Tag Archives: China

Should everyone work as hard as the Chinese and Americans? No. Nuh-uh. Nope | Helen Lewis | Comment is free | The Guardian

The fuss about Jeremy Corbyn’s recent holiday is ridiculous. Every human being needs a break

Source: Should everyone work as hard as the Chinese and Americans? No. Nuh-uh. Nope | Helen Lewis | Comment is free | The Guardian

When the idiot George Osborne talked about Britons working as hard as the Chinese, I thought, er, “What an idiot.”

As far as I can tell, the only people who work hard in China are migrant workers, peasant farmers, and foreign teachers on international programmes. As one of the comments on the article said, there’s a lot of presenteeism here from the women in supermarkets who stand around gossiping all day to office workers who only do anything when the boss turns up to school librarians who sit around making sure no one goes near the books themselves.

In China, it’s all about the outward appearance of hard work, but this is really a culture of minimalism. At school, pupils do as little as they possibly can to complete work (e.g. responses to text types – write it once to perfection!), an attitude which follows them through their lives.

When I go back to the office after class, I inevitably have work to do; and even when I’ve finished that, I’m usually thinking about what I need to do next. There is occasional faffing about, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

I also hasten to add that the age of retirement for women in China is 55, and 60 for men, and that’s followed by a lifetime of pension payments (though not necessarily for everyone). And so for a lifetime of turning up at work inhumanly early in the morning (well, to a point; we’re still in a lot earlier than the admin staff), taking 90-minute lunches, and avoiding hard work, there’s a nice little reward at the end.

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Ikea’s sleepy customers – in pictures | Business | theguardian.com

Ikea’s sleepy customers – in pictures | Business | theguardian.com.

If only this was quite as it seems. In fact, most of the sleeping in Ikea in China tends to be done in the sofa section, which is usually near the entrance. And the Chinese don’t just sleep on them. I’ve also seen women changing babies on the display furniture without the slightest regard for anyone else.

In China, there are two sorts of people – conspicuous consumers, who think nothing of wasting huge amounts of money on, say, overpriced handbags (or products from Ikea), and the rest who may not be that impoverished, but are cheap.

These are the people like the good ol’ boys who used to watch DVDs in the Walmart down 青石路 even although they were never ever going to buy the player or the screen.

These are the people who sit on the banks of chairs in bookshops reading books, but almost certain never buying them.

These are the people who never get the brakes on their electric bikes replaced, but use their feet as brakes instead; and who don’t replace the lights either.

A lot of people don’t have 2角 to rub together, but the culture of parsimony remains widespread in China even among people who don’t need to pinch pennies to that degree.

Since I wrote this this morning, pictures of two bright young female things flaunting copious quantities of cash have been mentioned on line today. One is alleged to have made the money from betting on the World Cup (although isn’t gambling illegal in China?), and the other appears to be some vulgar nouveau riche sporting sums of money beyond most of the rest of the population of the planet yet not above flaunting herself in bra and knickers on a bed heaped with ¥100 notes.

Everyone smokes here

The Airpocalypse continues.

A picture of a smoggy day in Wuxi, China, December 2013.The air quality in Wuxi has continued to be vile for a third day, having risen by a hund­red points to an AQI reading of 352 at 4.00am this morning, since when it’s per­sist­ent­ly been above 340 all day. I assume that this is the consequence of an inversion layer sitting on top of China causing the smog to build up. (As I write this, some thoughtful person is making things just that bit worse by setting off some fireworks; but in­tel­lig­ence and consideration are not really qualities of the average imperial citizen; in fact, if Descartes had been Chinese, he would’ve eaten the dog after killing it so brutally, and would’ve said ‘I pollute, therefore I am’.)

Yesterday, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 readings were over 300, but at the time of writing, they’ve dropped to a less lethal 239 and 272. I should take up smoking since I’m sure that would be less injurious to my health than the stuff thickening the air like lethal cornflour.

Now that the temperature has dropped, wearing a mask while I’m riding my bike is not such a trial as it used to be. In fact, I notice that quite a lot of people have been wearing masks today, including many of the pupils at school.

