Posts Tagged ‘China’

Let it burn

You can get anything in China. So says everyone. As soon you land you can pop into a store, buy yourself an iPhone for twenty dollars, food and housing is dirt cheap, and the lies continue until you actually land and realize you should have bought a few more things in Europe, because “everything” boils down to the same copy-paste products existing in Carrefour, Suguo and Walmart.

The one thing they do need here en masse would be fire alarms. Spring Festival just ended. Imagine two weeks of almost everything being closed as almost everyone is at home with their families, sitting and eating in front of a television. Now, imagine said families stocking up on enough fireworks to invade a small country with and using them to paint the sky. But wait, while you and I will go to ‘see’ fireworks, the noise being a bonus on the side, the Chinese focus on the large bangs, which scares away demons and bad luck from entering people’s lives in the coming new year. The most houses burn down in this two week period.

Walking home from a Suguo in the middle of the day I step on red wrapping and pass by small boxes which once held fireworks and now slowly burn themselves down. No one puts the fires out, especially not the people who used them in the first place. Chinese people will also tell you that the most important aspect of their lives is their own families, and everyone else be damned. So as long as their boxes aren’t burning in their backyards, the fire is not their own problem.

I thought I was in the clear and could finally enjoy life once the two weeks were up, and yes, stores and clubs reopened and I could finally go out and get various Chinese food and stop surviving on dumplings and McDonald’s. I went out Saturday night and drank just the right amount. Enough to have fun and just short of everything spinning out of control. The water I drank that night did little to prevent the hangover that attacked me in the morning, each heavy blink resulted in micro explosions. I boiled some water and filled up all the mugs in the house, waited eons for them to cool before downing them all.

I heard loud noises outside. Louder than usual that is. There is always something going on in China. If it isn’t traffic, it is people or the drills of construction. No hour is off limits. In Spring Festival I woke up before seven as my the neighbors (for some reason) thought it would be a good time to light some fireworks. And by some I mean a half hours worth. I pulled back my curtains and looked out to see a group of people around the gate to my block. I assumed someone was in need of an ambulance. I also knew that someone would have called an ambulance and did not feel like standing around watching and waiting while someone might be dying. If I was a doctor or knew some first aid then sure, but watching someone die is not something I will ever do willingly.

I go back to watching Community, drinking more water until I hear sirens and more sirens. I look out the window again. Some people are looking at me. Not shouting or waving, just looking. I look directly down. Firemen run in with a hose. I freeze. I hate fire. Is my house on fire? Wouldn’t there be more screams? I put on my clothes and remember the fire drills I had in Manchester University. Each time the alarm went off it was mainly as a drill to see how quick we would react. We were promised it was the last one and left to go back to bed at the two in the morning, cursing the guys who thought we needed the practice. Each time I would pass by my Chinese friend’s room, Yu, who would open up and ask if it was a real fire this time. I had no idea how he could stand the loud, panicky wail of the alarms, until coming here of course, where people are narrowly crushed by honking buses and don’t spare the time to flinch in fear. In Manchester I would dress and calmly make my down, along with everyone else who hated being woken up at the time. This time I just froze. I grabbed my wallet, iPod and phone.  I went for my front door, opening it to thin smoke.


I ran back to my room and looked out the window, expecting to see the windows of the flats below to be blown out. I was going to be another crazy laowai caught doing something stupid, this time being helped out of a burning building. This is the kind of thing that happens to someone else. The fire is to the side of the building not too far from where everyone is standing. I grab my keys and move quickly down and out into the open. I can smell smoke and burned rubber. I join the crowd outside on the streets to see smoke pouring out of the restaurant on the ground floor. Kitchen staff are running alongside firemen, helping them carry a hose and set it up. The hose begins to leak out water along its spine. I stand and wait, wondering where I sleep this night and if the fire will reach up into my room. I wait and wait and the smoke begins to die and the firemen begin to lose all urgency as they carry equipment into the restaurant and fight the fire. An old man explains that the fire started because of a fire in the kitchens. He was very animated and talks with authority, as if he was there, but he looks more like he was out for a stroll and decided to enjoy the show. I left for lunch and came back later. Everything was fine with the building, but I was still shocked that no one told me. No knocks on the door, no alarms, no evacuation procedures. Nothing.

In the UK, Universities have compulsory meetings for International Students, where some key cultural differences are laid out. There was a meeting here in Nanjing in a small room that could fit maybe seventy people, but not over two hundred students. I was told I should have come earlier than the twenty minutes before the start, but wasn’t explained how to squeeze into the solid mass of bodies that already filled the room.

Now I know to do what everyone else knows. Try to be lucky.

