China’s Retro Funparks

Do you do kitsch?  How about just plain weird?

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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.

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Out of order (thankfully)

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.

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Cheer up Thomas!

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.

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You want me to fit into that?

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

(Paul Simon, Graceland, 1986 – paraphrased lyrics, 2018)

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.

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Yeah – so be warned!

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.

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Translates into: No running or chasing

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.

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View from inside indoor play park

Groan.

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).

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A neverending afternoon…

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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Occupational Safety – Wave Goodbye to those Fingers!

Earmuffs anyone?  How about goggles?  Would you like a pair of gloves and workboots?

Why let these little annoyances get in the way of a good time?  Just walk past any urban construction site or home improvement-related store and you’ll see it. The free (reckless disregard?) approach to workplace safety. Johnny Qu and Rex Li will be dismantling, welding, nailing and sawing anything from metal to wood to plastic etcetera. Corrosive chemicals might be added to the mix too.

“She’ll be right” demonstrates a typical Kiwi approach to life. It’s not always the most sensible. “One nail will do mate” (when two or three would guarantee quality). This, however, is nothing compared to the stuff we see going on in southern China. Let’s take a look at what must get affected by such laissez-faire behaviour.

The Ears

I’ve never seen a pair of earmuffs on a construction worker. Large construction sites boast about worker safety but it’s the truth. Despite the crash of construction and bash of demolition, most workers wander about the site with ears fully exposed. Jackhammers are some of the loudest tools around, only outdone by a jet engine, gunshot, rocket, or firecracker!  Yet jackhammer operators and bystanders allow their ears to soak up all the available noise. I’ve included a decibel chart to put the jackhammer’s dulcet tones into  a wider perspective:

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Wait, do you mean that exposure to 120 decibels for 10 hours a day might actually cause long-term hearing impairment?  Yikes.

Note that “normal” conversation sits at 60 db on this chart. The Cantonese I know rarely ever have “normal” conversations. The chart could be adjusted to reflect local conditions – 110 dbs might be more accurate. Babies are loud – Cantonese are often louder.

The Eyes

Sparks will fly baby when I set my eyes on you…..   It sounds like a hard rock song from the 1980s. It might very well be the soundtrack to a movie about welders. No safety goggles in sight (excuse the pun) as their eyes sit mere inches from blindness. One wants to go up and educate them about the importance of workplace safety but this would be akin to a conversation between the English and Americans on the rules of cricket.

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Xiaomin was delighted with his new safety equipment

Fingers

In many countries, butchers and fishery workers use mesh gloves to protect against knife slippages. No such luck here. It brings new meaning to the term fish fingers.

Feet

Do you really think a pair of sneakers (or leather slip ons) is going to protect your toes from the weight of a concrete slab?  Workers (or better yet, construction managers) – buy yourselves some steel-capped boots!  Now that’s foot for thought, isn’t it?

Head

Possibly the safest part of the human body. Or is it? Most construction workers get a pretty yellow or red helmet to wear on site. The robustness of these helmets is unknown to the casual observer such as me. The worrying thing is that I’ve seen similar looking helmets in toy shops.

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Cue soundtrack music….

Official Stats?

This gets tricky with the whole truth, lies, and damn statistics deal. A workplace law was passed in 2002 focusing on certain, risky industries but there were (like any new law) gaping holes that were highlighted by several large-scale workplace catastrophes. A 2014 amendment has brought the death rate down (if the stats are actually accurate) and foreign-owned companies are under pressure to comply. It’s bad publicity if you lose half your staff in one morning.

Life in Lifts.com reports only what it sees.  Large-scale building sites were not visited during the writing of this blog. That said, several small-scale operations were observed in action.  Jackhammer teams sans earmuffs, relaxed carpenters with circular saws, sparkly sidewalk welders, the wet market pork hackers, maskless maintenance men carrying buckets of strong-smelling (liquid) chemicals…..

Thank you again for your time – they’re not making any more of it so your support is much appreciated. Leave a comment or a like below!

 

 

 

Lifts: July Digest (China edition) – Curse of Horace

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.

Here goes:

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

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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).

Stopping

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.

Groan.

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.

Grandma’s fans

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It was a “Hello Kitty” fan

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!

Behind The Wheel: Driving China Mad

Would you like to drive in China?

 

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Hours of fun in the Guangzhou sun!

 

Oh you would, would you?  Well, here’s a brief guide to life behind the wheel….

Mad, crazy, exasperating, liberating, corner-cutting, speeding, texting, laughing, traffic  jams, more traffic jams, swerving, braking, swearing, sweating, time-wasting, dangerous, good highways, pot-holed roads, wobbly cyclists, cyclists heading in wrong direction, red light runners…..

