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Cultural Traffic

April 17, 2012

Zhuhai Traffic from nataliegoes on Vimeo.

I’ve decided that a country’s traffic says a lot about its culture. So what does China’s traffic say about its culture? Well, it says chaos rules the day and yet life continues to go on. And it also says that “I don’t care about anybody but me.” You may have thought America was filled with self-absorbed egotists, but in reality we are still quite polite, friendly and care about the other guy.
It looks like chaos to the outsider, but actually there are some unwritten rules. If you watch the video you will see some of the unwritten rules of the road in action. The first thing you need to know is that the BUS is the king of the jungle around here. Buses usually don’t slow down at intersections. They usually only slow down to stop at bus stops, and that’s not even a given. Do not walk in front of a bus, and if one is bearing down on you then you are responsible for getting your ass across the road before you get hit. Next in the pecking order are taxis. Taxis will drive anywhere to keep from having to slow down; through parking lots, on curbs, between lanes, into oncoming traffic, etc. They only show respect to buses. Riding in a taxi can be scary, so it’s best not to look at the traffic and by all means do not glance over at the driver. Chances are he is popping pills, talking on a cell phone, smoking a cigarette, counting his money and honking his horn every three seconds whilst driving. So it is best not to figure out how he’s doing that all at once, because your brain will explode. Last on the totem pole is everyone else – cars, trucks, scooters, police cars and ambulances, 3 wheeled bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles, dogs, etc. These are all equally dangerous and aggressive. Show no fear, or you are doomed to spend eternity in the middle of the road waiting for a break in the traffic.
Directional flow is a tricky thing for us foreigners. Luckily they drive on the right side of the road. Or make that that they are supposed to drive on the right side of the road. But Macau (and Hong Kong) drive on the wrong, I mean left side of the road. So on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays I deal with directional flow, and Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday I could get run over from the other direction. However, here in China, lanes and direction of traffic are a joke. It is fairly common practice to pull over into the wrong lane before making a left turn, or even cutting the corner completely. For pedestrians this means you have to look in all directions at all times when crossing the road.
Some other quickies that you should know before setting foot in the country is that horns are used to communicate more than just “You made me mad.” Horns say I’m turning, or I’m going straight through this intersection so get out of my way or this taxi is available, or a million other things. Another item worth noting is that if a pedestrian gets hit by a car the driver will hope you die. It’s actually less legal and monetary hassle for the driver if you die, than if you end up in the hospital. Also you should know that most people here have only been driving for a few years. It wasn’t that long ago that bicycles were the major form of transportation. So basically it like driving on the road with a half a billion teenagers. Scary!

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Stray Baby

March 17, 2012

I would like to introduce you to Stray Baby. Stray Baby isn’t really a stray, as she lives in an apartment that is 5 feet from my school. I’m not even sure if it is a girl or a boy. But as I’m guessing it’s a girl I shall use the female pronoun. There are no other small children in the apartment complex during the day. Except of course the two hundred children running around the walled off area of our school. Stray Baby appears to be in fine physical health. She has chubby little cheeks, and her nose isn’t any runnier than the children at my school. But she is poor. And dirty. And sad. She has nothing to do all day, except watch the children at my school. She wears the same clothes every day. And that includes crotchless pants. I presume this allows her to squat and urinate anywhere she is. I’ve never seen her in diapers. I have watched this little child since I began working over a year ago, and she fascinates me.
She seems to have no toys. I have seen her make do. The list of “toys’ I’ve seen her playing with include: a 2×4, a stick, a bunch of leaves, a juice box, a plastic shower stool, a couple of rocks and an empty coke bottle. I saw her use the shower stool to stand on it to see over our wall when we were doing something interesting…like doing exercises. I’ve also seen her fall off the stool, hit her head and bawl her eyes out. But nobody ever came out of the always open door to the apartment she lives in. I’ve seen her sit alone on a lawn chair next to that same door to stay out of the rain, and sit and sit for hours. I’ve seen people walk past her and say something gentle and pat her on the head. I’ve seen her shooed away from the people who run a store out of their apartment. But mainly I’ve seen thousands of people walk past her and never notice her.
One of the other foreign teachers once gave her a piece of candy. I say hello to her frequently. I’ve seen her try and dance along to our exercise music. I saw her once picked-up and carried around in an old lady’s arms for a week (I presume her to be a grandmother from another province). I’ve seen her entertain herself with a pair of adult shower shoes for an entire day (she’s wearing them in the pictures above). I’ve seen her chase puppies. Yet, I’ve never seen this little child smile.
My hope is that I just see the day shift, and that at night things change. I suspect her mother works during the day. I’m pretty sure her grandfather has a food cart and pushes it around the streets at night selling bakes sweet potatoes and peanuts. Therefore he sleeps a lot during the day, but that he is there to feed her lunch and give her a juice box (see picture above). Perhaps there are more children running around to play with in the evening. Perhaps her mom dotes on her all evening. Maybe I only see half the story. Maybe.

