another week in Changping

Publié le par chrislzh


Monday lunchtime:


So I’m back in Changping. Brilliant. Now it seems I have no tv at all. It died last Thursday afternoon. And there’s still no phone, of course. Good thing I brought some books with me.


On Saturday we went up to the village. With lzh working now we couldn’t go up for a three-day weekend, unfortunately. But from Wudaokou it’s really easy to get back to the village, so we still got plenty of time there. Unfortunately I felt really tired the entire time, which took away some of the enjoyment. And I probably pissed some people off by sitting there feeling exhausted but looking pissed off. Never mind, it was still good to get back and relax for a bit.


But getting back was a right pain in the arse. Well, the transport was as convenient as usual. But from the time we got off the bus at Jishuitan to the time we got to the bus terminal in the shadow of Deshengmen we were fighting our way through a mass of idiot fucking tourists. And then when we got to the terminal at Deshengmen we saw a huge queue of people all waiting for the 919 fast bus to Yanqing. But you know why at least half of them were there: Badaling. More fucking idiot tourists causing trouble. Fortunately the good folks at the Bafangda bus company had a good idea: Put on extra buses and split the Badaling/Yanqing routes.


See, normally the 919s to Yanqing, both the slow buses and the express, stop at Badaling on the way to and from Yanqing. The difference is the slow bus stops at a million other places in Haidian and Changping along the side of the express way, whereas the express bus stops at Madian, Badaling and a few places in Yanqing. So on Saturday, with so many idiot fucking tourists to deal with, Bafangda put on extra express buses and ran half of them directly between Deshengmen and Badaling, and the other half directly between Deshengmen and Yanqing. Which meant that those of us going to Yanqing weren’t being delayed by fucking idiot tourists, and the idiot fucking tourists weren’t being delayed by us.


Of course, a foreigner getting on the bus to Yanqing, and not to Badaling, caused a bit of consternation. And of course, none of them had the intelligence to ask me directly. One would have thought that somebody standing in a queue for a bus hearing constantly “That bus goes to Badaling, this one goes to Yanqing and doesn’t stop at Badaling!” over and over again, and not asking for clarification and getting on the Yanqing bus probably wanted to go to Yanqing, and not Badaling. But these people do have to deal with large numbers of fucking idiot tourists on a regular basis, so I suppose I shouldn’t blame them. But then again, there are so many tourist destinations in Yanqing that they probably could have thought things through a bit more. Oh well, I’ve lived here long enough to know I’m just going to have to keep dealing with this bullshit forever.


But as it turns out, the people in question were complete idiots who went on to make total fools of themselves sitting there saying all kinds of stupid shit about me in front of my face (we sat in the front seat directly behind the driver) even after they were told I could understand everything.


One thing that keeps me sane is the knowledge that in the end all that the racists achieve is to make themselves look incredibly weak, pathetic and stupid.


And if you want to know why I hold the tourists in such contempt: Why the fuck would anybody go to Badaling? Especially on a weekend or public holiday? Really? You can’t see the Great Wall at Badaling, all you can see is a mass of idiot fucking tourists crawling over what used to be a great wall destroying everything that may have ever been good about the place. There are plenty of other places to see the Wall, even here in Beijing. As you take the expressway up to Badaling you pass sections of the Wall at Juyongguan and Shuiguan, both of which have been set up to accommodate tourists, but neither of which attracts as much traffic as Badaling. Really, how stupid do you have to be to think going to Badaling would be a good idea?


So I’m back in Changping. Classes this morning threw up a couple of interesting things. Actually, the first half of the first class was painful. Like pulling teeth. Just before break time I wrote on the board “It’s like pulling teeth. I’m not a dentist and I don’t enjoy pulling teeth.” That got a few chuckles and a few more signs of life. It all started because I tried to ask them about their weekends, and most of them just sat there looking exhausted. None of them could give me a decent reason why they were so tired.


Well, one of them could. He said, “My wife came to Beijing this weekend, and I went to sleep with her. So I was very tired.” Actually, he was one of the more wide-awake looking ones. And I’m not sure he realized the full implications of what he said.


