Thursday, September 28, 2006

Singing for my Supper

Music: Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution - They provide the paint for the picture perfect masterpiece that you will paint on the insides of your eyelids (saying the title takes almost as long as the song)
Watching: Shameless - Series 1 (thankyou internet)

So tonight I went to a big official dinner thing, at Liaoyang's fanciest hotel, with
the mayor and all the local party elite in attendance. An occasion like this of course requires top notch entertainment, which was provided by the following:

Traditional Chinese Fan Dancers

Traditional Chinese Opera Singers

Not-so-traditional Chinese pop singers
3-11_FClips01 - antipiracy.jpg

And this ass:

Yep, I was told that I must prepare a song for this little swaree, and that all of the other foreigners there would also be doing some sort of performance. Turns out, all the other foreigners had the sense to say hellz no, so following the synth-beats, garish costumes, and fancy lighting displays of the Chinese performers, you got one kiwi, in a bad tie, singing a barely recognisable rendition of Tutira Mai Nga Iwi (my 'go to' kiwi song for China), acapella, to a room full of local Communist Party Bigwigs, Russian chemical magnates, weird Austrians, bemused Koreans and Japanese, and a handful of American's, all of whom are evidently better at saying 'no' than I am.

Anyway, the food was good, the toasts (with brandy) plentiful and I now have about 9 business cards (mostly in Chinese) including that of the ASSISTANT MAYOR. That's right. Take that everybody who's never had the personal mobile phone number of a mid-ranking party official of a small northern Chinese regional city.

Met a smattering of other foreigners, the Austrians are weird looking, but could be interesting, they look like they enjoy the odd dram. One guy had the most stellar 1980's porno mustache I've ever seen, mad as a bag of cats too, judging by our brief conversation.

I'm off to Dalian tomorrow, the so called “Hong Kong of the North”. Should be a fun few days even though I think we're getting shafted on accomodation costs (Fred, who I may or may not have mentioned previously, he's an american) arranged it all, so I'm just going with the flow on this first excursion out of Liaoyang.

Anyway, I'll be sure to get lots of pics, apparently the place has plenty of bars (I've even heard rumours of the existence of a bar that sells actual authentic Guinness Draft!), Russian Hookers for all, and impressive Communist thingamabobs. There's a beach of sorts too, but I've been told not to get my hopes up about it.

All comments in old-fashioned telegram style please STOP

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tai Ji or not Tai Ji

So much for my daily update schedule. The network switch in our building died, and somebody forgot to plug me back in when they replaced it. I suspected this about a week ago, and all I had to do to get it fixed was endure this process about twenty times:

Helpful student: I will look at your computer for you!
Me: Okay, but its not my computer, the network cable is unplugged, and seeing as it is plugged in at my end...
Helpful student: Okay! I will look at your computer.
Me: Whatever
Helpful student: I cannot find the problem
Me: See, as I was explaining, if you'll show me where the other end of this network cable leads, I can probably just...
Helpful student: I will ask (name of another helpful student) to fix! He will come tomorrow
Me: okay, but if you'll just show me where the other end of this network cable is so that I can check and see if...
Helpful student: okay! See you tomorrow!

Eventually I got adventurous enough to start opening cabinets in my building at random, found the switch, found my cable dangling folornly and unplugged, replugged it and I'M BACK.


In my continued quest to provide the Chinese with amusing western buffonery to guffaw at, I have started learning Taiji quan (that's Tai Chi to you foreign devils) at a park near my school. This has meant I've spent around 10 hours this week, under the noon-day sun, rediscovering my complete lack of balance and co-ordination, while a small but stern Chinese man, (with crazy manga hair), imparts unto me the collective wisdom of a thousand years of tradition and mastery of this art. Of course, the imparting is all done in Chinese, so all I know is it has to do with thighs and hands and pointing at your nose a lot. 10 hours in, I have almost managed to competently perform such tasks as 'walking' and 'holding an invisible pot'. I think this qualifies me for the lowest rank in taiji - 'retarded mime'. Wang Shir-Fu (Master Wang) actually asked my name the other day, I guess that's progress.

