Ate street food last night.
Ate street food last night.
That is the name of the tropical storm that I was stranded in on monday night. Mindulle. I thought I was going to drown and the weather system responsible had been given the gayest name ever. We had flown to the southern island of Hainan for some beach based R & R, and after a late night flight found ourselves sipping beer on a lovely strip of sand with the waves gently caressing the shore. This was still night time though. The next morning it was apparent that the sun wasn’t going to shine and we should have packed some umbrellas. Most of the day was spent playing pool in a sports bar before the clouds did temporarily subside and we hit the beach in earnest. Then the storm returned. Eating a mass of finely barbecued meat in a Brazilian restaurant (thank you Edmundo the Brazilian pool-shark for your directions) I realised the weather was getting a little more serious when the waitresses barricaded the door shut with sand-bags and employed one girl just to lean against it until they could fasten the thing shut with some wood. Fairly ‘relaxed’ after our day’s worth of beer we decided not to worry and hit a club. At 3 am I decided to head home. I had lost my friends and seriously needed a lie down. Things looked bad from the outset of my journey as there were no taxis braving what had now become a Day After Tomorrow scenario. The streets were rivers and it was proper multi-directional Forrest Gump rain. Branches from palm trees threw themselves down the road. I was obviously well prepared for such conditions in a shirt, shorts and flip-flops. My first move was to find an umbrella that had blown down the road and head off into the abyss. “I’m just going outside and may be some time.” etc. I then convinced a woman driving a motorbike and side-car to take me home. This was ill-fated. Huddled in the tightest foetal position imaginable with the umbrella pressed to my face, we ploughed through knee-deep rapids as I screamed for mercy. The waves washed up to my waist but at least we were moving. Then the bike broke down. I had to leave the poor woman attempting to restart her bike in a reservoir as she at least had a waterproof jacket on and I was literally drowning. Running to the nearest open hotel I sprinted into the lobby and discovered too late that wet flip-flops and polished marble flooring don’t mix. Stacking it in front of reception with a full-on Mr Bean-horizontal-in-mid-air affair I then languished around on the floor like a dying mackerel until the porter helped me up. Needless to say I couldn’t stay at this particular hotel as it was a five-star job and way beyond my funds. The journey continued with a morbid walk down the street, now bare-foot until a security guard for another hotel took pity on me and let me hang out in his office while he phoned for help. Amazingly, the woman who ran our hotel turned up on a moped (only once the storm had subsided might I add) and drove me home. Rather embarrassingly I was only about 300 metres from my intended destination and had woken the poor lady up at 5am to take my sodden arse home.
Apart from that Hainan was pretty good. Sanya, the city where we stayed was grubby and noisy as expected and after the storm all the resorts resembled the one in The Life Aquatic where they rescue Jeff Goldblum. However, we ate ridiculously well (no Chinese food in sight I might add), drank good cheap beer and I even managed to get sunburnt the next day, despite lying in some shade under a cloud-filled sky. That wonderful albino Scot genealogy.
One last note, never take an internal flight in China. You are almost guaranteed a delay of an undetermined length. They claim they have 70% punctuality. This is 100% bullshit.
One last, last note, always check bottles of juice from street vendors. A coke I bought the other day was coated in melted coolant that I didn’t see as it was night-time. When I got indoors everyone noticed that the coolant had drizzled all over my t-shirt and shorts leaving rather suspect white stains everywhere. I was then nick-named Robo-Jizz by my flat-mate.
On trains, in restaurants or indeed anywhere, the average chinese local likes to stare at the westerner. By stare I mean really stare, like they’re attempting jedi mind tricks on you. If you reciprocate the stare and make eye contact about 90% of them will avert their eyes rather hastily. They’re embarrassed see, which is natural human behaviour. The remaining 10% will not flinch. Their eyes lock on to yours and suddenly you’ve been entered into a game of stare chicken. I entered one such game yesterday on the metro. I swear for four whole stops the bloke didn’t blink, or breathe. Fighting every polite instinct in my being I eye-tussled with him for what seemed like minutes. It was minutes. Eventually real tears started to form from the strain on my poor peepers and I had to concede. As I left the train I noticed the victor didn’t swivel his head to follow me out the door and on to the platform. No, he remained perfectly still, his black eyes dead and callous. It was then that I realised he might actually be dead.
So since then I’ve been doing a bit of staring myself, and there’s plenty to stare at, what with all the mental day-to-day stuff that occurs just everywhere. I watched a cop chase some street vendors down the road yesterday. The vendors were remarkably quick at bundling their stock together and taking flight, their blankets on which they lay out their wares have handy ties on each end see, so when the cop call goes out they just need one quick pull and they’re off. Incidentally the cop never got near any of them and they returned to the same spot a few minutes later.
