Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Unconsidered Life

I might arrogantly propose that my local chinese swimming pool could be taken as a microcosm of many aspects of Chinese society. It is a fifty by twenty metre pool with lanes painted on the bottom but no lane dividers on the surface. People swim both lengthwise and widthwise, standing splashing at all areas of the pool. Crashing and weaving. There are signs not to dive and jump into the water but the sound of bombs, dives and near misses (screams) prevails. Life guards watch from their platforms but only to blow the whistle when the pool needs its lunch break. Then it rains and people, for some reason, run out of the pool and to shelter...
The key themes are that words whether spoken or clearly written don't matter as much as what is being done. Even with a clear design of how things should work, people will find a way to subvert it, not with malice but with apparent laziness, or just a bizarre can-do attitude (it can be done so why not). People don't seem to consider their actions in non-set situations. (E.g. standing on the escalator they will think about everything except about how they are standing on the escalator and how their position affects others.) And even obvious supervision is not for the purposes you think they are there for. But anything unexpected can elicit the most unusual primal responses.
The general la-di-da-ness of your average swimmer here is depressing. They really don't seem to check where they're jumping, swimming and who might be coming from where. In the subway, people seem to treat getting to the scarce but hardly comfortable seats a matter of utmost urgency, worth preventing disembarking passenger getting out, worth pushing the elderly and women carrying babies. Apparently Guangzhou isn't the worst city in this regard but it is still a travesty.
I'm not sure which of the hoi polloi Socrates was musing when he pondered that the unconsidered life wasn't worth living. Was it just one that was considered for its Grand Purpose, or merely the correctness of their actions like I might like to regard it now? Probably both. Of course the relativist in the corner of my brain (he's often locked in his room) may cautiously aver that everyone has someone who looks at their lives as unconsidered.
All of this thinking while I attempt, in a wish though not a death wish, to swim a length of backstroke might lead you to think I've mastered the art of swimming while meditating on the universe. Regrettably this isn't the case. Getting back into swimming has been a relief as I've lacked a regular fitness habit but it is a recent thing for me. Swimming is perfect, and at 12 yuan (NZ$2.40) it is pretty cheap even though at peak time you'd be lucky to survive. And so close, barely 5 minutes away from home. Swimming in a hot climate is something I haven't had the pleasure of much prior to the recent months. The water is now at a constant air temperature close to 30 degrees, which allows entry without any shock at all. The "cold" shower after the swim is a pleasure. In fact, I might swim just for the freshness of the shower at the end. Swimming hasn't yet returned to the ease it had prior to my initial departure in late 2009 but that is just a matter of time.
The sooner I swim off this belly the better.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sound and vision

The city management swooped in, in a matter that could only be coordinated. Two vans shot up next to the roadside and proceeded to take away tables and chairs from the pavement in front of the restaurant we were eating at. The owners and service staff swarmed out onto the street to occupy the ground. Apparently it was not theirs to take. People talked in strong words. The owner struggled to retrieve his plastic chairs from their confiscation. Cameras were always out on the city management side, quickly recording the proceedings, whether to protect themselves later, or for recording identities, who knows. And where were we, sitting at a table that should really have been confiscated too if there were to be any consistency, but we sat there at the tables while the others were take away. One colleague got up in tautoko of the establishment that we regularly ate. The rest of us watched the scene.

"You can't do this, we're Chinese!"

"You aren't Chinese!" such petty name calling. I was off to the bus.


"Blue, Blue, that's the colour of my room, where we will live…"

And the Guangzhou tower glowed red as the bus proceeded home. I had my iPod on giving a tune to the world I observed. The bus was a new thing for me in commuting. I had been loyal to the subway but now it seemed that bus could easily beat the subway. This was something paradoxical: apparently the small transitions in the subway system: from home to station, from station to platform, wait for the train, get out of the train for first line swap, wait for train, board and get off train, cross platform, and board again, get to the station and emerge once more; all of these transitions though seemingly short make it a very long journey, while the bus takes all the changes and swaps out and make a simple long journey. The tortoise wins this race.


"Well, honestly, I don't remember who you are…"

The iPod moved on and I've got off the bus. It was already after ten-thirty but there was a daylights worth of people on the street. Why would the shops shut? I guess no-one looks for real estate at this time. I go into a dairy for a Pokari Sweat. There is a cat on the counter. Miao! I pat it. Miao! I pay for my drink. Miao! I pat it again! Miao! it comments with a big mouth. I head out again. The night sight of people is always a worthy scene in China. I pass a small supermarket. The shifu is still working directing people to the good fruit. He's "solid" as my colleague would have called him. The shifu is the kind of person who'll tell you that there is no fruit ripe enough and to come back another day. We've eaten two durians over the last two weeks and he was right about all of them.


I got home earlier than expected and gladly so; it'd only be then that I'd blog.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Swings and round-abouts

We're on the verge of Dragon Boat festival and have entered the teeth of summer. It is pumping hot. Hot in the morning; even hotter in the day; and steamy in the evening. I've done better than last year in the simple act of keeping hydrated. Pokari Sweat (an isotonic drink) and pineapple beer (a local product, quite nice, but would kill for a Phoenix Ginger Beer) are staple drinks, I drink them on more days than I don't. I'm fine but don't ask me next week. At least I've discovered a swimming pool in the neighbourhood which is surprisingly cheap and surprisingly big.

Work has been waist-deep and though still fascinating, it is more than one can do in a forty hour week. I'm doing overtime, but I'm hoping that will end next week when the new boss takes the Continuous Professional Development off my list of things to do. The new boss is an American probably about the same age as me. He has had experience leading teams and centres, and is approaching the task earnestly. He gives me another point of reference as I create my own way of managing. He's revived policies that haven't been seen before for a while (an English-only environment in the office) as well as some quite original ideas that can only be from someone who hasn't been in this environment for long.

China is about to swell with national pride as one of a billion did what none of the others, or their predecessors, had done: won a major tennis tournament. Li Na is a sensation here. China will long have an instinctive craziness as it breaks through ceilings and goes into fields it hasn't achieved in. Let's see if it is the exception or the breaking of the rule forever onwards.