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.
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!
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!
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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Guangzhou’s Youth Park is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It was designed by the city’s leaders in honour of the youth. Why then is everyone in this park over 65?
It’s a nice place to go for a stroll before the day gets too hot. Lush tropical vegetation lines the circular path that leads from the busy South Coast Road around about five acres of flat riverside city land. A bored-looking guard keeps an eye on park activity from the comfort of a battered office chair. He must observe a lot. He recognises everyone but acknowledges no-one.
Palm trees line the route that snakes past tai chi warriors, hacky sackers (using the Chinese equivalent of a feather attached to a rubber base), the Old Ladies Book Club (15 white-haired women all reading the same book), middle-aged but very fit men shooting hoop (basketball), a Soviet-era gymnasium – complete with rusty equipment, and a modern outdoor exercise area for people to loosen muscles, joints, and other connective tissue.
I’m starting to recognise a few of the regulars. They’d almost certainly recognise the only caucasian male to regularly visit the park. Uncle Jimmy Liang (my wife’s relative) does shirtless laps of the park at least twice a week and spends the rest of his time sipping tea with his workout buddies inside of the gym. The tea provides fortification for all the sets of ultra heavy bench presses and squats he does with perfect form (I kid you not – and this guy is at least 65).
No-one outside of this part of the old Liwan District seems to know about the Youth Park. This secluded spot is deep and mystic, undisclosed and unknown. I might be exaggerating its finer points here. Truth is, it’s a nice little spot to escape from the chaos that is Guangzhou – a city of over 14 million urban dwellers. There are plenty of bigger (and better) parks here but they all have Wikipedia entries. Apparently this place doesn’t.
You certainly wouldn’t want to arrange a family or work-related team building session here. Thirty minutes is quite enough thank you very much. It’s an oasis of unobtrusiveness, a place to enjoy a moment of mindfulness before being whacked about the head (figuratively speaking) by the chaotic nature of Cantonese life.
As a 41 year old man I’m at least 20 years younger than everybody else here. In this sense, looking around at all the oldies, the Youth Park lives up to its name – and makes this visitor feel young again!
The following report is taken from Anti-Bike Platoon Commander Helmut Schtrapp (2nd Lt.). We would like to commend the bravery shown by the members of his platoon.
– Lt. Colonel B. Handel-Barre (Pedal Regiment, Cycle Path Division) spokes-person for Anti-Bike Platoon.
The platoon was on patrol in the South Garden district when we were ambushed by a rag-tag collection of motley coloured bicycles.
They were uncoordinated and in disarray. My men were able to eliminate the cyclical threat in minutes. Curiously, a large queen-sized mattress seemed to be in command of this guerrilla movement. We don’t not yet know the link between mattress and bicycles, though one soldier timidly suggested it was the “town bike”.
The platoon secured the South Garden area and recommenced the patrol. We had moved 200 metres along South Coast Road when we encountered resistance from a pedal team. Platoon soldiers opened fire resulting in four enemy casualties and several enemy hostages.
No sooner had we taken care of the enemy threat when we were attacked by the tandem forces of green and blue divisions. Our team fought hard but fatigue was becoming a real factor. We would need to back-pedal.
Someone got to these bicycles first. It was hard for some soldiers to get a grip of the situation. The general feeling among the platoon was of suspension.
Lance Corporal Armstrong spotted skid marks on the footbridge at the end of South Coast Road. Private Giant sighted enemy cycles under the bridge. Low on supplies, ammunition, and with fading morale, we decided to avoid confrontation with any more hostile elements. We moved up a gear and took the cycle path back towards the barracks.
Attacked from all sides. This was where the rubber met the road. Yellow “Ofo” division bicycles outflanked, out-sped, and out-out-manouevered the platoon. I ordered the soldiers to fire:
However this caused a chain-reaction as yet more bicycles appeared. Enemy combatants then moved into a formation which military historians might one day term the “pile o’bikes”. Platoon members were twisting ankles on spokes, tripping on crossbars, being maimed by mudguards, and getting tickled by two wheelers. The situation was dire.
