Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Changchun, Jilin Province, China

Long time no post. I have had a few emails about my careless disregard for regular updates. These were mainly of the kindly concerned nature but I also detected the odd twinge of smackhead withdrawal symptoms. I am guessing that I have cut off the source of yet another 15 minutes of dossing material that the workplace computers won’t identify as porn. I am back now so please copy and paste onto a Word doc and pretend to read a memo. Printing it and highlighting random parts with a frown on our face is always a good way to look like you’re working.

I must state now that I am in no trouble whatsoever and the period of silence since my last post is one thing I cannot, unfortunately, blame on the Chinese authorities. Aside from laziness, a small change of plans has interrupted my regular blog related musings and put my mind on things more worldly. In a way I have had to consider whether or not to continue writing at all. See below for details.

Oh to be a backpacker and roam the world freely! To flit around like a bohemian chasing the endless summer. To be part of the biggest party in the world where instant friendship and cold beer can be found with great ease in over a dozen countries. TO be effectively homeless and unemployed but to be bourgeois enough so that it gets called “traveling”.

I am living in that particular Eden and have adapted to it frighteningly quickly. It seems like a lifetime that I left the grey life and, in some ways, this is the most fun I have had since Oasis did albums worth buying. Therefore I have recently taken the wise step of fucking it all up and plunging back into the grim world where having a watch actually matters. I am now gainfully employed in the cold north of China. I have joined the gravy train that is teaching English in China, helping the children of this noble county to express themselves clearly when they start running the world.

SO why, oh fuck why, have I done such a thing? There is no one reason but a combination of things that just made it seem like a bright idea and yes, beer was one of these. From a practical perspective this little stint will hopefully mean that my wanderings won’t be a complete CV write-off. It’s been a while since faffing around in foreign countries has been a plus for employers especially now that every western school leaver whose parents own a Volvo or better has joined the malaria risk club. If a recruiter tells you that it was a factor in choosing you it is a way of saying they want to bone you or that the other candidates looked sort of funny and they needed some reason to tell them to sod off.

And that’s for grads and teenagers. At my age, having a good collection of visas on the passport is tantamount to telling someone to keep the job description handy as you won’t be around long. Therefore I reckon that if I stay here and learn some basic Chinese (for CV purposes this translates as “fluency and expertise in cultural attributes”) it might make some greedy sod dumb enough to employ me in the hope of getting their hands on some of the 800 billion dollars the Chinese govt is hoarding. Just hedging my bets.

As for why I have decided to stay in this heavily policed neck of the woods; that’s when it gets complicated. Basically, China challenges me. Most countries I have been to are easy to suss, daily life-wise. China still perplexes me after 2 months and I have not yet had a day where I didn’t see something that I thought odd or bizarre. A lot of times this is something that pisses me off but that’s part of the fun. I can quell my inflated ego long enough to realize that the Chinese have other things to do than act weird to annoy laowais and this makes me very curious. Additionally, I have also found that some preconceptions about the places I have been to were not all false. China is the exception here. Most of my previously held ideas about China, its people and its culture have revealed themselves to be complete bollocks.

This makes the place one of those where knowledge decreases over time. The longer you stay, the less you realize you know. Hopefully I will reach the blank slate stage at some point and start to get to grips with this seriously weird country. That’s why I will continue this blog. A lot of what I write is actually intended for me as I know that time, selective memory and nostalgia will one day make me as clueless to what I am now doing as someone who reads this on a lunch break. I like the idea of seeing my own evolution and sniggering at m past self for his naivety.

Another good reason to continue this is that it will force me to get out and go hunting for anecdotes instead of growing a gut in expat bars or staying home watching pirate DVDs of movies 2 weeks before they are released back home. I will also try to structure this blog somewhat though I know that will probably go wrong very quickly. The categories I see should be thus:

-Ego trip: This will be like most of the crap I have done so far. An arrogant testimony to my sense of importance. What I am doing, job anecdotes, bar tales etc…

-Laowai life. Laowai is the term used by the locals to describe foreigners. Sinophiles claim this is a reasonably friendly term but Chinese people you know will tell you that it isn’t. It’s not an outright insult but it’s on par with calling the locals “chinks” Basically laowais are treated like idiot savants. They are often perceived to hold some great know-how (mostly false) and at the same time be incapable of the simplest things without assistance (generally true). This means you will be asked weird questions about the complexities of International Law or something yet draw concerned looks and offers of help when you say you are off to buy some detergent. This will be the “funny” clash of cultures section.

-Know your masters: I suspect the Chinese will replace the yanks as alpha dog in the next half century and that my country’s bold leaders will be just as pathetically sycophantic. It’s quite possible that, one day soon, some sleazy Brit PM will decide to send troops alongside “our good friends in China” into some ill-conceived invasion and, then as now, my countrymen will need to alleviate their own guilt by being patronizing and self-righteous towards the citizens of the country to whom we can’t say no. I hope to help this by explaining a few key Chinese concepts and notions. This will be the part that will provide retrospective cringes for my future self.

-What the Fuck?: This is where I will put down all the weird shit that I don’t get or find really amusing such as men bashing manholes with rocks or slash-and-burn park maintenance (both seen yesterday).

All the above are but a rough plan and will there is a fair chance they won’t survive the next post.

Finally, as we live in the golden age of the spineless and God forbid I should be misconstrued here comes the cultural relativism, I call it as I see it, all cultures have pros and cons, isn’t it a funny world etc, craven disclaimer about what I will pen down. Doubtless I will be very critical of my hosts and this might be seen as racism or cultural imperialism. There are arseholes out there who will go as far as to frown on criticism of clitorectomies out of misplaced guilt so I reckon that, for example, my labeling of Chinese males over 40 as insecure and arrogant pricks might raise the odd pierced eyebrow. Therefore I have come up with the Blame Mao defence.

Chinese civilization is 5 millennia old as they point out oh-so-bloody-often so deriding it would show a contemptible inability to see traits as part of a bigger picture and therefore warrant the dreaded R word. However, having seen Hong Kong and Singapore as well as the odd Chinese enclave I know that there is nothing intrinsically selfish or nasty about Chinese culture. Therefore what I dislike I will blame on the Cultural Revolution or more accurately the Cultural Extermination.

During this happy period a lot of the customs and mannerisms of China were condemned as relics of a feudal society and discouraged/brutally repressed. Though I am not fond of pointless niceties and traditions I concede that they are often part of a vast array of solutions that societies have developed in order to get along. A lot of these are gone here and this has had some slightly nasty effects. Hence I can blame Mao most of the time since he is generally indefensible. For the few who like what the twat did the only discussion I wish to have with them is in Morse code through slaps on the back of the head.

The best I can do is to try and distinguish what I don’t like due to cultural preconceptions masquerading as gut reactions (e.g.: Eating dog. If I can chomp down o Fluffy the lamb, I should be ready to slow roast Rover with some garlic and thyme) and what I think is wrong within a consistent moral framework (e.g.: Punching women during public domestics; unfortunately not rare here. A gutless numbnuts who attacks someone they believe to be weaker in order to save face is a loathsome creature in China just as he is in England, Alaska, Patagonia, the Congo or anywhere else on the planet). Should I get this wrong I hope those of you who have my email will set my straight.

So that’s the way it should go from now on. I doubt I will get shut down whatever I write as laowais seem to live in a different legal sphere (the regular police can’t touch us except in dire emergencies) and are not worth the bother. Plus as my blog is inaccessible in China they probably don’t read it.

Take care,