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!

Lifts: Judging A Book By Its Cover

 

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“…for inside those tattered pages, there’s a lot to be discovered” – Stephen Cosgrove

We all do it.

It’s hard not to. Yes – judge others. We see someone in an elevator and leap to some conclusion about who they are, what their values might be, their manners or lack of, financial status, their hometown and the behaviours typical of people from these places etc. etc. We might have seen the car they’ve just parked downstairs (“Oh, he drives an expensive model Volvo”, “She drives a beaten up Ford Fiesta”) and make judgements about their personalities based on these thoughts.

We can be correct in our judgement. Kids who push past lift-entering seniors display a clear lack of family education. Boys (and girls for that matter) who think it cute to flip the bird and swear like troopers adds further evidence to our rapidly conceived perception that they are indeed little buggers. You’re unlikely to invite the workman to afternoon tea when he has just cleared the contents of his nose all over the elevator floor.

It’s harder to judge those lift passengers that don’t make eye contact or smile. Why are they frowning?  Are they arrogant?  Do they have a superiority complex or are they of the cold-hearted ilk, y’know – the ones that might go off for a sandwich while you lie bleeding to death somewhere, desperately in need of aid?

There were a couple of incidents that occurred last week that reminded me not to jump quite so quickly to conclusions.

One

An old lady was pushing a small child some distance behind me as I entered the elevator. Being a good citizen, I held the door open for her walked slowly to, and then causally manoeuvred the pushchair in, the elevator. She didn’t look at me. On the short duration to the 12th floor I thought of all the things I could write about her on this blog. Her lack of manners or respect for others, the fact that her grandchild was likely to form the same bad habits as she and so on. Were her adult children as rude as her?  What was the future of Chinese society if everyone forgot to say thank you, please, and sorry?  A vision of self-centered and narcissitic hell?

The lift stopped at her floor and she tried to exit. The clumsily-designed pushchair took a while to move forward. I held the door and tried to make things as easy for her as possible (all the while thinking negative things about her lack of appreciation). She headed out behind the pushchair and stopped, turned to face me and paused to say: “Thank you very much!”. I almost fell over with surprise.

Two

A nouveau-rich couple also earned my scorn for being aloof and standoffish. They never said hello or made small talk whenever we met in the lift. I formed an unfavourable impression of them and created a storyline with them as the central characters:

Poor couple from destitute village suddenly acquire great wealth when a developer buys their land and offers a generous compensation. This was like winning the lottery. They buy an apartment in our compound and use the left over money to purchase a Mercedes Benz SUV. They’re new-rich. They don’t need to speak to commoners anymore.

I encountered them by the elevator lobby in the carpark.

Excuse me, is this yours?” the man asked.

 

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My daughter’s iPod. She would have killed me had I lost it.

In his hand was an expensive Apple iPod recently purchased in the United States. Indeed it was mine (my daughter’s actually). It had fallen out of my backpack as I was looking for my house keys. Someone could easily have pocketed that little item. I was surprised by his honesty and her pleasant nature. We got chatting and it turns out they have a child about to enter my daughter’s school over the road. We have plenty of other things in common too. They seemed educated and now present a cheerful smile whenever we meet. The immortal words of a primary school teacher rang true in my ears:

Don’t judge a book by its cover!

STOP PRESS: As this blog was about to go live, another incident occurred which reminded me not to judge others. Our upstairs neighbours have, at times, driven us nuts with a litany of minor offences involving noise and movement at strange hours. We had a typhoon on Friday morning with flooding everywhere. The wind sent the rain sideways and rendered umbrellas and raincoats pointless. I’d dropped off my daughter by the school gates and was strategising the best way home (through the crowds of umbrella-wielding folk). The  journey looked bleak with large puddles, overflowing drainpipes, and other obstacles lying in wait. What luck! The upstairs neighbours just happened to be passing by in their large BMW. They stopped and motioned me to jump in. Their choice of out-dated jerky techno music was particularly funny (“Jump on down to the funky sound!”) but the car was spotless and they were friendly. I got home a lot drier than otherwise. A big thumbs up to them.

Thanks Mr. Girvan. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

PS:  There are some exceptions to the rule. I was sneezed on last night by a construction worker. I felt particles on my forearm. He didn’t seem to understand what he’d just done. There was no apology, only a blank stare. I formed a judgement about him.

 

 

 

 

 

Yikes! Creepy Cameras and Nosy Parkers.

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It was late at night. Danger was in the air…

No, not really. Just an average evening in Block Six’s lobby. No-one was around – just me. I’d endured an hour on Guangzhou’s busiest roads with highly-skilled and considerate (ho ho ho) drivers. Class had ended late and parents had wanted to talk. By the time I’d eventually reached the apartment lobby, home seemed within reach. The lift arrived.

It’s hard to spell what static might sound like. I’d like to attempt it here:

Kcccccrrccccssscccch!

Most of us have had the pleasure of hearing static at some point or another. It’s a popular form of torture. I heard static in Lift B. It was coming from the emergency contact speaker located above the elevator buttons. If ever in trouble, people can press the emergency contact button and converse with somebody at the other end. I swiped my card and the elevator doors closed.

