Easter… by China

7am

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.

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8:45am

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.

11am

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No sun for weeks

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.

2:00pm

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.

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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.

4:45pm

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.

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You can’t see me but I can you!

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.

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Duplo mountains in the air conditioner!

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I found myself asking – if this is Easter, why does it feel like I’ve entered Hell?

6:20pm

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.

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7:30pm

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.

8:45pm

Dreams of neck massages, hearty dinners, and an ice-cold beverage.

9:15pm

Home to Peppa Pig reruns and poorly edited English newspapers.

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Spot the typo

11:45pm

Homework completed!  No, not mine.

Postscript

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christchurch Attacks – One Week On (The view from China)

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Cartoon by Shaun Yeo

It is the one week anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque attacks. New Zealand has been in a state of mourning. Our Prime Minister has done a stellar job at bringing the country together.

What has the reaction been like from everyday folk here in southern China?

The reaction has been subdued, though the majority were made aware of the incident through the media.

There has been no comment on it unless I raise the subject first (usually in the lift). You get asked “Where are you from?”  And “Oh, what a beautiful place!

Thanks.” I reply. “Oh, by the way, did you hear the news about the mass killings in our country?”

Yes, yes – dreadful situation” they say. “Are gun laws really that lax in New Zealand?

It has been weird this week being so far from home. Nearly every boy has a collection of realistic-looking toy guns. I flinched at the sight of one boy strapped with three automatic toy guns less than 24 hours after March 15th’s event. He was just being a boy, doing what boys do. He was late for class. This didn’t seem to matter today. His mate had a plastic AK-47.

Older students have found discussions around the subject to be interesting, though their English vocabulary limits much of what they want to say. Some have giggled in parts of my talk. This is not arrogance on their part but more an embarrassment or awkwardness at the sheer horror of what unfolded that day.

A 17 minute video taken by the gunman was circulating China’s most popular mobile app – WeChat. Would I like to see the video?  No thanks. Are you sure?  You can’t see clearly – it’s a bit like watching a computer game. Again, a polite no thank you.

I was able to obtain a newspaper last Saturday (see below). The headline translates into  “The Darkest Day in New Zealand’s History.”

 

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People’s Daily – Saturday, March 16, 2019

 

Life went on as normal for people here. It’s not surprising really. They’ve got their own things to worry about. China has had its fair share of blood too. One can look to the 2014 Kunming Train Station Massacre as evidence. With tight gun laws in place, the perpetrators used knives instead. The result was ghastly.

We’ve had an incident here in Guangzhou too, though thankfully there were no fatalities. It’s an example that no place is exempt from senseless violence.

Thank you for reading. We hope to return with a happier blog when the time is right.

 

 

Chinese Manners

“For the fragrance we’re blessing, to the world we show our affection,

We’ve got “two sessions”, let me show you Chinese manners”

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(Su Han “Two Sessions“)

He is China’s version of Eminem. I hadn’t heard of him before, but then I wouldn’t know many famous Chinese stars. Of course there’s Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, known as much for their martial arts as their acting skills. The former was actually an American citizen. Perhaps he (Su Han) isn’t famous.

I’m not sure Su Han has sold many records or what is status is here. He has been ridiculed on other sites for fronting a clumsy attempt (by you-know-who-I-am-not-at-liberty-to-say) to connect with younger listeners.

A chance to spice up what might otherwise be a very dry event.

The “Two Sessions” meetings Mr. Su refers to are the meetings of the highest levels of Chinese government (the rap sounding NPC and CCPCP) every March. These were covered in my previous blog: The Top 5 Reasons Guangzhou Rocks in March.

The backing track is apparently 11 years out of date but I don’t know – perhaps hip-hop circa 2008 was actually better than the current crop of rap artists. Let’s give Su Han a chance. It’s easy to mock earnest young men who give their heart and soul to a cause, rightly or wrongly, that they appear to believe in.

The analysis:

The song starts off impressively – dramatic and tense (the music video couples this with propaganda shots of a very clean looking Beijing) as the artist shares his elation at the chance to write a “compliment song“. There isn’t a lot of positivity in the rap game so we’ll give him a tick for trying.

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He picks up the tempo and masters the English language like a boss, getting his tongue around some tricky long-windedness before the song climaxes rather prematurely at the 35-second mark. It’s here that Mr. Su looks begins to look like a very lost 12 year old boy.

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Mummy?

The lyrics cover a range of topics highlighting China’s achievements in recent times and there have been many. Landing on the Moon’s dark side, technological improvements like subway lighting (?), satellites, and the Jiaolong submersible vehicle that scaled the depths of the Mariana Trench.

