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?
Here’s a little collection of oddities for your weekend. Something to take your mind off the Christmas rush. These are events that may occur to anyone foreign-looking in China during a typical week. It’s never a dull moment.
This is a rather nasty little Cantonese term which translates to foreign devil / ghost. The locals don’t usually mean any harm by it and there are times when it doesn’t really matter. But if you’re having a bad day and someone calls you Gweilo, you can muster up your best Cantonese rebuke and say:
“Now come on mate, that’s uncalled for”
Bananas in Pajamas
There are times when you may wish you’d walked, or taken public transportation to a destination. Car parks are hard to come by in many cities – especially one with over 14 million people. An attendant will direct you to a narrow spot in the corner. Sometimes you might need to reverse around corners and over humps, bumps, and curbs to successfully park your vehicle.
One young fellow assisted me to a park and proceeded to give instructions (despite my car having side cameras). Fully aware of his value, he placed one arm inside my open passenger window and helped himself to a pre-lesson banana.
“I’m having this, okay?”
He wondered off grinning at my open-jawed expression. If a half-rotten banana can guarantee me a car park on Wednesdays then I’ll be bringing him a bunch of Dole’s finest next week.
Shout, Shout, Let it All Out
A good friend of mine was inside a university campus waiting for his lesson to begin. He was on the phone to his father back in Canada. He heard some shouting in really bad English and turned around to see what the kerfuffle was all about. Lo and behold, a man was addressing him in very loud, aggressive English:
“Hey you! You come China! You American, you Russian? Hey! Hey!”
He took off down the road trying to avoid the rambunctious character who was drawing attention from onlookers and passersby. My friend’s father was growing concerned:
“Are you alright son?”
Their conversation was further interrupted: “Hey, you! You speak England? Hey!”
“Yes Dad,” he answered calmly “this is a very regular occurrence in China.”
A lesson finished and we piled back into the lift. One mother was carrying a strange bowl of something.
“They’re duck tongues” she said. “Would you like to try one?” She seemed pretty insistent. Was she trying to shock? I obliged her and tried one.
They were rather stringy but had quite a good, gamey, flavour. If you’re interested in importing duck tongues to your local market, let me know on:
Eddy is a four year old. He learns English with the big kids (the five and six year olds). His name used to be spelt Eddie but his father hated the last three letters and its reference to death. Eddy regularly makes baby sounds during class and has a penchant for wiggling his bottom at others. He has stated a taste for dog sh*t (his words, not mine) when the class was asked to name their favourite foods. He outdid himself on Monday night with a lunge towards a rather full rubbish bin (trash can). Not content to merely touch, he proceeded to lick the bin’s rim and squeal in delight.
What is there to do but shake one’s head.
Due to the large number of queries about Rachel Rabbit’s health, we can confirm that she is still alive and well in Guangzhou city. This writer was approached by family members seeking permission to “do the deed” and rub out Rachel in time for Christmas dinner. It took one look into her hopeful eyes to decide that the execution would be delayed. Well, until the next time she misbehaves…..
I hope you enjoyed this little collection of snippets from southern China. Please leave a message below or spread the love and share this site.
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!).
Hello dear reader, how was your Sunday? Did you get up early to attend church or a mosque? Did you go for a run or play with the kids? Were you nursing a king-sized hangover in bed? Perhaps you had a strong cup of tea and read a book…
Sundays here (for this writer) include five lessons and a lot of driving. As a dear Canadian friend, Mr. Hill, likes to say “there’s never a dull moment here.”
I’ve decided to chronicle the events of Sunday, October the 21st 2018. Perhaps you can compare your day with mine. What were you doing at 9am, 2pm, 8pm?
8:45am – Inner Ring Road (en route to the first lesson)
A bronze coloured taxi is driving erratically along a four-lane highway. Behind him (yes a him) on the right was a silver Toyota Corolla. To the taxi’s left – a large white bus. I am following 100 metres behind them. The taxi, as slow as a turtle (and without indication), moves into the path of the Corolla. The Corolla brakes quickly to avoid a collision. The taxi then moves to his left and, by a whisker, misses the bus. The bus driver, angry at such vehicular idiocy, brakes, and blasts his loud horn. He then accelerates, overtaking the taxi. It’s revenge time as the bus brakes in front of the bronze taxi and proceeds to drive at 30 kilometres per hour (in an 80km/per hour speed limit).
