Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tiger Tiger Water Water

The water crept in some time on Monday night. I thought they had taken a hose to the hallway and the water had somehow seeped under my front door; but the bathroom hadn't dried from my shower; the kitchen seemed far from dry too. My passport on the coffee table had its corners curling throughout Tuesday; before I realised that moisture had swamped this city. Today we stood around the staffroom telling each other of our various aquatic home disasters.
The weather in this topsy-turvy month has been the biggest feature of life. The day before my Chinese New Year break was bathed in brilliant sunshine; the dust smog had vanished; if one were to photograph Guangzhou for a tourist guide, this was the day. Then I went on holiday and the temperature crashed from the mid-twenties to below ten degrees. It remained that low for the whole holiday period and then the first week back. The classrooms cold, the teachers wearing beanies and coats, students remaining at home, and mice were even heard stirring. And now we're swimming and warm, the mid-to-late twenties. My energy has surged like the temperature. My last class I was absolutely wired.
The second biggest feature was the coming of the Year of the Tiger. It roared into action in the cold. In the day before New Year's Eve, I was at a loss with how I was going to spend the festival. In a supermarket queue, which was miles longer than it had ever been, I texted a friend, to ask, to be presumptious and beg, for a chance to share his family's new year. It was a big request but after consulting his family, he said yes. It was a great day. I'm eternally grateful. We had lunch at his grandmother's place where they accommodated my eating preferences well; his father is a keen drinker and seemed rather glad at my arrival. He'd raise his glass ready to clink at every opportunity. Thankfully that was lunch and he had to drive. Dinner, however, there was no restraint. We went to a restaurant and he brought cognac. Needless to say, his glass was often raised; and I was obliged to do what I needed to do for his arm to rest again.
The Flower Market is a Guangzhou tradition at New Year. In the lead-up, there are several streets that sell flowers, kumquat trees (tiny grape-sized oranges), peach flower trees and dahlias. The sign outside my apartment says they should eliminate superstitions, but the fact that the "quat" part of "kumquat" sounding similar to the cantonese sound for "auspicious" all means that they sell like hot cakes. Oddly though at an occasion called a Flower Market, the number one thing to buy on the night of new year's eve is a toy windmill. That is because the spinning of the windmill turns and pulls the luck in. My friend's cousin wanted bought one for me, which I gaily and drunkly ran down the street with.
The year turned but the weather didn't. I rested a day and then I walked the city exploring two mid-river islands. One thing that is useful to know about Guangzhou is that it sits amid the Pearl River Delta. The whole area is riven with many rivers and islands. My district is a large island although you'd never know it until you looked at a map. Another island was completely taken by the colonial powers after one of the Opium wars and has a large number of colonial buildings. Another was covered with mansions and tree lines roads. Walking them was wonderful.
But now in sweeps the work and the wonders of a busy life. My sister arrives in Guangdong shortly and more exploration awaits me at every week.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The walk home

There are some regular parts of life that are pretty much identical day-to-day. Your gnattering thoughts might differ; the weather might be different; but essentially the action is the same. Until, of course, some unexpected incident knocks you off your regular orbit.
I exited my school building for the second to last time of the lunar year and headed to the intersection to wait with the chattering pedestrians chomping at the bit to cross. One of the heads in front turned randomly, and then took a second take on spotting the tired white guy, me, standing jaded behind her.
"Welcome to Guangzhou," she said in correct but heavily accented English.
"谢谢" I thanked nonchalently in Mandarin. Her ears pricked up and immediately turned and launched into Cantonese, saying that my Mandarin was very good. I said in Cantonese that my Cantonese was not. She took a few misfiring sentences to switch her thought processes into Mandarin and then talked rapidly and clearly in Mandarin with the usual personal questions that traditional Chinese ask. I said I didn't have a wife or children to one question causing her to assume I'd left them in New Zealand, or Australia as she liked to refer to it despite my stating that they were two different countries.
"The milk in Australia is good and the air too."
"Yes," I said not bothering to halt her. She asked a lot about my educational background.
"I didn't complete my school; I gave up half way. Out of my group of students only I didn't finish school," she informed me.
"Oh," I said.
"Yes, I had a problem with my brain."
"No way ba," I said taking what she said as the usual phrase Chinese use to say they weren't predisposed to study.
"But then I saw a doctor and I was better again."
"Oh... that's good."
"I'm studying now again. I'm half-way through."
"Oh, that is good."
"After my husband died, I knew I wasn't going to marry again."
"Uhuh," I said not knowing how that fits in.
"He was a bit like you, open and happy."
"Is that so?"
Then she talked about cars and the Nobel Peace prize. I'm not sure how it was that she brought up the Nobel prize, but we arrived at a corner near my place. We'd walked in the same direction I was starting to worry that she would follow me as far as I was going to walk, to my apartment if necessary.  I was loaded with thoughts that this was some sort of trick to ask for money. Or some elaborate prostitution solicitation. Or a marriage offer. I stopped at the corner and she completed her thoughts about Obama and the Nobel Peace prize. She asked if I was going to the right; she said she was going straight. I said it was a pleasure to have met her and bid her farewell and she did the same. We parted and then after I had walked 10 metres, she released a loud "Bai bai!" I reciprocated with just a little less enthusiasm and kept walking.
So she was just kind-hearted. Or still marginally mental. Anyway, I can thank her for an interesting walk home.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Xiaogang Park at 6:30am

Twisting and turning, bothered thoughts at the dawning, I rolled out of bed and put on the rain-pants I had mysteriously brought to China and onto the streets I went, searching for the apparent East Entrance to Xiaogang. The pavement renovation on Changgang East had been completed: I was free to break into a jog at will. Oncoming eyes were no less starey-starry at this time of the morning. I passed through the park gate: Khuuurrrk phut!
In a city of over ten million, the early risers number in the hundreds of thousands. The welcoming cheerleaders were the old and not-so frail, moving in synchronicity. I broke back into a jog and passed a back/front clapwalker. It was the second time I'd been to Xiaogang Park: the first was completely accidental even though the map I always use clearly shows there to be an extensive park barely 200 metres from my school. It is large enough to lose one's self: Khuuuuurk phut!
I walked a bit as I approached a bridge. My hope that that the torrential rain had cleansed, temporarily, the river of its stench was in vain. Above a bird was making a rough morning call. Or was it coughing? Have you ever heard a bird cough? If there should ever be a bird coughing, it'll be in Guangzhou with the air as it is. I charged back into a run and tailed a backward walker. His steady pace backwards meant that he could spend some time scrutinising me as I eventually pulled passed him: Khuuuuurk phut!
I passed the barbeque area and approached the badminton courts when my ears snared the familiar hollow tap-tap-tap of a ping-pong ball. I've been hoping for a ping-pong table for a long time and shot up the stairs for a peek. Passing the tables, there was a man sternly standing straight, sword in hand, ready to swing; Cantonese opera screeched from a 80s tape deck somewhere yonder as his onslaught failed to eventuate. A bare-chested runner bounds past: Khuuuuurk phut!
Those buildings are on my left again. Full circle I must have come! It was not the last time I would see those buildings on my left either that morning: Khuuuuurk. I stopped for a moment. Something wasn't right. I turned around slowly to spot a hunchbacked woman on a park bench. Phut! she spat into the bush. I turned back on my course and ran towards where I hoped the way out would be. The sun had risen and my twilight muddle had nicely brought me to the day.