Monday, October 31, 2005

When the Ayi Strikes Back

Before I arrived in Shanghai Phil had a great cleaning lady. The day I arrived her body was taken over by sulking, clumsy aliens.
Or so it seems.
The cleaner, or 'Ayi', resented me being here for any one of the following reasons:

  • She did not like the social status of being a cleaner, and so before I arrived she could pretend that she was more of a mother figure to Phil, looking after him. After I arrived it was obvious that he didn't need her like that, and that, yes, she was just a cleaner.
  • She was madly in love with Phil, though she is married with a child, and was hoping for the Cinderella happy ending that lies in the hearts of almost every Shanghai girl: marrying a foreigner and being richer than they could imagine. (Of course being a foreigner equates with being rich, regardless of the reality).
  • By me being here she thought that her workload had doubled, in spite of the fact that I did a lot of the cleaning myself. It may just be me, but I think if you are paying someone to come twice a week to clean your one bedroom apartment, you shouldn’t find yourself standing in the shower scrubbing black mould off the tiles with a toothbrush.
Whatever the reason, upon my arrival she started sulking like a child. When that had no affect she began breaking things. First she broke the doorbell. Then she cracked the wardrobe mirror clean in half, and dented the plaster in the wall in the process. Next she snapped the flush handle from the toilet right off. Finally she chipped the glass shelf above the bathroom sink. Previous to all of this she had been extremely diligent with the clothes washing, separating colours and hand-washing anything suspect. But in the campaign of destruction she began throwing dark sweaters in the wash with white woolen socks, shrinking the sweaters and covering them with fluff in the process. She also coloured many a white shirt blue.
When we tried to change the time she came from Wednesday and Saturday mornings to Tuesday and Fridays, she point blank refused. Then turned up at 5.30am Friday morning. Noisily.
I came to Shanghai excited about the prospect of having a cleaner for the first time in my life. I was expecting something like this:

I was not expecting this:

A friend who has been in China for a while pointed out that she was probably trying to get fired. She would lose less face if she could blame the whole thing on us (and by "us" I mean me).
In any case, the woman was a liability, and so we fired her (and by "we" I mean Phil).
And although we'll probably not get back the bond/deposit on this apartment because of everything she has broken, she had the nerve to ask for 3 months severance pay.
Oh, how we laughed.
So if you know a good Ayi, we are in the market.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Surrender!

Living in Asia is one giant process of surrender. I have come to realise that we need to surrender as soon as possible in order to move on past the agony of futile resistance.

We surrender our anonymity.
We surrender our privacy.
We surrender our ideas of socially acceptable behaviour regarding spit, snot, and phlegm.
We surrender our personal space.
We surrender our sleep, when the cleaning lady arrives at 5.30am and starts banging about in the kitchen.
We surrender our concepts of safe driving, and our traffic rules.
We surrender our notions of what is an edible part of an animal.
We surrender the belief that you don't eat a pet for dinner.
We surrender our health.
We surrender certain manners about not pushing into lines.
We surrender the idea that lamb's placenta shouldn't come in a tablet form.
We surrender the hope that there will be at least one meal on the menu not containing meat.
We surrender our budgets when we want to buy some western food.
We surrender the ability to move our limbs on the subway in peak hour.
We surrender the expectation that a cheap meal should not end in hours spent on the toilet.
We surrender the skill to converse intelligently, or even at all.
We surrender the dream of a Sunday morning sleep-in.

We surrender. Full stop.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just what this Vegetarian needed!

Whilst browsing in the Chinese traditional medicine shop in search of some good old multi-vitamins, I was amused when the sales woman looked me up and down and then decided what I needed:
Lamb's Placenta, in a convenient capsule form.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sailing the Censor Ship

In general censorship in China has been well documented, but few people outside of China are as aware of the degree of internet censorship. Known as the Great Firewall of China, internet censorship here is far-reaching, but at times rather ad-hoc. For example the BBC news sites are banned, yet other news sites are freely viewed. Not only are the BBC news sites banned, but other less ‘radical’ BBC sites, such as the ‘What Not To Wear’ BBC tv program web-site. Curiously some sites seem to be blocked for no reason at all. For example, why would the Australian Idol official website be blocked? It consists of a bunch of superstar wanna-bes, strutting around a stage performing covers of other superstars’ material, all competing to be the one least-hated by the audience. Yes, blocking it shows a rare display of good taste on behalf of the government, but it was hardly a national security threat to begin with.

