Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

This Blog was Invented in Xi'an 5,000 Years Ago

The Great Outdoors. Sort Of.

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, April 20, 2007

A while back I went hiking up mountain and down stream with a group of Chinese in Anhui. It certainly is a beautiful country in parts, and once you get away from the pollution and the cities with all the screaming hordes things don’t seem quite so bad. It also gives one a better opportunity to reflect on the whys and wherefores of this otherwise incomprehensible place, especially when walking in what are undoubtedly beautiful mountains.

It is really quite funny observing the way in which Chinese deal with problems, deal with each other, and deal with the usual trivialities of life. Maybe some of this is obvious to you, so forgive me for stating the obvious, but maybe you will also find it amusing, at least I hope so.

To start with, there is this philosophy of always being right and everyone else always being wrong. I don’t actually have a problem with that per se, in fact this is the case almost everywhere, but the folk here carry it to extremes. Even the tiniest traffic accident, a mere scratch or ding, and that’s it! Everyone is out of the car and shouting and shouting and shouting. No one is actually listening, and no one actually is trying to establish the facts, they are all just saying how wrong the other guy is. And they keep on doing it all day. A busy main highway comes to a complete standstill for hours because they don’t even move the cars off to one side of the road. The purpose of the police is to a/ tell someone they are in the wrong and b/ collect a bribe from the person who was in the right.

This is seen elsewhere too, for example when you are halfway up a mountain and leading a group of Chinese and you stop to ask which path they think is best. 20 minutes later you just have to make up your own mind and walk off. They will never do this, it would never occur to them, because if the path they choose is not the best, then everyone else would tell them how wrong they were. All Chinese want to be leaders, but no Chinese ever lead if they have the chance to follow. It is quite interesting. They hate the idea of being responsible for anything. You simply cannot get anything resembling teamwork here, but try bullying them and they will love you, as it takes the responsibility away and lets them get on with thinking how right they are and how wrong you are and how they could do a much better job anyway. Hilarious to watch it in action. A number of times I put one of the others in charge and hence in the lead, but it was literally only minutes before they found an excuse to stop and let me in front again. Without me in front setting the pace the furthest we got without stopping was about 200 metres, and the furthest we got without a meal break was about 1 Km. The Chinese love their food.

The place we went to was poor and rural. They had never seen hikers before – sleeping outside by choice was an idea very alien to them. And I’m pretty sure I was the first foreigner to visit the place in living memory, perhaps ever. We followed the line of the river, up and down hills etc, but generally up into the mountains. We kept seeing little houses that were gawd only knows how many generations old. One old guy came out of his hut when he heard us and asked if we were his relatives, because no one else would go that far into the back of beyond for any other reason than to visit family, and maybe not even then.

I found that the peasants were bloody nice people. Maybe in some ways they still were very closeminded, but they were a lot more honest and trustworthy than any Chinese I have met in Shanghai, and a lot more willing to smile. I have seen so little of the milk of human kindness since I have been here that I was starting to think Chinese hearts were made from coal, but it is clear now that the poorest of them are actually decent folk.

But, the most striking thing I have noticed here is the pollution: no matter where you look there is pollution. Part of this is industrial waste and effluent, pumped direct into the river, part is noise (Chinese are incredibly noisy!), but most is just rubbish dropped in the street or water or restaurant. And spit, I honestly believe spitting is the national sport. There is spit on everything, even the carpet in 5 star hotels is covered with gob. After a while you don’t notice the pollution as much (you never can forget the spitting though) but when you are in the relatively clean and therefore remote areas, it stands out like dogs bollocks. Anyone from a civilised country would just cry if they saw such beautiful wilderness littered with plastic bags and kerist knows what else.

For the record, Anhui is one of the poorest provinces in China. The capital, Hefei, has a population of around half a million. The women of Anhui are commonly found in the cities of other provinces, doing menial jobs such as housekeeping and baby-sitting. Female children from Anhui are often sold to criminal organisations for use as beggars, flower-sellers, prostitutes, or wives. According to one creditable report, the number of people in abject poverty in Anhui’s 19 officially designated ‘poor counties’ increased by more than 300,000 in 2003. Of growing concern is an extremely high gender ratio imbalance in young children: there are almost 130 boys aged 0-4 years for every 100 girls. Sex selective abortions are the main presumed culprit.

So there you have it, dear reader. The Great Outdoors. With Chinese Characteristics.

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