Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

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Archive for the ‘Festivals et al’ Category

Christmas In China

Posted by MyLaowai on Thursday, December 23, 2010

This year MyLaowai received more than the usual number of submissions for our Christmas Guest Post. Obviously, we deeply appreciate every submission, and hope that those writers who were not published do not lose heart – we love you all long time, really we do. We thought we’d found our Guest Post and in fact we went ahead and published it, and then we received this gem. At first glance it might not seem like your typical MyLaowai post. But cast your mind back to your first few days here, before reality moved in and took over your sofa and your fridge and your bathroom. They were happy days, weren’t they? True, there were precious few of them, but they were happy. And sometimes it’s good to be a little less cynical, which is why we told our model that her services would not be required for the usual Christmas shoot, and went ahead with this instead. MyLaowai hopes you enjoy it as much as we did…

The Christmas Post

It’s my first year in China and because of this I may be a bit more wide eyed about China than more seasoned foreigners here.

I’m not the typical age to be in China as a foreign teacher. I’m a little bit older if not a hell of a lot wiser. The things that annoy other people about here might not necessarily bother me so much.

I live in small-city China. ‘Real China’ as Scott the bar owner says. But everybody says that about their little corner of this massive country. Foreigners here get an undeserved amount of attention sometimes. We get invited to dinner or invited to parties not necessarily because people like you but because you are a foreigner. I like eating so I like being invited to dinner. I can see it getting wearing though. I’ve also been on TV twice. That’s twice more than I have ever been before.

Tomorrow I am informed I am singing a song at a children’s party. Nothing surprises me here now. I’ve already been a fake foreign businessman for an ad and was selected to ‘model’ at a fashion show. I am still asking myself why. Especially the modelling. I’m up for anything so I’ll try it at least once. In China I am finding that questions are asked in a way that makes it impossible and impolite to consider refusing.

So last night I got invited to an oral English speaking competition in the neighbouring college, the one I don’t teach in. In the West we call this ‘going to the pub’ but in China the students take it very seriously and it is very formal. And from this microcosm of Chinese life in a forgotten Chinese city you can see one of the things that is wrong here.

It’s the fact that even though it is opening up China exists in a vacuum. Their English language courses also therefore exist in a vacuum. They get approved texts and nobody seems to want to go outside those texts and safe subjects to improve their fluency.

Sure, I could understand the students and they were technically competent but what I would really have rated them highly for i.e. being creative was missing. The students were judged on aping an American accent and have a vocabulary as wide as the Three Gorges dam but if they are going to stick to the narrowest of the narrow range of topics why bother learning English?

It’s as if they are given a course on what to say to foreigners. There is no depth and nobody really deviates from sitting on the fence. The structure “in my opinion” is just another way of saying “here’s another fact”. Nobody has an actual opinion. These kids have so such remarkable potential but they are constrained like battery hens.

So, contrast this with the city. The people stop, they stare and if I had one kuai for every time I was called “laowai” in the street I would be able afford to bring all my friends to KTV. In fact if I had one kuai for every time people stared I would have this money even faster. I think that people forget that foreigners are people just like them. Our noses are bigger which is handy for keeping glasses on our faces and our feet are bigger but basically we are the same as each other. Many Chinese students have glasses drooping down their noses, well, mostly because they slide down the bridge and come to rest about an inch too low.

As is usual in China everything is famous. This city is famous for spicy duck heads, spicy rabbit heads and oranges. All of which I have eaten and the duck head in particular is quite tasty. If a bit gruesome.

You have to get used to the gruesome here. Walmart, which is a million times cleaner than the markets here, is piled high with full chicken carcasses and ducks that look like they were cooked by being fired through a jet engine. The meat counters of Chinese supermarkets are no place for the squeamish.

