A New Low

Desperate for a jobby downtown I jogged to the subway toilet only to realise there was no bog-roll, as is the norm here. Waddling to the nearest convenience store I purchased a small pack of tissue paper and returned to the toilet. Post-poo I opened the packet of “tissue paper” to realise that actually I’d just bought a four-pack of sanitary pads. Surprisingly, they’re not very absorbent. The bloke who went into the cubicle after me was probably quite puzzled by the sight of two unused fanny-pads perched atop the cistern. As I said, a new low.

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Slush and Puppies.

It’s been snowing the last few days, lining the skyscrapers with a fine white film and the parks with a romantic festive crisp. Eh, no. It seems even snow is tarnished here in smog-land, falling like volcanic ash or a recent nuclear fall-out. The streets are like Ypres with all the slush and mud and I have to dress like Roald Amundsen just to get to the shops. Slowly, the snow is beginning to lie but it’s not like I can go sledging anytime soon as Shanghai is flatter than Belgium. Never mind.

We’ve been having dramas at work, which have kept things interesting. One of our teachers (so 25% of the teaching workforce) is being fired for no other reason than he’s a bit crap. His replacement is arriving imminently and my teaching assistant Gaea who has seen a photo, says he looks like just like me as he is “pink and fat.” Honestly, they do a good line in being direct here. My mate Ben was watching The Invention of Lying with Gaea the other day, a movie where people can’t tell a lie and are instead brutally honest to each other in every regard. Ben was chuckling away at the barbed insults while Gaea sat there emotionless. This wasn’t a comedy for her, it was a documentary. Anyway, crap teacher is gone, which is a shame as he’s a nice guy with an impressive moustache for a 23 year old (I’m just jealous of any decent facial hair). Also leaving us is the tiny Chihuahua dog we’ve been looking after while our English mate is back home. She’s called Missy and she’s horrific. Not a fan of small handbag dogs at the best of times, this one looks like a hairy frog or a baby Yoda and pees and craps everywhere. Getting back from work is like going on an Easter egg hunt. We’ve found nuggets of poo under tables, under beds, in the shower and best of all, in my room-mate’s dirty washing. Adding fuel to the fire, the wee bastard is also on heat, so she’s frequently trying to shag the teddy bear in the corner. The poor stuffed toy was there when we moved in and I’m sure it hadn’t bargained for this. It would make an interesting sequel to the Toy Story movies if one of the care-bears broke down after being repeatedly raped by a miniature dog.

Beadle’s About

Just watched an old man hold the back of a young lady’s scooter as she tried to take off at a green light. Every time she revved the engine he hauled the bike back. Not realising there was a giggling geriatric clinging to the back of her motor, the woman started yelling at her ailing bike in frustration. Eventually the old guy relented and the girl took off. He didn’t even know her. What an absolute legend!

I’m a Wario!

In Suzhou, we witnessed a woman on a moped zoom into the side of a jeep at a junction. It looked like the woman had properly duffed her leg up, as she hobbled to pick her fallen ‘chopper’ off the tarmac before wheeling it to the side of the road. Expecting the jeep-driver to check if she was ok and then perhaps swap insurance details, instead we watched the driver re-adjust her dented wing-mirror, assess the scratches on her panels without the hint of distaste and then drive off. The moped woman did the same without even looking back, her leg swelling with impact bruises as she did so. Today, my work-mate watched a similar episode on the junction just outside my apartment. This time it was a motorbike in a head on collision with a taxi. Again, both parties, with one in particular most definitely injured, just drove off. Now I’m not a big fan of bureaucracy, red-tape or health and safety (isn’t it weird that ‘health and safety’ is now a self-contained term) and in the UK either of these incidents would spell reams of paperwork and insurance nonsense. But surely there’s a middle ground? That moped woman is probably lying in a ditch somewhere, while the motorbike driver probably can’t take his helmet off (a genuine miracle he was wearing one) as it is keeping his head attached to his torso. At some point someone has to step in and just say, “Now everyone, this is a bit silly.” Hit and run isn’t an offense here, it’s plain etiquette.

To give a wee insight into the mindset you’re dealing with here, let me tell you about the go-karting I took my brother and Pistach to. To get to the track you had to walk through a bar. There was no health and safety briefing and helmets were optional. We just walked on to the track and hopped in a kart, whereupon a steward (read, bloke smoking in the pit lane) signalled mime-like that we might want to put on the seatbelt. Once we were off, we were basically re-enacting Mario Kart. Shunting each other into tyres, T-boning into walls and swearing wildly at each other, all we needed were some banana skins and a blue shell. At one point, Gregor slammed into a 2 person kart carrying a father and his young son who proceeded to career into a tyre-wall at full throttle, bits of bumper and plastic shattering across half the arena. In the UK, this would be an instant dismissal from the track and possibly a jail sentence. Here, it wasn’t even noticed. I drove behind my brother for the rest of the lap, watching his helmet (crash helmet) bob up and down with laughter. When we got out of the karts at the end he was still giggling. I have to say it was very refreshing being able to have unbridled fun on the go-kart track and long may it continue. But maybe not on the real roads, with people’s lives and heavy metal cars to consider?