I actually saw a man threaten to hit a cop or at least some sort of security official outside my apartment. No-one seems to care much for the dear police and they don’t seem to command much respect, which is surprising I guess as I thought initially they’d rule the communist state with a fist of iron.
Weirdest thing yet though occurred last night in a nightclub, which was underground and on the Bund (read: bloody pricey). I was doing a pee in the urinal when a guy started giving me a back massage. He then started jostling round my arms which made me pee everywhere before exclaiming – “Oh yes, you very strong.” He then asked for money, which he did not receive. It was akin to homeless folk cleaning your car at red lights but with an increased quota of avert willy-watching.
We ended up at another club in the French Concession where they charged 60 RMB at the door and it was free booze inside. Dear oh dear. There was a skinny waif of a lad singing over the music on a microphone while most of the clubbers flocked around him. That doesn’t sound as bizarre as it actually was. In fact I thought I’d be slightly numbed to the bizarre by now but that’s definitely not the case. In the long run this is probably a good thing otherwise I’d return to the west as a cop-hitting, willy-watching stare-master with a penchant for gobbing and elbowing grannies out of queues. OK, off for a curry!
One of my classes was given the topic “If I had a pet” for their compositions. This is what one of the wee boys wrote –
If I Have A Pet.
If I have a pet robot, I with it go to the shoot an arrow scene to match shoot an arrow. First, I am the best, robot is worst. I am happy and robot is sad. Robot is crying. I am proud of oneself. But second, I am fail. Robot is win. I am crying. I am proud. I am dejected.
Phenomenal. Firstly, I have no idea where he got the term ‘oneself’ from, unless he goes to a Merchant Ivory English school on the side, and secondly I was blown away by the complex flurry of emotions he was experiencing after being thrashed by the weeping robot. Crying and dejected for he has lost to a machine but ultimately proud of his pet’s achievements. What a legend!
I forgot to mention that during our trip to visit the delightful hamlet of Hangzhou I witnessed a small child doing a jobby.
Location: Top of a busy staircase in Shanghai South Train station.
Can this be beaten?
Teaching excitable seven year-olds with a hangover is not recommended. The kids can almost smell your weakness and unanimously decide to go absolutely mental. Today was a perfect example, although the hangover was well-earned. We spent our weekend in the supposedly dinky (four million inhabitants) hamlet of Hangzhou, about a 90 minute train ride from Shanghai. When Marco Polo visited in the Olden Days he proclaimed Hangzhou the most beautiful city in China. Naively, or perhaps just desperately optimistically, I presumed the place would have retained some of this ancient charm. Wrong. It was chaos from the word go, about as charming as Stalingrad and filled with taxi drivers I like to call ‘dirty rip-off bastards.’ However, after a fair trek we found a hotel and the main purpose of our visit – West Lake. It was essentially, just a lake, but it holds huge historical significance, with blokes from as early as 800 AD passing laws to keep it pretty. They’re dead now of course, so god knows how long they’ll keep it nice for. And it is that. Nice. Lots of waterborne walkways and overhanging willowy trees (They weren’t willows but you know what I mean. I’m not a bloody botanist). After a boat ride (another rip-off) and some more exploring we got down to the serious part of our day off and hit the bars. This continued on the train back home and on to a pool hall where I was promptly thrashed by one and all, and then on to some neon night club where they sold vast pitchers of beer (yup, another rip off) and a local man attempted a dance off with me. Let’s just say I redeemed my pool defeats and the vanquished body-popper moonwalked home in a huff. The night finished with my buddy Ben spewing on my leg. Another classy night out then, and a stonking great head ache this morning. On second thoughts it probably wasn’t weakness my kids could smell in class today, but my poor little tarnished leg. Lovely.
So another working week demolished. ‘Working week’ is a loose term of course. I wouldn’t have applied for a job that required something resembling real work so instead I teach a rather agreeable 24 hours a week. Eighteen of these hours are over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so it’s more appropriate to label it a working weekend. Don’t get me wrong, instructing a room full of five year olds how to talk about how many toes they have isn’t exactly a picnic. For instance, a girl punched me in the balls today. She wasn’t the first. I think of the majority of my salary as danger money. Or at least a deposit on the adoption agency I’ll have to use if this ball-punching trend continues. Also, another kid groped my arse in front of the class and then exclaimed to his gleeful chums that he felt “very happy.” My teaching assistant had to leave the class as she found it so hilarious. In the UK the kid would be diagnosed with ADD and sent to counselling. Or he’d be beaten up for being a gay. Or both. Probably both. Here it’s just funny. I find this strangely refreshing, although if that girl hits my ball-sack again she’s getting a fucking kicking.