Kccccrrrrsscchhh

There it was again.

(Voices in Chinese) There he goes, ramble ramble, foreigner, ramble (indecipherable rapid-speed Mandarin)

I could hear people, young women to be precise, speaking. I guess they were the operators who “man” the phones for the elevator company. Maybe they work for the building management department. They come from a distant, unknown land.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, look at that big nose of his, so sharp, ramble ramble

Hold on, I have a big sharp nose…

Operators: Ramble, he’s very tall, ramble, I think he’s from New Zealand, ramble, laughter

I’m relatively tall, from New Zeal….  the blighters are talking about me!  They don’t realise that they’ve left the microphone on – they’re live, on-air!

Operators: He’s got two cute daughters, kcccccrrrrccccsssssccchh, big eyes, very white skin, the older one is shy…

I turn around and face the elevator camera, located in the top left corner.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, can he hear us?  Yes, I think he can, no, surely not…

Pointing my teacherly index finger in the camera’s direction, I produce my sternest frown.

Operators: Oh my goodness he CAN hear us, heaven’s…

The doors open at my floor and I begin to exit. There’s a panicked clunk, the sound that’s made when someone switches off a mic attached to a PA system.

And THAT was the last time anything was ever heard from these voluminously nosy young women – girls really, who enjoyed chatting so very publicly about their beloved lift passengers!

The End

 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

 

 

Chinese FAQs for the Foreigner

Eye contact and small talk. In a lift.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not something that happens much in China. Here, strangers don’t usually make eye contact unless they get caught out having a sneaky glance. I’ve seen this, though less frequently, in Western settings too. Perhaps being in the company of a smiling foreigner has emboldened the local to make small talk without the fear of losing face. People from all walks of life will chat to me if there are is no-one else around. Add another couple of locals to the mix and they become frigid, looking ahead glacially or at a crack in the floor.

Here is a collection of the most commonly asked questions from the local Chinese, to me – a foreigner. Some of these questions are asked surprisingly often. Bold italicised texts represents the questioner, my answers are written in standard font.

What do you have for breakfast?  Cereal, you?   Oh we have congee. Sometimes buns and yoghurt. 

Do you like Chinese food?   Yes, it’s very nice. Do you like Western food?  No. It has no flavour. (spoken mainly by adults – kids here seem to love pizza and fries)

Have you eaten?  Not yet.  What?  How come you haven’t eaten yet?  You must be famished. Oh no, it’s okay – I had a sandwich before.  A sandwich?  You poor thing!

Are you going to drink anything with that sandwich? It looks so dry.  Actually there’s margarine and relish inside my sandwich so it’s not too dry. (unconvinced) Hmmm.  

Are you used to China?  I’ve been here a while but there are some days things can get a bit tough. (nervous laugh) Ha ha.

China is pretty great isn’t it?  It certainly is a big place. I guess you could say some things are great.

How much do you make a month?  Polite smile and noncommittal reply given here but thinking “more than you buddy.”  Actually there are a lot of rich people here now, but they wouldn’t ask such a rude question.

She’s very quiet (older woman referring to my younger daughter). Can she speak?   Yes she’s over 2 now – she can speak three languages.  Three languages, good Lord – she’s a genius!

 

Questions asked outside of the elevator:

 

What sort of car do you drive?  A Toyota Crown. You?  A BMW 7 Series. My wife drives a Tesla. Ouch.

How much do you make a month?  Here we go again. (This question is answered several times a day in the rural areas and perhaps once or twice a month in the city)

Do you like Japan?  Yes, I like Japan. Why?  We hate Japan.  I drive a Toyota and eat sushi. Japanese people seem very polite and friendly. The cities are clean. By the way, what car does your father drive?  A Honda.

How long to drive from China to New Zealand?  You can’t actually drive to New Zealand.  Why?   Because there’s a bloody big ocean in the way.  Oh. (Admittedly a gardener asked this question)

Don’t you need something to drink with that sandwich? No thanks.  Here let me get you some ketchup.  No, it’s okay. (fetching ketchup)  Oh, don’t be so polite!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’re only wearing one layer of clothing?  Yes that’s right. How come?  It’s 28 degrees outside.  Yes but there’s some wind.  Oh I’d call that a warm and gentle breeze.

Are Western meals difficult to prepare?  No, not really. Chinese food can be very difficult to prepare, especially when compared to Western food. You guys have hamburgers every night, right?  

Thud.

And so ends another episode of Lift Digest, where some questions were deliciously  innocent and some were…..  rather hard to swallow.

 

 

The Chinese Kangaroo

They arrived a few short years ago. Now they’re an epidemic.

I’m referring to the legion of couriers in skin-tight fluorescent-yellow tops emblazoned with a Kangaroo logo. They zoom around the city on mopeds and scooters delivering meals to office workers and those people who don’t want to battle peak-hour crowds. It’s a great success by all accounts.

The service is called Meituan Waimai (Meituan Takeaways – a translation of sorts).

