Thursday, October 27, 2011

In stride

If there is one thing that is true in my life, apart from work I can barely reasonably do one thing well at a time. Chinese has done well from me in the last two years (well, the reading classical novels and Cantonese parts at least). But these things rose and other fell away. One thing that did was my general fitness, and then my general health.
My trip back to New Zealand was a good reminder of this. The doctor said my immune system was low: that can be attributed back to diet and perhaps stress. Part of being a vegetarian in Guangzhou is the lack of variety that my body has become use to. And part of being away from the hills, valleys and mountains of my homeland is a lack of naturally occurring fitness. My fitness daily has been 15 minutes between home and subway twice a day and the stairs at work.
Part of being back has been to search for ways in which to make up for these. One concession has been to the expat way of eating. I've gone back to cereal and milk for breakfast and, with the luck of my new workplace, I've been enjoying falafel and humus and all the joys of a mixed diet.
My new workplace also has the novelty of inconvenience by subway yet the comparative convenience of food: at the quickest it'd take me 40 minutes to the office by choosing either bus or subway; by foot I can do the distance in an hour fifteen, which though not fast makes it a reasonable choice when I have time and leisure (and going home I often do). The temperature cooling, I can once again run without sweating myself parched. Ping pong and shuttlecock kicking becomes an easier option too (the latter best if there is no wind).
Our latest preoccupation has been whether to move. Our place though with inherent strengths has always been inconvenient. And two other dark marks against it: a poor sofa and a rotting cupboard under the sink. And it would of course be nice to save a few more pennies on rent. Yet there is no such thing as the perfect apartment. And the more one looks the more one is torn. If anything there is a temptation to spend even more. And with every place we look at it the better what we have looks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A crisis of conscience and social trust

A mother distracted at her stall; her precocious two year old wanders onto the street outside; a van driver distracted runs her over with his front wheels and stops briefly; either not wanting to know what he hit, or perhaps fearing that he hit what he knew he hit, he continues running her over a second time with his back wheels; the CCTV records numerous passers-by having a glance some even stop or slow their vehicles; her mother has already realised she has disappeared but has headed up the street instead of down; another mother, walking hand-in-hand with her child, walks around the bleeding, crying, crushed little body on the road; another vehicle runs her over for a second time; an old lady, who spends her days pulling plastic bottles from rubbish bins for recycling, is the first and only person to do anything for her; she pulls her to the side of the road and gets people's attention; the mother finally comes over.


This is a what you could see uncensored on Chinese internet (TV clips of course are censored) of a very real event from earlier this week. It makes for brutal viewing - the first time I saw it I cried. It sent this country into a frenzy of blame and a gnashing of teeth about the sickness of the society. There are of course the two drivers who ran her over; they're in police custody. But the eighteen apparently normal people who didn't so much as call an ambulance on seeing a run over still living two year old infant boggle the mind. From the life of an outsider in China, it's the worst possible consequence of several factors which become increasingly apparent. This may have always been coming.


China is abound with the fear of all kinds. One of the fears is that of extortion. A pertinent example is the case of a good Samaritan who stopped to help a fallen elderly person. The elderly person was thankful at first but as soon as the authorities came suddenly changed their story to the good Samaritan having knocked them over and demanded they pay the medical costs. This is one of a huge range of "tricks" that exist in society. Most children from young are told to not pay attention let alone, consider believing, what they see and hear of people in need. Gangs do disfigure people so that they become better beggars. And there are those the prey on the basic goodness of people. Avoiding the bother that helping could entail is the consideration beyond the simple moral equation. We can ask how this justifies ignoring the cries of a mangled child whose life hangs in the balance, but it does if one considers that a mother could come out of the sideroad screaming to high-heaven that it was you who hurt her child, that if you don't pay up she'll go to the police and then even if you can prove it wasn't you, you've had terrible bother. It's an easier thing to just keep going.


Even the drivers' behaviour can be understood to an extent. In some small towns, drivers who hit people might be dragged out and beaten by family members (as some people can escape justice through their connections, villagers taking justice into their own hands is often common sense). This has been used to explain hit-and-run cases here. Drivers will often turn themselves in shortly after on their own terms straight to a police station, as is also the case here.


Every country has its outrages. Outrage is good. It would be a lack of outrage that would be truly evil. With outrage let's hope that it settles into introspection: those eighteen weren't deviantly amoral, insensate; they were just like all of those carrying outrage. Let's hope that those outraged notice and in themselves seek to change the way they react to the hurt and unfortunate.


It is interesting to know that the only one to do something was poor and uneducated, yet showed instinctive care. It took no moral courage to act. She was given money by the city representatives and gave it straight to the young child... who regrettably is likely to die soon or become a vegetable.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Autumn Floods

I walked home from the bus-stop barefoot on Thursday night. Many people did. It is not something I ever expected to do in suburban China, with its reputation for filthy streets, but there you go.
It'd started raining in the afternoon. It wasn't heavy but rarely let up. Rain of course isn't a rarity here. Even though the summer steam has eased, autumn is still rather tropical. Rain is a big problem for public transportation too, as the taxis become difficult to catch and people clog the dry subways. Rain snarls up the traffic so buses also come less and less often.I take buses in general these days, which is cheap and generally comfortable. My bus eventually came and pleasantly I got a seat in which to observe the outside happenings. The bus goes through and underpass, which was a foot deep with water at the time. The bus, like a charging elephant, ran through the river with a groan.
Guangzhou is a river city. The beautiful, yet stinky, Pearl river halves it. There are also numerous branches and canals through the suburbs (my apartment looks over one such branch). Though river cities flood when the water level rises, I've never seen this happen in Guangzhou. Guangzhou floods because Guangzhou can't drain. Guangzhou's extensive network of canals and streams should facilitate its draining but through civic mismanagement it doesn't. The humour from last year was that the city government put a lot of money into modernising its underground drains in one area only to flood worse than the old system ever did.
Anyway, so I was on the bus overlooking the aquatic mayhem. To be honest it didn't look that bad. I got off my bus and put up my umbrella and walked to the edge of a block, which was cut off by a decent bank of water. The sight of a passer-by, or should that be a wader-through, gave me enough to gauge it was close to knee height in places. I went to the other end of the block. Again: water, water everywhere. I was on an island! Looking closely at the people who had resigned themselves to standing under eaves and in shops and banks you could tell that they too had sensed no other option. There were no taxis to catch. Buses on this side of the road would take you farther away and possibly to even deeper, less familiar waters, and not many people have friends with cars to call over to pick them up. So suddenly one has to think how much damage a walk in the drink will damage one's shoes and tailored pants. Or how long it will take for the flooding to ease. (If the did wait they'd be disappointed: it rained well through the night and even heavier than you could ever imagine.)
Then came the answer to me: a gentleman came onto our island, plastic bag with his shoes and pants rolled up, walking calmly by with his umbrella. If the notoriously dirtophobic locals aren't scared of walking through floodwater barefoot, I'm certainly not. So off came the shoes, up-rolled by pants (although the material of my pants always made them slowly unroll, requiring re- and re-rolls) and I set off home. It was a good feeling. Guangzhou rain is fairly warm so it was a comfortable splash; the road surface nicely massaged the bottoms of my feet; and unlike New Zealand, and let this be known as one of the advantages of Chinese streets in general, there was no glass (which is fortunate because I'd hate to think what was in the water).