It is the one week anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque attacks. New Zealand has been in a state of mourning. Our Prime Minister has done a stellar job at bringing the country together.
What has the reaction been like from everyday folk here in southern China?
The reaction has been subdued, though the majority were made aware of the incident through the media.
There has been no comment on it unless I raise the subject first (usually in the lift). You get asked “Where are you from?” And “Oh, what a beautiful place!“
“Thanks.” I reply. “Oh, by the way, did you hear the news about the mass killings in our country?”
“Yes, yes – dreadful situation” they say. “Are gun laws really that lax in New Zealand?“
It has been weird this week being so far from home. Nearly every boy has a collection of realistic-looking toy guns. I flinched at the sight of one boy strapped with three automatic toy guns less than 24 hours after March 15th’s event. He was just being a boy, doing what boys do. He was late for class. This didn’t seem to matter today. His mate had a plastic AK-47.
Older students have found discussions around the subject to be interesting, though their English vocabulary limits much of what they want to say. Some have giggled in parts of my talk. This is not arrogance on their part but more an embarrassment or awkwardness at the sheer horror of what unfolded that day.
A 17 minute video taken by the gunman was circulating China’s most popular mobile app – WeChat. Would I like to see the video? No thanks. Are you sure? You can’t see clearly – it’s a bit like watching a computer game. Again, a polite no thank you.
I was able to obtain a newspaper last Saturday (see below). The headline translates into “The Darkest Day in New Zealand’s History.”
Life went on as normal for people here. It’s not surprising really. They’ve got their own things to worry about. China has had its fair share of blood too. One can look to the 2014 Kunming Train Station Massacre as evidence. With tight gun laws in place, the perpetrators used knives instead. The result was ghastly.
We’ve had an incident here in Guangzhou too, though thankfully there were no fatalities. It’s an example that no place is exempt from senseless violence.
Thank you for reading. We hope to return with a happier blog when the time is right.
“For the fragrance we’re blessing, to the world we show our affection,
We’ve got “two sessions”, let me show you Chinese manners”
(Su Han “Two Sessions“)
He is China’s version of Eminem. I hadn’t heard of him before, but then I wouldn’t know many famous Chinese stars. Of course there’s Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, known as much for their martial arts as their acting skills. The former was actually an American citizen. Perhaps he (Su Han) isn’t famous.
I’m not sure Su Han has sold many records or what is status is here. He has been ridiculed on other sites for fronting a clumsy attempt (by you-know-who-I-am-not-at-liberty-to-say) to connect with younger listeners.
A chance to spice up what might otherwise be a very dry event.
The “Two Sessions” meetings Mr. Su refers to are the meetings of the highest levels of Chinese government (the rap sounding NPC and CCPCP) every March. These were covered in my previous blog: The Top 5 Reasons Guangzhou Rocks in March.
The backing track is apparently 11 years out of date but I don’t know – perhaps hip-hop circa 2008 was actually better than the current crop of rap artists. Let’s give Su Han a chance. It’s easy to mock earnest young men who give their heart and soul to a cause, rightly or wrongly, that they appear to believe in.
The song starts off impressively – dramatic and tense (the music video couples this with propaganda shots of a very clean looking Beijing) as the artist shares his elation at the chance to write a “compliment song“. There isn’t a lot of positivity in the rap game so we’ll give him a tick for trying.
He picks up the tempo and masters the English language like a boss, getting his tongue around some tricky long-windedness before the song climaxes rather prematurely at the 35-second mark. It’s here that Mr. Su looks begins to look like a very lost 12 year old boy.
The lyrics cover a range of topics highlighting China’s achievements in recent times and there have been many. Landing on the Moon’s dark side, technological improvements like subway lighting (?), satellites, and the Jiaolong submersible vehicle that scaled the depths of the Mariana Trench.
“Joy of success is like a weekend car ride round the pool”
He also references more controversial topics such as the cloning of monkeys. That isn’t nearly as bad as the singalong chorus line. A deflating moment after a promising start.
“We’ve got our two sessions…”
He regains composure and momentum with a verse on education. He manages to include a Star Wars reference. Hmmm, Skywalker? Poverty is asked to leave his nation’s borders amidst a visual backdrop of lush green countryside and smiling peasants.
Then that bloody chorus line again.
The lyrics become more absurd. A Kiwi friend of mine suggested that a middle school chatbox program had been employed to help with some of the verses. Check out the screenshot below:
And the Popeye moment…
A day has passed since I wrote the above. It turns out that Mr. Su is a very able singer and even participated in the Sing! China TV show. He is also a doctoral student at the prestigious Tsinghua University. He is using artificial intelligence to compose music. Not only is he artistically talented and fluent in English, but he is also a biomechanical brainbox!
The song is a weird embarrassment. Forgettable even – if not for the lyrics. Su Han comes across as a bit of a buffoon to the uninitiated. Score: 4/10
T’was a nice little break in New Zealand – blue skies, fresh air, good food, and friendly people. We didn’t see the rain during the time we were there.
Three weeks can go very quickly when you’re having fun. It’s hard not to think that New Zealand is always like this! One forgets that winter can last an awfully long time…
The Top 5 Reasons Why Guangzhou Rocks in Spring
I used to think that March was a pretty sh*tty time in Guangzhou. The endless grey skies were enough to test the patience of a saint. Dampness would invade the inside of your apartment and make floors, walls, and ceilings damp. Clothes were impossible to dry and would develop a funny musty smell. But, after the 28th consecutive day of doom and gloom outside, it seemed better to look at things as a glass half full.
So, to add to the plethora of numbered lists swamping the Internet nowadays, Lifeinlifts.com has decided to make its own top five. The reasons why Guangzhou is so good in March (fake it till you make it, right?).
1) The Weather
Tired of endless and boring blue skies? Is the dry sun turning your skin to hardened leather? It’s just as well that Guangzhou can turn on 21 consecutive days of solid grey. Rain and fog are on the menu here.
2) The Food
The food is always good here but the cooler weather brings out the more warming foods such as hotpot, dumplings, rabbit…
3) The People
People get titchy in hot weather. Just as well it’s 15 degrees Celcius. Students behave in class. Teachers return to lessons refreshed from the Spring Festival holidays. Neighbours actually pretend to care about each other. You won’t witness this sort of behaviour in June.
4) The Education System
March becomes a busy time for students and teachers. It’s the endless desire for self-improvement that sees the Chinese regarded as some of the hardest working people in the world. Homework comes in crateloads. This also means a demand for extra-curricular lessons. Pity the poor kids who lose their childhoods along the way. However, it does mean that teachers get paid (cough… well).
5) The National People’s Congress
It’s a meeting of the highest organ of state power, in Beijing no less. This means that security is ultra-tight. Being far from the emperor might seem like a good thing, as we can live relatively freely here without disruption. Our VPN access gets blocked too. This is a good thing as it prevents us from wasting valuable time checking Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other unproductive websites. This crackdown instills a sort of self-discipline as you are forced to find other things to do. What a great time to sort out the sock drawer.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment. Our next blog will examine China’s newest version of Eminem!
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?
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!
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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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