Thursday, May 25, 2006

Changchun, Jilin province, China

Shorter post this time which shouldn’t be difficult. I’ll get my tangents done with as swiftly as I can.

One thing unrelated to modern day China that I would like to waffle on about is the recent decision by Cambodia to start legal proceedings against those responsible for the killing fields. About fucking time you might say but I fear this might not be cause for any celebration. The UN has been rightly concerned that a purely Cambodian run show would be a stunningly corrupt and ineffective affair since the government has little interest in seeking justice. The alternative would be a Nuremberg style trial where the perps are tried by chaps from other countries in a snatch-and grab Milosevic style but that would piss away any cute notions of Cambodians sorting out their own affairs.

From what I’ve got the solution is typical of the UN. After many years of threats, blusters, cajoles and backrubs, the fine legal and diplomatic minds working at the UN have eventually come up with a half-arsed compromise. One prosecutor will be foreign and all the decisions will have to be rubber stamped by outside jurists. I suppose the idea is to “help” the Cambodians finally get some justice. My take is slightly less positive and I’m not too impressed.

As laughable as it may have looked, the Milosevic trial still had one principle that I hold dear: A crime against humanity knows no borders and neither should its punishment. This isn’t like benefit fraud. The name of the game is to put these scrotes away for a long time content with the knowledge that, unlike their victims, they had a chance to defend themselves. Whether this happens in the Hague, Phnom Penh, Nuremberg or Milton Keynes is irrelevant. The perps in this case will be able to throw sand (or briefcases full of cash) in the cogs of the Cambodian machine and my guess is that the outside legal eagles will have to override the locals so much they might as well take charge fully. This could end up in a very morbid farce.

My personal solution would be to sod cosmetics and send in a few special forces types to do an Eichmann on these pricks. They could be tried in Belgium since everyone else seems to be (there are enough exiles in Europe to get plaintiffs and witnesses) and sent to do porridge in France for no better reason that prisons are shit there. Folk will whine about sovereignty and neo-colonialism but what matters is that somewhere in the paddy fields, a Cambodian will know that true bastards are being longcocked in the showers of La Sante prison for having ensured that he has no uncles or aunts despite his parents coming from 6 kid families.

Anyways, Jacques Ob and Mr Nuts will doubtless have a better take on the subject as their legal knowledge, unlike mine, goes beyond having read some John Grisham pulp and spouting off the pub legend that it’s technically legal to kill a Welshman with a bow and arrow after midnight in Coventry. So it’s back to China with me.

Ego trip:

I have recently felt the first pangs of travel hunger. Having a job and a flat inevitably means having to create some sort of routine. Obligations and necessities override what I feel like doing and I now have an average day of sorts. A serious upgrade in living conditions has made the transition pretty easy but now that I am settled and settled on the greener grass and have found somewhat of a daily routine I occasionally get hit by doubt and a strong yearning for the road.

This tends to happen when I have an uneventful day where what was once special is now ordinary. A song, a scent or my still not completely unpacked rucksack in the corner of the room will make me look west and want to hop onto a train. I guess this will pass if I can remind myself that however anodine my daily actions are I am doing them in China. In a way it also forces me to keep my curiosity alive and notice the small things that might intrigue me.

Backpacking is the ideal way of discovering places for those of us brought up with a telly and who have the attention span of a goldfish. Constant motion means constant renewal so the thirst for novelty is always satiated. Now I have to put some effort into discovering a place.

So what’s this increasingly familiar town like? The vital stats of Changchun are that of a medium to big Chinese city, 6 mil in the greater area, a fair dose of industry, pollution and a vast urban sprawl. It’s not on the tourist trail but neither is it one to avoid at all costs. Its real claim to fame is that it was once the seat of the puppet government of Manchukuo the Japs had set up with the complete waste of space that was Pu Yi, aka the Last Emperor. Heavy Jap presence has ensured that you sometimes come across the odd Art Deco With A Japanese Slant building. Oh, and they also put in most of the crummy waterworks of this city.

