Monday, March 28, 2011

Chinese oddities/2 - Guangdong and Yunnan, China

- One yuan coins are often given as change in Eastern China but are hard to spot in the west - e.g. Yunnan province - where only one yuan banknotes are used instead.
- At Kunming airport a girl hangs on to the hand and the laptop case of a guy, kneeling and sliding on the floor as if she was holding a skilift, yelling "I won't let you go...I woooooon't let you gooooooo!", while the guy - visibly upset and embarrassed - walks from counter to counter with that unusual, wiggling and noisy luggage on tow, alternating polite conversations with the airlines' employees - who try to pretend nothing is going on and often stare blankly at something else - and wild screams toward the girl. Now and then they stop arguing and start to hit each other for a few seconds, then they argue again and finally the man will head to another counter, always dragging the girl whose rubber soles slide on the smooth airport lounge floor. A friend of hers talks on the phone while people are watching the scene in silence, until a cop arrives and takes them to the local station.
She's her lover? He owes her money? She wants that laptop? She's blackmailing him? I'll never know what that was about...but it was a fun way to kill time before the check-in counters opened.
- After she has checked me into the Kunming-Bangkok flight, the airline employee says: "Please sit down there and wait for the immigration counters to open"
"...ah, and when will they open?"
"When the officers are on duty"
", I mean..." What do i mean? How do I explain it? "Well...alright...yeah sure, thanks..."
- The Chinese city of Guangzhou has its own version of the fake Buddhist monks: they hang around the square in front of Guangxiao temple, they hand people some cardboard charms and ask them to donate ridiculously huge sums of money (read about the Kuala Lumpur phonies here).
- The local authorities in Kunming (which is not even a major Chinese city) have decided to create a new town out of the city center. Government buildings and university campuses (many times as big as the old ones) are being moved there.
- Supermarkets, shops and some restaurants run out of iodized salt for a few days due to the panic induced by the Fukushima nuclear plants radiation threat.
- The rubbish bins at the Green Lake in Kunming automatically open their doors and wish you good luck after you dispose of your litter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Welcome to China: in just 24 hours - Guandong, China

The closed pedestrian bridge in Guangzhou
Chinese oddities. They can amuse even one that used to live in China, he just needs to come back after having being away for a few years.

- My luggage is x-rayed at the Hong Kong-China border check point. It's just the first step of a long sequence of scans: Chinese authorities really love those x-rays machines.
- People are shoving about and jumping the queue at the immigration desk...some Chinese can love this even better than x-rays.
- The immigration officer asks people to remove their hair from the foreheads and then nervously, suspiciously, repetitively and perplexedly scrutinizes their passport photos.
- A long queue and an application form to fill in order to exchange HKD 1000 into RMB, which I could have done in Hong Kong in one minute hadn't I underestimated the dark side of the Chinese bureaucracy.
- I am ripped off when I buy a local SIM card, not a big deal though, as the girl who served me was very nice indeed. Niceness can also have a price here.
- More luggage x-rays at the Shenzhen train station entrance. We already know that they love x-rays.
- On the train a committee is formed to assign the seat numbers. The fact that the numbers were already written on the tickets doesn't seem to be very important at this stage.
- Even though everyone has already been assigned their seats (at the ticket counter first and by the train passengers committee later on) people keep standing, moving about and yelling for the whole length of the trip.
- A maze of fences has been built at Guangzhou station square: you need to walk for about one kilometer to reach a hotel that is two hundred meters away.
- The staff at the hotel reception is very grumpy: even though I'm paying cash for my room I feel like I am being done a favor.
- The nearest metro entrance to the hotel is closed, and the ticket vending machines are out of service.
- The hotel was recently renovated (and the prices are four times as high as last time I was here) but here and there you can still spot a few messy leftovers from the old structure: the wood of the toilet door is rotten, there is an old stain on the wall near a piece of furniture, some aged scratches on the mopboard...
- Social networks and blogs are censored (that's why I'm publishing this post so late).
- The grumpy hotel employees manage to get even grumpier when I ask if they have a map of the city. Of course besides being treated like a beggar I don't manage to get one.
- Out of the metro and into the night, I'm suddenly overwhelmed by a terrible could be rubbish, maybe sewage or even excrements, but after few seconds I remember that smell: it's stinking tofu, surprisingly edible food!
- The hotel employees raise the magnitude of their grumpiness to level three when I ask the whereabouts of the nearest ATM machines...the answer is: "at the square!" Unfortunately Guangzhou railway station square is one of the most complex examples of urban architecture in the's as if they had answered: "Somewhere out there, not too far and not too near..."
- Those ATM machines can really help you with a lot of interesting functions and services, except giving money of course.
- A group of girls are waiting for the metro standing on the area reserved for the alighting passengers. They have a point though, as they manage to board the train before the passenger who were waiting on the designated boarding area.
- Near Guangzhou East railway station a pedestrian bridge is closed. Unfortunately you find that out only when you're already on top, after having climbed a few dozens steps.
- Some rich guy with a fancy foreign car accesses a pedestrian area and honks at people so that they get out of the way. The bigger the mightier: everybody knows China, that is.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pastime thoughts/12

