Saturday, 7 November 2009

home again home again jiggety jig

Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: home again home again jiggety jig

We did the census last night. If it had only been a little earlier I could have put down 'English teacher' and 'Beijing' for occupation and residence the week before. Then I would have felt cool and then when people read the censuses in 99 years time, they would have thought 'hey, she's cool.'

I have started life after China and feel (aside from a lingering feeling of "where are all the people/oh look at how clean it is/which way is the damn traffic coming from anyway/big brother is watching") largely unchanged.

I have started Uni and am studying a subject I love, with a lecturer I adore. He is the type of lecturer who makes me want to do my homework. And when he speaks Latin he sounds just delicious. Latin being the subject I am studying, hence 'delicious' not 'pretentious'.

I have found a new cafe to call my own. It’s quiet and the man who owns it bakes his own biscuits. It feels like you are sitting in his lounge room having a cuppa. Perfect place to sit in the window seat and study.

I am getting to know my new housemates. It is fun watching how everything is shifting around with my arrival. It is a share household, which will be a test for me, as I am not good at sharing.

Life is slower at the moment. I spend much of my time sitting in cafes around the university translating Latin into English. It is lovely to feel relaxed, the only demands on me being to saunter into class on time and wake at a reasonable hour.

love you

Thursday, 5 November 2009

not for all the chickpeas in china

Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: not for all the chickpeas in china

I hate packing. I seem to have six times as much stuff as I have room. You should see China Post people pack. They defy the universal laws. If I didn't have such big feet I could fit way more in my suitcase. It turns out that Chinese men don't like big feet, no matter how big your bottom is. Dammit. Now I am going to have to go back to being liked for who I am.

The other night there was a full moon and a clear sky and I saw the man in the moon for the first time. Until now I have only ever seen a rabbit sitting at a table. It was very exciting. (Yeah, I know).

So I am leaving Beijing.

I have changed a lot, you know. I can now dodge traffic with an ease that few who have seen me cross a road would believe. Because of the lack of full-length mirrors I now have a self-image that consists of two pairs of limbs and a face in the tiny bathroom mirror. I can project my voice over a room of forty yelling students. I can catch Beijing buses at peak hour. Food in all its guises does not faze me (except the stinky tofu). I can sing along to aqua, backstreet boys, n'sync, Christina and Britney. And I haven't watched television in six months.

And there are lots of things to miss. No more 35 degree heat and 75% humidity. No more waking up at 3am in a tangle of soggy sheets. No more men falling off their bicycles trying to get a better look at how white my legs are. No more catching a glimpse of my reflection on the train and realising that not only am I twice as big as everybody else, but also the neon light is making me glow like Christmas. No more walking into a shop and declaring that I have something, instead of saying that I want something. No more chewy-air days. No more cheap fresh lychees. No more watermelons that would make you cry for how sweet they are. No more being cheated because I am a foreigner. No more being stared (pointed/ laughed/ spat) at because I am a foreigner. No more squashing the mosquitoes on the wall by my bed (that really annoys mum). No more Chinese lessons from the guards at the gate. No more lots of things, but I can't think of any more.

It will be good to come home. I am going to eat pizza and steak and one of mum's hamburgers and I am going to spend all the money I have saved on clothing. All of it. I went to the bank yesterday to change my money. Unfortunately I didn't have the seven billion bits of paper and three eyewitnesses that Chinese bureaucracy needs to do any thing, so they wouldn't change my money. Another Australian teacher came in just after me. I tried bursting into tears and he tried raising his voice. We neither of us got what we wanted. I have to go back today with my plane tickets, contract, residence visa, passport, foreign expert papers and all my money (in cash, in brown paper envelopes). They are all in the one bag. I am experiencing hyperparanoia about someone stealing it.