Basically it’s nothing special which is good for me. I want to experience an average China, a working China and Changchun is quite good for this. The pollution is nasty but nowhere near as nasty as Guangdong or Beijing and the brass monkey bollock freezing temperatures of the Changchun winter is actually a plus in my view. It has got more parks than the average Chinese city so I can access some greenery and try to learn the great Chinese art of sitting on a bench and staring for hours. It’s less of a pain to master than Tai Chi.

Laowai life: Somewhat of an overlap with my Ego Trip as I have decided to describe my job. This is one shared by a lot of Anglo laowais so it’s not too self-obsessed.

When I decided to settle my dusty arse in the Middle Kingdom I had hoped to bag a Uni teaching job as the perks are better holiday wise. My innate sense of timing meant that I arrived a month after I should have looked around and 5 months before the next recruitment period. Got a few offers but all for late summer and I didn’t want to do endless visa runs and deplete my finances even further. I therefore hunted around for a private school with a half decent rep after a few run-ins with dodgy outfits confirmed all the interweb rumours.

Like most schools that recruit foreigners, my employer recognizes the need for youngish expats to do very little and have a lot of spare time to learn the Chinese language , the culture or just go on one massive drinking spree. My teaching load is quite light and though my weekends are essentially fucked my week has a total of 5 teaching hours, all in the evening. In short I have a lot of spare time on my hands to do things like this blog.

The basic requirement for teaching in China is to be a grad from an English speaking nation. TEFLs are a plus but anyone who knows the elaborate networks of fake diplomas and referees based in Bangkok or Hanoi realizes that they are worthless. Even the basics can be ditched if you agree to very dodgy working conditions, possible illegal residency and a slurry of problems. I once met a 19 year old French guy who taught at one of these. He didn’t look happy.

A Chinese classroom presents many challenges beyond the fact that I don’t know what I am doing. Discipline is mostly the preserve of a Chinese teacher who is paid a third of what I get for 3 times the work. Also Chinese deference towards teachers ensures that they don’t piss about too much. The one problem that everyone on the same gravy train as I faces is how to know if they grasp something or they are just repeating. The capacity to parrot of my kids is amazing and a bit frightening. For reason political and cultural, Chinese schools work on a brutal rote learning system where independent thinking and learning by fuck-up is discouraged. As a result my kids probably wouldn’t even sigh if I got them to repeat a sentence 100 times but freeze like a deer in headlights if I shift the context a tad when working on some vocab.

I am surprised that I like the little bastards and actually enjoy what I thought would be a hamster wheel of a job. Once they stop fearing you they can be really great especially when they twig that fun is tolerated when taught by a foreigner. They then develop a scary affection towards you. Usually it’s quite a boost to the old ego but it has drawbacks. Many a time I have strolled out of my place of work with my earphones on, generally oblivious to the world after a short day’s work only to be reminded of reality and gravity by being nearly rugby tackled by some sprog I teach deciding to run up behind me and hug my leg while screaming my name.

In a way the parents are the ones I have trouble working out. They are periodically allowed to come into the classroom to see what we are doing with their progeny and generally sit in the back understanding even less than their kids. When they do get something across it is often along the lines of why don’t I favor their precious, legally mandated, one child over the others. All sorts of hints of favours tend to come along with these comments. Even weirder is their attitude to class discipline. I am by no means the most relaxed of teachers and I am blessed with a voice that can, if needed, stop 19 Chinese kids in their tracks and even hurt their little eardrums a tad. I use this often and to good effect. Yet the parents do not like even the odd lesson based game as it clashes with the disciplinarian hellhole they experienced as nippers.

Another comment that filters to all new teachers after a while is a subtle hint by parents that it’s perfectly alright to belt their child from time to time. This would horrify most parents back home into legal proceedings but here it’s SOP. Amusingly, if I wanted to get the parents to flid the only thing I have to do is send a rowdy kid to kick his heels and calm down in the corridor for 5 minutes. At that point they react as if had done like the Vatican’s finest and taught their 5 year old how to pole-dance. The reason for this is face.