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Bloomberg estimated that the parent company Meituan Dianping was worth $30 billion (US) in October last year. The numbers are astounding. 256 million people used the service in 2016 with forecasts of over 400 million users this year according to Bloomberg. Over 1300 Chinese cities are in on the act with citizens near and far taking advantage of lightning-fast service from a man (almost always a man) on a bike delivering a hot meal. They also deliver groceries, massages, haircuts, and offer car washes while you’re working. Afterwards they’ll even park your car and take a photo (sent to your phone) as proof of a job well done.

It all sounds so impressive. And I guess it is. Whoever formed the company (someone called Wang Xing I’ve just discovered) will be richer than their wildest dreams. They’ve done very well in an ultra-competitive market.

But….

Some of us have to live with the Chinese kangaroo. You see, there are two sides to this fluorescent-yellow coin. You can get food delivered quickly when you don’t feel like walking the 200 metres to the actual restaurant. You don’t need to elbow your way to the counter or defend your space from queue jumpers. The meal is still warm and (usually) intact.

However the courier drivers might benefit from a bit of extra training. Road rules might be one place to start.

The Guangzhou Grade Two English Textbook offers a catchy chant in its section on transportation. Couriers (and drivers here in general) would be sage to take note:

Red at the top, you must stop,

Yellow in-between, get ready for green,

Green below, you can go!

The kangaroo drivers ignore red lights and often drive right in front of my moving car. There’s a swerve and they miss me. Everything is okay – till it’s not. Drivers also speed along footpaths and inside gated-compound paths putting everyone from toddlers to centenarians at risk. Not a day would pass without witnessing an act of  risk-taking kangaroo idiocy.

I walked past one driver yesterday who looked at me as though I was an alien from a distant planet. His eyes were big and round as he studied me intently. Not a smile to be seen. He had parked his bike near Block Six and was presumably returning from a delivery. Minutes later another kanga-courier Jack-in-the-boxed an old lady as he got out of a lift.

A good friend, Mr. Halifax, put it in perspective – who would want a job racing around the streets of a Chinese city in 40 degree heat? Buffoon drivers added to the mix and it would make for a devil of a job, an unpleasant one for sure. Maybe he was right. Perhaps I should cut these marsupial daredevils some slack.

With this newly-acquired perspective, I stood next to a Meituan courier in Lift A this morning. He stood erect, helmet glowing flourescently. “You have a tough life” I thought. “You’re merely trying to earn an honest living. I can’t begrudge you for that.”

Whereupon suddenly he turned in my direction and sneezed all over my left arm.

Back to square one.

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Odds and Sods: The Peculiarities of a Chinese Elevator

Ernest

Ah, Ernest (Neighbours….). A bespectacled high school kid of about 17 who lives on the third floor. I’m not sure his name actually is Ernest but it suits him. It takes him longer to wait for the elevator than to climb the three flights of stairs back home. His spoken English is very good though he’s rather serious – like a 1960s news anchor. He tends to over-stress words like I and am. This is a shame as it gives him (an unintentional) air of self-importance. Contrary to many of the youth here, he has very good manners and holds the door open for little old ladies (and me).

His listening needs some work.

“Are you looking for your keys Ernest?”

“Oh hi hello, I am looking for my keys”

“Ok, we’ll go first then – we’re sort of in a rush… sorry”

(5 seconds later) “You don’t need wait for me, you go first”

Or:

“Where are you going Ernest?”

“Ha, yes that’s right”

Mad Tappers

These are fidgety young men from rural areas who can’t seem to stand still for the short time it takes to reach the ground floor. They shift restlessly between feet, a little dance in motion. A cell phone will be consulted, stashed away and again removed from pocket – all within 15 seconds. A mad tapper will often move right up to the lift doors and check out hair, eyes, mouth, teeth, pimples…. You wonder why they’re so antsy. Their conduct is akin to the nine year old boy who has just been informed of a trip to Disneyland –  next summer.

Roving DJs

Old men in white vests who haven’t yet learned the wonders of modern technology. A 20 year old transistor radio. hung from a belt, can broadcast a mixture of Cantonese opera, revolutionary anthems, or traditional folk. Like any good DJ, they’re loud and largely ignorant to those in their immediate environment. Some roving DJs turn off the wireless before taking a lift, some don’t. Do you think that you’d like to be held captive in an elevator with piercing operatic sounds? Yes? Well then, consider first the words of an experienced Lonely Planet writer who once wrote that Cantonese opera is excruciating to Western ears.

The Jack in the Box

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A real waker-upper. Young men, or pushy middle-aged women, who alight the lift on the wrong floor therefore startling those about to enter. The Jack-in-the-box effect is caused by a combination of a mobile phone and positioning oneself right by the door. I was Jack-in-the-boxed last week by a twenty-something year old male who thought the 35th floor was the first floor.

The Surge

Those who enter the lift like a rebel army before you’ve had the chance to get out. Equal parts infuriating and panic-inducing. Happens surprisingly often.

Pick and Flicks

Once again, the elderly and toddlers. Involves: a nostril, an index finger (though little fingers with bayonet-length nail will suffice), and a twist.