Well, I must run, I am about to go head to head with my suit case to see if I can't convince it that it is bigger than it is.
all my love
china blossom

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Olympic Games

Date: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: Olympic Games

I have been having a good read of the age, and stuff about the Beijing bid. It is very interesting. One of the strongest arguments for giving Beijing the games was because it would mean there was greater focus on them and greater incentive for them to clean up their environmental and political act. And the last speaker for their bid actually played that card, with faintly ominous undertones of what might happen if Beijing didn't win.

One day at the start of the year all the grass was sprayed a foul green colour and I just found out that was for the IOC inspection. And they also shut down various factories to make the city seem less polluted. Just as well the inspection didn't come a month later, with all the dust. The dust was a nightmare. You would no sooner clean it up than it would appear again behind you.

In a lot of ways Beijing frightens me. Apparently there have been 1781 public executions in the last three months. All this stuff happens that is hugely inconvenient to people (like tearing down their place of residence or employment) and there is not much they can do unless the have connections in the party, in which case it wouldn't have happened in the first place.

None of it really affects me, and I suspect I know very little about it, it makes my head hurt trying to understand.

Another thing mentioned in the bid is how friendly Beijing people are. Which is and isn't true. To short term visitors 'hosts' will be excessively friendly. On the other hand people selling stuff will generally try to fleece you, unless you have been their customer for a long time (a month for dvd stores, four months for fruit and veg sellers) or have established your 'in-ness' (friend of a friend). People stare at you in the street with varying degrees of suspicion and dislike, a heavy weight to bear.

On Friday a taxi driver tried to fleece me by taking a circuitous route to my destination, making the taxi fare twice what it should be. I got really mad (I was having a bad day) and waved my hands and stuttered out a few phrases to the effect that I knew exactly what he had done and I’d be damned if I was going to pay the full amount. He seemed to find humour in the fact that I knew what was going on, and dropped the fare without argument. Perhaps encouraged by the fact that I had written down his cab number and the phone number for complaints.

Which is not to say that there are not just as many lovely people in Beijing as there are in Melbourne, but the (now rescinded?) government policy of overcharging (cheating) foreigners is a tenacious one, encouraged by three things. Everyone assumes that foreigners have plenty of money and so should pay more (maybe this is true?); the vendor gets extra money and is very unlikely to cop official reprimand; and a majority of foreigners aren't in Beijing long enough to realise how much extra they are paying. Paying 10 quai for a watermelon (roughly AU$2) isn’t that much, it’s just that everyone else is only paying 2 quai.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Beijing 2008

Date: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: Beijing 2008

Beijing has the Olympics. The decision making process was broadcast live on about 16 of the 24 channels my television picks up.
I could make many cynical comments about Beijing’s presentation, but I am keeping a tight hold on them. It is very easy to be cynical in China.

The decision was announced at around 10:10pm and the entire city went bananas. Fireworks (illegal in china's big cities) were going off for the next three hours around the school. People were running through the streets. I went down to the gate to say congratulations to the guards, but my Chinese must be worse than I thought, because they thought I wanted to go out into the street and became quite distressed. It led to a waving of arms and 'you must not go out by your self'. It is nice to know they care about my well-being, but I did feel just a little like a big kid (which is what they call me, the other day one of them told me in tones of great appreciation 'you are so large and white and beautiful', mmmm.)

Yesterday and today the backslapping and self-congratulation were still going on. If I hear Beijing er-ling-ling-ba one more time I am going home.

Okay, I will just say two little things. One major point of the presentation was that they are nearly finished a three year tree planting project with something million trees put in. but I would like to point out that I have seen them planting the trees and in another three years they are all going to have to be chopped down because they will interfere with power lines, or buildings or roads or water/gas pipelines.
And the footage from the promotional video is all from the southern and eastern parts of Beijing (quite affluent) and must have been filmed last year, because we have only had one day that clear of air pollution since I’ve been here, and it was only a couple of weeks ago. So either they had a clear day last year too, or the whole thing was done on a computer.

hope everyone is well
love ceels