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Philippine Expedition

January 5, 2012

How great was Boracay? Let me tell you. It was alright. Kinda meh, actually. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually bitching here. But, if you came here thinking I was gonna rave, it’s not going to happen. It constantly threatened to storm on us. It never did, but it was windy and frequently we had mild showers. It was really too cool to go swimming. But I am certainly not blaming anybody for less than ideal weather. It happens. And I thank our lucky stars it didn’t pour the whole time, send us a hurricane or produce any flooding. So I sat on the beach most of our 4 days there, fully clothed and reading my books. It wasn’t cheap. Airfare was right up there, and the hotel was $100 a night and pretty crappy for that price. The beach was quite crowded. And travel time to get there was not as easy as I had hoped.
Now for the good things. Reading is a lovely way to spend some time. Also, getting away really keeps me from worrying about things. I can’t do anything about anything, so my brain really deactivates and completely clears. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way for Mark. So he spent most of his time reading work related stuff. Poor dude. The beach was lovely – white sands, waist high water for yards and yards out to play in for the two hours it wasn’t chilly, and the water was clean. Sitting at beach side, open air restaurants and bars always makes me happy. The highlights of the trip were probably the several times I found very small hermit crabs just wandering around the beach. So although it was expensive, a long trip, crappy weather and crowded it was great getting away and trying something new. And it certainly hasn’t dissuaded me from travel. In a couple of weeks I’m off to India. Yeah!

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You Go My Home

December 12, 2011

The other morning Gigi said something to me that I didn’t quite catch. Gigi is a smart little cookie, but more like a dictionary than a linguistic genius. She memorizes every word that correlates with a noun or a verb, but trying to get her to make sentences has been a real struggle. So I got her to repeat what she had said and it was “You go my home.” Well, I am just delighted on so many levels with this sentence. She used home instead of house, which is awesome. She used the pronoun I instead of Gigi. Any she used the possessive pronoun “my,” which is really something you can’t teach, it’s just something she picked up. Yeah! Happy as I was, I didn’t really understand what she was trying to convey. Had I walked by her apartment the day before? Was she telling me her mom was inviting me to her birthday party? That’s happened before. Did she really want to come to my house? Was she going to Macau next weekend? I just didn’t understand and said something placating and moved on.
Throughout the rest of the day though, she would repeat “You go my home.” I finally told the Mandarin teacher about Gigi and her new sentence. And we laughed. She said she’d tell Gigi’s mom about it because it is so cute.
The end of the day comes along and Gigi’s name is called over the loud speaker signalling that her mom is here to pick her up. Gigi walks straight over to me with a purpose, takes my hand, pulls me toward the gate and repeats “You go my home.” I am so bowled over and so bemused that I just get dragged along. I tell the Mandarin teacher to watch the kids because apparently I’m leaving now because Gigi is not going to take No for an answer. Gigi drags me out to her mother. Her mother is confused. Gigi doesn’t say anything. I’m just laughing. I try and tell her mom what’s going on, but she doesn’t understand and seems a bit put off. I tell Gigi I can’t go home with her. She looks hurt. I tell her I’ll see her tomorrow. I go back in the school yard.
Gigi hasn’t ordered “You go my home” since.