They are places for bullfrogs and all kinds of live fish and creepy crawlies that lurk in the sea though. Frogs are quite tasty but I have no idea how to prepare or even buy frogs. I mean, do you buy them alive and put them in a bag? Do you give them a name and how the hell do you cook them? I prefer to eat them when I go for hot pot.

All life in China centres around food. I am moving on from pointing and nodding to saying “I don’t want spice”. Here, when they hear that, they still spice it but it’s a smidgen less spicy. Regular food will just blow your head off, duck heads in particular are ultra spicy. Most of the stuff I can’t say in English – never mind Chinese.

Night life is dead as a doornail here. It doesn’t mean that there are no bars but some of them are empty seven nights a week and have zero atmosphere. The one bar that we all seem to end up in has had nights where it all kicked off and it closes when the last person gets bored or hungry and goes home.

The treat for getting hungry after the bar is not going for chips and a burger. It’s more fun than that. You can get squid, dumplings and skewers of meat served with noodles or rice from the street vendors. Best not to look too hard at their fingernails though. Here is where I learned to yell in Chinese “NO SPICE”. Otherwise I’m going home with the hottest food on earth.

But there is one street vendor who has the most fantastic dumplings. I’m sure they are exactly the same as the next guy’s but he is nearest the taxi stand and they are fabulous. It’s the nearest thing here to a bag of chips on the walk home.

We have long since given up on dashing back to getting in the school gates before 11pm. The gates close and the only choice we have is to vault the side gate. With wintery weather coming I am guessing that this will get trickier as it gets slippier. Nobody has fallen but I have memories of a German colleague halfway over the gate, shaking with laughter 10 minutes into climbing the gate. The poor girl hates it.

So Christmas is here. Although you really wouldn’t know it. There are pretty much no decorations and there is nothing like the rush you experience back in Ireland. Walmart and RT Mart have displays of demented fake Christmas trees and the market is awash with tinsel and Santa hats but Christmas exists purely on a superficial level. There’s no going to the pub to see people you haven’t seen since last year in the same pub that you swore blind you would catch up with during the year. No going to Midnight mass with a few jars on board and waking up yet again in your mates house wondering how on earth you are going to get home.

Christmas for me is about family, about getting things with batteries and instructions that you couldn’t be arsed reading at the time. About watching a crappy movie after eating far too much. It’s also about having a row with your sister when the Top Gear special comes on.

Here its going to be different. Scott who owns a bar with his Chinese wife is making a Christmas BBQ. Being Australian I suppose that’s what Christmas means to him. Should be interesting. I will blog photos and a commentary afterwards.

I suppose what I am saying is that it is Christmas on the calendar and I have received presents and a teeny tiny tree from Ireland but it doesn’t feel Christmassy. And amazingly it is forecast to snow on Christmas day here. A white Christmas but not what Christmas is all about. To the Chinese it’s just another Western festival they kinda half get.

Posted in Festivals et al, Guest Post | 4 Comments »

The Christmas Guest Post

Posted by MyLaowai on Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Post

As I am in the business of understanding people, I had a moment of clarity today, seeing two corner-stones of how to work in China as clear as never before and want to share them with you all:

Never assume common sense, about anything and everything ever
If not specified, it will be wrong. Be as specific as you can possibly be.
Example: I was expecting a brief spreadsheet today summarizing a couple of numbers. It’s truly simple and the person doing it is very experienced. I only would have a quick review and will pass it on. I open the spreadsheet and find my eyes raped; Yellow font on dark blue, pink headings and a solid brown for the total columns. On top of that, all is in conditional formatting. Took me over 2 hours to fix this.

Never assume anyone within the total chain of command is committed to doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job.

The true credos are as follows in this order:
1. Most money for me
2. Least work for me
3. Least risk for me

This is actually quite impressive if read out of context as these are very smart business guidelines. How they translate into reality however is very different.

1. Most money: Most workers have a fixed income, and for those this one is taken out of the equation essentially as their output and effort do not really impact their earning. In a large array of companies neither your chance of promotion (it may take a year longer, but based on seniority you will be promoted eventually even if you do not know how to tie your shoes).