But none of them had done anything particularly exciting or energetic the whole weekend (well, apart from the one quoted above), and yet they were all absolutely shattered. Why, I just couldn’t figure out. But this made them an interesting contrast with the second class.


Eleven of the students from my second class, including three of those who showed up for class this morning, went off to the Bashang grasslands in I think Fengning County in Hebei, apparently about 260 kilometres northeast of Beijing. Apparently it’s quite a popular destination for Beijingers on the weekends, so it was pretty crowded, but they got to ride horses and race motorbikes and do whatever else it is you do on a grassland. And then they got stuck into the baijiu that evening. By all reports it was quite the drinking session. And it wasn’t just baijiu, but Hongxing Erguotou, otherwise known as Distilled Evil. Well, the results were fairly predictable. Apparently it was a very quiet bus ride back to Beijing yesterday. But the point is: Three of the five students in my second class this morning had a really good excuse to be looking as exhausted and shattered and half dead as the students of my first class, but they didn’t. Instead they were active and talkative and awake and alert. Still drunk, perhaps….


Monday evening:


I’m really glad I brought books with me. Note the plural. I just finished Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles Volume 1’, and, being a good Boy Scout, picked up Michael King’s ‘Being Pakeha Now.’ Now, this is an important book.


‘Being Pakeha Now’ is subtitled ‘Reflections and Recollections of a White Native’. How is this important? Part of King’s point in writing the book was to show that for us Pakeha, is as much home as it is for Maori. That we have no other home to go to. That our roots are in . That we, although being of European descent, are no more European than the Maori. We may not be Tangata whenua, the indigenous people, but we are equally native in the sense that we have no other place to call home. Why is this important? It is important for everything I said above about why he wrote the book. It is also important because nobody else in has ever had the balls, the mana or the intellect to put across this particular point of view. King did not express his ‘white nativeness’, his ’pakehaness’ in opposition to Maori or any element of Maori society. He expressed this in terms of pride in Pakeha culture and history and in terms of equality with Maori. Unlike the redneck element of Pakeha society, he accepted the term Pakeha as one being essentially neutral in tone. He rejected all the bullshit myths about the term ‘Pakeha’ somehow being a term of abuse. He embraced it, as I do, as being the only word capable of fully representing his culture and history.


To help explain King’s importance more fully, allow me to quote the foreword from my edition of ‘Being Pakeha Now’, re-published not long after King’s tragic death with his wife in a car crash, written by K.R. Howe, Professor of History at Massey University, Albany:


“Assessments of the work of influential people who die in old age are generally anticipated and measured. It is possible to reflect on the completed life. But sudden, premature death of someone at the height of their particular abilities brings both poignancy and complexity to the task of assessment.

       “In addition to the personal tragedy of Michael King’s and his wife Maria Jungowska’s death, there is also the tragedy of loss of any further contribution and achievement. King’s writing about New Zealanders is suddenly both incomplete yet also now finished. What we assume was but a part, is now a whole.

       “Perspective on his work at this time is illuminated but also made intriguing by the extraordinary success of ‘The Penguin History of New Zealand’ published just months before he died. That a historian might almost overnight sell more copies of a book than virtually any other book (with the exception of a handful of cookbooks) is, simply, a remarkable cultural phenomenon. His connection to a huge audience through his writing was also evidenced on his death by a very public sense of loss throughout the country, and by the high level of accolade – he virtually had, in effect, a state funeral.”


The cookbooks in question are the various editions of the Edmonds Cookbook, the one book you are guaranteed to find in every home almost without fail. But more importantly, Michael King is the only intellectual whose death could possibly have caused such an upsurge in emotion. is not known for its tolerance of intellectual types. But he reached us all, touched us in elemental terms that helped us Pakeha to find and feel proud of ourselves as a Pacific people distinct from our European ancestors. I grew up at the time when Pakeha were just getting over the old cultural cringe that held us down and realising our reality as Pakeha, a people of the Pacific, with our own culture and history, a culture and history we could and should be proud of.


