Entered a pub quiz last night. We were second going into the final round. This consisted of a single question that you could gamble as many points as you wanted on. On my advice we gambled all our points. The question was “What is the currency of Mongolia?” Smiling suavely I announced that having been to Mongolia I of course knew the answer and we would therefore win the 1000RMB top prize. I wrote down ‘Mongolian turks.’ The answer was Mongolian tugriks. Having gambled all our points we finished dead last with zero. Fray Bentos.
My brother arrives today! This should be good…
Merry Christmas! Not much of a celebration at this end, I get the impression it’s a pretty new concept in China. From what I can gather they only started celebrating it about ten years ago and only because it’s what the west do. If the west celebrated Hitler’s birthday China would join in. At our school we spent the 25th December organizing dozens of restless, Santa hat wearing kids as they sang songs and performed ‘plays.’ The highlight was probably a huge game of musical statues, where one of my 5 year-old kids Lemon (yes, Lemon) stole the limelight. He needed to take a leak half way through the song so scampered off to the nearby toilet. When the music stopped however, he was still in the process of getting back to the dance floor and pulling up his trousers. Like the trooper he is, he remained perfectly still, his trousers mid-pull, up around his knees. Everyone burst a lung laughing but Lemon the Zen master stayed motionless. As soon Rocky Robin kicked back in he yanked his kegs up and carried on grooving like nothing had happened. Now firm favourite to win the whole game, he blew it in the semi finals with an ill-advised twitch when the music stopped and a fat girl in a blue jacket won instead. Gutted for him.
After work we had a few friends round and my flatmate put on a feast of barbequeued lamb, pigs in blankets, roast veg and soup. I provided nachos, dip and beer. Lad. We all had work the next morning (same schedule as Christmas day) but we had a pretty late one. My mistake was going to the toilet at about 2am. During this time, the girl who had fallen asleep on our rubbish leather sofa was offered my cosy bed by Aussie Ben, which she gleefully accepted. I then had to try and sleep on the sofa. It is too short for even me to lie flat on, the leather is sticky and scratched and it was a bloody cold night. The girl who slumbered in my bed didn’t even have work the next morning. So after about 12 minutes of shut-eye I staggered back to all-day Christmas shows with infants keyed up on sherbet. Just awesome.
To help the kids understand Christmas I told the story of baby Jesus (with a translator of course). Slightly rusty on the whole affair I took a few liberties. The kids will now go into the world thinking that the King of All Men invented the rainbow and taught Michael Jackson how to moonwalk, but that’s OK by me. Most of China, and certainly Shanghai, doesn’t have time or indeed the need for any religion. They look upon some of their faiths (Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist) as respectable ideals but pretty old-hat. Because of these religions some of the greatest temples and landmarks were created on Chinese soil, but they’re mostly just tourist sites now. Who’s got time for God when there’s so much cash to make? They’re cottoning on to what Christmas is really all about pretty quickly!
I have to say though, that after returning from work I was greeted with an immaculate apartment. My flatmate’s girlfriend and her mate (the bed stealer) had cleaned the place from top to bottom and even made some soup for us. We spent the evening watching the Office (the original and best). The final episode is still the greatest bit of Christmas telly ever made. So, all in all it was a good couple of days. Hope you a good time too!
On my way to work there were some street kids performing magic outside the metro station. A wee girl was shoving knives into a box, which was placed on her little brother’s head. After the knives had been placed the brother pulled back the front of the box to reveal what seemed to be a hollow space (good use of mirrors I suspect) before dancing like Borat for the adoring masses. It was pretty surreal watching a kid dance like a drunk gyspy with a box full of blades for a head. This kind of thing certainly doesn’t go on in central Shanghai, that’s for sure. I’m also not sure what their mother thinks of all this, although I suspect their situation is a little more desperate than I’m giving credit for. You know times are bad if you’re reduced to stabbing your brother in the head for money.
My Aussie mate Ben needed posters for his new room so we went along to the antique street in Hongkou where there’s enough tat for anyone. After practising calligraphy in one bloke’s shop (Ben just drew a really rubbish kangaroo that resembled Otis the Aardvark) we came across a shop where the proprietor claimed to know French. Our teaching assistant Gaea had joined us by this point, which is always welcome as she is mental and makes me laugh. The old shopkeeper let Ben sift through his replica propaganda posters while I took interest in the caged bird suspended above us. “Bonjour!” I yelled at the bird. Nothing. Gaea then tried. “Bonjour?” She enquired nervously, before the bird let out a deep guttural “bonjour” in return. Gaea then screamed. Not a brief scream of surprise but a full-volume five-second scream that nearly shattered every ‘antique’ in the shop. The shopkeeper, Ben and I all tried to dive for cover until the shriek subsided. “Oh my god! The bird talked to me!” Yelled Gaea, in a voice loud enough for a conference centre, but actually in the smallest shop in Shanghai. It took the rest of the afternoon to convince Gaea that the bird hadn’t really had a conversation with her and it was unlikely they would become great friends. It was in fact talking parrot-fashion, having learned to mimic certain noises rather than seeking another acquaintance who could help it practice it’s French. Gaea wasn’t convinced. She now has a bird for a friend.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here. This is because I got lazy although I could have easily blamed the heightened levels of media censoring the state government are getting up to these days. Yesterday was the perfect storm for a good old censoring, what with the Nobel Peace Prize (not sure if the ‘peace’ and the ‘prize’ earn a capital letter but just in case) being presented to a Chinese dissident, it being National Human Rights Day (again with the ‘day’) and the small matter of WikiLeaks lifting the skirt of global diplomacy on a daily basis. So, on top of facebook and youtube being banned, every international news site has been blocked including the BBC, the Guardian and any other newspaper you care to mention. And of course, this blog. But anyway, where there’s a will there’s a way, so here I am.
I gave one of my classes a test this week where one of the questions was, “What does your grandmother look like?” Answers were varied and mostly to the point. “My grandmother looks like a farmer.” Wrote Bob diplomatically. The truth is she probably was a farmer back in the day. “My grandmother looks like an old bag.” Wrote Mary Chu, unaware we actually use this as a genuine granny-based insult. Poor old Sam didn’t quite grasp the concept of the simile, writing neatly, “My grandmother looks like a slide.” Even upon translation into his native tongue he still thought this was a perfectly legitimate answer. Other answers compared their dear nans to frogs, cows and my personal favourite, “A smart man.”
Met another strange Shanghai local this week, not far removed from the ladyboy mentioned previously. He was dressed in a zebra print jacket, more bangles than Prince and shoes he nicked from Flash Gordon. To top it all off he was sporting a peaked green Robin Hood hat that Robin Hood would’ve been bullied for wearing. He began amiably enough, approaching me and some American friends with the opening, “Hello, nice to meet you, kiss my hand!” Upon refusal he shrieked, “Well fuck you then!” Upon hostility he replied, “Oh, I’m sorry, I apologise, please kiss my hand.” Upon refusal he returned to the second line. This conversation ended with us running down the road chanting “Ruffio! Ruffio!” while he stood on the street corner shaking his fists and screaming. It was very, very strange.
Finally, my flatmate and I manned up and bought a Wii. Obviously because we’re in China it came with a hard drive loaded with forty games (very legal) and new ones can be uploaded for the princely sum of 50p. Our favourite game? Mario Strikers. Fifa can suck on a chain chomp, this game is the nuts!