye (an American term?) to aim at Horace (who was yet to reach the gates). No use, he’d fallen in love with a large snail traversing a gutter and was single-mindedly following its progress.

Grandma’s fans

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It was a “Hello Kitty” fan

Elevators are wonderful repositories for germs and bugs. It’s not unusual to be coughed or sneezed on (inside a lift) during a typical week. Spare a moment for Mr. Hill, a long-suffering Canadian, when an old lady liftgoer (mouth uncovered) coughed four times and then shared these germs with several flicks of her fan.

Lip smacking good

Poor Mr. Hill also had to tolerate the loud despatch of a banana in the same lift. There is nothing quite like the sound of someone chewing a banana with their mouth wide open. Slow, deliberate, masticated chewing. The devourer’s glee. The observer’s misery.

Coming up in future posts: product packaging, security guards, exam time in China, and tone deafness!

Chalkface: Tang-tied in China

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“I’m not a ploduckachee!”

“Plo-ducka-chee”  No, it’s pronounced “product.”

“Ploduckachee” Let’s try again shall we?

Pro “Plo” du “dah” ct “kachee”

I think that’s probably enough for the moment, don’t you Uncle Tommy?

(Actual conversation, March 2018)

There are a lot of really good English speakers in China. They’re often the ones who have started learning English at a young age, and despite the rote-style learning of school English lessons and dry-as-dust textbooks. They’ve beaten the odds of achieving fluency by overcoming such challenges. At some point, a good number of students would have enrolled in extra-curricular English classes, gone on to study English at university and retained much of the extensive vocabulary delivered to them during this time. There are also those that, despite limited academic opportunities, managed to gain fluency by chatting with any foreigner they could get their hands on.

Some youngsters from poor families became fluent English speakers while working in Western restaurants.

There are also a lot of people who can’t or aren’t willing to speak English in China. Reasons of shyness and patriotism are two examples. That’s okay. We don’t need to import cultural hegemonism here and demand that everyone speak English. That said, it can be fascinating to hear the English words emitted from their mouths:

“Bah-nah-xia”  What was that?  Oh – banana!  Great.

“Bu-la-la”

yellow banana fruit

This writer has butchered many a Chinese word over the past 18 years. People have generally been polite and smiled in a confused sort of a way. They nodded despite not having a clue about what had just been said.  Many of my students rolled about laughing whenever I translated my own classroom instructions. How about that for pronunciational motivation? Ask them to raise their hands and (mistakenly) say “pig feet, pig feet!”  Mispronounce traffic jam and get foot ache, ask them to wait but instead mumble something about murder – goodness! Talk about loss of face.

A few of the older folk can speak Russian, or bits of it. That was their foreign language of choice during 1950s China. They’re the hardest students to teach. You really can’t teach old (do we have to use the word dogs here?) “codgers” new linguistic tricks. My mother in law (64 at the time of this blog) can count to ten. So can her husband:

“wan-ah, too-ah, fee-ah, fo-ah, figh-ah, sick, say when, eh-ah, line-ah, tin!”

It starts slow and speeds up at number six and reaches an epic speed by ten. It’s as if by slowing down they’ll stop and forget everything. Like riding a bicycle, they’re going to fall over if they peddle too slowly. The in-laws speak Cantonese well and can use mobile phones with impressive ability. They’re handy with the wok and very efficient in their tasks. Both are punctual and never late. Most of their generation are the same. But as English students…..

The younger students have trouble with certain English sounds including the th digraph (a fancy way of saying consonant cluster – the t and h phonemes). You can repeat both the voiceless- (this, that, those) and the voiced- (three, throw) fricatives (more linguistic jargon) and end up with:

this = dis

that = dat

those = doze

And:

three = fee

throw = srow

Show them how to place their tongue between their teeth and watch the spittle fly! Encouraged by this, I created a nasty little tongue twister:

These three fleas have free fees

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Courtesy of Cambridge Connect 1 (textbook)

As the 2018 Soccer World Cup progresses, it’s a good time to learn the names of some  of the participating countries (“China is terrible at soccer” they all say – I don’t know, my country is currently ranked 120th, 40 places below China). Portugal, Peru, and Argentina are particularly tricky for many to pronounce. Australia is another difficult one.

They inadvertently swear:

“My father is a bastard” (actually – “My father is a bus driver”)

“I’m wearing a brown shit” (shirt)

These are easy mistakes to make though the prevalence of Western computer games and the assorted potty mouth language of the accompanying soundtrack has introduced a world of colourful slang to the vocabularies of many students. This is concerning when you’re trying to teach “We Will Rock You” by Queen. The word rock lends itself to naughty substitution.

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Some words and phrases are correctable. These include:

Hamburger politics (Happy Birthday), sanka yew (Thank you), of (for), for (of), mudder (mother), sheesh-atar (sister), older body bra (older brother – I kid you not).

Others are not so easy:

Prisonality (personality), present (parrot), pirates (parents), peasants (parents), parents (presents).

