Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spring is sprung...

the grass is rizz
I wonder where the birdies is!*

What a difference a week makes.

Liaoyang - early April:




Liaoyang today:




*there's a blackly comic story behind that. In the 1950's, during the great leap forward, it was decided that peasants should take actions against "The Four Harms", lice, rats, flies and sparrows. The party agriculturalists calculated that each sparrow ate 4.5 kg of the People's grain each year, so peasants were dispatched into the fields to bang pots and pans, frightening the sparrows away from landing, until they dropped dead from exhaustion. One province alone apparently killed 2.8 million of them. The next year's crop was huge, and everybody celebrated the wisdom of the great helmsman. What wasn't taken into account however, was the fact that, along with grain, sparrows eat insects. Including Locusts. No sparrows = Locust happyfuntime. A year or two later, and China was in the midst of the greatest famine in history, in which 30 million people died.

Anyway, to this day, you see very few birds in Chinese cities.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bargains - The Enemy of the People

From one of my students' textbooks:


To offer bargains is a commercial trick to make the poor poorer. When greedy fools fall for this trick, it serves them right. All the same, if bargains were prohibited by law, our standard of living would immediately rise by 7.39 percent.

The textbook didn't site a source for the rather precise standard of living increase.

I should also note that, at 45 RMB, the book was a little overpriced.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My weekend was better than yours...

...because I went to Beijing and saw NOFX.

I know its not cool to like NOFX after you finish puberty, but I enjoy cartoons and the occasional fart joke too, so what're ya gonna do.

Despite the fact that the audience was probably about 80% American (and, due to there being no legal drinking age in China, around 15 years old), a very enjoyable time was had.

I received a slightly chipped tooth for my troubles, and the next morning I hawked up what appeared to a small brain hemorrhage whilst in the shower, so I guess the basic requirements of punk rock were met.

I also had a fun night completely failing to explain the rules of cricket to an American guy, and learning from a fat, drunk Canadian why it was not only acceptable but necessary to club baby seals. (In case you're interested: because they are VERMIN and they have WORMS).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tiananmen and Forbidden City (aka the stuff that you've probably seen a million pictures of already)

Well, I figure I need to wrap up Beijing round one before round two begins, so here it is, the main event, Tiananmen and the Forbidden City.

Now aside from the Great Wall, this is probably the most famous place in China, largely due to all that stuff that totally didn't happen on June 4 1989 (and if that date doesn't trigger a key word filter somewhere, I would be very surprised). By the time I made it there I guess I was suffering from camera fatigue, and was pretty well tapped out on Ming/Qing era architecture, so photos are sparse. What there is, is here

The infamous square itself isn't much to look at, (Its the world's largest public square but still, its just a square) though even in the off season when I was there there's a bunch of people milling around and the attendant map/flag sellers and scam artists that prey on them (although, being the off season, the tourists were mostly Chinese so the scammers weren't as thick on the ground as I'd heard they might be).

My great disappointment was that Zombie Mao was not available for viewing, as they were performing whatever dark rituals they must perform annually in order to keep him all nice and composed in his glass sarcophagus(interesting side note, when I told my Chinese friends about my disappointment, they all asked "so you think its a real body?"). So without that macabre gawk fest, all you're left with is a large paved area, a monument to the People's Glorious something or other, some statuary and some nice big Brutalist slabs of concrete that serve as government buildings.




(I bet that guy's job is a hoot)

and, guarding the MAOsoleum (yuk yuk), this fella:


I quite enjoy the thrust of these kinds of Chinese statues, they're all surging forward into... well something.

Anyway, looking to the North, you would be hard pressed to miss the 'Gate of Heavenly Peace' (which, surprise, translates as Tiānānmén). And off course, smack bang in the middle is a mugshot of Mr Heavenly Peace himself.


The characters say (from the left) "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and "Long live the Unity of the People's of the World"

So inside, you have a sprawling (some 440,000 square metres), walled city where the last few centuries of Chinese gliterati made their home, leaving only when absolutely necessary. It was considered to be the very centre of the universe (the universe being of course, China) and is in the dead centre of Beijing. The first thing you learn upon entering, is why its not a good idea to be visiting important Chinese cultural sites in the lead up to the Olympic games:


As I said before, I didn't take all that many pictures, but I did manage to find where they keep the spare stone lions:


Guess they couldn't compete with this guy:


I also found this interesting, a kind of half finished, psuedo-Victorian piece, and the only building in the place (I assume) using iron girders in its construction. There was nothing as useful as a plaque or anything like that to explain it, but it may have been one of the follies of Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China (though basically a puppet of various warlords, then the Japanese). I thought it was neato anyway:


