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!”
Thanks for reading this episode. Your support is really appreciated. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to say.
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!
The following report is taken from Anti-Bike Platoon Commander Helmut Schtrapp (2nd Lt.). We would like to commend the bravery shown by the members of his platoon.
– Lt. Colonel B. Handel-Barre (Pedal Regiment, Cycle Path Division) spokes-person for Anti-Bike Platoon.
The platoon was on patrol in the South Garden district when we were ambushed by a rag-tag collection of motley coloured bicycles.
They were uncoordinated and in disarray. My men were able to eliminate the cyclical threat in minutes. Curiously, a large queen-sized mattress seemed to be in command of this guerrilla movement. We don’t not yet know the link between mattress and bicycles, though one soldier timidly suggested it was the “town bike”.
The platoon secured the South Garden area and recommenced the patrol. We had moved 200 metres along South Coast Road when we encountered resistance from a pedal team. Platoon soldiers opened fire resulting in four enemy casualties and several enemy hostages.
No sooner had we taken care of the enemy threat when we were attacked by the tandem forces of green and blue divisions. Our team fought hard but fatigue was becoming a real factor. We would need to back-pedal.
Someone got to these bicycles first. It was hard for some soldiers to get a grip of the situation. The general feeling among the platoon was of suspension.
Lance Corporal Armstrong spotted skid marks on the footbridge at the end of South Coast Road. Private Giant sighted enemy cycles under the bridge. Low on supplies, ammunition, and with fading morale, we decided to avoid confrontation with any more hostile elements. We moved up a gear and took the cycle path back towards the barracks.
Attacked from all sides. This was where the rubber met the road. Yellow “Ofo” division bicycles outflanked, out-sped, and out-out-manouevered the platoon. I ordered the soldiers to fire:
However this caused a chain-reaction as yet more bicycles appeared. Enemy combatants then moved into a formation which military historians might one day term the “pile o’bikes”. Platoon members were twisting ankles on spokes, tripping on crossbars, being maimed by mudguards, and getting tickled by two wheelers. The situation was dire.
Considering that the chain of command ended with me, I decided we should saddle up and beat a hasty retreat. We dropped our supplies and headed for the safety of the underground carpark where, exhausted, we could refuel and debrief.
Sirs, in regards to further patrol missions, it is recommended that our division apply the brakes in the interim. Any further provocations on our part will only lead to one very pumped up enemy and a vicious cycle.
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”
“Where are you going Ernest?”
“Ha, yes that’s right”
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.
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
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.
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.
I’ll do this from time to time, get outside of the Block 6 Lifts and write about something wider in scope. Chalkface is one such project. It is intended to share some of the observations from the Chinese language learning environment. We’ll get back to Caffeine Man, the Mad Tapper, and Sir Pick-n-Flick in the next Life In Lifts blog.
Chinese kids are busy on the weekends with loads of extra-curricular classes. It seems that the Chinese middle-class want their kids to be calligraphers, scientists, mathematicians, structural engineers, TV hosts, pianists, polyglots, and NBA All-Star team members – all before lunch time Saturday.
I taught ten lessons this past weekend. Ten different locations, with varying degrees of ambience, air-quality, size, materials, and linguistic skills. And ten traffic jams to negotiate. It’s a good thing that the job is a blast.
In April, I gave the students three weeks to complete a task: design a travel poster for the summer holiday. It had to be an overseas destination, limited to 10 days travel, with a clear itinerary of fun things to see and do. A route map was also part of the requirement (e.g. Day 1 – Pyongyang, Day 2 – Kim Il-Sung shrine etc.). Sixty percent of the mark was to be allocated to the poster (size, colour, visual effect) and 40 percent was for the oral component (pronunciation, grammar, vocab, length, and delivery).
Well, the posters were great. Some real passion went into the production of these posters with colour photos, drawings, computer-aided design, clearly-written paragraphs and neat layout. It made my school homework look embarrassingly inept. Most teams scored full marks.
Then came the spoken part.
There was one girl who spoke beautifully about a tour of New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Bossy Town. She lost half a mark for that. Bossy Town is home to both M.I.T. and Harvard universities and the Red Sox baseball team (have you guessed it yet?).
Here are some of the other things I heard:
“After Black Forest (breakfast) we will make a trip to the female agitation (what?)” Tommy, 10
“People like beer very much. Then it’s time for lunch” – Davy, 10, about a trip to a Swiss zoo
“American food is very unhealthy so we will stop at a Chinese restaurant for lunch” – Jessica, 11
“New Zealand is made up of the North Iceland and the South Iceland. You will be arraigned in Christchurch.” – Connie, 10
“Sweetland (Switzerland) is in the middle of Earache. It is home to chocolate watch cheese.” – Lisa, 11
“Quebec is the best city to cultivate children. It has many interesting topographical features (how do you know such complicated English – you’re 10 for goodness sake?!). The Canadian frog is red and white with a maple leaf….” – Ada, 10
“After arriving at the sandwich hotel, we will get our passports (followed by indecipherable words) from the Internet and visit the old naughty (Nordic?) museum, then on to a ski Russell to try skiting” – Leo, 12
There were many examples of this but also lots of really good English too. The most touching thing was their attitude towards this assignment. They didn’t really have to do it. I would be powerless to contact their school teachers and have them fail English. They were incredibly self-motivated. Many parents were kind and said that I had been their child’s motivation but I disagree. Their collective effort made me yearn to take this freshly-acquired inspiration and repeat my childhood all over again!
Do you ever wish you could go back and do things differently? Feel free to leave a comment.
“Keep it together man, just another floor or two to go, no-one is going to get in on our way up. The journey will be short. By all means decorate your door, wet your welcome mat, or throw up all over the threshold but open the floodgates once you get out. Don’t do it here.“
These were my thoughts last night.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in an elevator?
We’ve seen pretty much everything in Chinese lifts except X-rated activity. Thank goodness. People here are still pretty conservative.
I got into the lift on the minus one carpark level and proceeded to the 35th floor. It stopped at one (the ground floor in British Commonwealth countries). In stepped a youngish woman and her father. She smiled and said hello. He slurred something to me and tried to keep his balance. They were going to the 20th floor.
He smelt like a distillery.
There was a little burp, a bubbling sound emanating from deep below. Being vomited on by a sick toddler is one thing, how about by a 70 year old man? This was becoming a very real possibility.
The lift wall was his pillar, his bastion of support. He head slumped forward. We’re not going to make it. Or are we?
“Have you been out tonight?” I winced at my own question. It was blindingly obvious they’d been out. They probably thought it was none of my business. It would quickly become my business if I wore his technicoloured treacle.
“Yeessssh” came his reply, sounding like a certain New Zealand prime minister of yesteryear.
Time slowed as it does when you’re exceedingly uncomfortable. His daughter looked worried. She seemed to have taken on a maternal role. I wondered if she had experienced this many times before. Certain parts of China seem to produce some of the hardiest drinkers in the world, up there with the Russians and Germans. I’ve also seen people turn pink after a glass or two of beer. Which category did he fall into? Ironman or jellyfish? Hooch hound or schlemiel?
He cocked his head, one-eyed, and looked in my direction. This is what a deer must feel like when he realises he’s in the hunter’s sights. The moment before impact, the calm before the storm etc. etc.
The lift stopped and dutiful daughter took him by the arm and led him out of the lift. There was a real urgency to her movement as she fiddled with the door keys. That was a narrow escape. As the lift doors began to close, I heard a sound…