I see the PM was in China recently. He complained about a Bloomberg reporter being excluded from a press conference, but I assume he phoned his boss (Li Keqiang) who phoned the emperor, who said it was all right for Cameron to complain so that (to a domestic audience) it would look like Britain was standing up to China.


The Smogpocalyse drags on. (06.12.13)

Smog in Wuxi, China, December 2013Things have got worse. At the time of writing, the AQI is 354, PM 2.5 440, and PM 10 545.

Meanwhile, outside, there’s some sort of student market. Instead of the school banning such a thing and telling children to remain inside, their lordships seem quite happy for all of them to breathe the vile and unbreathable air. Of course, the students aren’t helping themselves by opening the windows of their classrooms.

In fact, in any reasonable country, we would all have been told to stay home. On the other hand, if we were told to stay home, we’d probably end up having various weekends stolen from us.

As far as I’m currently aware, there’s no end in sight.

Today’s picture was the scene looking east at about 5pm. At the current time of writing, the AQI is 387, PM 2.5 379, and PM 10 494. What is being done about this?


Shuffling off this mortal miasma. (10.12.13)

Yesterday morning was very dull and grey, and the AQI had started rising again after hitting a peak of 387 about 24 hours earlier.

It was, though, the arrival of a cold front from the north that has finally seen off the smog, and this morning, the air is comparatively less filthy in that I can see the buildings in town clearly, although I can’t see the line of 锡山 to the east. Still, this is a vast improvement over the view out of my window for the past week.

Autumn is in summer

Spring is in winter.

The Mid Autumn Festival is upon us again. This will be my twelfth, although it’s only in recent years that this has been a long weekend. (I.e., we get one day off, and the other is stolen from the nearest available weekend; why not give us the Friday or Monday and be done with it? [You do realise that that would be sensible. Not something in great evidence in China. –ed.])

I forget what the weather has been like in previous years on this occasion,  but it remains rather summery. I believe the high today is 31°; certainly the sky is blue and the air is reasonably clear. There’s a small scattering of fluffy clouds to the east. In truth, today could be yesterday; today could be a year ago.

Although the weather today bears a greater resemblance to summer than autumn, the weather is feeling autumnal. It might be hot during the day, but the heat is less intense than it was a few weeks ago when it pervaded everything. So long as the humidity is kept at bay, it’s tolerable outside.

At the moment, the weather is not something to be too worried about, but with sports days coming up next, we will be anxiously watching the skies. In all my time in China, I cannot remember a single sunny sports day. It is quite possible that I’ve forgotten, but I typically associate sports days with heavy cloud and the imminent threat of rain. But just as I cannot recall a sunny sports day, I cannot recall the entire thing being cancelled because of the weather. Last year the little darlings had a temper tantrum even although the weather was quite ghastly.

In all likelihood we’ll go through the same thing again, but with the added bonus that if we do have to teach, the week before the National Day Holiday will be very, very long.

Appendix.

I recently learnt that Wuxi is the fifth most affluent city in China. We’re behind Suzhou at No. 3 and ahead of Changzhou, which also makes the top twenty list. [Really? Changzhou? One of the dullest cities imaginable. –ed.] Chengdu may be a good deal more affluent than most of Sichuan, but it’s not in the top twenty.

Meanwhile, the posh new (but unfinished) mall opposite the Xinhua Bookshop on 人民中路 is supposed to have a supermarket exclusively selling foreign products (at more than foreign prices, I expect). I know that the same mall has a Ferrari-Maserati shop, although I don’t know whether this will be ridiculously unaffordable cars or ridiculously expensive trinkets.

In fact, the whole place is a Ferrari-Maserati mall with all the posh designer brands there flogging their outrageously priced designer kit to vulgar conspicuous con­sumers.

From the annals of scepticism

Putting the ‘cred’ into ‘credulity’.

In this morning’s post, I forgot to mention the recent survey which claimed that China was the most atheist country in the world. If this was some measure of how enlightened the place was, then there might be something to celebrate, but I wonder whether the wrong question was being asked. Also, there’s a difference between being an atheist and being sceptical about a whole range of beliefs.

For one thing, there was no shortage of people making offerings to the idols in 雍和宫 in Beijing, or 青羊宫 and 大慈 in Chengdu even if, I believe, they tend to pray for very modern things. There’s no shortage of churches in Fuzhou or people to attend them, and there are plenty of temples to native deities as well.