And here is a wall, which illustrates the overwhelming theme of the Forbidden City: RED


Anyway, if you haven't gotten tired of waiting for those images to load and clicked off to more exciting corners of the internet yet, I present to you, the Ben Shaw Guide to Touristing in Tiananmen and avoiding the annoying people trying to sell you stuff or con you into coming to see their paintings or buy their maps or paper Chinese flags or give you a tour or something™

  • Keep your eyes fixed at some non-specific point in the mid-distance, and stride, with purpose, in that direction. Set your face to 'stern'.
  • Do not, at any time, stop moving. This will only invite someone to "help" you. For a fee
  • If possible, wear headphones. That way, when three people are running along beside you waving brochures and yelling "Mr! Mr! Tour! Tour!" you can at least pretend not to see them.
  • Pillars with maps, tourist information, or any kind of vendor stall are to be avoided entirely. These are to tourist scammers what Raccoon feces are to brain parasites.
  • All photographs should be taken whilst in motion, or if not possible you should start moving as soon as the shutter falls
  • Go in Winter.
Last, and most important tip of all: Normally, during peak season, it costs extra to see the Museums that are within the forbidden city. If you are ever there, DO IT. They are easily the best part of the whole shebang. There are museums for ceramics, jewellery and bronze work, each containing works that are up to 4000 years old. I can imagine that during the busy season, they'd be kind of crowded, and you'd have to see them 'Chinese style' (ie, file in one door, move past exhibits at a brisk and orderly pace that doesn't really allow you to actually look at anything, file out other door), but when I went they were largely empty and, even though many of the information cards are only in Chinese, well worth a look.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

International Banking - China Style

In just 16 easy steps!

Please note that all steps in this program requiring verbal communication are to be done via translator, which adds a +2 to confusion

1.Enter bank that you are reliably informed will perform this service

2.Receive information that this bank no longer performs said service

3.Go to Post Office (who apparently perform this service)

4.Receive information that this transaction will require the use of US dollars, even though you have Chinese RMB, you are in a Chinese Post Office, you are depositing into an Australian bank account, and no physical money is actually changing hands anyway.

5.Go to bank number two to exchange money, only to be accosted en route by black market money dealers who seem suspiciously aware that you are after US dollars.

6.After deciding that the rate offered is in fact reasonably fair, (and enjoying mild thrill at doing something 'black market') decide that you need to go to the banks currency exchange anyway to authenticate the bills you have been given (step 6a. Realise that you've never really seen US money before and it looks kind of like monopoly money).

7.Express mild surprise that nobody in the bank seems overly concerned that black market money dealers (their competition) use them to authenticate bills.

8.Return to Post Office. Complete form. Submit to teller

9.Learn that Teller thought you were trying to send money to a person, not a bank account in your own name.

10.Learn that you have filled out the wrong form

11.Learn that US dollars weren't necessary after all.

12.Fill out (correct) form. Submit form, passport, and cash to teller.

13.Explain to the teller, with some difficulty, that, yes, the name on your passport is Ben Matthew Shaw, but that your account name is merely Ben Shaw.

14. Assure the teller (again with difficulty) that this is in fact possible and not an attempt to commit nefarious (though small-scale) acts of international monetary fraud.

15.Wait for teller to check notes. Teller will return saying that, though they are authentic, Post Office will not accept the bills that have a small president head on them (older notes) and will only except the newer notes, graced by a larger presidential noggin.

16.Give up. Try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Teaching kids to speak english good

This is an actual exchange that took place in my class today:

Ben: Okay, so before we go on, let's just get one thing right. It's "Rock 'n' Roll"

Class: Rock and Roll

Ben: Rock 'n' Roll

Class: Rock and Roll

Ben: No. There is no "and". If you say Rock "and" Roll people will laugh at you and call you a square. Now listen carefully: "Rock 'n' Roll"

Class: Rock and Roll

Ben: [sigh] Up and Atom*

Class: Rock and... shenme?

Speaking of Rock and Roll, I'm off to Beijing next weekend to see NOFX play, which should be fun, and a very strange clash of cultures. Hopefully before then I will have completed my current cycle of Beijing blabbing and photo force-feeding (blogs are the slide-show of the 21st century) but I've been lazy lately (with blog/physical activity/learning Chinese, everything in my day that I'm not paid to do really) so that may not happen.

* if you don't get this reference you fail popular culture.