Considering that the chain of command ended with me, I decided we should saddle up and beat a hasty retreat. We dropped our supplies and headed for the safety of the underground carpark where, exhausted, we could refuel and debrief.
Sirs, in regards to further patrol missions, it is recommended that our division apply the brakes in the interim. Any further provocations on our part will only lead to one very pumped up enemy and a vicious cycle.
Ah, Ernest (Neighbours….). A bespectacled high school kid of about 17 who lives on the third floor. I’m not sure his name actually is Ernest but it suits him. It takes him longer to wait for the elevator than to climb the three flights of stairs back home. His spoken English is very good though he’s rather serious – like a 1960s news anchor. He tends to over-stress words like I and am. This is a shame as it gives him (an unintentional) air of self-importance. Contrary to many of the youth here, he has very good manners and holds the door open for little old ladies (and me).
His listening needs some work.
“Are you looking for your keys Ernest?”
“Oh hi hello, I am looking for my keys”
“Ok, we’ll go first then – we’re sort of in a rush… sorry”
(5 seconds later) “You don’t need wait for me, you go first”
“Where are you going Ernest?”
“Ha, yes that’s right”
These are fidgety young men from rural areas who can’t seem to stand still for the short time it takes to reach the ground floor. They shift restlessly between feet, a little dance in motion. A cell phone will be consulted, stashed away and again removed from pocket – all within 15 seconds. A mad tapper will often move right up to the lift doors and check out hair, eyes, mouth, teeth, pimples…. You wonder why they’re so antsy. Their conduct is akin to the nine year old boy who has just been informed of a trip to Disneyland – next summer.
Old men in white vests who haven’t yet learned the wonders of modern technology. A 20 year old transistor radio. hung from a belt, can broadcast a mixture of Cantonese opera, revolutionary anthems, or traditional folk. Like any good DJ, they’re loud and largely ignorant to those in their immediate environment. Some roving DJs turn off the wireless before taking a lift, some don’t. Do you think that you’d like to be held captive in an elevator with piercing operatic sounds? Yes? Well then, consider first the words of an experienced Lonely Planet writer who once wrote that Cantonese opera is excruciating to Western ears.
The Jack in the Box
A real waker-upper. Young men, or pushy middle-aged women, who alight the lift on the wrong floor therefore startling those about to enter. The Jack-in-the-box effect is caused by a combination of a mobile phone and positioning oneself right by the door. I was Jack-in-the-boxed last week by a twenty-something year old male who thought the 35th floor was the first floor.
Those who enter the lift like a rebel army before you’ve had the chance to get out. Equal parts infuriating and panic-inducing. Happens surprisingly often.
Pick and Flicks
Once again, the elderly and toddlers. Involves: a nostril, an index finger (though little fingers with bayonet-length nail will suffice), and a twist.
Thanks for the encouragement, comments and support. A couple of questions came in these past few days:
“KJ, what do Chinese do when it rains?” – Brian, South Africa
Great question Brian. They get wet! (will answer this question in another blog)
“Just wondering KJ, do you often encounter racism in your daily life here in China?” – Tom, Canada
Another really interesting question. Thanks Mike. This leads to today’s topic:
The picture above was taken by a friend in an lift across town. The elevator accesses a gym frequented by many Guangzhou-based foreigners. Curious, my friend scanned the QR code attached to the sticker and found a link to a dubious website. No one seems to know who put the sticker there but judging by the site’s content, it was mostly likely an expat.
I’m not going to provide a link to the site. Why? Because it’s a site that purportedly supports expat rights but seems as much a vehicle for hate-speech as anything else. Let’s not mention the frequent spelling mistakes in the site’s blog posts (shock horror!). It should be easy enough to find if you’re really interested.