10am – Rich People’s Garden
“Because you two have been so well behaved, I’ll take you out to a 5-star restaurant tonight” the mother announces.
“Mummy, can we have Coke or Sprite?” Young Billy asks.
Billy, your Mum drives a Maserati and your Dad something equally expensive. You and your sister go to the most expensive school in the city. You have a bunch of houses. You holiday at luxury European resorts. Of course you can have a Coke – heck, why not just buy the restaurant?
11:30am – East Wind East Road Compound
There is a presentation involving menus. Miss Y, as we’ll call her, is offering such delicacies as sheep salad (shrimp salad) and roast kitchen leg (roast chicken leg), while Baozha Tou (translates into Afro hairstyle or literally ‘explosion head’) Master B, offers brown knees (brownies) and an A/C meal (a set meal). It’s a joy to watch eight year olds producing menus of such good quality. Mistakes aside, they’re pretty good with English and all scored well. That is apart from one lazy boy who was curiously absent from class.
1pm – Subway Sandwiches
Subway is Subway anywhere in the world it seems. A few menu changes here and there but still of a good standard. There is no queue at this branch. Two Russian girls are playing with the soda fountain, refilling their cups time and again. Value for money. I hope they can get to the bathroom in time. A local man, halfway through his sub, has wandered up to the counter to ask a question. Lettuce is spilling all over the counter and he is speaking with his mouth full. This would explain the mayonnaise droplets falling on to the stack of clean trays by the cash register. Thankfully I’m taking away.
Catshit Coffee (that’s the translation sorry) – the Indonesian coffee chain seems to have moved out of the mall and a newly named Offee and Co. (where’s the C?) seems to have opened. Their watery coffee wasn’t particularly nice last time so I ordered a latte coffee from Subway. What could go wrong?
Mental note: never ever order coffee from Subway at the East Wind East branch again.
3:10pm – Community Centre for Societal Harmony and Egalitarianism
The students in my third lesson have just returned from a short break. Laughter erupts and then suddenly stops. I don’t understand. I’d said something vaguely funny. We were about to learn the meaning of sarcasm and sarcastic laughter when I realise they’re not laughing at me and that the short figure moving behind me isn’t a student. It’s a man with Downs Syndrome. He walks about the classroom. Stops to pick up and inspect my lesson plan book, then my textbook. He gives me a puzzled look so I say “ni hao” to him. He responds in kind and walks out. What a bizarre episode. In 18 plus years of teaching, I’ve seen pretty much everything. That was a first.
There is a centre nearby that houses people with various mental conditions. This chap was friendly but there have been reports of people with psychotic tendencies going on knifing rampages from time to time. The results are never good. Better lock the door next time in case someone else turns up with more sinister intentions.
4pm – the drive home
This is like playing a bad Commodore 64 computer game from the 1980s. I’m Player One. People are jumping out in front of my car at regular intervals. Motorised bikes are heading in the wrong direction. Trucks are behaving like sports cars, Candy Crush Saga-playing pedestrians walk blindly out on to the road and cyclists haven’t yet learnt to ride in a straight line.
The game would be called “Chaos in the Car East“.
6:10pm – Block Seven, balcony of the 11th floor apartment
“Teacher, you smell bad” says the five year old boy.
“No Kyle, that’s your own sweat you can smell,” says his mother “you’ve been running around downstairs don’t forget!”
Aw cripes, do I smell that bad? I’ve been on my feet all day. I head home and check with my wife. She’s blunt. I can count on her for honesty.
“No, all I can smell is your cologne.” she says.
7:15pm – Military Hospital
It’s very dark here but not cold. This will be the last lesson of the day. Two orderlies are pushing a wheelchair and patient towards the same building that is the teaching venue. A child walks past and stares at the patient, as does someone else. That’s a bit rude isn’t it? A patient should be given some privacy/dignity, no matter what physical state they’re in.
I steal a glance as I pass them. The patient is extraordinarily stiff and pale. He’s wearing pajamas and he’s a…. dummy! How weird.
I retell this story to one of the parents, a doctor at this hospital. He points to a tall, thin object in the corner. It’s covered by a cloth. The kids are avoiding the area until someone pulls off the sheet to reveal a human skeleton!
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.
