Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

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Archive for December, 2010

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.


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 »

Where for art thou, Falling Cow?

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, December 10, 2010

A good mate of mine, a local laddie who hates this place even more than I do, once said to me: “Do you know why we say Confucius? Because he very confuse us!”

Yeah, well, by Chinese standards that was very funny and probably qualifies as Joke of the Year. And, like all great comedy (and trust me on this one, that really was great comedy. It had them rolling in the aisles in Hefei) it contains more than an ounce of truth.

I reckon anyone who says “Man go through airport security sideways going to Bangkok” must know what he’s on about.

But he was a funny old geezer, that Confucius. Mad as a hatter, of course, and like all great Chinese in history, as bent as a nine bob note. He wore a dress, did you know that? And kept a small stable of young boys for his, ahem, entertainment. And he was forever going around saying things like “Man with one chopstick go hungry”. No one understood him then, and no one understands him now.

Despite this, however, Confucius apparently did understand his fellow Chinese rather well, as illustrated by this wee gem: “If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame”. “An oppressive government is more feared than a tiger” is another tasty morsel at his feast of wisdom.

I think Confucius would have understood all too well the morals and motivations of China’s present ruling dynasty, but I’m not entirely certain that he would have approved of his name being associated with a world-wide spy network, or a charlatan ‘prize’. That said, he would without any doubt have laughed his ass off at the clowns who handed out that prize last night…

The so-called ‘Confucius Peace Prize’ was created by the mandarins in Peking last week in order to show the world that people from Norway are bad. Or something along those lines; it never was terribly clear what the award was actually for, which is just one more reason why my friend’s joke is so apt. Something about the Chinese viewpoint of peace, I think, which means putting people in prison if they look at you funny.

The nominees were: the 11th Panchen Lama (selected by Peking after the real 11th Panchen Lama was made to disappear), a Chinese poet no one has ever heard of before (but who conveniently holds a post at the Ministry of Culture), and six ‘international figures’ who were not actually named. But the winner, who was selected after a nationwide online poll that organisers later admitted didn’t take place, was former Taiwanese vice-president Lien Chan. Chan wasn’t there to receive the prize, because he “was unaware he had been chosen or even that there was such a prize named after the famed Chinese sage”, according to his office. And so, his prize was given instead to a six-year-old girl. No one knows anything about her, except that she is the daughter of one of the committee members, and he is now taking care of the RMB$100,000 prize money for her. Questioned by reporters as to the nominee selection process, the committee chairman replied it was “a very long and complicated process. We can discuss this in the future”. He then departed hastily.

Chinese authorities have denied that this award is in any way linked to the highly respected Nobel Peace Prize, awarded this year to Liu Xiaobo for his two decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, saying “Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population … it must be in the minority in terms of other relatively large numbers concerning the conception of freedom and democracy”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: “those people at the Nobel committee have to admit they are in the minority. The Chinese people and the overwhelming majority of people in the world oppose what they do.”

Confucius would have loved it. And the Nobel Committee will have the last laugh of all.

But nobody goes away empty handed at MyLaowai (the internally-renowned and very-famous-in-the-world award-winning scholarly resource). And so I dedicate this Falling Cow Award to the assclowns in Peking who seem to think the rest of us are all too stupid to see them for the yellow-tailed bamboo monkeys that they are. China, the joke’s on you.

And my deepest respects to Liu Xiaobo and the thousands of other genuine peace activists who are now either under house arrest or are languishing in Chinese prisons. Because if this country is to have any future at all, it lies with them and not with the thugs and criminals who are currently in charge.

Falling Cow Award
When called an idiot sometimes is better to be quiet than to open mouth and remove all doubt.

Posted in Democracy, Falling Cow Zone, Human Rights, Media | 88 Comments »