Although there are native Chinese gods, I’m not aware of them being organised per se. Buddhism and Daoism got thrown into the pot, and like the Roman Empire, China seems to have been fairly pluralistic. I know there were phases when the Bu­ddh­ists or Daoists were predominant, and one side or the other was persona non gratia. The situation was, I presume, different from the schism between the Cath­ol­ic and Protestant churches in Europe, and no one here ever thought that their religion should be imposed on others whether they were willing or not.

The dull and the dismal

Another delightful autumn day.

Today has dragged on and on. And on. And then on a bit more. It’s Mum’s birthday today. I hope her day was considerably more interesting than mine. It probably was because mine… [I think we get the idea. –ed.]

It has been grey all day. We started with that invisible drizzle which dampens the land and yet is a minor nuisance. That became a more major nuisance this afternoon, but the rain was less of a problem than the general dullness.

Dullness and writing.

I had my little darlings write a formal letter this week. The chance that such a thing is going to be in the exam is remote since the last time it turned up was winter 2008. They had to write an application for a job, but like their informal letters, most of them never really fulfilled the task.

Part of the problem lay in their inability to cast themselves as school leavers so that when they had to propose interview times, they became themselves and said they were only available at weekends. I wonder whether I should warn them of such pitfalls or not. (Of course, the reality is that between one year and the next I’ve forgotten about such things.)

Anyway, I managed to finish off PAL 2’s letters because Wednesday is mostly free, but because I don’t have a lot of free time on Thursday and even less on Friday, I only managed to get most of PAL 1’s done. I had to deal with the rump after class this afternoon when I was cursing the livid scene outside and hoping that I wouldn’t arrive home to find there was some shopping I absolutely had to do.

The Party boys’ meeting is over. They’ve been closeted in their clubhouse for the past week; they’ve buggered up the Internet for the past week; they’ve annoyed me sufficiently for the past week to make me find another way around their puerile blocks on the Internet.

I was having a look at the list of blocked sites on GreatFire.org last night. As far as I can tell from the URLs, there are a lot of sites which can remain blocked until the cows come home and then some. There are also some on the list whose inclusion utterly puzzling.

Once upon a time, I would’ve advised newcomers to China to bring a laptop so as to avoid local machines like the plague they are. I’d still advise them to bring a machine of their own, and these days I’d add “bring a VPN”. Just because the imperial government likes shoving its head up its arse, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow suit.

I saw something on G+ last night about zombies and tyrants. Guess which empire I immediately thought of.

All right, that’s enough incoherent rambling out of me. I’m tired, and when I’m tired, I get bad-tempered, especially when I’ve had to deal with mediocre student writing.

The next day. I really was tired. I had a brief chat with Linda on qq last night, and then went and had a snooze – for three hours –, although I don’t remember nodding off. I’m surprised this entry is even vaguely comprehensible.

Greenhouse Days

Heat gets in.

Temperatures have been back in the mid 30s again, but unlike the second half of July, the sky is partially overcast, which means that the heat gets in, but doesn’t get out, and the resulting humidity is stifling. These are the days which keep me at home for as much as possible because even just standing outside has me sweating profusely.

News that long-time fugitive, Zhou Kehua, has been killed by the police has me wondering how it’s possible for anyone to remain under the radar for so long in a country where everyone’s lives are public theatre. Perhaps they head out into the countryside where they have friends.

There was a story in the South China Morning Post a few years ago about some crime boss in Guangdong who had operated with impunity for years before he was finally tried and convicted. I could only imagine he was able to do that because he had friends in high places, and I could only suspect that his downfall came from losing those friends.

There’s been a bit of chatter in the expat blogosphere about various long-term expat celebrity 宝贝 departing, and whether this is merely a blip or a trend. It perhaps depends on what you do here, and what your prospects are like in the Real World™ (in spite of the dire state of the economy). I assume that most foreigners still don’t last more than a year or two in China; few last five; and very few last as long as I’ve been here. But even those expats who have managed to survive for ten or more years may suddenly go stir crazy and find that their patience is exhausted. They’ve tolerated conditions here, but decide that enough is enough.