Or allow me to quote further, this time the prologue, titled ‘In the Beginning’:


“In the beginning we were all immigrants to these islands, our ancestors boat people who arrived by waka, ship or aeroplane. The ingredients of our indigenous cultures too were imported: the East Polynesian language that became Maori, and English; Papatuanuku and the Bible; Maui and Tane Mahuta, Robin Hood and Horatio Nelson; the kumara and the kiwifruit.

       “All these things and many more had their origins elsewhere. But in the forms and proportions in which they coalesced into the cultures of Aotearoa New Zealand they became somewhat different from their antecedents. Maori feel affinity feel the people of Samoa, but not kinship; Pakeha people recognise shared points of contact with the British but do not mistake that recognition for homecoming.

       “For both peoples, Maori and Pakeha – and, indeed, for those who originally came from Asia or the neighbourhood of the Pacific – home is Aotearoa New Zealand, the focus of present loyalties and commitments. The fact that one group has been here longer than others does not make its members any ‘more’ New Zealand than later arrivals, nor give them the right to exclude others from full participation in the national life. If we said that it did, then we would be embracing precepts of Hitler’s Reich, Enoch Powell’s and Idi Amin’s . Pakeha born in and committed to have no other home, no other turangawaewae, any more than Maori do in the Cook Islands, Tahiti or the Marquesas, points of departure for Polynesian migrants to .

       “But, certainly, and understanding of our respective origins is the beginning of our present selves.”


So, having finished re-reading Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles Volume One’, I decided to re-read Michael King’s ‘Being Pakeha Now’.


Tuesday lunchtime:


I asked my first class this morning what an ideal city is. The first answer was “Communist!”, and then everybody was silent. It took a while for me to cajole the others into offering their ideas. After a while, when a few more ideas had been written on the board, notably after words like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’ had been written on the board, the student who had said “Communist!” muttered, but not too quietly, “But that’s all communist!” It’s hard to imagine that happening in a Western classroom, and if it did, it’d probably start a riot. But not one of the other students voiced anything approaching the even the suggestion of perhaps some possible disagreement. And I don’t think that’s because they were scared of anything. And of course, according to Marxist theory, he was perfectly correct.


I’m starting every class this week with the question: “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? And why?” It’s interesting to hear their answers. One thing I’ve noticed is that almost every Sichuanren says he would go back to Sichuan. One of the Sichuanren said he’d go to Vancouver. Two said they’d like to live in some other place, but that Sichuan was still a favourite choice for a place to live in Mainland . The others have all immediately and unequivocally said “Sichuan!” Apparently the climate and food there are perfect, the cost of living is low, the pace of life is slow, it’s relaxed and relaxing, and the women are all really beautiful. So the Sichuanren say. Guess I’ll have to go and find out.


Actually, there’s got to be something special about a place like that, whose people all talk about how good life is there. Which reminds me, I’ve been told that New Zealanders are the people you meet anywhere in the world, often in the most remote places, who always tell you how great life is in . I guess that makes Sichuanren the New Zealanders of China, or something like that.


Wednesday lunchtime:


So Changpingren in general strike me as being kind of cold and distant. But not all the people I’ve met out here are like that. There’re a couple of people in the office who’ve been pretty friendly. One of them is also my neighbour, Mr Wu. He’s a pretty friendly, outgoing chap, and he’s always been good to me. He assured me I could phone him or pop next door if I needed help, and I believe him. On the way home after class this morning I saw him sitting on the steps of the library alone sniffing the stalk of some plant. Being curious, I went up to chat with him. After the usual pleasantries, I asked him what this plant was. “香椿 (xiangchun)” was the answer. He explained that it’s a really tall tree, but you can pick the saplings and chop up the stalk like it’s celery and fry it with eggs, really tasty. I checked the name, and he explained it and wrote the characters on his hand with his finger in that Chinese imaginary pen way, and I said I’d have a look in the dictionary. Well, the dictionary’s explanation was far less colourful or mouth-watering than Mr Wu’s. 1: Chinese toon, Toona sinensis. 2: The leaves and stalk of the Chinese toon used as a vegetable.