2. Least work: For those with fixed income, this is truly the variable to tweak. As I cannot increase my earnings, decreasing my output is the best way of tilting this equation to their favour. This unfortunately translates into a strong work avoidance behaviour that resides between a genuine lack of interest in whatever topic or creativity-fuelled list of excuses why work cannot be done. Note here, it is never about wanting; it is always about an external force that hinders the work. It is accordingly not possible. It has gone so far that people wanted to tell me there are no flights between Shanghai and Beijing… (No joke!)

3. Least risk: There are two kinds of risk of success and risk of failure. I basically understand them as follows:

3.1 Risk of failure is the more obvious one. Failing at a task given equals losing face and losing face is bad. It is better to not actually do the task and bring some excuse why external factors hindered you from doing it, than actually failing on it. Rule of thumb, the greater the responsibility the greater the willingness to avoid the chance of failure through avoidance.

3.2 Risk of success is closely related to the initial credo of least work for me. Success is dangerous as it may result in more work. Given the steady pay, success is rather risky and needs to be timed very well to achieve the desired outcome, i.e. briefly before promotion season, or when highly senior people are involved.

Let’s seize another day in this theoretically beautiful country and enjoy it as long as we are welcome.

Cheers,

The Hans!

Posted in Festivals et al, Guest Post | 35 Comments »

The Christmas Rant. Again.

Posted by MyLaowai on Sunday, December 19, 2010

So here it is, as Slade once famously sang, Merry Christmas. And a very Merry Christmas to you, wherever you may be.

I am wishing you a Merry Christmas from a place where the phrase “goodwill to all men” is a concept so alien that there’s more chance of it being understood by arsenic-based lifeforms than by the local inhabitants.

Merry Christmas from a place where 666 is considered to be amongst the luckiest of numbers, and where Christmas Day is translated roughly as ‘Receive Gifts Day’, which, if you have been paying attention these last few years, will not come as much of a surprise to you at all. And, of course, from a place where Santa Claus is a sullen Mao statue dressed in a red coat and any snow you may encounter is likely to be grey in colour.

Merry Christmas from a place in which hatred, resentment and vengeance are all considered virtues, and which is ruled by a brutal totalitarian dictatorship whose legitimacy is based solely on the fact that they share with the general populace an overarching sense of resentment and mistrust against anyone who comes from a place in which the meaning of Christmas might be understood.

Merry Christmas from a place in which no corner is ever left uncut and no good deed has ever gone unpunished. Where showing genuine concern for others and real patriotism for your country is likely to get you thrown into a prison to rot (although it might put you in line for the Nobel Peace Prize).

I wish you all the most joyous of tidings, and I will be thinking of you all – yes, each and every one of you out there in intertube land. I shall endeavour to enjoy my own Christmas, too, though with each and every year it becomes less and less easy to do so in a land where the very best and brightest may have figured out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, but will refuse to do so if there is not a significant cash backhander for them in return. It’s not easy to see the good in all men, when one is living in history’s most corrupt society, in which the sheer cuntiness of one’s fellow men is exceeded only by their unmatched depths of moral depravity and utter ethical bankruptcy, but I shall endeavour to do my best.

Merry Christmas from the country whose school report card would read: ‘Doesn’t play well with others‘.

Merry Christmas from the place where protesters are regularly machine-gunned by the army (and I’m not just talking about T-square, either), but where the survivors would enlist the next day if there was a chance of shooting a foreigner or a Buddhist monk.

Merry Christmas from the land in which ‘civilisation’ is just something that happened to other people.

Oh yes indeed. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and whether or not you actually celebrate this ancient festival, rest assured that my good wishes apply equally to you all.

Merry Christmas from China.

Posted in Festivals et al | 5 Comments »

Great Kid, Don’t get Cocky.