To end the day I went out to buy some food and lit a tea candle and put it under an incense cup, with a small basin on top where you can place some scented oils. It caught on fire. I looked around the room for something to put the fire out with, that wasn’t flammable itself. Quick look. Just water. The fire was above my books. So I grabbed my bottle of water, and yes, yes, I KNOW that the oil was on top, so I aimed for the tea candle itself. The small splash resulted in a high rising flame, towering over me. In slow motion I saw the fire build up even though I am lazy as hell, even though there are starving kids in Kenya with more muscle mass than myself, I can still react to things with a speed that leaves me smiling and wondering how I did that. This time I was just happy to still have my eyebrows. I also checked the tangle of hair on my head building itself up to a fro. That was a fire hazard if ever there was one.

I went to bed that night, thankful that I’d had time to get over most of my hangover before the fires started, and thinking about what might have happened. I checked the stove before finally falling asleep.


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I am not one for drama, but let me tell you of the day I almost died. I am lactose intolerant. This means I cannot eat chocolate, drink mild, eat cheese or icecream, without suffering. Usually, this means gas. Maybe some pain in my gut. How do I survive? By eating a little bit of the things I like per day. That means one dairy product and not much of it. So, a few days ago I made myself my muesli breakfast, and added some yogurt to it, and since it is Chinese New Year, all week long, I could only go to the nearby McDonald’s to get some food. I ate two double cheeseburgers, but if that is real cheese inside then I’m an Olympic athlete. Anyway, I also later had an omelette with cheese in it and treated myself to a chocolate bar, but still being hungry, I passed a new Italian styled restaurant. Nanjing is full of pizza places, and I know of one run by a real Italian. Anyway, one yummy pizza later I went to bed, slept, woke and went for a jog. It was forty minutes of morning awesomeness. Few people on the track and the city being generally still and quiet now made the run almost idyllic. A shower later and there I am sitting down and resting while watching a show when I discover what it feels like for a horse to kick you in the gut. It is the only logical explanation for my body jerked into a ball.

What follows is two hours of my body trying to cleanse itself, my feelings and emotions be damned. The pain didn’t go away and I could feel my body fighting it even as my mind tried to work a way around my situation. Suddenly I felt relief, my mind relaxed and I knew that I had expelled whatever my body had been fighting over night. Great, now to just relax and spend part of the day recovering. Only, I couldn’t keep my water down. Whenever I drank I would cramp up and the get everything out my system. My arms and legs were shaking. Yes, it is chilly in Nanjing, but this was a shake I’d felt before. I was dehydrated and knew it and couldn’t keep water down to get over this. Panicking a bit I contacted my friend Linda. I had to go back to the bathroom and passed the mirror. My face had turned from a light brown to sick yellow, my eyes had purple bags hanging from them, matching my lips. I looked like a dead man. I looked like my dad on his hospital bed when I saw him last. And then the panic kicked in. I waited, shaking.

Well Mo, why didn’t you just call an ambulance? Because I couldn’t explain what was going on in Chinese and because of one key factor. I didn’t have enough money in my wallet. Money? Pay by card or call your insurance, duh! Yes, dammit! But to get to those steps you need to speak to someone who is patient and will care enough to help, and Chinese hospitals haven’t discovered those words yet.

Linda comes in and kicks into action. I find my shoes and she makes sure I have everything I need. Done, and then we are off at a wobbly gait, body resting in her arms while the other half of me tries to get one foot in front of the other. Out on the streets we try to get a taxi. It is Chinese New Year, so no one works, no one really goes out as they are all at home, resting and eating. Think bears in winter with chopsticks.

Linda runs into a small convenience store to buy water. I crunch down into a ball, keeping all my parts together. Some random American dude tells Linda I need an injection. This isn’t time for chatting, but I’m not able to say that. We hobble for a bit until two other random dudes walk near to us. One of them is pushing his bike. Linda says something to him and he looks at me and says “uh…”, Linda speaks some more and then comes up to me with his bike.

“Get on the back, but sit to one side”

I do so, mumble a thank you in Chinese. My tones are flat. Do you know that guy? His mom, is my mom’s friend and I told him where to go pick it up. Wow. Maybe there really is some benevolent being looking down on me. Then I remember it created pizza, chocolate and ice-cream and punishes me when I eat them.

An interesting bike ride later, my eyes focused on the roads beneath me, we arrive at the hospital. And then the games begin. First, you go to reception and tell them what is wrong. You either pay something straight away or get send to some room? Where? Usually, a name will be mumbled or a wrist might get flicked and a finger just might point you in a general direction. And that is when you ask again! So, you turn and look at the corridors and open doors with people sitting outside of them. I leave the hunting to Linda who makes a stool (the one with legs) appear and I sit and wait next to a doctor who has a messy line of people waiting to see him. He doesn’t look at me and asks Linda what is wrong with me. He doesn’t really look at her either. He sends us back to the reception hall. Linda makes me sick and passes my a bin while I get sick. The nurses line the walls and look. Tell him to do this and that, they tell Linda, before going back to their fun. I feel like I’m back in Manchester’s A&E watching two receptionists talk about baby photos in the middle of the night while I think about how much pain I am in. Back to the present: I focus on my pain.