Now, as soon as I read that, I thought, I’ve seen this somewhere before. But the only time I can think of when I may have come across the Chinese toon is that time I went picking 野菜 (yecai, wild vegetables) with lzh and her parents. I asked what the particular leaves we were picking were exactly, and I can’t remember the answer I was given, but that’s the only time I can think of when I would have come across the Chinese toon.


The way I remember it, those yecai leaves that lzh cooked for me were not especially tasty. Kinda bad tasting, in fact. But that stalk of Chinese toon that Mr Wu was sniffing today was rather fragrant. Maybe Mr Wu’s香椿炒鸡蛋 is tastier.


Talked about the environment in class this morning. Some things I noticed:

1: When I asked them why the environment was important, they talked exclusively in negative terms, about environmental problems and pollution and global warming and so on.

2: When I asked them what environmental problems faced, they talked exclusively in terms of artificial problems.

3: When I asked them how these problems could be solved, they talked exclusively about solutions to industrial and urban problems.

It took me quite some work to convince them to tell me positive reasons for the importance of the environment (it’s where our food comes from, for example) or to tell me what natural environmental problems China faces (sandstorms, deserts, drought, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, etc) or to think about rural and agricultural solutions to environmental problems (afforestation, improved farming techniques, etc).


And I still can’t figure out why it took them so long to mention afforestation, considering that when one of them mentioned education as a solution to environmental problems, or, as another student put it, raising people’s awareness of the importance of environmental protection, I told them the story of the Ma warlords’ attempts at afforestation in Northwest China in the 1940s: Basically, there method was plant trees and then shoot anyone who cut one down. The result was that the people hated the Ma warlords, resented the trees, and didn’t understand why the trees were necessary. So in ’49 the PLA swept through, got rid of the warlords and KMT scum, and the people chopped all the trees down. And the inevitable resulted. Why the students couldn’t make the connection between the story of the Ma warlords’ incompetent attempts at afforestation and the importance of afforestation (or reforestation as the case may be) as solutions to some of ’s environmental problems, I don’t know. Never mind.


Nearly time to go back to class.


Wednesday evening:


Speaking of Mr Wu, I just bumped into his wife and daughter on the way back from the supermarket. His daughter, who must be about eight years old, called out “Chris uncle !”


Well, I had to cancel the last class today. At the end of my first class this afternoon I had to ask the students for toilet paper (fortunately one of them had some) and sprint for the toilet. Then I started the second class but my gut hurt like hell, my head was starting to spin and I was feeling really weak. I sat down to rest, then the students got me some more toilet paper, one ran off to buy me some medicine he reckoned would cure me instantly, and then when I’d got my strength back up a bit we arranged to catch up this lesson tomorrow afternoon. The student came back with medicine and a cup of hot water to wash it down with, so I swallowed a couple of tablets. Then I had to make use of that second wad of toilet paper. Then I started feeling better. Still a bit weak, tired and uncomfortable, but better. I got another cup of hot water, then I went back to the apartment.


Now, about two hours later and about an hour and a half after taking the medicine, I’m feeling almost back to normal. Weird, the whole experience.


I was once stopped at the classroom door and told to go home and rest and catch up marking exams because I was too sick and exhausted. But that’s ‘cos I had a really bad dose of the flu. Today was the first time I ever had to stop a class ‘cos of food poisoning. Most unpleasant.


And now I have to do four classes tomorrow instead of the usual three. Bugger.


Thursday lunchtime:


Nearly done. Unfortunately I still have four hours of teaching this afternoon, thanks to getting sick yesterday, but I’m nearly done. I’ll pack up my stuff after I’ve eaten and take it all with me. I should be able to leave it in the office while I teach. Either that or I’ll just take it into the classroom with me and answer all the obvious questions.



Publié dans chrislzh

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