Anyway, turns out “laowai using a public park to trample upon our ancient and cherished traditions with his inept bumbling” is a reasonably popular form of entertainment amongst Chinese people of retirement age, so every time I'm there, a crowd of onlookers gathers (usually about 10 cms from my face) to gawk and point. Apparently, (I was only told a day or two later) on one occasion, these gawkers included the mayor of Liaoyang and his media entourage, who apparently thought that my antics were worthy of that spot at the end of the news where they usually show a water-skiing squirrel or something.

Take that everybody who's never appeared on a regional Chinese television station.

In other news, I still seem to be waking up every morning and finding myself in China, a point that is usually driven home by the fact that its 5.30 am and there's an artillery barrage going on outside my window. It's 'golden month' at the moment, a popular time for weddings and amongst those who deal in pyrotechnics.

Saw a policeman and a guy having a tussle over a bicycle today, it was kind of comical (especially if you imagined silent movie music in the background, which I recommend you always, always do) I didn't hang around to see how it played out, but as I was walking by a car full of police showed up and joined the fray. I'm sure they had a frank and amicable discussion, uncovered the misunderstanding at the heart of the issue, all had a good laugh, and went their seperate ways in good spirits. The police all had batons, so I assume they were organising a relay of some sort, and wanted the bike guy to participate.

What a lot of writing.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Duck and Cover

Music: Against Me! - Those Anarcho-Punks are Mysterious! (Live in London)
Astrological Alignment: Fortuitous. I assume.

Well, for the last half an hour, I've been serenaded by the dulcet tones of 5 or 6 air raid sirens of various pitch at a volume sufficient to blanket the whole city in a symphony of wooooOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooohhhhhs.

I went outside to see if the apocalypse was nigh, but everyone seemed to be getting on with business as usual. I guess I can safely assume that hordes of North Koreans aren't swarming over the border towards us, and that those Imperialist American pigs haven't dropped the ol H-Bomb on Beijing yet.

I'm sure it was just a drill of sorts to keep the people ready for the aforementioned eventualities. Grab yer pitchforks an' all that.

I'm now a member and the official freakshow of the 'Blue Swallow' gymnasium (keep your smutty jokes to yourselves) where the locals can now be treated to such sights as:

"Watch the big white guy sweat!" (the chinese aren't really sweaters)
"Watch the big white guy gasping for breath!"
"Steal the treadmill that the big white guy was about to use!"
"Sit on a weight-bench and stare at the big white guy throughout his entire weight routine!"
"Listen to the big white guy cursing under his breath in that craaaaaazy language of his!"

And that old Chinese favourite:

Say "Hello!" to the big white guy, then collapse in fits of laughter when he replies.

Good times. No pictures today because I'm lazy.

All comments to include smutty jokes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What's in a name?

Music: The Arrogant Sons of Bitches - "Yeah I Don't Know What Its Like to Be Around a Bunch of Hipsters"
KMs walked today: Approx 10
Why: I got lost. Sort of.

Okay, so in China, everybody has an English name (anybody who is learning or speaking English anyway). They get to pick these names for themselves, and some of them seem to change them pretty frequently (often the kids will have no idea who you are talking about when you refer to one of their classmates by their English name).

Anyway, some of the names they pick are pretty damn funny. My job description here includes familiarising the students with 'Western customs and cultures'. I'm not sure if this extends to taking a guy aside and telling him: "You probably don't want to walk into a board-room in a western country and introduce yourself as 'Sparkler'".

So, for your 'laughing at people because they are different' pleasure, here are some of the standout names of my students.

Firstly, some of the teachers' names:

Perky (my main guide around Liaoyang so far, and helper of buying things person)
Raphael (who as far as I know, neither paints, nor weilds a bo-staff and purple eye mask)

The food groups:

Tulip (I'm sure you could eat one if you had too)
Macaroon (seriously)

The old-fashioned:


And the just plain weird:

Prince (formerly 'King' apparently)
Sparkler (see above)
Wensen (Winston maybe? That's how he spells it anyway)

My friend Fred (the only other foreign teacher here that I'm aware of)claims that he once had a student called 'Shits'.