Flimsy journalism backed with dodgy statistics – yuck. A sample size of ten does not “maketh” an accurate result! The message boards are worse. Swear words, some I’ve never heard before, describing people of both Asian and European descent. I guess this partly helps answer Tom’s question. People are free to rant and rave under the cloak of anonymity and often true feelings come to the surface. People complain about being “helloed” everywhere they go here. Some Chinese get annoyed about being “Ni haoed” too, especially those with advanced levels of English. Africans appear by far to get the worst treatment.
I’ve noticed a degree of unintentional racism here. China is still so homogenous, so completely Chinese, that your brown / blond / red hair and white / dark skin will make you stand out. The locals are simply not yet used to foreigners. My daughters get a lot of attention from people, most of it admiring and very kind. Their eyes, skin, hairstyles (and inevitable shyness from the attention) get remarked upon. “Can they speak Chinese?” “How about English?” “Can they speak at all?”
People point at my nose. One little boy took his fingers and tried to stretch his mini-snout, hoping to equal mine in size. No show on that score buddy. I’ve been called a few rotten names over the years (it’s funny how one remembers the insults) but I think people are generally pretty nice to me. The loud “helloooooos!” and mocking of my Chinese used to grate. Then I discovered meditation. Thanks Headspace. I might have said one or two naughty things to one or two Chinese people here too… some time ago. None of us are robots.
So Tom, is there racism here in China? Yes – lots of it. But I think we’re all guilty of it at some level or another.
You can’t beat the feeling! The stupor of a broken night’s sleep coupled with a long wait. The lifts take an extraordinary amount of time to arrive this morning. We watched Lift C pass our floor on its way up and stop at the floor above us. Oh no not the 36th floor! I briefly mentioned them in the Neighbours…. post a couple of weeks back. They take forever to get into the lift and take their tank of an electric bike with them. The girl loudly slurps milk through a straw. Maddening. Thankfully we got Lift B today.
Mrs. Tai Chi and her daughter are inside the lift. It’s awkward to share a lift with them as Mrs. Tai Chi is either arrogant beyond belief or (more likely) painfully shy. It’s not easy to differentiate sometimes. You get a half-hearted-hello-you-speak-first-and-only-then-will-I-talk-happily greeting. The daughter slouches against the wall looking like she’d rather be in bed.
Four people in the lift.
We stop at the 23rd floor and in steps James and his dad. James is one of my students and quite a hard worker despite his lack of “finishing”.
Six people in the lift.
We’re descended a level before three people I don’t recognise get into the lift. They look tired. Everyone remains quiet.
Nine people in the lift.
And we’re off to the races as we hurtle towards the ground. Oh… nope. We’ve stopped at the 15th and a young woman enters. She looks professional. I don’t recognise her. She is sneaking a glimpse of Miss K in the reflective doors. We arrive at the eighth floor. In hops Cici (pronounced Sissy) – another one of my students and her ever-cheerful mother. She’s the same age, eight, as Miss K.
Twelve in the lift. Someone has bad breath. I think it might be the old man wearing a trendy orange Under Armour t-shirt. His face is merely inches from mine.
“We have a spring outing today!” declares Miss K. I hadn’t heard her talk proactively to anyone in an elevator since we’ve lived here. Suddenly the ice is broken and people are chattering away about the weather and spring outings. Mrs. Tai Chi’s daughter plus James and Cici look crestfallen. Their school has already had their spring outing. Their faces show it – just another boring day at school. Another three people enter the lift.
Fifteen sardines trapped in an elevator. Imagine if it broke down. We had 16 people yesterday. I think the record might be 22.
“It’s raining today” someone offers by way of consolation “which means it doesn’t really count as a fun outing.” Spoil sport.
The lift capacity record remains unbroken as we reach the first floor. Miss K is unperturbed by the rain and her excitement is palpable as she skips to school. Wary looking parents and busy office workers all head out the front gate in anticipation of the day ahead.
This is a typical day in the Block Six lifts. We weren’t attacked by bandits nor did Superman save us from impending doom. It did however offer an insight into a little slice of humanity going about its daily life.
That’s the final blog of the week. There will be more posts next week. Thank you for your continued support. Have a super weekend.