I’ve put together a list of things which might have expats running for the hills. I won’t pretend this is exhaustive or informed, but it’s what comes to mind.

  1. Environment. Bloody dreadful, of course, and you can’t go to Hong Kong to escape it. When I lived just outside of Beijing, the air quality was much better than I was expecting, but I hear that since the Olympics ended, it’s got much worse. This is likely to get expats with children fleeing.
  2. The climate. Roughly speaking, five months of the year it’s too hot; five months it’s too cold (in spite of the latitude), and for the remaining two months, it’s about tolerable.
  3. Culture. There’s a whole range of stuff here such as conspicuous consumption; noise; spitting; disorderliness (e.g. pushing in at the front of queues to make enquiries instead of waiting; lack of traffic courtesy); a lack of consideration; a lack of attention; chicken coop culture; and I’m sure there are other things as well.
  4. Pests. Here we have people who stare or expect that foreigners are a source of amusement and entertainment. How bad it gets depends on where you go. This may not have expats scarpering, but it’s one thing they won’t miss, and it reflects badly on the locals, exposing their utterly lack of sophistication.
  5. Internet censorship. As I’ve said before, this almost certainly affects expats more than it affects the Chinese. It’s bloody annoying to have to fire up Freegate to see some harmless YouTube video, or visit some harmless WordPress blog, or visit any number of innocuous sites online. We don’t really give a damn about those things which make Nanny hot and sweaty, and most of the natives don’t care either.
  6. Medicine. I am a little sceptical about the quality of medical care in China. I also know that hospitals will take you for a financial ride if they can although it’s not just foreigners who might find themselves gouged. This is another one of those things which probably isn’t uppermost in the minds of expats, but could be if they have some sort of long-term illness.
  7. Education. Really one for expats with kids, but if I had a Chinese wife, and we had children, I wouldn’t let my imaginary children near the Chinese education system because of the length of the school day, the length of the school term, and the dubious curriculum. (Hongkongers, beware! You should be worried about the nonsense the Mainland is trying to peddle through your education system.)
  8. Government. This may be where expats trying to run businesses in China come to grief as they try to negotiate their way through an opaque system where the rules will be applied rigorously to you. You, in turn, may not use the rules in the same way.

Ultimately, I don’t think we are seeing anything but a coincidence. A few celebrity expats have decided they’ve had enough at about the same time, but they’re hardly a representative sample.

Woke up this mornin’

Well, a couple of mornings ago now.

The trip to New Zealand started early and dragged on. Iris had me booked on the 6.50am bus to Pudong, which arrived at the airport at about 9.30am, which was far too soon for my flight in the afternoon.

I ended up having lunch at Ajisen partly for something to do before I went through the departure area.

Our departure was fairly prompt and I did quite a bit of snoozing before spending the rest of the time watching recent episodes of Bing Bang Theory and Mr Sunshine. I’ve never seen the latter, which is another of those quirky workplace comedies from the US with a dash of Larry Sanders, but with learning and hugging.

I’m so used to large numbers of people at airports that the flight I’d booked from Auckland was later than it needed to have been. I should’ve booked an earlier flight if one had been available.

I snoozed on the plane to Christchurch because I was seriously tired again, and having got to Mum and Dad’s place, I snoozed for quite a bit of the afternoon, went to bed at my accustomed hour only to wake up at around the time I’d normally be off to bed in China. I eventually fell asleep after it started getting light and woke up at 10.00am yesterday morning.

I’ve already dealt with the main thing: a new laptop. I bought the Acer Aspire 5755G and have been installing software on it without any questions being asked. I had thought I’d get stern warnings about various things being installed on another machine. My attempts to get Office 2010 have failed. For some, I can’t access the website. Oh well, I’ll have to go to the shops and buy it. I could transfer Office 2007, but I want to keep that on my old machine.

Acrobat is also an issue because I think I’d have to install 7, then upgrade to 8, and then to 10, which would mean having to hook the oldest laptop to the Internet to deactivate and uninstall 7. I think I might just bite the bullet and buy 10 from scratch. Again, it’d be handy to have it on two machines.

So far the weather has been so nice. Nor’wester yesterday, and utterly clear so far today. Clouds? What are clouds?

Anyway, there are plans afoot and I must foot off.

