Saturday, September 01, 2007

Changchun, China

Last post from the town that was my home for more than a year. Once again I am unemployed and of no use to society. Thankfully, I am middle class and abroad so I am “travelling”.

I find I have little to write about after my time here. I have not gained any wise oriental insights into life, I have not grown as a person although my gut has and my Chinese is still piss poor (my CV might not reflect this). My socio-political look on the place is seemingly less acute than when I got here. In a sense I have fallen victim to the great Chinese syndrome of reverse knowledge. The more you know about the place, the more ignorant you realise you are.

On a personal level this past chapter of my life has been like so many others. I have met good people and enjoyed their company. I have met tedious people and mentally filed them as part of the scenery. The good thing is that there are a precious few of the latter amongst the foreigners as the very fact that they have chosen to live in this smog-filled paradise tends to make people interesting. Another bonus is that personalities become much more distinct here or maybe I just mentally typecast people.

The Chinese people I have met are nearly all inherently fascinating. As you get to know them you play the happy game of finding out what aspect of them is a product of their culture and what is one of the zillion of idiosyncrasies that make us so similar and yet so different.

My skewered view of other humans as actors in the great play that life puts on for my pleasure has been a blessing here. The cast of “Arabin in China” has been tremendous. Bravo.

The other part of my life here is something that generates mixed feelings. I am referring to that tedious necessity in life: work. I am unsure if this has been the easiest or most difficult job I have held. The doss part are laughably low hours and basing your job on a skill that all but the simplest of creatures master. The tricky part is that teaching has little or no autopilot. You have the focus on what you do. No playing solitaire or daydreaming about torching the office.

What was even harder for me is that, unlike spreadsheets or the Tuesday budget review in Warrington, I actually started to care about the recipients of my work. I pride myself on being able to disconnect what I do for a living and what I am and have become frighteningly good at it. Work related stress is not something I will ever be a victim of. However, this past year has seen some worrying new developments. I started to actually like the kids.

Before I became a teacher I held a view that children were somewhat of an unavoidable annoyance. Loud little creatures that selfish people had inflicted on society as they needed something to do after their ambitions have come to nothing or couple conversation has morphed into a dull litany of clichés and complaints. Yet now I think I understand why people decide to effectively bugger up all that was sweet about their life and start to spawn. As a teacher I manage to get myself some of the unconditional adulation that, I guess, parents get and it is fun. My former self probably wants to deck me as I am now toying with the idea that some day in the far future I might go out and get myself one of these things. The 5 year old models are the best.

Now I am faced with describing what my life was here. Having a job and a regular life has killed off a lot of my fascination for my surroundings so I find it tricky to discern what might be of interest. I have nixed the idea of listing what I have done or seen in the past year or so. Instead I will make a brief list of what aspects of China I will or won’t miss.

Things I will miss:

-The Raj lite: After an evening of obnoxiousness and doing what the hell we want it is hard not to see myself as a privileged, quasi-colonial expat. Never having to consider money in a nightly foray, taking taxis for 500 yards when it’s cold, waving a beer bottle out the window so the recyclers can come and clear up the green clutter and abusing the local inability to distinguish boorishness from cultural differences are things one gets very used to.

-The lies: Sweet, wonderful lies. Nothing massages the ego quite like a Chinese person telling you obvious bullshit about you being smart, handsome and interesting. It used to make me want to shake the dispensers of these fallacies but now I like it and crave it like a smackhead.

-Selective stupidity. My level of Chinese is somewhat a tragic monument to lazyness after a year and a half but it is not inexistent either. I have enough basics to get by and can eavesdrop a little. I love being able to do as I want by pretending not to understand a word of the poor sod trying to prevent me from doing something forbidden. Dealing with tall loud foreign creatures is tricky enough and if you add the frustration of not getting your obvious point across it is quite easy to completely shatter whatever confidence the chap had mustered and get him to give up.

Things I won’t miss:

-Being poisoned:
There are hundreds of elements in the periodical table and all of them have been converted to gaseous form and pumped into the air of Changchun. The socialist free market is a wild unfettered beast that spews its deadly waste with gay abandon. Feeling strange for no reason, inexplicable aches and seeing clouds of strangely coloured smog are part and parcel of living in the world’s factory.