“Joy of success is like a weekend car ride round the pool”

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Excuse me?

He also references more controversial topics such as the cloning of monkeys. That isn’t nearly as bad as the singalong chorus line. A deflating moment after a promising start.

“We’ve got our two sessions…”

He regains composure and momentum with a verse on education. He manages to include a Star Wars reference. Hmmm, Skywalker? Poverty is asked to leave his nation’s borders amidst a visual backdrop of lush green countryside and smiling peasants.

Then that bloody chorus line again.

The lyrics become more absurd. A Kiwi friend of mine suggested that a middle school chatbox program had been employed to help with some of the verses. Check out the screenshot below:

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Nephrolithiasis is kidney related

And the Popeye moment…

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A day has passed since I wrote the above. It turns out that Mr. Su is a very able singer and even participated in the Sing! China TV show. He is also a doctoral student at the prestigious Tsinghua University. He is using artificial intelligence to compose music. Not only is he artistically talented and fluent in English, but he is also a biomechanical brainbox!

The Verdict

The song is a weird embarrassment. Forgettable even – if not for the lyrics. Su Han comes across as a bit of a buffoon to the uninitiated. Score: 4/10

You can watch the video here

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What exactly are Chinese manners?

Postscript – Wednesday

A peculiar thing happened on the way back home this morning. The chorus from a song came into my head and has been stuck there ever since. Which song? Yes, Two Sessions!

Post-Postscript – Thursday

The song is still very much alive and well in my head as the blog goes to air. There’s so much good new music out there and yet I’m being reminded of the “Two Sessions.”

Maybe the joke is on me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Reasons Guangzhou Rocks in March

T’was a nice little break in New Zealand – blue skies, fresh air, good food, and friendly people. We didn’t see the rain during the time we were there.

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Three weeks can go very quickly when you’re having fun. It’s hard not to think that New Zealand is always like this!  One forgets that winter can last an awfully long time…

The Top 5 Reasons Why Guangzhou Rocks in Spring

I used to think that March was a pretty sh*tty time in Guangzhou. The endless grey skies were enough to test the patience of a saint. Dampness would invade the inside of your apartment and make floors, walls, and ceilings damp. Clothes were impossible to dry and would develop a funny musty smell. But, after the 28th consecutive day of doom and gloom outside, it seemed better to look at things as a glass half full.

So, to add to the plethora of numbered lists swamping the Internet nowadays, Lifeinlifts.com has decided to make its own top five. The reasons why Guangzhou is so good in March (fake it till you make it, right?).

1) The Weather

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Tired of endless and boring blue skies? Is the dry sun turning your skin to hardened leather? It’s just as well that Guangzhou can turn on 21 consecutive days of solid grey. Rain and fog are on the menu here.

 

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Beautiful

 

2) The Food

The food is always good here but the cooler weather brings out the more warming foods such as hotpot, dumplings, rabbit…

round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks
Yum!

3) The People

People get titchy in hot weather. Just as well it’s 15 degrees Celcius. Students behave in class. Teachers return to lessons refreshed from the Spring Festival holidays. Neighbours actually pretend to care about each other. You won’t witness this sort of behaviour in June.

4) The Education System

March becomes a busy time for students and teachers. It’s the endless desire for self-improvement that sees the Chinese regarded as some of the hardest working people in the world. Homework comes in crateloads. This also means a demand for extra-curricular lessons. Pity the poor kids who lose their childhoods along the way. However, it does mean that teachers get paid (cough… well).

5) The National People’s Congress

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It’s a meeting of the highest organ of state power, in Beijing no less. This means that security is ultra-tight. Being far from the emperor might seem like a good thing, as we can live relatively freely here without disruption. Our VPN access gets blocked too. This is a good thing as it prevents us from wasting valuable time checking Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other unproductive websites. This crackdown instills a sort of self-discipline as you are forced to find other things to do. What a great time to sort out the sock drawer.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment. Our next blog will examine China’s newest version of Eminem!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Exams in China! Yikes!

It’s the bane of parents, students, and teachers. A time of year violated by colourless worksheets, endless pages of fill-in-the-blank exercises. Mix-and-match. Mock tests.

Study materials are as dry as dust.

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With materials like this, who wouldn’t want to study?

Final exams occur twice a year, at the end of each semester. It’s a stressful time for a number of parties. School teachers are under pressure to deliver results to the school leaders. Parents spent every spare free minute helping their children review for the exams. The possibility of bad grades is too much to contemplate. It gets worse at higher levels. A substandard grade could mean failure to enter a good middle or high school. Teenagers really have it tough when they attempt the dreaded Gaokao – China’s university entrance exam.