Know Your Masters: Giving and Losing Face.

The reason the parents lose it for what would seem like a mild sanction for misbehaviour is that to isolate a kid from his peers is a major loss of face for the parents. It implies that they are not raising their child as well as others and that really insults them. Face is omnipresent in most of Asia but here it is taken very, very seriously.

I am still learning what can make one lose or save face but I have had the joy of many encounters with it. A typical example is when I ask for directions. A Chinese man will lose face if he admits he doesn’t know where the Great Hall of the People is even if he has been in the town for 5 minutes. To save face, the bastard will quickly invent a fictitious location and send you off on a wild goose chase. It took me a month in China to set myself the golden rule of always asking women for directions. Women are not expected to know more then men, regardless of origins so don’t lose face if they tell me they don’t know but a Chinese man is expected to be more knowledgeable than a Western bloke on anything to do with China so will rather die than fess up to ignorance or more accurately will rather see me off on the wrong bus than ask someone around him.

The tourist guides will tell you that the biggest mistake a Westerner makes with regards to face is to get shouty and lose his temper. This is a great loss of face and will get you nothing except the total loss of any respect the locals had for you. A stroll through a Chinese town will immediately reveal this bit of advice for the tosh it is. I have seen countless shouting matches and even the odd punch up over trivial matters and I can safely say the Chinese are not averse to a good bit of argie bargie. What does matters however is when to get rowdy or not. You basically have to try and work out where you are on the very subtle pecking order of Chinese society and then yell downwards. Giving verbal to the upper echelons such as anyone with a uniform, even a train conductor, will result in loss of face for both parties but mainly for you. Bullying the lower orders such as the poor or women for little reason is conversely a face gainer.

It would take a lifetime for me to work out the intricacies of face and its origins but it will take me minutes to judge it. It’s complete and utter tripe. I don’t care how much it is ingrained in Confucian values or whatever it is essentially schoolyard tough kid mentality. The younger generation, or at least the members I have met, tend to agree with me and it dicks them off even more as they have to live with it constantly whereas I have some leeway as a foreigner. Ego is something that should be curbed not bloody enshrined as a cultural asset.

Mind you I should start to care about it a bit more now that I live here as my backpacking reaction to displays of face gaining or face losing has been open mockery if they were dumb enough to use me for on of these exercises. I have had to do this the odd time particularly when some drunk tosser decides thumbing his nose (sometimes quite literally) at a laowai will be a great face gainer. The result of a contemptuous snigger by me is as pantomimesque as the initial approach with hands sunk in pockets, hunched shoulders and prolonged staring at shoes. I have been told that this is because laughing at someone who pulls this stunt makes them lose mucho face. I have also been told to be careful doing this as once I have derided their weird challenge to only way for them to save face would be to beat the crap out of me. I will be more wary now that I live here. Probably

WTF: Haircuts, hairdryers and man in a box.

The haircut come from a fun hour when I decided that my young pupils will probably find me funny enough without me looking like Shaggy out of Scoobidoo and that poncy locks would have to be on standby for a year along with my sandals. I walked in to my local barber and signaled for him to generally shorten everything. I am not that much more precise with the cutters back home so I didn’t intend to learn any specific vocab. I have much to learn in Hanyu but “highlights” is one word I’ll probably die ignorant of. Anyway the guy got snipping tentatively but eventually realized my hair was made of the same dead keratin strands that grace the heads of his regular patrons and got cracking.

He worked all around my head, asked me if it was ok and started over again. I figured was going to continue until I said stop and let him go on until I got what I wanted. All this time I had noticed the folk behind me staring intently but I didn’t mind and sort of expected it. What I saw when I got out of the chair did surprise me a bit as a small crowd of onlookers had gathered outside. I waved, they laughed and all went well but the barber asked me to wait for a mate of his to arrive with a camera so he could prove he had cut blond hair.