As if coating my lungs with mercury wasn’t enough, China will occasionally make sure you have a fun packed couple of hours living in your toilet. Getting the trots here is not a symptom anymore but a regular visitor. A strange byproduct of this is that, in the land where manners have all been shot during the cultural revolution, farting is a no-no. At least when you are out of running range of a clean pair of trousers.

-Being deafened: Atmospheric pollution is a concept known in China even if nothing substantial is done to rectify it. Noise pollution is a notion that has yet to earn its Chinese character. Midnight is a great time to do roadworks. 5am is when I most want to be woken and informed that I may give away any surplus cardboard. Of course I want to hear what you are talking about on your phone so thank you for shouting. It is good of you to sound off your horn, mister taxi driver, as I was unaware of your presence blocking my way as I try to cross a busy street. I easily forget that it is the New Year Festival so a fortnight of fireworks is just what I need

-Being illiterate:
I have been told to start learning Chinese characters and to be fair it is good advice. What ticks me off a bit is that you have to learn 4000 symbols to be considered literate. Pictographic alphabets are essentially cave drawings with delusions of grandeur. I am not impressed when being told there are an estimated 50000 Chinese letters out there. All that tells me is that 49000 letters ago they should have realised that this was getting stupid and ditched it in favour of something based on sound.

-Mei You: The two words that guarantee to get me seething with rage. Basically it means that you are not going to get what you want. For full effect it should be delivered with mild resentment that you asked a person to provide what you require or bemusement that you are stupid enough to believe that the item you have bought in the store daily for the past fortnight will be there today. A personal favourite is when it comes with a brief admonishment that I should not be so tall, fat or bigfooted if I want to buy something.

-Being racist:
As you might have guessed from some of the above, I can get petty and frustrated. I have experienced my fair share of Bad China Days. These are days where it just gets to you. Minor annoyances keep piling on and you lose the ability to laugh them off. You then start to loathe anything Chinese and project your anger through a general disparagement of a culture. You create a unified stereotype in your mind and blame it for all your ills regardless of merit.

I think what annoys me the most about this is that it has revealed an ugly side of myself. My inner monologue has sometimes become an embodiment of the narrow-minded bigoted fucknuts I have had the misfortune to meet in dreary pubs. The above is a beautiful example of the condition. I blame China for what I am.

Things I bitch about now but will probably miss:

-Mandopop and Chinese music: It’s truly vile and so syrupy you could coat your nipples in it and get a broadminded person to lick it off. Someone has found the very worst of late eighties eurodance and built a huge industry off its rotting carcass. I do think I will miss it though. There is nothing quite like seeing a heavyset 40 year old man lipsynch and bob along to some horrible ditty that sounds like they got a 7 year old girl to talk about her favourite lollypop.

-Pinkness. Pinkness is the generic term I use to describe the huge amount of fluffyness and cuteness that has spread around this country like a bio-engineered form of Ebola. No mobile phone is complete without 49 dangly hearts attached to it. No item of clothing will be unembroidered. The kitten is god. If you had a gaydar it is now useless as the metrosexual/rent boy look is the norm. Good luck trying to fantasise about some superb local girl as all the visual cues on her are conjuring up memories of childhood.

-Chinglish. If you are interested, google it. Chinglish is what happens when a Chinese sentence get run through babelfish. It’s everywhere and tremendous fun. A legendary local example is a chain of restaurant who revamps itself constantly but failed to remove the item on the menu that is an instruction to put arsenic in a pot. Chinglish is sadly endangered as the government wants to ban it presumably so that visitors to the Olympics will forget that they are corrupt murderous cunts since they can spell so well.

-Chinese medicine. Complete and utter bollocks that gets lucky occasionally. It is said to work slowly as opposed to western medicine which explains why your daily soup of platypus scrotum has had no effect whatsoever on your ingrowing toenail. It’s nice though as I can listen to advice and reject instantly despite being a complete dunce in science

-Baijo. Wrongness in a bottle. The local rotgut. The best description I have ever heard is that it tastes like poverty. It is foul and even the smell of it now makes me queasy. The plus side is that it encourages stupid behaviour so it’s fantastic to coax a newcomer to lose his/her baijio virginity. I myself will never drink the stuff again regardless of the occasion.

I am going to stop now and just be satisfied that I have managed to post again. I will update once I get to an unfamiliar place. Off to Beijing tomorrow to try and get a visa for Boratland.

Take care,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

wonderfully explained each and every thing so truly that i was amazed to read it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 12:01:00 PM  

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