It’s common for children to be signed up to extra-curricular lessons. Most have an extra lesson of some kind – be it math, Chinese, English, art, dancing, or piano. A sport like table tennis, basketball, swimming, or badminton is also tacked on. Many have several lessons – often on the same day. Weekends are endurance tests to be survived, rather than enjoyed. Added to the average daily three hours of homework, you wonder the psychological toll on children here.

Parents regularly postpone these ancillary lessons at exam time.

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A sample English exam paper. How did you do?

Exams affect nearly everyone. Sleep deprivation equals cranky kids. Parents get grumpy too, resentful that their free time is eaten up by hours of homework in preparation for the big day. Mummy helps with the study, Daddy keeps baby sister/brother occupied and out of the way. You hear grumbling in the lifts – a girl being admonished for a poor math test, a boy being read the riot act for doing poorly in his Chinese. Grandparents cop twice the abuse when they try to offer unhelpful suggestions.

They might have had Mao Zedong Thought, but they also had less homework.

I see the effect of exam time in my lessons. Polite, easy-going kids become overly sensitive and prickly with tears if they perceive a slight from a classmate. Cheerful parents look more distracted than usual.

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Sample Chinese paper – it’s not as hard as it looks!

Soon the exams will be over and the relief will be palpable. Think of a caged rabbit finally being given run of the house.

How does your childhood compare?  Did you have exam pressures as an eight year old? And your parents? Did they encourage you with a stick or let you run wild? Perhaps you have children about to undergo their own examinations? How are they coping?  Please leave a comment below and share with fellow readers.

Today marks the beginning of the dreaded exams. The sounds of rejoicing will not only emanate from students but from the entire support cast and crew navigating this tortuous time!

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Christmas in China – 2018

How do the Chinese celebrate Christmas?

Well, they go to work or school as usual. Some might wear a Santa hat and others might give a small gift or attend a Christmas Eve event somewhere around the city. Some lucky souls get the day off if they work for a foreign company or Western consulate.

Christmas really is an excuse for the marketers to sharpen their knives and target the growing middle class with their disposable income.

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How do Chinese kids regard Christmas?

“Western Countries have Christmas because China has the Chinese New Year.”

– Bernard, 8

“Father Christmas was born on Christmas Day.”

– Yoyo, 9

“Our teacher says we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas because it’s a Western festival!”

– Kevin, 10

“I hate Christmas because it’s not a Chinese holiday”

– Damon, 5

A matter of religion

As foreign guests in China, we’re not allowed to discuss (or promulgate) political views or religion. It’s a little difficult to discuss the matter of Jesus with the students.

“KJ, can you tell us a little bit more about Jesus?”  A child might ask.

“Um, er, perhaps you’d better ask your parents. They will probably be able to explain things better” I answer.

Play them some music instead

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“Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano) is a popular song to teach. Students have trouble with the second line but then most Westerners do too. Go on – can you tell me what comes after Feliz Navidad?  Prospero…

Michael Buble does a fine version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. The horn section enters suddenly within the first minute – guaranteed to wake any sleepers. Justin Bieber’s version is also surprisingly catchy.

How has Christmas changed in China over the years?

In 2000, I lived out in the sticks somewhere in Hubei province. There was little evidence that Christmas even existed. The kindly Education Bureau put on a lavish Christmas Eve party for about ten westerners living in the city. We ate great Chinese food. The section chief wandered over to our table and wished us a “Merry Crimmus!”

The next day we bought a couple of live chickens from the local market and invited them for dinner.

In Guangzhou, we had about three Christmases with members of the Australian Consulate. This was great fun as there was always good shiraz at these parties. The carpet was white. The stains took an age to remove!

A Cockney mate hosted us at his place for a number of years. We played Monopoly and listened to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (repeatedly). In 2008, we even got served Brussels Sprouts!  Can you imagine the excitement?

In 2011, inside a 4-star American hotel restaurant, the food was as cardboard as the surroundings. It appeared to cater to young Chinese lovers who treated Christmas as a romantic occasion.

A party was held in an old colonial-style villa (2013). The food was exceptional that year but the highlight was the old Chinese lady that danced voraciously to “Gangnam Style”.

We’ve had Christmas at our apartment the past couple of years. Stragglers of all shapes and sizes have appeared. You can order a turkey from a number of places and even get cranberry sauce to go with it. Plum pudding is still a trifle (ho ho – a pun!) difficult to find as is dry bubbly. However, it’s almost as good as being at home.

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A smorgasbord of nationalities share one thing in common – food
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Eating Christmas cupcakes – pure bliss!

And, Guangzhou’s weather is always good on December 25th.

Shopping

 

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Inspiring isn’t it?