The hairdryer is actually unrelated to haircutting but connected with health issues. As I have mentioned before, street barbecues abound and you have to be careful if you don’t want to spend the next day on the bog. This is easy enough at mealtimes where the number of local patrons will give you a hint to how good the chow is but trickier for post boozing munchies when you the sole customers around are you and seriously gambeied businessmen. That’s where the hairdryers come in. The more established place have raised the capital to get a hairdryer to keep their coals hot. This tells you they do a lot of grilling and therefore are probably safe. It’s all in the details.

Man in a box is just that. I was walking under an overpass near my home where all sorts of scrap merchants congregate. They are a friendly bunch and usually beckon you over for a quick bout of having nothing to say to each other. This time I noticed a big box on a bicycle/cart job, where people went to and put a handful of cash in it. I then noticed that on this fine day a well dressed bloke was hunched in that box receiving the cash. Why, how, what? I don’t know

That’s it for this post,

Take care,


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Changchun, China

First of the “my time living with the Chinese” post.

Before I kick off I should make thing one thing clear. When I refer to China and my life in it I am talking about China Mk. II. This is the 3-400 million strong, modernizing, urban China that goes online, hosts Olympics, gets told by their government not to piss in the bushes when visiting Hong Kong Disneyland and pays the likes of me to teach English to their one precious child. This is where I live, work and get sloshed and what will follow for he next year will probably be mainly about this version.

There is another, bigger, quieter and, in some ways, more significant China that I have only glimpsed or walked through on some nature jaunt. This version has not changed much in the past few centuries and is not getting a piece of the pie. I am talking about rural China. The peasants of China have always been disregarded and treated like manure but this time they are getting huffy as they know that some of their brethren have ceased to suffer as they do and they have even had the odd riot against bent officials. According to the government there are 300 million of these chaps still living in abject poverty and proper sources put the figure at 800 mil.

If we start seeing Europe, the US and China as greedy lardies fighting for the same resources, rural China is actually of great significance to our privileged little hides. There are essentially two scenarios that matter to us. The first possibility is that the recently decreed New Socialist Countryside masterplan will work and millions of Chinese will be ushered into the 20th if not the 21st century. This would be good news for the Chinese and bad news for us. It means we will be suddenly have a numerically superior bunch of people with the same sense of god-given entitlement to anything on, in and above land or sea if they can pay for it. They will want to acquire, upgrade and uptrend their cars, gadgets and appliances just as much as we do and, like us, they will only care about how they will be able to pay for it.

Scenario 2 is that, like all programs with the word Socialist in them, the masterplan will go tits-up and the conditions of the peasants not improve on bit. China 2.0 will carry on draining resources out of the old version and fuck them over and things could get nasty. The locals have already protested against some of the depredations inflicted on them and got repressed brutally. This will in all probability re-occur and the leaders will probably respond by even nastier clampdowns. The past protests may seem paltry back home but when you consider that in China public dissent is a synonym of suicide it shows how bad things are in the sticks.

The core of the problem is the institutionalised corruption of Chinese mandarins (will do one post on this little pleonasm at some point). Essentially, rich townies get in cahoots with local supremos and grab some land. The folk who work and live on said land get bugger all compensation and face the prospect of starving or joining the vast crowd of illegal migrant workers who sift through my rubbish, build the skyscrapers around me and have less rights to travel freely and work than I do in their own country. Unsurprisingly this annoys them a bit and I suspect that stupid glory stunts like putting men into space might make them question the truly egalitarian nature of the Socialist Brotherhood of Man they live in. Hence, revolt.

This could very well lead China to take a big step backward and kick off a low intensity civil war between the townies and the oiks. The government would stamp out what small freedoms they have doled out and the great economic expansion would probably brake suddenly as foreign investors bail out. The government might then use the tried and tested method of diverting the locals’ interest in domestic matters by going all nationalistic and belligerent about Taiwan, Japan, the Spratlies or some perceived slur by the US. However this time they might get serious and things could get out of control.