I got lost today because I went right here thinking it would be a 'shortcut' when I should've just gone straight.

And finally, here's an old motorcycle that I photographed today.

Comments including the use of the letter 'R' will be rejected. Um, ejected.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Chinese Beer is People!

Chinese Beer is people!

It is also very, very, cheap.

Beer, cheap cheap beer.

That's about 60c (NZ) for a 600ml bottle.

The danger of course, is this:

Happiness is...

Friday, September 15, 2006

The streets of Liaoyang

Weather: Smoggy and Muggy. (Smuggy)
Music: This Bike is a Pipe Bomb - Imperfection

Okay, so here's a photo-heavy one, of the merry little metropolis that is Liaoyang City.

Where the hell is Liaoyang City? Good question. Hereabouts (click for a more eyeball friendly version):


First, some fun facts:

Liaoyang is one of the oldest inhabited cities in China (well over a 1000 years, but you'd have to dig through a few layers of cement to find anything older than 1950). Japan and Russia have both stomped through here at various points, usually on their way to, or back from, killing each other for some reason or other. The population is about 700,000 in the urban bits, about 1.8 million if you include the outlying areas. Its about 1 hour by plane to Beijing. Number one question people will ask you, as a foreigner, in Liaoyang: "Why would you come here?!?"

If Liaoyang is famous for anything (which it isn't) it would be this, the White Pagoda. It's a hair shy of 750 years old I think (built during the Yuan Dynasty if someone wants to look it up).

Still, the local government felt that this ancient wonder could do with a bit of 'buddhisting up' so about six years ago, they built this kitschy temple-o-rama next door:

The bottom floor is where you pay your 50 yuan entrance fee (probably more than a tenth of most people's weekly earnings), and the whole facility is manned by a staff of professional and courteous monks, who have managed to 'streamline' the years of training, dedication and mental and spiritual effort of buddhism into a four-week course, after which they are qualified to monk to their hearts content between the hours of 8am and 5pm, six days a week. Apparently they have the largest wooden buddha in China too.

To complete the tourist trap, they have a big gate thing, with lions.

I did find this cool little sculpture in a bush around the corner though.

On to the streets:

Here you will find many wonderful goods and services, such as the friendly SIM card street dealers who you have to wade through to get to the mall

Despite being a 'communist' country, its pretty much all shopping and signage round Liaoyang town, though there is the occassional throwback:

You're far more likely to see stuff like this:

And if this aint capitalism, I don't know what is:

What would Mao think?

Almost forgot: Liaoyang has a moat! Take that not-moat-having cities of the world!

NB: Comments will only be accepted if they incorporate the word 'Contumacious'

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Diamond 007, the Skateboarding Chimp

Mood: Bloggeriffic
Music: Paint It Black - "This song is short because its not political"

BAM! First post of my sparkly new blog thing. Come on in, make yourself comfy. Its a little sparse at the moment, but I'll bring the full strength of my rudimentary HTML skills to bear on it shortly and see if I can't spruce it up a little.

So the plan is: Keep this thing updated reasonably regularly with lots of photos (so to those of you on dial-up - sucks to be you), thoughts of the day, rants on this and that, and whatever else I feel I might like to post at the time. Hopefully its mildly interesting, to me if nobody else.

Anyway, for the first week or so I'll hopefully be updating daily, to clear out the backlog of oddness and oriental mystery that has been my first three weeks here in China. On that note, I figure there's no better place to start than right here:

That's a movie poster on a storefront down the road from me (where they also have a Sega Megadrive for sale, in the original box, unopened). I feel it neatly encapsulates the blend of familiarity and jarring dissonance that is China.

I will own a copy of this movie before I leave.

That's all for now. Trying to keep it short and snappy.

All comments in Haiku form please.