 

Some supermarkets sell every product Christmassy. You’ll pay for it though. Most supermarkets cater to the local market and sell chocolates and fruit. Yawn.

So from all of us here – the accountants, cleaners, marketers, publicists, rabbits, and writers – we’d like to wish you all a very Merry Lifeinlifts Christmas!

Oh yes – there’s a free chocolate fish if you can tell me the second line of Feliz Navidad!  I know it – but do you?

Bunny Trouble – The Case of Rachel Rabbit

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Behind bars: Rachel Rabbit awaits the jury’s verdict.

Pets in apartment buildings. It might work. It might not. Plenty of Chinese keep pets in small spaces and seem to do a good job of it too. I’ve seen some pretty healthy looking dogs in the elevators here – shiny coats and big white teeth etc. You can always keep a turtle, goldfish or a parrot or two. A friend of mine keeps a cat which might just be the most spoilt animal in the city.

How about a rabbit?

What could go wrong?  They’re not large or dangerous. They’re cute and very affectionate. Intelligent too. They’re clean and do their business in the cage. They don’t rip up sofas or table legs with sharp claws and don’t need to be walked twice a day.

So in November 2017, we bought a rabbit.

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Seems harmless enough

It was very cute and was small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand. Miss K called her Rachel. It seemed like a good name – Rachel Rabbit. Similar to the rabbits (Rebecca and Richard) on the Peppa Pig cartoon series.

 

It all went so well. Quality time was spent with Rachel as she became one of the family. We invested heavily in her future, buying the finest food and cage,  allowing her inside the apartment during cold winter nights. Another rabbit named Tutu was not so lucky. It froze to death on an apartment balcony.

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Rachel attended birthday parties

Hare-Raising

Things began to change.

Rachel began to eat pot plants and flowers. She learned to open her cage door by rubbing her black nose against the wire. A string was tied to keep the door shut. She ate through the string. Her tastes moved from plants to furniture upholstery, to foam workout mats to cardboard boxes.

 

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Don’t you dare!

 

She climbed atop four large, stacked, wobbly boxes, and escaped injury by box-surfing her way down when they toppled over. She started making herself at home on our beds. This disgusted and terrified my wife who was looking for any excuse to “get rid of that bloody rabbit.”

One of my students asked: “Does your rabbit like to eat apples?”

“Yes,” I replied “Apple iPhone recharging cords!”

Bunnymoon Over

A “Lock Hare Up!” campaign was launched by my in-laws. They told both my daughters that Rachel was going to the butchers as soon as we departed China for our Scandinavian holiday. I lobbied on Rachel’s behalf on the grounds that:

  1. She was cute
  2. She was tender and didn’t bite the kids
  3. She could stay in our bathroom during the hot summer months and behave herself well
  4. We’d just buy a replacement rabbit as soon as we returned from abroad if Rachel was “disappeared”

We won our case and Rachel received a stay of execution. Life went on as usual. She hopped around our apartment and considered herself chastened.

 

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The “big baby” was popular with kids

 

It’s Been Nice Gnawing You

A rabbit’s memory is not what it used to be. Pretty soon Rachel was back to her old tricks. A television cord was destroyed during a trip to Hong Kong (the inlaws looked after our place during our absence) and Rachel began pooing in the bathroom (wait, you’re supposed to do your business there, right? Yes but you’re not supposed to dance in it afterward). She burrowed her way into the clothes wardrobe and got stuck in the land of jeans and slacks. Luckily we found her before she expired.

In the past two months, she has left behind a trail of destruction which includes:

a 7-11 umbrella

two lesson plan books

a BMW-branded backpack

shoelaces

a pair of Asics running shoes

one pillowcase

three plants

the leather from a dining chair

several plastic shopping bags

three cardboard boxes

the cover of Mao: A Life (Philip Short)

and the rubber lining from the shower door

Yes, she’d even began wrecking the one place she was allowed to stay without causing trouble. And the moulting. Did we mention the moulting?

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We Carrot Decide

So we need you, the reader, to help make up our minds. Should the rabbit stay or should it be sent to the market in time for a nice, wintery, rabbit stew?

On the one paw, she’s incredibly annoying. Her destructive ambitions know no limits. On the other paw, she’s part of the family, cuddly, and very patient with the girls. She will sit in your lap for hours content in your company as you watch TV, chat with friends, or prepare lessons.

So it’s down the rabbit hole we go. Should she stay or should she go?  Dear reader – her future is now in your hands. Leave a comment below (please!).

 

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Butter would not melt in her mouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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:

common-decibel-levels-chart

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.

industry metal fire radio
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.

group of persons wearing yellow safety helmet during daytime
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.