Posted by MyLaowai on Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expo 2012

Posted in Festivals et al, Motivational! | 14 Comments »

Happy National Defense Education Day

Posted by MyLaowai on Saturday, September 18, 2010

Today (in China, obviously) is National Defense [sic] Education Day. That’s a cutesy name for what is really Stoke Up Nationalist Hatred Of Japan Day. It’s an ancient day of remembrance since 2007, and is celebrated by air-raid drills and a nationwide ringing of alarms.

It’s a good time then to take a quick look at the Senkaku Islands. China claims them to be an indisputable part of Chinese territory since ancient times (of course), but then China also says the same thing about Taiwan, Tibet, Korea, East Turkestan, Hawaii, Australia, the Arctic Ocean, and the entire South China Sea. I think it’s probably safe to say that their claim to the Senkaku Islands is based on equally substantial evidence, but for the record, let’s just take a quick look at what everyone else in the world considers to be ‘historical fact’:

The Senkaku Islands comprise five small volcanic islands and three rocky outcroppings with a total land area of just seven square kilometres. They were first discovered and mapped by Japanese explorers and finally were formally incorporated into Japanese territory in 1895. A number of surveys have been conducted on the islands, and no trace of any previous habitation or prior ownership has ever been found. Since 1895, the islands have continuously remained as an integral part of Japan’s territory.

In 1895, China and Japan also jointly signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which the Emperor of China stated that: “China cedes to Japan in perpetuity and full sovereignty of the Penghu group, Taiwan and the eastern portion of the bay of Liaodong Peninsula together with all fortifications, arsenals and public property.” The Chinese now claim that the Treaty of Shimonoseki wasn’t fair, and refuse to recognise it today. They now claim that all the bits they ceded away are still theirs, regardless of the fact that they ceded them away in an internationally-recognised document. By their reckoning, therefore, the Senkaku islands are still part of China. Except, and here’s the kicker, that the Senkaku Islands were never part of the Pescadores group of islands that were ceded to Japan in the first place. As a result of this small and inconvenient truth, the Senkaku Islands were not included in the territory which Japan renounced under Article II of the 1952 Francisco Peace Treaty. They were instead placed under the administration of the United States as part of the Nansei Shoto Islands, in accordance with Article III of that treaty, with the United States later handing administrative rights back to Japan.

All this time, China made not the slightest objection to any of this. In fact, China had nothing at all to say on the entire subject until oil was discovered there at the end of 1970, when they suddenly and very conveniently produced ‘historical records’ proving that the Senkaku Islands had been used exclusively by China since 1403. Hmmm. Gavin Menzies would be impressed.

Anyway, moving on… Even China does not dispute the fact that Japan exercised control of the Senkaku Islands from 1895 until the Second World War, and in fact officially recognised the fact that the islands were part of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. So what’s the problem? I mean, apart from extreme nationalism, oil, and pig-ignorance, of course? Oh yes, a claim that a few Chinese fisherman caught some fish in the area back in 1403.

So, here’s my question:

Can sovereignty claims based on a complete lack of any legal, historical or physical evidence, and backdated to fourteenth century Asia, be considered as a basis of ownership in a modern international legal system?

I think not. And hey, for once the International Legal System is on my side.

Happy National Defense Education Day. Idiots.

Posted in Annexed Territories, China, Festivals et al, Lies & Damned Lies | 12 Comments »

Happy America Day, Or Something

Posted by MyLaowai on Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dear America,

How have you been? Your mother and I often worry about you, in fact we have done ever since you threw your toys out of the pram and left back in 1776 over what was, let’s face it, a fairly minor incident. Something to do with not liking your tea, as I recall. Still, you’ve made do with a rather dreary imitation of coffee since then and, as you seem to enjoy it, I guess that’s what counts.