Another of the Life In Lifts breakout blogs – this is a blog about the wonders of driving in China. I swear I’ve sworn more on the roads here than at any other stage of my life – including my student days at Paraparaumu College. Driving in China will set you up for adventures in “tamer” places like New York or London. San Francisco’s convoluted one-way streets were a breeze after I’d mastered driving here, though Vietnam and India might be a little trickier.

Getting into the heads of the other drivers is an essential part of driving here. What reckless thing are they going to do next?

Oh my, the road narrows ahead to a single lane and some lunatic is about to overtake you on the wrong side of the road?  Let him (yes it’s always a him). It’s not worth the  wreck. You’ve got a green light? Congratulations, how long did you wait?  Ten minutes? Great, now prepare to be ambushed by at least three cyclists and a couple of scooters  who will unfailingly cross your path. Red lights don’t count for two-wheelers here!

There’s too much to cover in a single blog and this is only an introduction to the life of a foreign driver. Let’s start by highlighting a few of the peculiarities of driving in China.

Toddlers on Laps

Yes this happens, more than you’d think. Grandpa (or Dad) drives somewhere with a two year old on his lap. It’s all a big laugh as the kid fiddles with headlights, indicators, and  the steering wheel – while the car is in motion. Very cute. Not.

All Day Rush Hour Traffic

Guangzhou isn’t the only Chinese city with traffic jams, Beijing and Shanghai have their moments too. Anyone from a big city will regal you with tales of woe and go. Guangzhou seems to have particular places that are always jammed up. I know, I used to live in such an area for 13. Long. And. Tedious. Years. It shouldn’t take two and a half hours to drive  a 10 kilometre distance but it has been achieved (more than once). Sometimes late at night too. Please plan accordingly. Avoid Fridays.

Seatbelts

What are those?

Driver Courtesy

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Merge like a zip. The graceful art of coming together in a union of vehicles, effortlessly and harmoniously to enter highway on-ramps, avoid roadworks, or circumnavigate accidents and broken down trucks. I once tried this approach and was rewarded with a….

Truck-n-trailer

A car that piggy backs another. A small gap in traffic can be exploited and a waiting car doth not haveth the same level of acceleration / pick up as a car in motion. The act of allowing another car into a space ahead is rewarded with a 5 minute wait and a bellow of horns from vehicles behind as you wait for 20 aggressive piggy-backers to pass. A downside to this (or upside if you’ve been wronged?) is the occasional nose-to-tail accident.

Wait at Green Light Day

Green lights are a free for all, except on Wait at Green Light Days (which can be a monthly, weekly, or daily event depending on your luck). Light turns green and car sits there motionless. A gentle horn beep from cars behind might waken the driver but they’re probably engaged in something funny on their mobile phone. Can’t you wait till the next green?  They’re busy!

A Dollar Each Way

Taken from the betting option at the horse races. You put a dollar on a win and a place. It works the same for lane changing here. Can’t decide which lane to drive in?  No problem, take the dollar each way approach and drive down the middle of the dividing strip and enjoy both lanes!

Indicator Lights

Driving instructors are said to discourage students from using their indicators as these encourage other drivers to speed up and close the gap. Why on earth would you let fellow drivers know your intention to switch lanes? They’ll do everything humanly possible to prevent you entering their space!

Life in the Fast Lane

It is a curiosity to know why the lanes are divided into fast and slow. No-one pays the slightest attention. The impatient BMW will clock up speeds of 120km per hour in a cycle lane while the ever-reliable Nissan Sunny potters at 25km p/h in the fast lane.

Highway Exits

Has no-one told drivers here about the sheer stupidity of reversing on a highway just because you’ve missed your exit?  There is little more terrifying than driving around a highway bend at 90km p/h to discover a car reversing towards you!

Pedestrians

The bottom of the transit food chain, this category has no rights. Your footpath can be used by a driver whenever he / she (again, usually a he) feels like it.

Parking

This photo should sum it up:

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Um, how am I supposed to get into my car?

 

Oddities

Everyone and everything gets to play on the roads here. They have their own rules and it’s our own laziness for not bothering to learn them!

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 I’d stopped to let him take his merry time. Good thing there wasn’t an emergency.

 

And thus ends an introduction to life behind the wheel in southern China. There are many amusing road stories to share but it is “beyond the scope of this article” to expand on these at this time.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Yikes! Creepy Cameras and Nosy Parkers.

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It was late at night. Danger was in the air…

No, not really. Just an average evening in Block Six’s lobby. No-one was around – just me. I’d endured an hour on Guangzhou’s busiest roads with highly-skilled and considerate (ho ho ho) drivers. Class had ended late and parents had wanted to talk. By the time I’d eventually reached the apartment lobby, home seemed within reach. The lift arrived.

It’s hard to spell what static might sound like. I’d like to attempt it here:

Kcccccrrccccssscccch!