9 Glorious Years

Well, maybe not.

It’s nine years today since I first arrived in China. The weather that day was about the same as today – sunshine and 33°. I was braced to be whisked to Third-World squalor as we passed through the grubby villages between Beijing Airport and Tongzhou. But Tongzhou was a relatively well-appointed satellite town outside the capital, which was to be my home for the next three years.

I soon learnt a few things. When asked when we would start teaching, it seemed quite reasonable to be allowed a couple of days to recover from travelling to China. The correct answer was, “Immediately”. Mrs Wu promised to take us to see the sites, but she was too busy appearing to be busy to ever do that; but it was also the custom.

And so here I was with no experience of teaching school children, or EFL, or the faintest idea of what an intermediate-level imbecile learner was, or a curriculum, or anything much. I made a right mess of the first term because being an egalitarian sort when it comes to knowledge, I expected everyone to complete the exercises. With the arrival of the second term, I abandoned that for ploughing my way through the textbook regardless of whatever progress my students might be making. (Answer: none.)

I’m trying to think how things have changed over the past nine years. There are the obvious ones like the size of the economy (quite ignoring the Namibian levels of income), and the current administration, which having come in my time is about to leave in my time. The Internet has been increasingly abused since the Olympic Games even although very little of what is blocked is of interest to a domestic audience. (Recent figures I saw claimed that only 4% of Internet traffic ever strays outside the prison walls; that’ll be the expats and students applying to foreign universities.) People who can think for themselves have become even less popular. I’m sure there are a lot of other things which have changed since I’ve been here although after moving from one place to another, I have a fragmentary picture at best.

But how different is China after all this time? I don’t believe it is that different from the time of my arrival in 2002. The infrastructure may have changed with new buildings there and roads here, but the people don’t seem to be different, and they’re what counts. The population may still be a Third-World pyramid, but the youth of today ends up being the parents of tomorrow, and the world stays the same because no one has time or energy for children and social change. (Not counting callous megalomaniac dictators. You know who I mean.)

Meanwhile, when Bruce is sent round to find out who has a bike (me, John the Maths Teacher, Rob and Michelle, Fred), I wonder what the school is up to. I’m predicting a pointless and unnecessary lecture on road safety from someone who isn’t qualified to speak on the subject. Mr Bamboo’s advice: go when it’s safe to go; expect traffic from the other direction; and pay attention because no one else is paying attention.

Great birthday present

Unfortunate irony.

The big news, which will have the local unelected government seething with rage, is that Лиу Xиаобо has been awarded a Peace Prize by the Foundation created by the inventor of dynamite, a certain Mr Alfred Nobel. I don’t know quite what this is going to do to the Internet, but at the moment, I can read the story on the BBC and The Guardian, at least for the time being.

As has been said in the past, the imperium sericum has effectively suppressed information about Лиу Xиаобо, which means a lot of people have no idea who he is. Sad to say, a lot of people probably don’t even care, and I don’t mean the vested interests. I wonder whether this will get mentioned on the news here (the usual ludicrous ranting you expect from a simple-minded mob of robotic authoritarians) or whether it’ll just be ignored.

But I’m also thinking red rag and bull. (Yes, I know bulls are meant to be colour blind.) There was an article just recent about Лиу Xиаобо being nominated for the prize and the imperium sericum assuming that the Foundation’s host government must be responsible for an autonomous organisation. “’Cos that’s how we do things here,” said the Foreign Min­i­s­try spokesman. Not that distant Cathay is any different from the A­me­r­ic­ans who think, “Thus in America; so everywhere else.” (Well, just look at the assumption that because the Americans are always on the Internet, the rest of the world must be. Once upon a time, I used to turn the Internet off; these days, I leave it on because American software will demand, sooner or later, that I should go on line.)

Thus, the local robber barons will threaten þone Norwegiscan geweald (contrived Old English) even although the Foundation is not their re­spons­ibility. The Vikings may have got it wrong last year by giving it to Barack Obama about five minutes after he arrived at the White House, but this year they got it right.

[16.08.14. Consequently, a Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the Chinese author, Mo Yan. While I’m sure he’s an excellent, deserving writer, the prize was probably politics more than anything else to shut the Party up.]