Welcome to the early 1990s. Jiang Zemin is the president and China is still rather closed to the outside world (especially after certain events in 1989). Some people are still wearing Mao suits and you’re considered rich if you own a bicycle, a refrigerator, a TV, and possibly a microwave oven to put into your work-unit designated apartment.
Think about what you were doing in 1992. Was Kenny G’s music playing in the background?
Jump forward 26 years. Don’t maintain, paint, or upgrade any of the equipment. Hire a hack English translator and you’re set to enter Luhu Children’s Amusement Park! It’s nothing if not a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours during a national holiday.
Mooncake Day (Mid-Autumn Festival) had just been and gone and a large number of denizens left the city for this long weekend. The negatives of public holidays included appalling traffic jams but it also meant that little gems like the Luhu Amusement Park were neglected. Great for those who want to avoid crowds and the (sometimes) boorish behaviour exhibited by certain sections of society.
There were lots of rides to choose from with varying levels of suitability. A toddler isn’t allowed to go on the bumper cars or the roller coaster. An eight year old no longer finds merry-go-rounds as alluring as she did when aged five.
So, as the sun emerged from the clouds, the temperature rose into the mid-thirties (celsius) and the air became humidly thick, we ticked off a range of unusual rides. One buys a card from a booth, charges it up and swipes it at each ride – a surprisingly modern feature at such a dilapidated park. The pirate ship was out of order (thank goodness as these things aren’t quite so much fun in your forties) but the roller coaster was operational.
We’d been to L.A. Disneyland and Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. This ride looked non-threatening. Just as well as the seating wasn’t designed for tall westerners.
My travelling companion is eight years old, she is the child of my current marriage
My contorted frame resembled a basketball player flying economy. Miss K sat comfortably. It was built for short people. The ride lurched into action and reluctantly made its ascent. The ensuing jolt was like being rammed from behind by a large vehicle.
With any good roller coaster, the fun lies in the tension of the unknown. The train (designed to look like a long, garishly-painted plastic dragon) hurtled downwards and round a sharp right bend before travelling 15 metres and navigating a sharp left.
This swift move rammed my knee into the safety bar. Ouch. The speed reduced and the second lap began. Cue jerky car-crash movements all over again. The 15 metre dash ended in another smashed knee and a cry of pain. Miss K thought I had been afraid. No darn it! I was feeling old and buggered.
An adjoining waterpark complete with exciting waterslides and other kiddy toys sat empty. Did someone pee in the pool?
Only two of us played on the bumper cars. Plenty of people came to watch the foreign monkeys and a large queue had formed by the time our turn was up. Perhaps we should have charged a commission for bringing in the punters.
The girls rode on some other odd little rides (they were happy enough so that was the main thing) before we discovered an indoor fun park hidden in the corner. It was an air-conditioned too and it kept the girls occupied forever till the afternoon showers brought a bunch of other kids inside. Then they played for another hour or so.
To break up the tedium, it had been fun to observe the crabby middle-aged attendant. She had a plum indoor job while her younger colleagues suffered in the scorching sun. She slept on her desk, watched a Hong Kong soap opera, scolded two kids for throwing plastic balls, opened the door, closed the door, went outside and disappeared for 20 minutes (thus allowing people to enter the play area for free), returned and went back to sleep again (she was awoken by a bucket of balls that joyously rained down upon her back).
What on earth did parents do before the invention of smartphones? How did they cope with the tediousness of it all? I guess they… spoke to other parents, did the knitting or the crossword? Someone threw a heavy object at someone else and it all ended acrimoniously. We took our cue to leave.
The girls had a wonderful afternoon of kid fun and it hadn’t cost much. The roller coaster alone at Tivoli Gardens had almost bankrupted us. My wife remarked:
“They couldn’t have given a toss about staying in a 5-star hotel, this is all they wanted to do”
Guangzhou (and many parts of China) still has these cultural oddities in operation. Kids love the old parks and they remain popular, even though there is a very impressive amusement park located in the south of the city. It is doubtful that the park would have been so quiet during a regular weekend.
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Mangkhut (or Mangosteen in English) has come and gone, leaving behind a trail of debris and broken trees. We had been expecting it for a few days and there was a sense of mild panic as people cleaned supermarkets out of water and instant noodles. It was almost a case of the boy who cried typhoon. Everyone got ready for Typhoon Seahorse (2016) which was little more than a puff of wind. The same happened in 2017 with another oddly-named gust. This time was a little different.