Most of us have had the pleasure of hearing static at some point or another. It’s a popular form of torture. I heard static in Lift B. It was coming from the emergency contact speaker located above the elevator buttons. If ever in trouble, people can press the emergency contact button and converse with somebody at the other end. I swiped my card and the elevator doors closed.

Kccccrrrrsscchhh

There it was again.

(Voices in Chinese) There he goes, ramble ramble, foreigner, ramble (indecipherable rapid-speed Mandarin)

I could hear people, young women to be precise, speaking. I guess they were the operators who “man” the phones for the elevator company. Maybe they work for the building management department. They come from a distant, unknown land.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, look at that big nose of his, so sharp, ramble ramble

Hold on, I have a big sharp nose…

Operators: Ramble, he’s very tall, ramble, I think he’s from New Zealand, ramble, laughter

I’m relatively tall, from New Zeal….  the blighters are talking about me!  They don’t realise that they’ve left the microphone on – they’re live, on-air!

Operators: He’s got two cute daughters, kcccccrrrrccccsssssccchh, big eyes, very white skin, the older one is shy…

I turn around and face the elevator camera, located in the top left corner.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, can he hear us?  Yes, I think he can, no, surely not…

Pointing my teacherly index finger in the camera’s direction, I produce my sternest frown.

Operators: Oh my goodness he CAN hear us, heaven’s…

The doors open at my floor and I begin to exit. There’s a panicked clunk, the sound that’s made when someone switches off a mic attached to a PA system.

And THAT was the last time anything was ever heard from these voluminously nosy young women – girls really, who enjoyed chatting so very publicly about their beloved lift passengers!

The End

 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

 

 

Chinese FAQs for the Foreigner

Eye contact and small talk. In a lift.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not something that happens much in China. Here, strangers don’t usually make eye contact unless they get caught out having a sneaky glance. I’ve seen this, though less frequently, in Western settings too. Perhaps being in the company of a smiling foreigner has emboldened the local to make small talk without the fear of losing face. People from all walks of life will chat to me if there are is no-one else around. Add another couple of locals to the mix and they become frigid, looking ahead glacially or at a crack in the floor.

Here is a collection of the most commonly asked questions from the local Chinese, to me – a foreigner. Some of these questions are asked surprisingly often. Bold italicised texts represents the questioner, my answers are written in standard font.

What do you have for breakfast?  Cereal, you?   Oh we have congee. Sometimes buns and yoghurt. 

Do you like Chinese food?   Yes, it’s very nice. Do you like Western food?  No. It has no flavour. (spoken mainly by adults – kids here seem to love pizza and fries)

Have you eaten?  Not yet.  What?  How come you haven’t eaten yet?  You must be famished. Oh no, it’s okay – I had a sandwich before.  A sandwich?  You poor thing!

Are you going to drink anything with that sandwich? It looks so dry.  Actually there’s margarine and relish inside my sandwich so it’s not too dry. (unconvinced) Hmmm.  

Are you used to China?  I’ve been here a while but there are some days things can get a bit tough. (nervous laugh) Ha ha.

China is pretty great isn’t it?  It certainly is a big place. I guess you could say some things are great.

How much do you make a month?  Polite smile and noncommittal reply given here but thinking “more than you buddy.”  Actually there are a lot of rich people here now, but they wouldn’t ask such a rude question.

She’s very quiet (older woman referring to my younger daughter). Can she speak?   Yes she’s over 2 now – she can speak three languages.  Three languages, good Lord – she’s a genius!

 

Questions asked outside of the elevator:

 

What sort of car do you drive?  A Toyota Crown. You?  A BMW 7 Series. My wife drives a Tesla. Ouch.

How much do you make a month?  Here we go again. (This question is answered several times a day in the rural areas and perhaps once or twice a month in the city)

Do you like Japan?  Yes, I like Japan. Why?  We hate Japan.  I drive a Toyota and eat sushi. Japanese people seem very polite and friendly. The cities are clean. By the way, what car does your father drive?  A Honda.

How long to drive from China to New Zealand?  You can’t actually drive to New Zealand.  Why?   Because there’s a bloody big ocean in the way.  Oh. (Admittedly a gardener asked this question)

Don’t you need something to drink with that sandwich? No thanks.  Here let me get you some ketchup.  No, it’s okay. (fetching ketchup)  Oh, don’t be so polite!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’re only wearing one layer of clothing?  Yes that’s right. How come?  It’s 28 degrees outside.  Yes but there’s some wind.  Oh I’d call that a warm and gentle breeze.

Are Western meals difficult to prepare?  No, not really. Chinese food can be very difficult to prepare, especially when compared to Western food. You guys have hamburgers every night, right?  

Thud.

And so ends another episode of Lift Digest, where some questions were deliciously  innocent and some were…..  rather hard to swallow.