I heard you were to play in a soccer tournament, congratulations. I’m not sure exactly when it is, but if you play sport the same way as you play war – wait until half time, see which team is winning, and then join in on their side – then we all have no doubts you’ll do wonderfully!

Auntie Popadopalopalopalopalous has been a bit unwell recently, it seems she followed the advice of a doctor who turned out to be a bit of a snake-oil salesman, but fortunately she’s amongst people who care about others and we’re sure she’ll pull through eventually.

Anyway, we hope you are well and that adolescence isn’t treating you too unkindly. Any time you need some advice from your older brothers and sisters, or from your parents, please do feel free to write. And remember to play nicely with the Q’uran children – their parents are your landlords, after all. Oh, and before I forget, your mother has asked me to remind you to wash your hands after playing with little Wang Xiangsheng – you know what a dirty boy he is!

Right then, must dash. Here’s your present – unwrap it when you get home. Happy birthday, America. Grow up soon.

Love, Dad.

America Day

Posted in Festivals et al | 108 Comments »

Haibao and the Sinking of Shanghai

Posted by MyLaowai on Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So, Shanghai is sinking. Perhaps it is hubris, with a name that literally means “Above the Sea”, maybe it will have to be renamed soon. They have staved off trouble temporarily by building dykes (isn’t the Bund so picturesque?) and for the long term they are busy making up for the depletion of ground water by pumping in large quantities of effluent chemical sludge water from the Huangpu river.

Shanghai used to be swampland. Noxious gases, a complete lack of civilized life, unfit for human habitation and dangerous wildlife. Then they started reclaiming the land, nothing much changed other than they actually sited people on it.

Of course, it doesn’t take a lot of genius to realise that pumping the water out to make firmer mud, then piling on towering buildings on the top, doesn’t make for a stable long term seaside city. Unfortunately, even that small amount of brainpower is completely absent in any of the municipal authorities.

Enter Haibao – the proposed new name for Shanghai. Designed to represent people, based on the Chinese character ‘ren‘, and his name meaning “Treasure of the Ocean”, Haibao is the mystic embodiment of the people driving Shanghai into the sea.

After the Expo the myriad of Haibao’s will finally be put to use. Those of flimsy construction will be ceremonially burnt, as symbolic human effigies. Hopefully this will counter the curse. Those of more solid construction will be used as underground structural supports, to try and keep the subsidence to a minimum. Yes, hidden in that simplistic design is a nice load-bearing arch.

So, will Shanghai become Haibao in the near future? Only time will tell, but by all means go visit the basements of the skyscrapers, and check the water level for yourself.

- DaBizarre

Posted in Festivals et al, Guest Post, Propaganda | 2 Comments »

Haibao – The Secret Archives

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, April 30, 2010

After my astute boss, Mr MyLaowai himself, alerted me to the presence of our little blue friend, I started to flex my contacts and poked many back doors to find out some more. I was startled to find a huge, well-hidden conspiracy.

I had noticed this little fellow scattered liberally around the country, but had been told by locals he was representative of China’s new water policy to provide larger quantities of drinkable water to the population. Unfortunately, 80% of China has water quality so low I wouldn’t let my dogs drink it, so this seemed like a plausible explanation.

Of course, MyLaowai discovered this blob is actually the mascot for the Expo, so I thought to myself “Damn this KTV Xiao Jie, Miss Erection, is good in bed”, followed by “I wonder how much more Miss Direction has been taking place?”

So, following hot on the heels of the Movement of 100 Flowers, I began to dig behind the scenes to find the real truth.

For those students of ancient history, China has had magic practitioners for many thousands of years, for example, Anqi Sheng. Each dynasty sought to make contact with these magicians, but usually failed. These magicians were famous for many acts, but most especially for the elixir of life, floods, droughts and the raising and lowering of land. Indeed, Hairman Miaow is not dead, just sleeping, after imbibing this fabled elixir.