Pedal to the Metal

I know I said I wasn’t going to regale stories from last week, but there was one moment definitely worth sharing. I’d taken Pistach and Gregor out for a cycle so they could see some of ‘real’ Shanghai – read abject poverty and markets. After about half an hour of bumbling about my pedal fell off in the middle of the road. This was the third time it’s happened to me. I’ve had the pedal replaced, the screws tightened and even a bloke armed with a hammer had a go, but nothing it seems, will keep my pedal on. Anyway, dejected that the excursion had come to such a premature end I started to plot a way back home. Gregor had other ideas. Referring proudly to his engineering expertise, he took the bungee cord wrapped around the back of my bike and tied my shoe to the one remaining pedal. Therefore I could pull as well as push with the one foot while my pedal-less foot could dangle redundantly on the other side. Things started smoothly, I could actually build up some speed pedalling with the one leg, the cord tight enough that my foot had enough purchase to do the job of two feet. Things ended badly however, when Pistach stopped abruptly, exclaiming that he wanted to eat (again) some street food. Offering to help him I halted too and made to get off my bike. Forgetting I was now permanently attached to my bike by my right leg I tried to disembark with my right leg, succeeding in toppling over helplessly with my bike on top of me. Like a prone turtle on it’s back there was no way up as I only had one leg for leverage and it was under my bike. Pistach couldn’t help because he was laughing too hard. So were all the locals. In the end I was hauled up and an old guy with some tools came along and fixed my pedal for free. Pistach didn’t buy any street food.

Quick note – I went to Burger King yesterday and the bloke who served me was wearing a gold paper crown and a red king’s robe. He was deadly serious.

Quick, quick note – The Black Swan is absolutely incredible, and not just for THAT scene with Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman (although it helps).

An Idiot Abroad

So my brother popped round from Scotland to say hello. Unknown to me, he had a certain peanut headed buffoon in his luggage, known to the world as Pistachio, but to his mum as Ali. The thing is they didn’t get on the same flights to China so Gregor arrived first and Ali was to follow a few hours later. Back in Scotland they had schemed and plotted a way in which Pistach could surprise me. Elaborate plans involving a karaoke serenading were discussed. This, of course, would never have worked. In reality, Pistach arrived in Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, bewildered and lost, he shuffled into an unmarked taxi and directed it to take him into the city. Receiving undercover texts from Gregor of our whereabouts he suddenly realised that Shanghai is a pretty big place and he had no idea where he was going. Signalling wildly for the illegal cabbie to stop he got out the car in the middle of a packed Nanjing Road and yelled, “Does anyone speak English?!” “I do!” Replied a helpful Chinese man, approaching the stricken tourist. “And do you speak Chinese as well?” Asked Pistach wisely, “because that’s pretty important too.” Thanks to the good Samaritan he made his way to the restaurant we were in and burst through the door like a victorious invader. Confused, I reacted fairly instantly by yelling “Fuck off. Fuck off.” Across the busy restaurant. It was a very surreal moment and it genuinely took a while to set in. I suddenly began to think more friends from Scotland were going to troop in, like This Is Your Life, but as it was, Gregor and Pistach were more than enough.

The next week was a bit of a blur. I’m not going to regale every detail as there were too many moments to describe and I know my mum reads this. As it was, it was the best week I’ve had since I’ve arrived in Shanghai, I’ve not laughed that hard and that constantly for bloody ages and we invented a new game, which will surely set the drinking world on fire – Garcon.

Garcon. Players – 3 to 1 million.
Aparatus – 1 tray. Some beers/beverages.
Location – Literally anywhere, walking about scenic Chinese towns is recommended.

Rules – The garcon is allocated by a quick challenge that involves everybody. For us it was a press-up competition in the street. The loser is the garcon. The garcon must now carry the tray with everybody’s beer on it. When anyone wants a drink they can summon the garcon and imbibe. Upon returning the drink to the tray the garcon must say, “It’s a pleasure serving you sir.” Or something to that effect. When all the drinks are empty the changing of the garconship can begin. Firstly, the current garcon can suggest a new rule for the next garconship. Suggestions – The garcon must only carry the tray with his/her left hand. Etc. Secondly – A new challenge is agreed upon by all the players to decide the new garcon. It must be roughly fair for everyone involved. Our second challenge was a cake eating competition. Our third a one handed banana eating race. Our fourth, a head-stand competition. And so on. Oh, and if the garcon drops or spills anyone’s drink, the punishments are quite deservedly severe.

I might add that during the playing of garcon we also included a bit of dancing with some old ladies in the park, of which I think Gregor has quite a beezer of a video.

Anyway, enjoy playing Garcon. I’m off to book my holiday to Fujian!