Grind My Gears

It’s almost the nine month mark here for me, so I feel it’s about time to write a few cliched ‘foreigner abroad’ niggles that I have with the Chinese people.  First of all, I should be more precise, as I’m particularly interested in the Shanghai people, as it is where I live and more importantly, they seem to be a lot more rude than the rest of the country.

I reckon there’s a couple of main reasons for this.  Shanghai is now a ‘World City,’ one of the major global players, up there with London and New York (or very soon to be).  One thing that I reckon links these places intrinsically is that the inhabitants of these cities are insufferably rude.  They’ve got no time for your problem, your story or your questions.  They’re too busy making money and ruling the world.  The second reason is that there is nowhere on earth where vast sums of money can be made and lost as quickly as in Shanghai.  The wealth gap between  the pin-striped bankers on the Bund and the filthy migrant street merchants is a timely reminder of what’s at stake.   Therefore, the ethos here is, “money, money, money, oh and get out of my way.”

The most obvious example of this is the traffic.  I’ve talked about this before.  There are no rules and people die on the roads daily (70,000 + annually across China; I bet about half of these are in Shanghai).  What boils my blood to such a degree I can feel it evaporate through my pores, is when someone tries to run me over ON THE PAVEMENT.  Men on scooters blare their horns at you – the pedestrian in your own domain, king of the sidewalk – to get out their way.  The road is often clear next to them, yet the busy pavement, heaving with kids and pensioners, has been deemed a more suitable thoroughfare.  I refused to get out of the way last time, and people (vehicle people and walking people alike) stared and sniggered at me like I was the arsehole.  This twat on a scooter was in my jurisdiction, an uninvited tarmac invader, weaving between honest feet-shufflers like myself, and I was the arsehole.

Of course, the pedestrians are just as bad, and in fact are culpable of a sin I find even more infuriating.  Everyday, I watch people merrily crossing 8-lane motorways on a red light as cars swoosh by with milimetres separating life from instant Carmaggedon.  Yet as soon as these exact same people get to an escalator they become immobile.  Not only that but despite every escalator in Shanghai having a nice big yellow line drawn down the middle of each step, they choose to take up the whole stair, crossing both sides of the yellow barrier that was put there with the sole purpose of keeping them to the side.  The contradictions in these actions don’t bear repeating but I feel it needs to be said.  When I’m running late for work I get to the motorway and wait for the green man as it is a bloody motorway.  I watch as people play russian roulette with one ton cars hurtling at them.  I sigh deep relief as I see most of them struggle to the other side.  It’s like Wildlife on One when the buffalo cross the crocodile-infested rivers.  The green man then starts beeping and I cross, only to be held up instantly as I reach the escalator to the platform.  These people who were so obviously in a hurry are now quite happy to rest on their laurels on the magic stairs.  Maybe it’s still a novelty for them and it’s a bit of a thrill, like the Nemesis at Alton Towers.  Maybe they’re totally oblivious to those who need to get somewhere rather quickly.  I don’t really care for the reasons, for by this point, my train has just left the platform and I’m left screaming spittle and bile at the morons who wouldn’t follow the advise of the nice big yellow line and GET OUT OF MY WAY.

Next time on ‘Wish You Were Here,’ I’ll be discussing the local cuisine, how to snap up a bargain with the locals and the inconsiderate bastards who refuse to queue for the bloody metro.

A few more pics

Some pictures

Well I finally got some photos to upload.  It took an age as my internet is stuck in the year 1995, but I thought it would be good to show anyone who’s interested a few glimpses into life over here.

I’ve referred to some of these pictures in much earlier blogs.  The bloke with his head in the sand was back in august last year, while the spectacular river is at Wuyi Shan in Fujian.  Beautiful!

Pranksters

So with the earthquake, subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis, Japan just took the crown of most unfortunate country of 2011, which has seen many contenders for the title already.  A couple of days ago, I received a text, as did all of my friends but from different sources, that read something like – “BBC News.  Nuclear plant in Japan has suffered huge meltdown.  Radiation spreading across Asia.  Will reach Philippines by 4pm.  Stay indoors.  Radiation attacks thyroid first.  Cover necks and spread with betaine.”  I was understandably a little worried so I phoned a few friends to see if they’d got the same warning.  One friend had heard it was a hoax.  I double checked with others and as it turned out it was exactly that; an hilarious hoax.  I have to say the text seemed a little strange – the part about radiation attacking the thyroid first, like it was some sort of poisonous snake, the fact that the radiation was somehow blowing round a corner to the Philippines first – but I still fell for it.  Despite my best efforts I’m totally susceptible to fear.  I’m a big fan of practical jokes but that one just wasn’t funny.

I got the text while I was teaching my new private student (a natty little job on the side I’ve acquired).  He’s a rich banker who works on the Bund, he buys me a coffee, we talk about anything he wants (the pyramids, evolution, rich people on yachts) for a couple of hours and then he pays me handsomely.  As it was my first lesson and I was desperate for money, I decided not to tell him about the nuclear scare until he’d paid me.  I’m saving up for a holiday after all!

Oh and that picture at the top is of a toilet door in rural Fujian.  It made me laugh for so long I nearly missed the train.