Photo by Kevin Eddy (CC)
- The cowl doesn't make the monk, it's true...but it can disguise a fake one very well indeed.

- After much thinking I finally got it: you're in an open relationship when your bedroom door has come off its hinges.

- Being ordinary is not a fault...provided that one doesn't make a fool of himself by trying his best to appear an outstanding person.

- Fortunately I'm continuously reminded by others of how sad my condition as a single is: in fact when I am alone I never think about it.

- Some people must think that having fun is an evil act. They always seem to need some kind of excuse to get involved: charity events, theme concerts, demonstrations, web based initiatives, pseudo-political activities. I might be immature, vain, a careless selfish, but I don't need a pretext to have some fun without sense of guilt.

Read more thoughts here

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Semi-nomad - Bangkok, Thailand

Tibetan nomad, by falsalama (CC)

After renting it for two years I've left my apartment and got back to the semi-nomadic kind of life that I had embarked on ten years ago. I left the few home appliances that I possess at a friend's place, I packed my books, records and some objects I am fond of and shipped them to Italy, I sorted a few cloths, underwear and accessories that would fill two backpacks - a large one and a small one - I got rid of the remainder and went back to my old, rather random sequence of rooms in hotels, guest houses, places of friends', acquaintances' or almost unknown hosts and accommodation provided by some client - when I have a training course to teach, of course. I keep the clothes that I use for work in a separate bag, which I store in a private checkroom in between job contracts.
Once again I'm released, unsteady element, perpetually migrating bird, creeper without grip, pre-agricultural humanoid, uncoupled wagon, drifting lifeboat.
After having handed back the key and received my deposit I felt like when, two times in the past - actually two and a half (*) - I resigned from a permanent job, holding in my hand not a contract with another company but a ticket for a long trip instead. As if I had finally exhaled after having held my breath for a while, my chest finally relaxed and my heart floating into it, delicate and light, in complete freedom. Without knowing what to think when people were telling me that I had to be crazy and I was not feeling a thing about it.
Of course the fact that I don't have a family counts a lot. If I had it I wouldn't be able to perform this kind of stage tricks, or pricks. But the world is full of other singles like me, choked by the concern of being left without a job, without stability, without prospects, frightened by the specter of precariousness, without even a wife or kids as a pretext. On the other hand it looks like I am after all this, rather unconsciously, without plans or strategies, not so much out of fun as of necessity. I haven't had a long term job for a long time, I often don't have a job at all, and the one I manage to make a living with might slip out of my hands at any time.
I don't know what the prospect of a pension is. On top of that now I don't even have an address.
Anyway the ones I've listed are my only symptoms, other than that I'm feeling good. What ailment do I suffer from?

(*) The half time refers to when I was in Singapore and was offered the extension of a contract that I had expressly asked to be a fixed-term one. I politely thanked and declined.