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Naked Facial

December 6, 2011

So, I was on the Chinese side the other day, very, very bored. I started wandering around the new section of the underground shopping center. It’s full of manicure places and salons. One place asks me if I want a facial. Yah, I had been thinking about getting one for a while now. So I ask how much it is and how long it takes. The girl at the door is immediately replaced with a manager who tells me it’ll take 90 minutes and cost 150RMB. This may be where a breakdown in communication has occurred. Also, that’s a little more than I’d thought it would be, but what the heck? I’ve got nothing else to do. So I follow her into one of the rooms and she tells me to change into the little pajama sets that are ubiquitous at these little “spas,” and there is even the disposable undies included. I think to myself that it’s a little strange to change for a facial, but I’ve never had one before, and I’ve certainly never had one in China before. Maybe it’s more of a body treatment and I’ll get a salt scrub. I really like those.
The woman comes in a slathers my back with something and begins to rub it in. And massages it this way, and that way, but it’s definitely not a relaxing rub. And then she begins to put on more pressure and really rubbing against the muscles. I am really confused at this point. Then she begins to press on areas around my armpits. I immediately know what’s going on now. This is one of those lymph gland massages I have seen advertised. I mentioned to a coworker that I was thinking of trying one of these and she asked “Really? They are quiet painful.” And now I was having an hour and a half painful lymph gland massage. Oh, and you know where there are a lot of glands? In the breast area. I barely survived the hour and a half, but I did. I kept thinking to myself that I should feel really great tomorrow since my glands have been detoxed now. I didn’t feel great the next day, I felt pain. And I have bruises all up and down my legs. I actually paid someone to do this to me. I shan’t make that mistake again.
On Monday I went to my usual (okay only 3 weeks running) massage place and got a nice gentle massage. This is a rare thing in China so it has taken me a long time to find someone who doesn’t end up hurting me, but my hard work (of getting massages) has paid off. Afterwards I asked if they did facials. Sure, 90 minutes for 100RMB. Although hesitant, I went ahead and tried the facial. Which, indeed, turned out to be a facial. After about an hour she touches my nose and asks “okay?” Oh, lord, what now? But I figure I’ll try what ever it is. She covers my eyes and starts using some sort of tool on my nose. And this kind of pain is known to anyone who has ever tried to squeeze a blackhead, only it’s every pore on my nose and takes ten minutes. I can’t figure out why they don’t start with that and then massage your face. Seems kinda back-assward to me.
Oh, well, I got my facial, gosh darn it. And I got the bruises to prove it.

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Dogfight in the Ceiling

November 20, 2011

Back when I first started staying the night over in the apartment in Zhuhai I was startled awake by a thunderously loud sound. It felt like the building was collapsing. But then the sound was gone. So I tried to get back to sleep. Ten minutes later it returned and I pin pointed it to something horrific going on above me. Was someone being beaten in the apartment above me? No, someone was running or being chased. There was definitely fleeing and fighting. But the fleeing was to fast for a human. Are they having dogfights in the apartment above me? But there was no growling. Then the sound was gone again. I never did get back to sleep after that.
The next day I mentioned it to another teacher who used to live in that very apartment. “Oh,” he said, “I should have told you about that. It’s a cat in the ceiling chasing the rats.” Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Why? Why? Because that is crazy!
Over the months I have been awoken by the sounds, and I had gotten kind of used to it. Having seen the occasional rat in the hallways, it was rather comforting to know that the cats were on duty and keeping the rats at bay. But about a month ago I was once again awoken in the middle of the night but not by the usual fleeing and fighting in the ceiling. This was something rummaging around my Snicker bars. I turned on the light and slowly went over to check on them. There was no definitive proof – no open packages, no teeth marks, no rat pellets – but I put what little food I had in the kitchen into the refrigerator and went back to sleep.
The next few days would deliver proof of varmints though. Something was gnawing on my yoga mats. Rat turds started showing up with more and more frequency. I could have bought a trap or poison, but that would only mean I’d end up with a dead smelly rat in my apartment and not fix the real problem. The real problem is that now the rats were able to get into the apartment, when before they obviously could not. I suspect that the hole in my rotting door frame has gotten big enough for them to get in. But I’m not sure, there could be something else and I want someone to find it and fix it.
I moved out. For the last three weeks I have been commuting everyday across the border. Usually an hour each direction. But if lucky it can go 30 minutes, if unlucky 2 hours. And I am exhausted. When I say I moved out, I mean I moved out. I have brought nearly everything back to Macau. Because the rat situation just kept getting worse and worse. First the rat pellets were just placed one here, one there. Then it go worse. I’d find them on the counter, along the wall. Then a couple on the desk. Then one in my makeup basket. Then a couple on the bed, with pee along side. Then, the gross out point was when I found them IN the bed. So everything had to be bleached and evacuated.
The school is saying they are getting the room fixed, with real construction and everything. New ceiling and new door frame. But as of yet nothing has happened. I am getting really tired commuting. Plus, taxi fares equal one quarter of my salary. So this job really doesn’t seem worth it. Not that I was ever really doing it for the money, but this is getting ridiculous.
So, we’ll see how much longer I can stick it out. But I just don’t know…..