Linda pays for a few things, runs around and tells me I don’t have a fever. In fact, the only person who bothered to check up anything properly the whole time was Linda herself. If I had come in by myself I would have died in a puddle of sorrowful puke. She takes me a room full of blue, leather arm chairs. You don’t get injections in China, you get a drip, full of meds and you sit and wait. I sat, shaking, my body wrecked by the lack of fluids. I look around nervously, my heart rate is jumping and I tell Linda they have to come quick. My head is pounding and I’m dizzy. Phantom aches whip my arms and legs. A cool, sharp needle pokes into a vein. I am so relieved, still gasping for air. I lurch in my seat as I feel a freshness tingle my arm and eventually clear part of my brain. My stomach does the roller coaster drop. Linda tells me to sleep, and that she has to go. I tell her not to worry. Everything will be fine. She goes and I rest on my head on my arm and blink into and out of sleep. An hour of my life is gone, and I feel good. No more pain, no more dizziness. No strength either, but I love the state I am in. So much better than the morning.

I spend five hours sitting and sleeping in a chair, and the time spend was amazing. I just sat and did…nothing. I don’t even understand how time could move so fast. I had a bottle of water with me. I took small sips, not trusting my stomach. I have a bag of yellow fluid with me. What my stomach produced when I didn’t give it anything more to punish me with.

I walked home by myself. Enjoying the fresh air. Taking each step very slowly.

I spend that night in bed, resting, exposed to the explosive New Year’s celebrations outside. I waited two years for this and pick this day to get violently sick. Just my luck. I smile, and sleep.

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The rush

I went out to buy some noodles. I keep promising myself to stay away from McDonald’s. It is some time after 8, maybe even 9, and I walk down the slope leading to my apartment gate. In front of me to my left I can see Shanghai road and on my right a bar and restaurants. I also see a man throw a woman into a long metal barrier, the kind used to make sure cars stay on the other side of them. The barrier goes down as does the lady. Her long hair flails out and my gut turns in on itself, I feel a rush of adrenaline burn through me and then a switch flips. I get angry very rarely. Annoyed, often, and grumpiness is my new morning face, but I rarely get angry. I think I let a cry or a grunt and go charging down and ahead. My thick shoes don’t get in the way of my sprint. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe tackle, maybe knock the guy down with my shoulder. A chinese man throws himself and pins down a bigger man, leather jacket, bald head and when I see his face, the red tell tale signs of one toast of baijiu too many. The intermediary has one arm out, pleading the girl away. I stand panting hard, waiting for Leather Jacket to stand up. I badly want to knock him down.

The girl is twisting and turning while standing as if her legs burned with fire. Her teeth are bare and she screams out and cries. The top half stained dark with blood. She’s screaming that someone was killed. Wait, the Leather Jacket had killed someone. She breaks off into a run, up and down the road, bursts into the Beijing Duck Restaurant, screaming that someone has died. Around me a crowd of Chinese stand watching. I can’t say that now I was doing any different. Leather Jacket has two Chinese guys standing in front of him. He has his hands on his knees and waits. The fight is out of him. Of course it is, you cowardly fuck. Now there is a crowd of people who would be able to fight back. The girl passes me, her grief no less than before. One guy has his phone out. He is calm and controlled, talking to the police, aware of what is going on around him.

I don’t want to stay. The girl’s grief is too much for me. Waves and waves pouring out and threatening to take me down. I walk away, passing by the bar, people inside drinking and playing pool, unaware of what took place. The Beijing Duck restaurant, customers and staff with curious smiles on their faces. I don’t want any of this. I sit on my sofa. I can’t get her screams out of my bed.

My noodles have no taste. I throw them away, as well as my hunger.