As I am on a Nostradamic rant I might as well push my hypothetical musings to the end and see what it would mean for the West. Basically China would probably cease to bankroll the American economy which would then go into recession which would in turn hit us Europeans. We would eventually recover from that probably thanks partially to selling shedloads of weapon systems to very jittery Taiwanese and Japanese citizens and we would get back to taking out loans (by now underwritten by Indian consortiums) for a bigger flat screen TV without having to worry that some chap in Shanghai wants one as well and will pay more for it. We might even take a break from watching internet videos of numbnuts injuring themselves or putting cats in washing machines and use our new handheld, wifi equipped, communications and entertainment device filled to the brim with African nickel and cadmium to fire off a quick email to Amnesty in support of the thousands of Chinese farmers now languishing in a growing network of gulags.

The sweet irony of this is that the solution to the problems in the Chinese countryside is obvious and easy yet impossible for the boys in Beijing. All they have to do for this shit to stop is to make local officials accountable to the peons by having them elected and not appointed by the Party. They can them use the 800 billion US dollars cash reserves they are sitting on to help the rurals with some hope it will get to the beneficiaries and not just transform itself into a new fleet of Mercs with inbuilt karaoke systems. They won’t do this as this would start a very novel trend of questioning the infallible wisdom of the Party and that can’t happen.

For what was going to be a quick qualifier on my blog the above has gone off on a somewhat tedious, weirdly alarmist and lengthy tangent but since I have spent the last half hour pondering and writing it I’m going to post it.. Soz for that but my point is that it is in our interest to keep an eye out for what is happening in the paddy fields as it will affect us as a group. Plus, as you people don’t need to use an ever dwindling list of proxy servers to get reliable info about this country I am kind of hoping you’d give me a heads up if things seem to heat up. Anyways, as there are better geopolitical blogs out there written by well informed and rational people who haven’t been swigging cheap Chinese brandy for the past 4 nights in a row I will get back to more usual task of trying to make myself sound interesting. So as per last post’s categories:

Ego trip: I am now a member of an “expat scene”. This differs from the backpack crowd in as much that we have bothered to learn how to say our address in Chinese for the drunken taxi ride home and the reality that we can’t avoid facing the consequences of our latest pissed up misbehaviour by sodding off to another town. The local expat crowd consists broadly of 3 groups.

There is a Volkswagen plant here so there is a large contingent of Germans who live in secluded neighbourhoods and have made themselves popular by barring Chinese people from their favourite haunts. Then there is a number of Russians here involved in all number of shady deals (most of the pirate DVDs here have Russian as the default language) who can be easily spotted from afar as the women look stunning and the men look dangerous. Finally there is a big bunch of assorted Anglos which include the usual countries we think off plus some Nigerians, Ghanans, Philipinos and a honorary bunch of French and Italians. The latter group spend most of their time teaching English, getting drunk, sleeping with one another, making jokes about the Germans and weighing up the opportunity of scoring with a normally way-above-their-league Russkie beauty against the likelihood of getting a severe beating by chaps in black leather jackets called Arkady.

As I have no problems sharing facilities with Chinese people and I don’t know how to dismantle a Makarov pistol I have accepted that my assigned expat crowd is where I am going to be doing most of my liver damage. I am however still backpackery enough to be snobbish of those who spend more time with their likes than the locals plus at the moment the weather is nice. What this means is that the streets in my neighbourhood come alive at night as everyone goes walking about or plonks furniture on the pavement next to enterprising blokes with barbecues and beer crates. I love places where there is still such a thing as communal street life so at the moment I am quite happy getting sozzled and eating barbecued bread and lamb just outside my building while my neighbours enjoy listening to me mispronounce whatever new vocabulary I am trying to learn. My persistent cocking-up of the colours was quite a hit and one guy now brings some crayons with him just to ensure there will be some fun with the laowai while the coals heat up.

