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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
“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.
And, Guangzhou’s weather is always good on December 25th.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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:
She was cute
She was tender and didn’t bite the kids
She could stay in our bathroom during the hot summer months and behave herself well
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.
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
a pair of Asics running shoes
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?
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!).
人山人海 People mountain, people sea – old Chinese saying that conveys the general meaning of overcrowding.
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 bānfá – there 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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!
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?
Here’s a little backgrounder:
There are several paths you can take as an expat in China. These include:
fleeing a messy situation back home and finding refuge in one of the expat bars
coming for the cultural experience and spending your free time exploring the historic sights
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.
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.
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!”
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).
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?
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!”
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Guangzhou’s Youth Park is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It was designed by the city’s leaders in honour of the youth. Why then is everyone in this park over 65?
It’s a nice place to go for a stroll before the day gets too hot. Lush tropical vegetation lines the circular path that leads from the busy South Coast Road around about five acres of flat riverside city land. A bored-looking guard keeps an eye on park activity from the comfort of a battered office chair. He must observe a lot. He recognises everyone but acknowledges no-one.
Palm trees line the route that snakes past tai chi warriors, hacky sackers (using the Chinese equivalent of a feather attached to a rubber base), the Old Ladies Book Club (15 white-haired women all reading the same book), middle-aged but very fit men shooting hoop (basketball), a Soviet-era gymnasium – complete with rusty equipment, and a modern outdoor exercise area for people to loosen muscles, joints, and other connective tissue.
I’m starting to recognise a few of the regulars. They’d almost certainly recognise the only caucasian male to regularly visit the park. Uncle Jimmy Liang (my wife’s relative) does shirtless laps of the park at least twice a week and spends the rest of his time sipping tea with his workout buddies inside of the gym. The tea provides fortification for all the sets of ultra heavy bench presses and squats he does with perfect form (I kid you not – and this guy is at least 65).
No-one outside of this part of the old Liwan District seems to know about the Youth Park. This secluded spot is deep and mystic, undisclosed and unknown. I might be exaggerating its finer points here. Truth is, it’s a nice little spot to escape from the chaos that is Guangzhou – a city of over 14 million urban dwellers. There are plenty of bigger (and better) parks here but they all have Wikipedia entries. Apparently this place doesn’t.
You certainly wouldn’t want to arrange a family or work-related team building session here. Thirty minutes is quite enough thank you very much. It’s an oasis of unobtrusiveness, a place to enjoy a moment of mindfulness before being whacked about the head (figuratively speaking) by the chaotic nature of Cantonese life.
As a 41 year old man I’m at least 20 years younger than everybody else here. In this sense, looking around at all the oldies, the Youth Park lives up to its name – and makes this visitor feel young again!