Unfortunately, in the true spirit of the Cultural Revolution, several of these magicians were ordered to death. Even an elixir of life fails when faced with the high-speed lead poisoning that accompanies the Chinese judicial system.

This led to some fascinating retributions, including the massive droughts, earthquakes, dust storms and so on, but most importantly (and at last, relevantly) – the sinking of Shanghai. More in the next instalment.

- DaBizarre

Posted in Festivals et al, Guest Post, Propaganda | 1 Comment »

Haibao Song

Posted by MyLaowai on Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hey, I finally figured out where I’d seen the Chinese pavilion before – in Japan! That’s right, it’s a low-rent copy of something done better by the Japanese. Who would ever have guessed it? But there’s one thing that the Chinese certainly did not copy in their quest for Expo excellence, and that’s Gumbi, I mean Spongebob Squarepants, sorry I meant Haibao. Yup, Haibao, that lovable blue inflatable thing that tells us how to live our lives.

Seriously, never mind who came up with the idea of copying a plasticine man from 1953, never mind how much money has been wasted spent erecting thousands of the damn things everywhere, and never mind how recockulous the whole thing is. I’ve a much better thing to worry about, and that’s to do with the Expo Theme Song: Every big propaganda event must have a theme song, hopefully starring Jackie Chan and a few other washed up Communist supporters. It seems such a song was indeed created early this year, but then some no-good Japanese by the name of Maya Okamoto stole it from the Good People of China back in 1997. People from all walks of life are calling for a boycott of Japanese products (again), but the lads over at Expo HQ didn’t waste time complaining – no sir! They got right down to brass tacks and created a new and improved Expo Theme Song, starring Gumbi Haibao and a whole slew of new washed up Communist supporters. It’s a cracker, I’m sure you’ll agree, and those catchy lyrics will have your toes tapping like little tapping things.

Haibao, I think you’ll find, has finally found his destiny.

Haibao, bringing you a better city and a better life. It’s his name-Show, after all.

Posted in Festivals et al, Propaganda | 3 Comments »

Expo and the Logo-A-Gogo

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, April 16, 2010

One of my researchers turned up an interesting fact the other day, and I thought to share it with you. You see folks, for the last year or so there have been these funny pictures turning up on the sides of buildings and in magazines and pretty much everywhere else you care to look, but nobody has had the faintest idea what they were supposed to be. Imagine my surprise when I was informed that they are in fact the Expo Logo! All this time, and I never knew!

The thing is, even now that I know what they are, I still haven’t the faintest idea what they are supposed to represent. I mean to say, how does something looking like a few used condoms flapping in the breeze represent a so-called ‘Expo’? Curious to find out whether the problem was with me, my team and I hit the streets of Shanghai. We stopped at random nearly four hundred people in the streets, pretending to be journalists, and asked them what they thought the thing was supposed to represent. The results of our polling show that people in general do seem to have a good grasp on what this ‘Expo’ thing is all about:

97% of the Chinese people we asked said that it looked like the fumes rising from the surface of the nearby Huangpu River. This is perhaps reasonable – after all the word “Huangpu” translates roughly as ‘Stench” in Chinese, and it is the only river I know of that you can walk across without getting your feet wet (although these days there’s every chance you will receive chemical burns).

94% of the foreign people we asked said that it looked like the ghosts of murdered Laowai’s rising from their shallow graves. Again, given that most of the parks in Shanghai are actually shallow graves for the thousands of foreigners who were murdered when the Communists took over, and that their bones regularly appear after heavy rains, this makes a lot of sense.

The official explanation is that it represents the Chinese ‘family’, looking down upon the rest of the world from a position of superiority. Actually, that’s a rough translation, the actual words read more like “condescending to look down upon the world like Gods”.

Anyway. make up your own mind. Here it is:

So there you have it, whiz-kids. Expo, a better city and a better life perhaps, but a crappier logo for sure.

Posted in Festivals et al, Propaganda | 12 Comments »

 
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