Read The Lines

Recording the third CD for my English school, I had to utter the following ditty. “I like coffee, I like tea, I like boys and boys like me.” This will be given to every student in the school. I’m beginning to think these CDs are part of some practical joke as the stuff I’m having to say is getting exponentially more ridiculous. Before I go the boss wants me to record Disc 4, which will probably include a section on molesting animals.

I had a great battle of wits with a young Shanghai ‘gent’ the other day. Despite my whinging I was caught standing on either side of the yellow line on the escalator. The thing is, it was empty and I was zoned out on my ipod. The ‘gent’ tapped me on the shoulder. I quickly shuffled to the side and made my apologies. But the gent persisted. He bent down and tapped my leg, pointing to the line repeatedly and motioning to one side. “Yes, I get it mate, believe me I get it.” He looked me sternly in the eye to ensure I’d learned my lesson and then made off for the platform. I was absolutely livid. Bursting with rage I vowed to not let the ‘gent’ away so easily so followed him to the platform, waiting for him to make a mistake. I bought a newspaper and bided my time. Our train approached. Now on the platform lie a series of lines and arrows dictating where passengers should alight from the train and where platform-bound tube users should await to get on. As you can imagine people don’t really adhere to them. In fact they flout them so aggressively it’s like the lines have caused a mortal offence and the locals want to prove a point. No matter, I knew this was my moment. The ‘gent’ approached the edge of the platform, my eyes following his feet like a hawk. Sure enough his right foot shuffled over the line, into the zone for arriving passengers. This was my time. I swooped, tapping his leg fervently and motioning to the zone he was meant to be inhabiting. He jerked leftwards immediately. I rose triumphantly and looked him sternly in the eye to make sure he’d learned his lesson. He was bamboozled. Folding my newspaper under my arm I took my seat on the train and bathed in my glorious victory. The angels sang, ticker tape reigned down, and I went to work. I need to get a life.

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Covert Birthday

Well I slipped into the ambiguous puddle that is turning 26 with sneaky aplomb. Dad phoned me and told me I wasn’t a young man anymore, which was a real boost. My teaching assistants got me a cake (they do massive sickly cakes here, with no sponge or substance, entirely made up of cream and icing) and my crazy Chinese mate Gaea got me a Chinese military fur hat, perfect timing considering yesterday was 36 degrees. In fact she turned up to present my gift on her new scooter, which she promptly drove into some tram lines thus wedging herself just as the lights changed and she was surrounded by honking traffic – it was much better than the gift. Actually, when I find myself in Nepal on the backside of a windswept glacier I might take that statement back, it’s an unbelievably warm hat.

I also got to name my first kid, who turned up to school rather naively, without an English moniker. “Will you name him?” Begged his mother, clutching vainly to trust and reason. “I shall.” I nodded sagely. So I called him Anakin. As in Anakin Skywalker. From Star Wars. Now Aussie Ben and I consume countless minutes of valuable class-time yelling bad Star Wars quotes at him (they’re bad as they’re from the bad new ones). “Anakin don’t do it I have the higher ground!” “You were supposed to bring balance to the force not bring it into darkness!”

etc. As my dad said, I’m not a young man anymore.

That’s Extra Hot.

When I first arrived here it was in the height of summer and I thought I was going to drown in my own sweat. Well that fearful sweat tide has returned this month with the return of summer time, or as I like to call it, Help Me My Head Is Melting Into My Neck. It feels like I’m on holiday again though, with barbecues and ball-games in the park and the return of Chinese girls in very, very short skirts. And hot pants. And legs. Lots of legs. In my opinion Chinese girls indeed have the best legs in the world. Unfortunately many of them have got the worst breath (stinky tofu).