Yes I’ve poked a bit of fun at the locals today. Especially Uncle Tommy. My two year old has just overheard me enunciating “ploduckachee” and has begun excitedly running around the apartment yelling “PLODUCKACHEE!” My mother-in-law (her grandmother and uncle Tommy’s older sister) has no idea what she’s trying to say, thinks it’s impeccable English and time for a nappy (diaper) change.

On a conclusory note, it’s worth noting that I’ve heard and read better English from people here in China than I have from many of the populace back in New Zealand. There is something to admire about the determination and hard-work it must have taken to achieve this sort of fluency.

Thanks for the likes and the feedback. It’s much appreciated.

KJ.

Behind The Wheel: Driving China Mad

Would you like to drive in China?

 

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Hours of fun in the Guangzhou sun!

 

Oh you would, would you?  Well, here’s a brief guide to life behind the wheel….

Mad, crazy, exasperating, liberating, corner-cutting, speeding, texting, laughing, traffic  jams, more traffic jams, swerving, braking, swearing, sweating, time-wasting, dangerous, good highways, pot-holed roads, wobbly cyclists, cyclists heading in wrong direction, red light runners…..

Another of the Life In Lifts breakout blogs – this is a blog about the wonders of driving in China. I swear I’ve sworn more on the roads here than at any other stage of my life – including my student days at Paraparaumu College. Driving in China will set you up for adventures in “tamer” places like New York or London. San Francisco’s convoluted one-way streets were a breeze after I’d mastered driving here, though Vietnam and India might be a little trickier.

Getting into the heads of the other drivers is an essential part of driving here. What reckless thing are they going to do next?

Oh my, the road narrows ahead to a single lane and some lunatic is about to overtake you on the wrong side of the road?  Let him (yes it’s always a him). It’s not worth the  wreck. You’ve got a green light? Congratulations, how long did you wait?  Ten minutes? Great, now prepare to be ambushed by at least three cyclists and a couple of scooters  who will unfailingly cross your path. Red lights don’t count for two-wheelers here!

There’s too much to cover in a single blog and this is only an introduction to the life of a foreign driver. Let’s start by highlighting a few of the peculiarities of driving in China.

Toddlers on Laps

Yes this happens, more than you’d think. Grandpa (or Dad) drives somewhere with a two year old on his lap. It’s all a big laugh as the kid fiddles with headlights, indicators, and  the steering wheel – while the car is in motion. Very cute. Not.

All Day Rush Hour Traffic

Guangzhou isn’t the only Chinese city with traffic jams, Beijing and Shanghai have their moments too. Anyone from a big city will regal you with tales of woe and go. Guangzhou seems to have particular places that are always jammed up. I know, I used to live in such an area for 13. Long. And. Tedious. Years. It shouldn’t take two and a half hours to drive  a 10 kilometre distance but it has been achieved (more than once). Sometimes late at night too. Please plan accordingly. Avoid Fridays.

Seatbelts

What are those?

Driver Courtesy

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Merge like a zip. The graceful art of coming together in a union of vehicles, effortlessly and harmoniously to enter highway on-ramps, avoid roadworks, or circumnavigate accidents and broken down trucks. I once tried this approach and was rewarded with a….

Truck-n-trailer

A car that piggy backs another. A small gap in traffic can be exploited and a waiting car doth not haveth the same level of acceleration / pick up as a car in motion. The act of allowing another car into a space ahead is rewarded with a 5 minute wait and a bellow of horns from vehicles behind as you wait for 20 aggressive piggy-backers to pass. A downside to this (or upside if you’ve been wronged?) is the occasional nose-to-tail accident.

Wait at Green Light Day

Green lights are a free for all, except on Wait at Green Light Days (which can be a monthly, weekly, or daily event depending on your luck). Light turns green and car sits there motionless. A gentle horn beep from cars behind might waken the driver but they’re probably engaged in something funny on their mobile phone. Can’t you wait till the next green?  They’re busy!

A Dollar Each Way

Taken from the betting option at the horse races. You put a dollar on a win and a place. It works the same for lane changing here. Can’t decide which lane to drive in?  No problem, take the dollar each way approach and drive down the middle of the dividing strip and enjoy both lanes!

Indicator Lights

Driving instructors are said to discourage students from using their indicators as these encourage other drivers to speed up and close the gap. Why on earth would you let fellow drivers know your intention to switch lanes? They’ll do everything humanly possible to prevent you entering their space!

Life in the Fast Lane

It is a curiosity to know why the lanes are divided into fast and slow. No-one pays the slightest attention. The impatient BMW will clock up speeds of 120km per hour in a cycle lane while the ever-reliable Nissan Sunny potters at 25km p/h in the fast lane.

Highway Exits

Has no-one told drivers here about the sheer stupidity of reversing on a highway just because you’ve missed your exit?  There is little more terrifying than driving around a highway bend at 90km p/h to discover a car reversing towards you!

Pedestrians

The bottom of the transit food chain, this category has no rights. Your footpath can be used by a driver whenever he / she (again, usually a he) feels like it.

Parking

This photo should sum it up:

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Um, how am I supposed to get into my car?

 

Oddities

Everyone and everything gets to play on the roads here. They have their own rules and it’s our own laziness for not bothering to learn them!

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 I’d stopped to let him take his merry time. Good thing there wasn’t an emergency.