I do not advocate the groping of my arse by kids or vice versa.
I went swimming again the other day. Cooling down in the post-swim shower I noticed the local janitor mopping down the opposite shower booths and sweeping the tiles. He was completely naked. I giggled for a bit until he looked me up and down with a stare that seemed to say, “Of course I’m nude, why would I risk getting my uniform wet in such an inherently wet place of work.” Fair point I guess, but that’s still mental!
Places I’ve been to recently: The Propaganda Poster Museum! We found it in the basement of a block of apartments in the west-end after a security guard gave us a little map and some well-rehearsed directions. The museum was a labour of love for the owner who had amassed over 5000 original posters himself. Being a bit of a freak on propaganda posters I was in heaven. The curator had put them all in chronological order and then attached some accompanying paragraphs on what was going on in China at the time. To summarise: Death. Famine. Death. More death. And lots of marching. I bought a couple of copies at the end, as did my flat-mate. Our apartment now looks like the home to some suppressed anti-capitalists with a love for AK-47s. We had to buy a plant to make the place look less scary.
The beach! Well the Chinese equivalent of the beach. As usual, someone in the higher echelons of Shanghai society (even communists have echelons) went on a recce mission to The West and saw that beaches were indeed very popular. Deciding to create a beach paradise of their own, right on Shanghai’s doorstep, a few things got lost in translation. For starters we had to pay to get on to the sand. This privilege cost 55 RMB (or £5.50). There were no waves because they’d built a bloody huge anti-wave barrier that circumnavigated the whole bay. This meant that the horizon was not a sparkling blanket of blue but a rubbish concrete ribbon of grey. Admittedly the wall could have been built to stop the industrial flotsam of 19 million people washing in or of course some raw sewage, but it still felt like I was swimming in a reservoir. And then they had the gall to fence in a small portion of the available water and allocate this to swimming. The whole area was policed by about two dozen lifeguards on floating barges who changed shifts by speedboat. I began to wonder if any of them could actually swim. To make matters more bizarre the people who had come to enjoy the beach continued with the Chinese theme of being absolutely terrified of direct sun light. Women were floating in rubber rings whilst holding umbrellas with towels on their heads. I then watched a man do a headstand in a hole he’d just dug so it looked like he had no head. He remained in this pose for a number of minutes. My mate saw a German lady’s bush as she was changing (straight out of Eurotrash) and I witnessed two people vomiting on separate occasions, like an early scene in a zombie movie where the epidemic is slowly taking hold. We went home and had a huge row with the taxi driver who was trying the endearing trick of ripping off westerners because obviously they’re minted and have no need for worthless Chinese monopoly money. Strangely, just like the water park I had a great time and will be returning next week.
Windows. Not the operating system but the dirtiest club in Shanghai. And by dirty I don’t mean naked and lewd but cheap and nasty. For the Glasgow contingent imagine the Hive with more Philipinos. It’s awesomely shit. So far I’ve been twice. The first time we were almost embroiled in a race war between some drunk Chinese punters and some drunk Philipinos, and the second time I played a game of dice (basically Perudo) with the fattest girl in China for about two hours. The winner was undecided.
I’ve just realised I’ve been here for a month already. How on earth did that happen?
Oh, and cheers for the comments – tell me what you’ve been up to though, despite appearances I am genuinely interested!
The hot spell continues, or the sun’s revenge on my helpless pasty skin endures. I’ve been very busy though, well busy on the days off work. The more I explore, the more I find and suddenly there’s a growing number of things to do. Actually doing things in a place where no-one speaks your tongue was proving somewhat impossible until recently, whereupon I discovered the legendary Magic Number. The Magic Number is the greatest number in history. Greater than 999 (even with Michael Beurk) 90210 and even the hilarious 69. The Magic Number is this: 962288. Upon tapping these six digits into your phone you are connected to a group of English speaking savants who can aid you in literally any problem you may be experiencing. So far they’ve helped me with taxis, talking directly to the cabbies to ensure a seamless journey. They’ve helped with movie screenings at cinemas, guiding me to the most appropriate English speaking showing of Toy Story 3 and just today got me to a little book shop I’d heard about near People’s Square. Rumours persist they can help you fix a U-bend, back a trailer or even win in the stock exchange. When I speak to them I imagine I’m connected directly to one of those bald floating ladies in The Minority Report. They don’t use phones, but have wires attached directly to their brains. Either that or they work on minimum wage and have google.