Laowai Life: For a category I though would be prolific with anecdotes I find I have little to chuck n here. The only thing I can think of is that I now have a Chinese name. This was made official by the opening of a bank account. I was ready for the worst so I got a Chinese colleague to babysit me and refused to believe her when she said it would take 5 minutes. Back home such a process requires 2 weeks and nothing short of a sperm sample so I was geared for a long wait. It did indeed take 5 minutes most of which I spent worrying about the teenage security guards with shotguns lugging bags of coins to an armoured van and finding it cool that the tellers still used an abacus. Anyways, I walked out of there with a cash card and an account under a new name that I still have trouble pronouncing.

I was going to write down what it is but considering tat I have managed to put in nearly every sensitive key word except for Dalai Lama and Falun Gong (might as well go for it now) in the text above I reckon that giving out a legal name would be making the authorities’ life too easy if they decide to have a pop at foreigners blogging in China. If I am going to get in trouble I would rather they put some effort into it. What I like about my Chinese name is that it has a poetic meaning to it. This is not unusual as Chinese names often have a literal meaning. When kids get to choose an English name for the class they often come up with fun stuff from the predictable (Tiger, Dragon, Flower) to the strange (Dumpling, Ricecake, Fist). This is why most teachers just present lists of names for the kids to choose from in order to avoid fuelling future pisstakes.

The way my name came about is that I told my real name to my Chinese colleagues who then got one of the staff who didn’t speak English to try and pronounce it. They then took that version and brainstormed word combinations that sounded similar but wouldn’t end up with me walking around calling myself Electric Pillowcase or something. This is often a big problem with people called Ben as, with the right tone, Ben is Chinese for stupid. However, they managed in my case to find something reasonably bucolic. When I finally get back to the backpacker trail what happened above will, for purposes of impressing Scandinavians females, have mutated into some tale whereupon my natural mystique, virtues and/or some noble deed prompted folk to call me by a cool sounding moniker. Saving puppies from burning buildings might have to occur. Possibly even orphans.

Know your masters: This category also left me scratching my head about what facet of Chinese society I could write about as I hate to expose my ignorance more than I have to. Thankfully, Jacques Ob put down a comment that gave me a choice topic to rant about. He mentioned that some of the boys back home had a wee chat about my reports and the position that a man called Romj took, namely that murdering 1.2 billion human beings is a good idea.

Had it been anyone else I would have been seriously concerned about how the feelings this blog originates but thankfully all that happened is that the Chinese have just joined the long list of people whom Romj believe should be chastised in some way for existing. If memory and bar anecdotes serve true these include; people he hasn’t known for ten years that look at him funny or might, people he has known for ten years but who at some point had a half forgotten argument with him or anyone that he thinks should be allowed to live, people he knows and likes but believes a bit of a beating would improve and, of course, Gypsies trying to sell roses to people in cafes.

Anyways, the comment did lead me to ponder an aspect of Chinese society that I dislike and, to an extent, fear. I am talking about widespread racism. The virulent hatred of the Japanese I can sort of understand in light of what Tojo’s boys did here and the fact that they are constantly being fed anti-Japanese mantras by their government. What bothers more me is the condescension and contempt towards other Asian nations.

I should be honest now and say that as a white laowai the worst I suffer is inflated expectations on my capabilities and the odd occasion where people check my clothes to see if I have dressed properly for the weather. I actually benefit from it in any ways. The Africans in Changchun however, do not have it so good. One of my Nigerian colleagues is now used to the inevitable chorus of protest from parents when he starts a new class or takes on over from a departing colleague. His classes are also conspicuously smaller than all other teachers. I often get a shock when chatting to youngish anglophone Chinese people as they seemed well clued up and genuinely open but will suddenly come up with vicious stuff that you wouldn’t hear back home from anyone who has spent more time in school than prison.

So, in view of my last post, is this something I can category claim as wrong without being prejudiced myself? Not really.

I have given some thought on the subject and I am now wondering if I can really be judgmental. I am not trying to be some patronizing twat who smiles benignly on the Heathen Chinee as they “don’t know any better”. I am simply acting on my views on what racism is, why we don’t like it and why it is condemned in most Western societies. I don’t really think racism is good or bad. What bothers me about it is that it’s stupid. It’s the Us versus Them position for those who are so fucking thick they can’t even remember enough facts to be nationalists. It’s placing people on an inexistent natural scale of merit based on the amount of melanin their body produces. Bewilderingly dumb.