Look here for ‘China Censoship For Dummies’ for a brief overview.

According to Human Rights Watch

China’s latest clampdown came on September 25, when the Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council, China’s cabinet, introduced “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services to ensure that news reports are “serving socialism,” “upholding the interests of the state,” and “correctly guiding public opinion.” As Xinhua, China’s official news agency, stated, only “healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to economic development and conducive to social progress” will be allowed.

Official Chinese sources explain away the new regulations by invoking “national security,” the “public interest,” “state secrets,” and “social order,” ever-shifting terms left purposefully undefined in the interests of putting an end to words or activities that might challenge one-Party control.

The new regulations, an update of those in effect since 2000, hit at both websites and e-mail. They aim to prevent distribution of any uncensored version of a news event or commentary. Restrictions include all news related to “politics, economics, military affairs, foreign affairs, and social and public affairs, as well as…fast-breaking social events,” such as a coal mine disaster, an official demotion, a strike, or an organized protest against environmental degradation.

“The new regulations make the government and the Chinese Communist Party the only arbiter of what is ‘healthy and civilized,’” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese authorities apparently think that keeping more than 100 million Internet users in the dark is better than allowing the peaceful exchange of opinions or expressions of grievances. This is Big Brother at its worst, and out of step with the direction of the rest of the world in the 21st century.”

As it stands, this blog, and all others hosted by blogspot, are blocked in China. I can only see my own blog by surfing through an anonymous proxy server (such as Anonymouse). So, considering I am not a threat to the innocent Chinese web surfer, studiously downloading Japanese porn in his spare time, I could probably write whatever I wanted here.

Assuming of course that I don’t mind being deported in the middle of the night at gun-point.

More than 60 Chinese are serving time in prison for the peaceful expression of their views over the Internet. Zheng Yichun, a freelance writer and poet, was sentenced on September 22, three days before the new regulations were issued, to serve seven years for essays on the Internet advocating political reform; on July 28, a Bengbu (Anhui province) court sentenced Zhang Lin to a five-year term for posting Internet articles and essays that were “contrary to the bases of the constitution” and “endangered national security”; and, on April 27, in a case in which Yahoo! provided his name to the authorities, Shi Tao received a ten-year term for sending information through a Yahoo! email account about a Communist Party decision to a New York-based website.

-Click here for full Human Rights Watch article

Ok, I take it all back. China is wonderful, not like Big Brother at all!

Down to Earth

My classrooms have been buzzing with this story all week. China has sent two astronauts into orbit for five days (click here for full story from Sydney Morning Herald).
According to China's 2IC, Wu Bangguo, the mission was a success. "This will further improve the country's international status and national strength, and will help to mobilise its people to rally around the Communist Party and work harder for the future of the country," Wu said.

And here I was thinking the purpose of the mission was to see if you really could see the Great Wall from space.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The real Chinese epidemic?

An older cartoon, but following on from the bird flu theme:

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The word on the streets...


While the rest of the world is freaking out about the possible threat of an Avian/Bird-Flu pandemic, the word on the streets here in China is eerily quiet. You would think that after enduring the SARS epidemic in 2003, the average Chinese citizen would be more aware of the killer-potential of the H5N1 bird-flu virus.

According to the October issue of National Geographic magazine, the 1918 Spanish Flu is also believed to have originated from birds. During the course of that pandemic 50-100 million people died, as almost “everyone on Earth was exposed to the disease, and half got sick”. Should the current bird-flu virus mutate and gain the ability to spread among humans, the magazine estimates that up to 360 million people could die.

However, when I question most people here about it, there attitude is completely blasé. Here is a sample of answers taken from my students (25-40 year old Chinese citizens):

“Well we survived SARS fine, we don’t feel we need to worry about this new bird-flu.”

“We all got worried about SARS, but then the scientist found out that it was just another flu.”

