Friday, March 03, 2006

Yangshuo, Guangxi, China

Signing in from Oh So Scenic Yangshuo, a small town that has become one of China’s must-see tourist spots. The reason is the following. The next time you pop in to your local chinese for some sweet and sour, glance up to the walls and you will probably see some painting of stalagmitesque hills with rice paddies at the bottom. I can now see the same thing with the difference that I espy sweaty tourists on rented bicycles at the bottom instead of some old guy dispensing wisdom. Postcard China in essence and I’m not really that enthralled. Maybe I’m slowly tiring of tourism as I seem to get more satisfaction in people watching than spotting scenery however grandiose.

This is ironic as I spent 12 hours in Guyang failing to do just that. I gave myself a pointless day stop in this place as a way to make the Fun Run more bearable. Pointless as I found out that Chinese hard sleeper trains are eminently civilised since, unlike hard seat, there is a correlation between places available and people on board. I should point out at this stage that in this classless society the terms first and second class are not used and therefore hard and soft are substitutes. This has little connection with the upholstery but it might have once. As it was bloody freezing I hid in some café and did not indulge in anthropological contemplation.

Before this I had the joy of being in hilly Chongqing. It was a bastard to walk about and it was conspicuously devoid of the one silent thing in China; bicycles. Not much to report but I did like it. One thing worth mentioning is that I discovered the most flagrant case of the importance of being foreign. I was trying to get a train ticket, which is always a frightening affair in China, and was confronted with 12 counters each with a savage mob in front of them. I had seen this before but never to this scale so I wanted to pinpoint the correct queue before wading in. I went to a copper who was protecting the access to 3 separate, quiet and semi orderly queues and got acroos that I wanted to know which particular scrum I should join to get to my destination.

The copper looked at me then at the battling masses and ushered me towards his special lanes. The other lucky few to access this haven were people who waved what looked like a Party card, people who used sign language and people in wheelchairs. I’m not sure if being a laowai marked me as a VIP or as Special Needs but I was glad in any case. I must confess that this was only the most blatant case of me being queue-jumped, taken through a separate door, ushered, babysat and generally spared the crap that the citizens of this place have to put with. Bless them.

This being the birthplace of silly notions about Ying and Yang, how do I make up for being treated like porcelain on the sole basis of being ethnically different? Well, thanks to my faithful friend Beer, I might just have found a way to make my whiteness be usefull to the locals. See below

It started in a backpacker haunt where me and a Californian decided to wile away a few cold ones by discussing politics. We disagreed frequently and gradually slipped into national stereotypes, him loud and boisterous and me aloof and sarky. We were having fun though and many of the Chinese students (they hang around these places to improve their English or maybe because we’re fun to watch) hovered around us looking fascinated. We tried to get them to join in but could only get soothing platitudes off them since they are unused to discussing politics in public and also in confrontational discourse.

We carried on and somehow got around to the topic of freedom of speech and particularly the truly odious and pathetic attempt by my government to ban speech “glorififying terrorism” whatever the fuck that means. This did get some comments off the locals and one thing led to another and we ended up showing them how to circumvent the Great Firewall and some of the stuff you can discover when your web is unsanitised. They really got into to it and were happily searching away most of the crap they had been taught when it struck me that we might have done them a disservice. I asked and discovered they knew very little of the extent their online forays are watched and restricted. We then held a briefing of sorts and managed to convey the 2 golden rules.

The first rule is never to discuss what they learn about and how to find it in emails or chatrooms. We also told them that being registered as was no guarantee of getting away with it. Amongst the many things they did not know is that their glorious leaders had jailed people who let their thoughts go through the outbox. The other thing they did not realise is that some webmail providers have become the corporate equivalent of a bistro owner skulking around the side entrances of the Paris Kommandatur and telling the local Gestapo that his neighbour’s real name is Cohen.

The second rule was to use the Farrakhan Doctrine: Blame Whitey. The governement doesn’t really care what foreigners look up or write about and even if my emails, searches or this twaddle started to piss them off the very worst that could happen is that they would deport me. This in turn would affect me only in that I would have to revise my travel plans and would try and score hero-worship shags off civil liberties activists. We reckoned that if they used webcafes frequented by foreigners they would face much less risk. of discovery. I don’t think they would end up doing hard time for getting around futile attempts to censor the web but in a society where the state has its fat fingers in all pies their prospects could be reduced by the odd mark next to their names.

So there’s where I soothe my conscience. By offering our little privileged hides up as scapegoats I think I go some way to redeem the perks travellers get in this happy land. If not it pleases me to make life difficult for the 30000 strong cyberplod (which actually have their own cute and cuddly mascots) that China has set up.

On a more somber note I have turned 30 since my last post. This does not make me a happy bunny but I find comfort that I am in a strange land doing my best to balls-up the efforts of governments. So fuck you Khronos, The Fates and the Norns. I will not grow up and I will remain puerile until I decide otherwise.

I’ll soon be posting from Hong Kong.

Take care,



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