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Yangshuo, You should go

October 6, 2011

It’s Golden Week in China. It’s a week that everyone is supposed to have off. Well, not a whole week. They give you Monday through Friday off, but then you are supposed to work on Saturday and Sunday to make up for it. But I don’t do that because…well…I’m a bullheaded American who just refuses. Well, to celebrate China Day and the other days in Golden Week we went up to Yangshuo, which is in Guangxi province. Mark doesn’t actually get the whole week off because Macao has so many holidays to celebrate, it just can’t do everything China does, Portugal does, and Hong Kong and celebrate a few of it’s own days so he took off only 1 extra day. We left directly after work on Friday and took the overnight bus up to Guangxi. It’s kinda like a train sleeper car, only not. There are beds against the windows and another row down the center. Only calling them beds would be stretching it a little. I’d say they are 5 and a half feet long – I could technically fit, Mark can’t. You head is resting on the cubbyhole where the next person’s feet are tucked into. They are only as wide as my shoulders – not Mark’s. It is completely possible that you will fall out of your bunk on the windy roads. The temperature is constantly changing. The bus stops every 1.5 to 2 hours and they turn on all the lights, which is necessary as there are usually some people sleeping in the aisles on oversold buses. There is no bathroom. All that said, it’s still better than sitting up for the 8 to 10 hour journey. Oh, and it is cheap. $25 bucks a ticket, compared to the $200 airfare that doesn’t actually get you their any faster. Unfortunately we must have missed our stop, because we ended up in Guelin at 4 a.m. at a crummy bus station and had to wait 2 hours for the first bus back to Yangshuo.
Spent Saturday walking around the city, finding our hostel and trying to get our bearings. We never really did and constantly spent the next 3 days walking in the wrong direction. The old city is cute, touristy and was absolutely packed because every person in China has the week off. I like the American system of staggering our vacations, rather than closing the entire business down for a week. We had awesome Chinese and vegetarian food, decent veggie burgers and some really crappy pizza over our trip. Bought some souvenirs. Saw the night time river show in the rain. And chatted with other foreigners about their lives in China.
The highlight of the trip however was the smile on Mark’s face when we went bike riding. The second day we only went for a 3 hour bike ride, but it was fun. And we saw some incredible scenery. I took lots of pictures, but since the disc was still at the hotel you will never see them. The third day the plan was..does it matter? We had a plan. The gods laughed. We spent the entire day hiking or biking and getting lost. But we were okay with that. We saw more incredible scenery. I was able to stop and take lots of pictures…ones that actually exist. I had a very good time. Mark was in heaven.
The next day it rained all day and there is really nothing to do. So we stayed at the hostel and read and uploaded pictures and wished we had facebook. Then it was time to do another overnight bus ride back down to the Pearl River delta. It was even less fun than the ride up, took longer and my knees and calves were killing me from all the riding. Nonetheless, the whole trip was an adventure, and adventure we are glad we took.