Wiling away my time before August (when I shall gallivant through the Himalayas and India) has been more than enjoyable however. I went through to Hangzhou last week, where I partook in a crazy golf tournament (60 shots on an 18 hole course, pretty bad) where there was free beer. I was in the fruitless pursuit of a girl and ended up sleeping on her couch. The next morning I needed a number 2. Now I know I said I was never going to write another poo story but this one is good and I’m a liar. So after the business was done I went to flush the toilet and to my horror realised that the flushing mechanism had failed. Not to worry I told myself, thinking of what Jason Bourne would do in a similar situation, I took the lid off the cistern and aimed the shower head in it’s direction. No water. I tried the taps. No water. Then one of the girls tried the bathroom door handle. One by one I could hear the various female flat-mates stir, and I was with the only toilet. It had been a big night. They would need that toilet. But I couldn’t leave, I was literally held hostage by my own poo. So I waited for the flat-mates to go back to their respective rooms and made for the living room, grabbed some empty beer bottles and started to fill them with water from the water dispenser. I had to be quick, but the dispenser was piddling out liquid like a Rwandan village pump. Before one bottle was filled I heard the footsteps and the opening and closing of the bathroom door that sealed my fate. Should I do a runner? Should I pretend to be asleep so someone else could get the poo-blame? Before I could decide, the flat-mate came out. “The water isn’t working,” she noted solemnly. Standing there with my beer bottles brimming with cistern-bound water, all I could muster was, “I know.” Her face was the picture of soured revelation, we had barely talked but alas, she had seen my poo.

On a lighter note, my banker student has been thinking of new names for himself as he has decided that his current one, Whinnie, is too childlike. Fair call. He suggested Journey. I told him that was a girl’s name. Then he proffered Sam. I told him this was a good, solid, man-about-business name. Whinnie thought it was a tad boring so stating that he loved the sea and that he was of course, a man, what about Seaman? I laughed for about twenty minutes. There followed the awkward conversation of me describing to a rich Chinese banker in a Costa Coffee what semen was. I felt like his guidance teacher. So Whinnie reluctantly rubbed it out (way!) and opted for Sam.

Seeing Red-Tape

Just almost got run over again. On the pavement, naturally. Yet, on May 1st (incidentally my mum’s ’21st’ birthday) this year the Chinese government made a national ban on smoking in public spaces. I’m sorry but banning smoking in public is what a country does when it’s got it’s shit together, so to speak. Smoking bans are for when the government have run out of proper problems to deal with. China has quite a few proper problems. Other than mass poverty, a vast and growing rich/poor divide, prostitution and black markets on an unbelievable scale I’d be sorting out those bloody morons who try to run down pedestrians on the pavement with their scooters before I passed any nanny-state public smoking nonsense.

I’m having a bit of trouble with my own government too. Thanks to the Chinese Visa brigade I’m not left with many pages in my passport (they have used up FIVE) and as I’m planning a wee excursion in August, thought it might be prudent to get a new one. So I nipped down to the British Consulate (1 hour by metro) to find it closed because it’s opening hours are from 9 to 12. So that’s three hours a day then. I’ve decided I want to get a job at a consulate or an embassy because they clearly have the fewest working hours of any profession in the world, and that includes my current job. Surely a consulate should be one of those places that remains open at all hours for sudden visa-based emergencies? No. Apparently you have to prove your commitment to your visa cause by arriving at the tiny sliver of opportunity that is their opening time. So I came home. I went back later in the week, at 9am to be safe and found the consulate was closed from 1st May to the 4th May for a public holiday. No. The public holiday that Chinese celebrated was the 1st May. But apparently my British representatives here in China get a four day sabbatical to go and sun themselves and bathe in rejected visa forms. So I came home. Today, I returned. It was open! Yay. The women gave me a form and told me I had to make the payment online. She also cheerfully informed me the process would take at least six weeks. I don’t know where to start here. I thought the internet was meant to make us faster, more free and informed, not lazy! Basically the Consulate is a glassed off booth that opens for 34 seconds a day that gives you a piece of paper and then then tells you to go on the internet. Great. Thanks Britain. It’s not people smoking in parks that’s bad for my health, it’s all this bullshit. Can’t we just ban bullshit? I’m sure it would be easy, there could be bullshit police with little bullshit detectors and stun guns for repeat offenders. And real guns for scooter drivers on the pavement too.

On a happier note, I found Ben wandering around my hall the other night at about 3am. He was tired and emotional. “Where I am I?” He was wondering aloud. “You’re in my apartment mate, shut up and go to sleep on the couch.” He looked at me very seriously, before yelling, “Don’t take me for a conjurer of cheap tricks!” He’s a little drunk australian Gandalf-impersonator. Form a queue ladies.