 

And thus ends an introduction to life behind the wheel in southern China. There are many amusing road stories to share but it is “beyond the scope of this article” to expand on these at this time.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Break Out The Beers: We’re Going To A Two Year Old’s Birthday Party!

I went to a birthday party recently. So what?

It was a party with cake, popcorn, and helium balloons?  Again, so what?

It was a two year old’s birthday party and there was a playground outside with swings and slides!  Hold on, you’re 41. What are you doing at a two year old’s birthday party?

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Here’s a little backgrounder:

There are several paths you can take as an expat in China. These include:

  1. fleeing a messy situation back home and finding refuge in one of the expat bars
  2. coming for the cultural experience and spending your free time exploring the historic sights
  3. working as part of a large multinational corporation travelling to far-flung places to liaise / negotiate / battle with partners, suppliers, and clients.

Some Westerners spend very little time interacting with the locals as many daily chores are handled for them. Their kids attend an international school and the whole family exists in a small but pleasant support bubble.

Then there are those of us who planned a short stay in China but ended up marrying a local. Eighteen years later…. our kids go to local schools and our work timetables are decidedly antisocial. We interact more with the locals and less with other expats. It’s not a deliberate act of snobbery.

So, when you’re invited to a Westerner’s birthday party – you accept! It’s hard not to get excited. Especially when you’ve missed her older brother’s birthday and have learned of cake, balloons, liquorice, cookies, barbecued meat, televised rugby, and beer. And also when you know that cultured, well-mannered South Africans will be there – family men with healthy values.

I got the afternoon off to attend.

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Yes, but how do you know a two year old anyway?  What could you possibly have in common with her?

She often models with my younger daughter. The birthday girl, we’ll call her Miss S, is very busy as is her brother. The blonde haired, blue-eyed pair both model about six days a week, their mother allows them a day off to rest. Both kids seem to enjoy the nature of their modelling work, dressing up and posing for photographers.

My family of four arrived at the venue in the city’s south on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. It was held on the roof of the father’s factory. The company exports all sorts of things (including jukeboxes) to clients worldwide. One of the staff had used her interior decorating skills to design and construct a small room complete with pool table and bar. A jukebox was also set up to play grunge songs from the 1990s.  Violently colourful party food was placed on the pool table. At the centre of it all was a large two-layered rainbow / chocolate cake and, in support, a homemade carrot cake. The theme was Trolls –  a Dreamworks animated movie popular among youngsters. Attendees had Troll wigs (in this heat?), Troll masks, Troll snacks, and Troll gift bags to take home.

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Fathers, beers in hand, chatted to other fathers. The wives conversed on picnic benches shaded by large umbrellas. The children, almost all of them blonde haired ran breathlessly around the roof area, oblivious to the heat. One by one, the men came up to me to shake hands and introduce themselves. They were polite and welcoming. A tall bloke offered to put the rugby on the television for me and then spent half an hour battling the Great Firewall of China to make this happen. He is the company’s I.T. manager – thankfully. He remarked that the Chinese made great staff – “they do as they’re told!”

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An older tattooed and shaven headed man introduced himself as Rocky. He drove the barbecue. His two kids were older, 15 and 13, (again) blonde haired and very well-mannered. His wife had experienced a dozen different jobs, including psychologist, social worker, caterer, and HR manager.

Another fellow had played rep rugby back in South Africa and was willing to engage in long and informed discussions about our national teams. He mentioned that a number of his countrymen who were getting out of the Republic and settling in New Zealand and Australia. He thought life in China was preferable to an unsettled life back home.

This would be a routine gathering in my native New Zealand. Nothing to write a blog about. But here’s the thing, we weren’t back home. Opportunities to attend such gatherings (when you’re so far out of the expat loop) are so few and far between. I was an entirely sober observer as there’s a zero tolerance for drink driving in China. My observations weren’t compromised by a belly full of beer and birthday cheer – merely soda or tonic water.

There were only two Chinese there – my wife, and a heavily made up young woman who sat at the bar and looked bored out of her mind.

We sang the birthday song after Miss S (fresh from a nappy / diaper change) had  been extracted from beneath the bar stools having performed a wriggly belly crawl the length of the room and she blew out her candles. This was different from a typical Chinese kid’s birthday party (the chaotic nature of which is fascinating to observe).

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The barbecue sizzled and laughter filled the outside area. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. As the new guy, I’d been made to feel welcome. There were no awkward cultural barriers, or standoffishness. Our daughters were playing happily with children they’d only just met. No-one was pointing or staring at them. There was no bullying. They fitted right in. They weren’t special, extra-beautiful, or “foreigners”. Just themselves. The adults, unsurprisingly (but very refreshingly all the same), behaved differently from those who frequented the expat bar scene (of which the less said the better).

Not a word of Mandarin was heard. No rice was consumed. I like both immensely but we all need a break sometimes don’t we?

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I asked my eight year old for her thoughts on the evening:

“It was great fun, people were nice and the kids all ate with their mouths closed!”

 

 

 

Thanks for reading this episode. Your support is really appreciated. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to say.

Cheers,

KJ