“The whole world was worried about SARS, but we were ok.”

Bird flu comic

“The newspapers say that the bird-flu is just in backward places like Vietnam and Cambodia, it is not China’s problem.”

It is hard to believe these answers when the world leaders are stockpiling drugs and holding international symposiums to prepare for a possible world-wide pandemic.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fraggle Wisdom

As a true child of the '80s I maintain the conviction that there is a Fraggle Rock quote for every situation.
Here is a quote from Gobo Fraggle:

"I have a place,"
But it isn't one of those."
"I go there when I want to think
What makes a radish grow.
Or when I want to count how many
Things there are to know.
Or when the world's too fast for me
And I want someplace slow.
But this exact location
Will have to stay unknown.
Like everyone I need a place
Where I can be alone."
Obviously he has never been to China... he might as well be looking for the Holy Grail.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The mother lode

I have finally hit the ‘bad Chinglish’ mother lode.

While shopping for bathroom tile cleaner today I couldn’t resist buying this fine product:

‘Evergreen Porcelain Cleaner’ boasts it is “non-stimulating to skin… used for removing the scale on the hard, water-proof surfaces of water pool, basin, bathtub, cock, shower spout, ceramic tile, smooth floor and plastic wares.”

Yeah, I had to read it twice too.


Last Sunday I fulfilled every slapstick comedian’s life long dream:

While walking down the footpath of a very public street, I actually slipped on a real live banana peel!

Ok, so there were no slapstick comedians around to witness it, but it has kept me laughing to the point of wetting myself for the last three days.

Laurel and Hardy eat your heart out!

Some like it HOT

The weather has suddenly turned, and Autumn is finally here. The days are cooler, and in my nostalgia for all things chilly, I believe I have somewhat jumped the gun by parading around in a sweat-shirt when it is still not yet cold enough to turn the air conditioning off.

But then I was confronted with some real heat: a vicious appliance known as the bathroom heater. This seemingly innocent device blows with the force of a turbine engine, and with a heat second only to a locomotive furnace.

The other day I ran into the bathroom- a side affect of my resolving for the 45 zillionth time to drink 8 glasses of water a day- and on my way accidentally flicked on the heater switch before rushing straight to the toilet.

The heat of a thousand suns errupted in my bathroom.

There I found myself, trapped on the toilet, unable to get up for obvious reasons, and an instantaneous deluge of sweat springing from my pores.

Phil finally came running to my rescue when he heard me screaming maniacally “I’m MELLLTINNNNNNGG!!!” (a la Wicked Witch of the West, after Dorothy throws water on her), and lunged for the off switch as I took what I assumed to be my last conscious breath.

Ok, I’m a drama queen, but that heater really is bloody HOT!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Happy National Day

Today is Chinese National Day- a public holiday and one of the most important holidays of the year.
Though it is not the tradition to give presents on National Day, the entire city of Shanghai gave us the best present in the world this morning: Silence
Golden, Glorious SILENCE!
The traffic noise is at a minimum, but most importantly, for the first time ever, there is no construction noise. None at all. The construction noise is normally 24/7, and after two months of it it is downright eerie not to hear it.
I know that all this silence will be made up for in a few hours time when every resident of the city begins setting off fire crackers indiscriminatly in the streets. But for now I am happy, and incredibly grateful.
Thank you China, Happy National Day!

Out of the mouths of babes... well almost

The other day in class I was trying to elicit words to describe personal characteristics. We had already thought of 'well-informed', and I asked the students to give me the opposite of this.
All the faces looking at me were scrunched up in confusion and straining deep in thought.
Then suddenly one girl offered her answer:

(Of course I spent the next ten minutes discussing the definition of 'stereotype'...)

Great Chinglish Names, Volume 2

Some additions to the great English names my Chinese students have chosen for themselves:

  • Sissi
  • Sunny Sun
  • Apper (the old asian mistake of confusing 'l' and 'r')
  • Rejoice (nobody but me thought it was funny that he was sitting next to Joyce in class)
  • Sun-ray
  • Bean
  • Eeley
  • Airy
  • Forsking (say that three times fast...)