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Straight into my brain mush, if you please. You should be careful what you wish for, especially if you wish for crap. And me wishing to watch more big budget mainland films lands me in the middle of it. Now, I am not gunning for the kind of films that play at Cannes, but those that never see the light of day in the Western world. To see what Chinese people really like to watch. Some warnings should have been clear, though. On my flight to Shanghai, around six months ago, I struggled through Little Big Soldier. It starred Jackie Chan and so my brain cells told me that this just had to be BRILLIANT. Brain cells lie. Granted I did see this on a tiny airplane monitor, but I could still see that the film lacked any life whatsoever, a dull brown-gray being the only colour present. I wondered if I really had to suffer through this. Of course I didn’t. So, I looked for the next big thing, Confucius, starring Chow Yun Fat. So it had to be brilliant. Don’t let the Fat fool you. This guy is a bad ass of Hong Kong Cinema action flicks and so, of course, I was expecting Confucius to blow something up or dive through a kitchen shooting up everything in sight, right until he gets up close to his enemy, presses his gun against the guy’s forehead and then wonder why his gun just clicked out of ammo…just like in real life. So the film tries to follow a more realistic route…maybe…by depicting Confucius as the ultimate wise man. Always calm, his words are always deep and he is always right. We are reminded this by what seem to be a mixture of the Jesus’ disciples and the seven dwarves. A stewardess took my headset before I could get further, but the film still left me feeling very empty inside and bored. Look at Lust Caution by Ang Lee, which opens with a group of wealthy women in Shanghai playing a game of Mahjong, gossiping and exchanging barbed comments with smiles. I decided I needed to see a good film in the cinema. Something that would blow me away and put a smile on my face. Something that would reaffirm that Chinese films can be great. So I looked at a poster for Let the Bullets Fly. A mainland action flick, with Chow Yun Fat and even Feng Xiaogang (whose brilliance I will come to in a later post). So, this film had to be brilliant. Obviously. Feng Xiaogang, a usually funny actor, plays a slimy crook on his way to a city to impersonate its incoming mayor. On the way, while singing painfully (for me, not him) he gets attacked by a bunch of bandits (very painful for him) and instead of killing him, the bandit leader decides to impersonate the mayor himself so that he can more money in the end. This is all exposition, no real acting, just people discussing plot and doing said plot, with blank expressions or whiny ones. Sometimes they try for angry ones too! Anyway, people then begin to talk and plot, including Mr. Fat, who plays the villain of this film, but who spends his time talking to his dumber double, giving out evil orders to his henchmen. Jiang Wen, who plays the bandit leader, turned actor/impersonator, then loses his adopted son in an attack. We know this means a lot to him because he tells the young man so and then basically tells the audience so too. Almost like he’s describing his lines with a tear in his eye. What follows is the one forgiving scene of the movie. The bandits line up and speak into the camera, their words directed to their friend’s grave. This scene was funny. My mandarin is not good enough to get ‘real’ Chinese comedies, but this scene worked as the Chinese are good at deadpan comedy, and the things that came out of those gangster’s mouths were gold.

But the film fails in other moments. Later, a woman is raped in front of her husband and the two demand justice, only to be laughed at by the audience and brushed off by the characters in the film, and I sat there experiencing a real WTF moment. I have a twisted sense of humour. I’ve been told its an acquired taste that one needs to slowly get used to it before being able to laugh at the weird stuff that pours out of my mouth. In fact, people end up laughing at me than with me. The humour in this scene was beyond my ability to grasp, but it was laughed at and forgotten, just another ploy to move the plot to its next point. And later another character dies and her death is yet another moment to laugh at. I love dark comedies, but there was a monumental failure at humour here. There were English subtitles present and the kind of jokes weren’t the ones involving complex word play, just bad taste.

The film reached its climax point…and then passed it by, with the actors waiting around to provoke the other without just going head to head for an exciting finale. Or maybe they did, but I wouldn’t know. I left for the toilet, and returned to the cinema door and was so utterly bored by this film that I preferred to go for a walk. I never need to finish this film. This reminds me of when I saw the Return of the King in Thailand. The film was brand spanking new, and I was going to rupture, so I HAD to leave the theatre, run across a huge shopping mall to the toilets and sprint back to my seat. At the time I lived in Zimbabwe, so, I knew I had to wait 6 to 8 months before the film would land there and I could finally get those minutes back. That thought pained me. Never mind the fact that I’d read the books a few times. Missing one scene was blasphemy.

imdb had a reviewer compare this film to Inception, which is like me throwing dog faeces onto graffiti and calling myself Picasso. Don’t waste your money, or the precious minutes of your life on this.

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Another effort

This is my next serious effort at blogging. I chose this site over my last one due to customisability. I feel like I will be able to expres myself better once I get my ass into gear. The most important thing will have to be the writing. It always. I don’t go to my favourite blogs to look at their wallpaper.

I will copy over my posts from my last blog, then update no one and anyone on what I’ve been up to. I swear it isn’t looking at porn.

Recently, I have been too sick to do much. Nanjing is a bit cold right now, sometimes snowing, but sitting under the air con keeps me warm, movies and books are keeping me occupied and a short walk to get some jisichaofan is keeping me fed.

Goodnight world, here is a toast to a new start.

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