Therefore what’s the problem then? Idiots abound and always will. Who cares? We all do. Racism is rightly shunned in the West not because of some great moral enlightenment but out of self interest. It’s been a while since there’s been a link between nationality and ethnicity in western countries and multiculturalism is now a fact. As such racists are essentially people who make life difficult for the rest of us. We all have to get along somehow and we all piss someone off to some extent by being and doing, just as they annoy us. Juggling this is tricky enough without a bunch of tits trying to create more aggro based on complete bollocks that makes them feel better about themselves. Particularly since the logical conclusion of any racial conflict theories is at best civil war and at worst genocide. Hardly the aspirations of any society.

An easy metaphor for this is to picture society as a busy road in rush hour traffic. We are al trying to get somewhere and having to share the same tamac makes this difficult/. SO when we’re not flipping through radia channels in a futile quest to find a station that doenst play fecking Dido, we are maneuvering, braking nd accelarating, cursing others for hindering us yet doing the same thing to other drivers. The more shouts, insults, beeps and rude hand gestures abound, the more likely we are to start indulging in pointless tantrums ourselves. In this context a racist is a moron who adds to the chaos by deciding to pester and harass all blue cars. In extreme cases, one of these geniuses will ram a blue car, which is no skin of my red car driving nose except that traffic grinds to a halt and everyone gets screwed. It’s therefore in everyones’ interest that these wankers get put on the side of the road where they belong and they can grumble at blue cars all they want while going nowhere.

I am not a fan of censorship or legal action against anyone regardless of how vile their statements are. Personally, I am convinced of the effectiveness of ostracism, contempt and ridicule towards racists. Still, regardless of what method one prefers for dealing with these twats what matters is that racism is generally seen as a problem and something must be done about it. We fight racism in the West not because we are wonderfully good chaps but because we can’t afford not to. Necessity, not humanism, created Rock against Racism.

So in that view how does China fit in? Basically they have never had a great need to quell the inner tosser that resides in all of us. The local tourist boards love to harp on about their ethnic minorities but 2 months moving around the place have shown me is that China is fundamentally Han (google it if you care). The governments’ track record on minorities is not to brilliant so oppression is a state owned monopoly. In short they can spout all the crap they want as it doesn’t affect their society much and they don’t have race riots to act as wake up calls. The Us vs Them posit is so much bullshit here as it is elsewhere but here there actually is an Us and a Them. There are loads of Laowais faffing about China but none have citizenship (who the fuck would want that anyway? It’s pretty much like signing off most of your human rights).

Basically it pisses me off but I’m not going to be too haughty about it even if it does worry the shit out of me. The Chinese are going to be very powerful one day and it does not bode well for the future if they see other humans as inferior.

I might as well finish off with a brief rant on the rabid nationalism that is common here. Sometimes it’s funny like the claim from a graduate that all Roman architecture was copied from the Chinese or seeing a trendy pop group spin a ditty whose chorus includes the line “the Chinese people are upright and honest”. Still, it irritates just as much as British football chants or French claims to be the birthplace of human rights. Regardless of the accuracy of any praise of a nation’s track record, nationalism (and its more acceptable version called patriotism) is still a pathetic attempt to get kudos for something you played no part in.

No Greek man alive gave advice to Plato, no Italian can say he was a bricky on the Aqua Claudia, there isn’t a soul in Marrakech who came up with algebra and I, though I wish otherwise, did not spend a fine day in Waterloo pumping grapeshot into the part of the French Army that some short-arsed Corsican had forgotten to leave behind in Russia as ice sculptures just as I didn’t spend my 19th birthday wearily strapping myself into a battered Spitfire for the umpteenth time to send the Luftwaffe’s finest for a swim in the Channel.