Calm before the storm
There was a slight feeling of tension as the streets became noticeably quiet in the hours leading up to Mangkhut. This unease was not helped by reports of damage in Guam and the Philippines. It was hot, a stuffy humidity that was exhausting and sweat-inducing. Saturday seemed to be okay, even though many events and lessons were cancelled across the city.
There was a light breeze as I headed to my 9am lesson. Thirty minutes later and 12kms across town the wind had picked up. Leaves flew, trees swayed, and lobby doors were near impossible to open. By 10am I’d learned that some of my Sunday lessons had been postponed. The roads had fewer cars and council workers had felled the creaky trees in anticipation of a Mangkhut onslaught.
It was time to watch a downloaded game of international rugby. The All Blacks, the world’s greatest rugby team, had hosted the South African Springboks in Wellington – New Zealand’s windiest city. Oh, the irony. It had been calm in Wellington on Saturday night and we were getting a year’s supply of wind within twelve hours.
I paused at the twenty minutes mark – the All Blacks were teaching the Springboks (or Boks for short) a lesson on free running rugby. They always did this these days.
It was time to observe the wind and rain howling around outside our 35th floor apartment. Windows in our compound’s newer, vacant apartment blocks raucously opened and slammed shut as the wind dashed from left to right and left again.
News reports kept us updated as to the typhoon’s expected arrival in the city. The typhoon could have been Queen Elizabeth II for all the media attention it was getting. My daughters were enjoying running about the apartment as the cleaner (who braved atrocious weather to get here) worked quickly to finish her tasks and return home.
More rugby – the All Blacks were now trailing the Boks as the game began to mirror the typhoon outside.
Father-in-law (Martin) was in the kitchen preparing dinner early. Mangkhut was due at our place in two hours. While the typhoon would feast on trees, cars, street lights, and building materials, we’d have a dinner to eat and he’d be safely home.
Reports from Hong Kong and Shenzhen spoke of widespread damage and flooding. My oft-paused rugby game had recommenced and was by now a real nail-biter. Players were getting battered in brutal tackles, there was blood, guts, and passion as the Boks held out the All Blacks attack.
The rugby was paused yet again to allow for the preparation of water and recharging of mobile phones in case of power and water cuts.
It has taken four hours to get to this point. There are only two minutes remaining in the rugby (games are 80 minutes in length – this one had been paused five times). A South African player had been yellow carded for naughty behaviour. That meant one less player on the field for the Boks and a massive advantage for New Zealand. We’d got this game won.
Smash – something had fallen over on the balcony. Think of a choir of energetic whistlers and this might sound like the wind outside. Someone’s t-shirt had just flown past our balcony. Socks and undies littered the garden below.
Darn it – despite 100 opportunities the All Blacks have managed to lose the game. That’s the first time this year.
5pm (Sounds of sirens)
Martin had taken longer than usual to finish cooking. Now he wanted to be dropped home. He had to be kidding right? This was the typhoon’s zenith. Windspeeds were now over 100kms per hour. No way. Things were flying through the air. Big things. There was a tree floating in the swimming pool downstairs. We’d be toast if we ventured out in this weather. I refused. And the noise…
The wind had abated somewhat. There were cars on the highway but it still rained heavily. Martin suggested that this be a good time to head home. The road was littered with rubbish from all walks of life. A showroom carpet was bunched up in the middle of the road. A bus sat abandoned at a lonely stop. Branches, plastic, wood, and bicycle parts lay strewn along the route. Trees died thoughtful deaths – blocking two car lanes rather than three, falling in ways that still allowed motorists to pass.
We probably shouldn’t have been out there. The rain bucketed down with force and the wind was violent in exposed places. The road was flooded near his house. My large car wobbled like jelly when it waited at the lights. A truck drove at speed into a large puddle thus saturating a group of people huddled by the roadside. Poor sods.
And that was as bad as it got for us here in Guangzhou. Other places weren’t quite so lucky. Hong Kong took a hammering as did other southern cities. Thousands were evacuated from their homes. The Philippines copped most of it. Much of our city looked worse for wear on Monday morning but by Tuesday (as I wrote this) things were a little cleaner.
Some of you will have experienced much worse (tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tornadoes, snowstorms etc.) but it is with relief that we didn’t have to endure such calamities. It would have made for exciting blog reading had we been in perilous danger but we’ll take safety over Hollywood-style drama any day.
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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.