 

Narrow Gate

A new bar has opened just near our apartment, which wouldn’t be such a big deal anywhere else in the world (apart from maybe Saudi Arabia) but as our neck of the woods is not filled with foreigners, bars are as common as Gaddaffi sympathizers.  (Ooh, topical).  The bar is called The Narrow Gate, they serve beers for 10 RMB (a quid) and jugs of whisky and coke for 50 RMB (you do the maths).  Good music is played there and on one wall is a huge hand-painted mural of the Last Supper.  Those of a Christian disposition might take offense at getting plastered under the watchful eyes of JC, but I’m pretty sure I can see wine on His table and he looks pretty cool with it.  (Admittedly, the artist may have added this, in which case it was a pretty lame Last Supper if it was just bread and water).  The best thing about the Narrow Gate are the two Italian barmaids – Boobie and Nose.  These aren’t their real names of course, but our affectionate nicknames for them (behind their backs when we’re sniggering about them like naughty school boys).  They are both beautiful and seem to have taken a shine to us, especially Australian Ben.  We now go frequently just to set up Ben with Boobie, both of whom are very coy until those whisky pitchers add up.  There isn’t much point to this entry to be honest, I just thought I’d exclaim my joy that a decent bar is finally within walking distance of my pad.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to bemoan the price of going out in downtown Shanghai (as expensive as London at least) and the number of “cool” bars and clubs that are about as fun as hanging out in abattoirs.  People who preen at a specific spot in a club, gazing solemnly over the dancing hoards like they’re JC in that Last Supper picture need to get a bloody life.  In fact I’m off clubbing in Shanghai completely.  I can’t be bothered with the desperate, cloying posturing of the cool-brigade and I can’t be arsed with terrible remixed dance music that sounds like a giant having a cardiac arrest.

In other news, I’m at the provisional stage of planning my trip back west in august.  It looks like I will be joined by a couple of hardy souls from Scotland, and it looks like we’ll be bumbling through western china, tibet, nepal and india.  Now originally I wanted to continue through the middle-east but as they seem to rather selfishly be protesting for more political freedoms and killing each other, I have been forced to re-think.  Now I’m considering a sudden jut north from india to Kazakhstan (by plane unfortunately) and then heading west through there and into the Ukraine before making the final dip into Europe.  Better start saving…

 

More poo!

It’s been a while!

 

So I’ve been playing weekly football outside the Shanghai Indoor Stadium, which is a great setting as the pitches are surrounded by massive high-rises and the locals crowd round to watch.  Considering some of them just keep chanting “Louwai! Louwai!” (Foreigner!  Foreigner!), I imagine it’s quite a novelty seeing a dozen non-asians running after a ball for a couple of hours.  The bloke who runs the football pitches is a grumpy arse.  He frequently makes us move pitches for no reason (as we are the only people who play on them) and stops us mid-game to collect his fees – an infuriating habit.  Last week as we were warming up the grumpy arse’s mate was walking his dog around the pitch.  He halted on the goal-line for his pooch to produce a massive poo.  Satisfied, the offending couple moved on.  A few of us gave chase, ranting and shouting in broken Chinese and blunt English.  But nothing was done, so we had to move pitches.  I am at a loss at this blatant display of double standards.  The bloke just seemed to point at his dog like it was the animal’s fault.  Yes, the dog will poo where it likes, but it’s on a lead.  Connected to you!  Drag your filthy animal to at least the dugout before one of our goalkeepers gets pink-eye and a dirty jersey whilst making a save.  Unbelievable.

 

Shanghai seems to have quite a love affair with dogs.  Unlike the north, where they eat them (and in Yunnan where I actually saw a Labrador being blow-torched) they are now treasured accessories.  Dog parlours seem to be springing up everywhere, where you can have your dog dyed various colours and shaved to look like Grace Jones.  During winter (which has been unamusingly Baltic) the number of tiny handbag dogs in fetching canine-jackets has increased exponentially.  These jackets often come with tiny dog booties and little hats.  I’ve seen denim ‘Hells Angel’ Chihuahuas to poodles with green tails, yellow heads and a fleece jacket with a slogan that reads something like ‘Mummy’s Boy.’  Disgusting.  Sensing the rise in such naffness, the local government has stepped in, limiting the number of dogs any resident can keep to one.  Just like children then.  Talking of which, considering parents let their infant kids crap on the street, there’s not much in the way of pooper scoopers for dog’s mess.  Walking downtown is like that bit in the Last Crusade when Indy has to spell God’s name.  This will be the last blog I talk about poo for a while.  I promise.

 

Time to Rise Lyttelton

Last week I had a terrible fright reading on the BBC website about a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that rocked Christchurch and the surrounding area.  Obviously not remotely in the league of those who were actually present, but it was a terrible couple of hours trying to contact friends who I knew would have been near the epicenter.  Thankfully, all the people that I know and love were OK, although the terrible loss that Christchurch endured was still a devastating blow.  Lyttelton, the tiny and glorious town I called home for close to two years has been damaged in some cases, beyond recognition.  The Volcano Cafe, my main employer and scenes of such amazing lock-ins, stunning arguments, wonderful banter and great whisky is no more.  The Monster Bar, my best friends bar, a bar that allowed me to drink to my hearts content and pay off the tab through hard labour over money, is no more.  The Lyttelton Coffee Company, preeminently the beating heart of the whole community, a meeting place, a spot to relax and watch the weird and wonderful people of Lyttelton meander by, is no more.  The list goes on.

 

However, I’ve also been reading about the community spirit that so often arises in times of crisis.  Free coffee, free beds, free sing-songs have all appeared magically, just to get the people of the place back and functioning.  The thing is, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been , Lyttelton didn’t need a disaster to ignite the flames of community spirit because it was already there in spades.  I’ve never known of a single place where people seemed to have such a sense of belonging, and consequently were willing to contribute so much.  Maybe it’s the isolated nature of the place (now even more so with the closing of the tunnel) but I just found the unique mix of people the overwhelming sensation that Lyttleton seems to have always had.  It’s with with these people that I am in on doubt the town will rise again, and the people will replace what has been broken with something better, something weirder and something more wonderful than what was around before the ground shook it all to dust.

Apologies if all that seemed dreadfully cheesy, but there’s not many places that can have that effect on me.  Long Live Lyttelton!