A nation’s deeds and misdeeds can inspire and teach but to be proud or ashamed of these when you did not have a role in them is nothing more than the geographic equivalent of “my daddy’s stronger than yours”. In a weird way it pisses me off more than racism probably since I have never been with a racist crowd (being middle class has some perks) yet I have had to listen to people I like tell me they are proud of being X, Y or Z. The offshoot of this is that I have sometimes done nothing more than sigh or frown when I hear some horrible racial stereotype from an English speaking local but I have enjoyed pointing that being proud that the Chinese invented gunpowder amongst other things must have been of little comfort when a bunch of whities showed up who had taken their fabulous invention, decided to sod this firework malarkey and develop these wonderful “gun” things instead.

So, exeunt the “I am so bloody deep and thoughtful” bit and enter the weird stuff.

WTF: Dirty jackets, green men running and great donkeys in a joke of a city.

The complete nonsense above is a sample of things I have noticed in the past week that I thought quite cool. I’ll leave it to you to decide if it all reveals me for a bit of a yokel.

The dirty jacket refers to a mystery that I only solved 2 days ago. Many a time I have woken up feeling delicate and decided to nip down to the store for assorted hangover palliatives only to discover whilst dressing a dirty and dusty patch on my jacket at chest level. This was a regular occurrence and has prompted many an attempt to figure out what I had done last night that caused my chest to rub with dirt. The absence of injuries or any other stains made this even more cryptic. My mind was finally put at ease 2 days ago when I decided not to follow up an evening of bowling with a night on the lash and hailed a cab. I knew I was decent before leaving as the bowling alley is on the 4th floor of a hotel swanky enough to consider barring a laowai if he/she is too scruffy. When I got home the mysterious stain had once again materialized but this time I was sober enough to work out what happened. The answer to the riddle lies with the fact that I am one of the few people in China to bother putting the safety belt on if it is on offer. General neglect and disuse means that these little lifesavers accumulate vast amounts of crap just waiting for some idiot to give them a quick clean with his jacket and that’s where I fit in. Mystery solved.

The green men running is just an observation of a somewhat smart way of regulating pedestrian traffic. As in most of the world China has the standard red and green hieroglyphs to tell fragile humans that they can cross the road without having to dodge overladen buses with crap brakes. Once your time on the tarmac without being killed is drawing to end, the Chinese have rigged the green man’s legs to start flashing in sequence displaying an image of someone who is seriously legging it. This is an exhortation you would be wise to follow.

Donkeys. Like all Chinese cities, Changchun sometimes presents the weird site of a donkey drawn cart (used for collecting scrap and crap) amongst brand new cars and traffic. I am now very used to this 2-worlds-colliding imagery so it took a very neat convoy of 4 of these carts negotiating a roundabout to catch my eye. Only then did I notice that all the blokes were sitting in the back of the carts doing naff all. No tugging or even holding reins, no giddyap or translation thereof and not even that highly annoying clicking sound people with horses sometimes do. The donkeys were happily negotiating their own way through the lorries and cars and this whilst keeping formation. I an now seriously wanting to acquire one of these miracle asses as I suspect it might be a more reliable way to get around than taxi drivers having to listen to me mispronounce Culture Square.

Finally the joke that is Changchun. This is not a slur on this fine city but a play on words that locals find amusing. Changchun has a literal meaning like a lot of places in China. In this instance Long (Chang) Spring (Chun). This is taken as an accurate description outside of Manchuria and people elsewhere have told me that I would enjoy spring should I choose to live there. The joke is that the great Changchun springtime is not only shorter than promised, it is also inexistent. All residents know that Changchun is a 2 season burgh consisting of a seriously long and cold winter and a brief summer. The closest they have to Spring is now where everything is confused and you will often find yourself wrapped in a blanket indoors as the heat is turned off as winter “officially” ends or becoming a sweaty mess as you were foolish enough to believe that the thermals you needed yesterday would be appropriate today. How amusing.

That’s it for this post and it’s more than enough. It may be long, pompous and in serious need of editing but it was either doing this or prepping for my classes.

Take care,